Our favorite teachers during our formative years were the ones who found ways to surprise or even shock us. Their “teachable moments” could, at least, give one a new perspective on life. At best they could change one’s life. Teachers who can accomplish these things are miracle workers. They use ordinary circumstances to accomplish the extraordinary.
For example, what could possibly be miraculous about operating a manual water pump? In the hands of Anne Sullivan, it turned a little blind and deaf girl into a source of inspiration for generations of handicapped individuals. By pumping water into the hand of little Helen Keller, and signing W-A-T-E-R into her other hand, Anne showed Helen that things had names. This opened a new life of consciousness for a little girl whose only universe until that point was inside her own head. In one instant she went from being a self-centered prisoner to a citizen of the world.
In this Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk 8:27-35), the original miracle worker—Jesus—opened the eyes of Peter and the rest of his disciples with a simple but shocking command:
“Get behind me, Satan!”
Jesus had been teaching his disciples about the mission in front of them and helping them envision what it would take to accomplish it.
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”
Peter, blind to the perspective of Christ, couldn’t see the need for his master to suffer such a fate. He was happy to follow Jesus around and witness the effect he had on local crowds. Little did he understand the global scope of his Master’s miracles—done as much for his disciples as for the locals. These were lessons that would build the faith these men would need to draw on to open the eyes of the world. During his lifelong formation, Jesus himself determined his mission by studying the prophets who presaged his coming. Isaiah, in particular, as indicated in our first reading (Is 50:5-9a), gave generations preceding Jesus an image of the Miracle Worker to come:
“I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”
This would be Jesus’ lesson plan in preparing himself and all those he called to follow him. Many would follow that plan to a T—or a cross.
Before delivering his shocking Satan rebuke to Peter, the Gospel indicates Jesus looked closely at his disciples. He was obviously studying their reaction, as any good teacher does, to see that his lesson is sinking in.
“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do,” he added for good measure. Then it states he summoned the crowd with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
The lesson Jesus delivered that day was also for you and me today. It was designed to imprint upon us the eternal relevance of his truth: to strengthen the connection between what we believe and the works we accomplish. In our second reading, St. James (Jas 2:14-18) plays the role of miracle worker in helping us envision that truth:
“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
The mainstream media have been reporting that Catholics are deserting their faith in droves. They can’t see its relevance to 21st century life. However, they are also reporting that the Pope is trying to help us see our faith in an ever-present context: through the eyes of the poor who surround us. Whether they’re economically poor or poor in heart or spirit, we don’t have to look far. They may be in our own families. To the extent we can help anybody keep their own faith alive by helping them see ours in action, we are working miracles.