The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”
“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”
2 Kings 7:2 (NIV)
I listened to a great podcast yesterday while I was in the car. Rob Bell was continuing his series on alternative wisdom and he unpacked an event in Jesus’ life when the religious leaders came and demanded a sign from him. This committee of theological high-brows seemed to want miracles on-demand from Jesus, but Jesus refused to play the game the self-important religious fundamentalists were trying to play. Jesus begins by pointing out that no matter what He did, no matter what signs He might come up with, they would never be satisfied. They didn’t want to believe, nor were they concerned with the bigger picture of why Jesus was there in the first place. Jesus then told the religious authorities they would receive no sign but “the sign of Jonah.”
With that Jesus referred to the ancient prophet who was swallowed by a fish and spent three days and nights buries at sea in the fish’s belly. With this Jesus was foreshadowing the real mission He came to perform, which had little do to with a magical miracle tour. Jesus would be called into the depths just like Jonah; He would descend into death for three days, and come out the other side.
As we make our way through 2 Kings we are reading about a lot of signs and miracles. Both Elijah and Elisha’s stories are littered with stories of the miraculous. There’s no doubt that the scribes and editors who put together this history of the ancient Kings are going to make sure to include these miraculous stories. They are great stories, and they are compelling reads. I have found, however, that it is easy for me to read this stream of miracle stories and forget Jesus’ admonishment to turn a blind eye to the penny-ante miracles for a moment and to consider the sign of Jonah.
I believe in the miraculous. I’ve experienced the miraculous and have heard the testimony of miracles from others whom I know, trust, and believe. I have never felt comfortable, however, who seem to be in the miracle on-demand business. It seems to me that Jesus was always a bit dismissive of signs and miracles.
“This is nothing,” Jesus said to Andrew of his knowing that Andrew was sitting under a tree. “You’ll see more impressive things than this.”
“What I’m doing is small potatoes,” Jesus said to the disciples. “You’ll see the same and more by the time I’m done.”
“You have no idea how really simple this all is, and what little faith is required for these miracles,” Jesus told his followers.
Jesus was so dismissive of the miraculous that He also was quick to shut down miraculous operations. Not only did He do it with the religious leaders, but He did it with the crowds as well. “You’re following me because I gave you free filet-o-fish sandwiches,” Jesus said to the crowds, “but you’re missing the point. If you want the real food I came to give you you’ll have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.”
In this morning’s chapter, Elisha performed another miracle. In announcing what would happen the King’s captain refused to believe. Elisha announced that the captain’s lack of faith would ensure that he’d see it happen but would miss out on the blessing.
What struck me this morning is that I think it’s quite possible to see and experience the miraculous and miss the point. Jesus performed many signs that the religious leaders witnessed, and yet they came back to him for more. They didn’t want to believe. The crowds followed Jesus fully believing that Jesus could multiply loaves and fish endlessly, but eventually they’d become jaded and demand a change of menu. The miracles were never the point. They are momentary blips on the infinite radar focused on temporal earthly things.
Jesus rolled His eyes and continued to tell us that the miracles were there to point us to deeper things. The real important stuff happens three days and nights buries in the depths. The point is in torn, sacrificial flesh and spilled blood that accomplishes the miraculous on a cosmic, eternal scale.
I believe in miracles. I believe in shallow, everyday miracles on a small temporal scale and big, “deep water” miracles on the cosmic, eternal scale. I have also come to understand that what Jesus was saying is this: Never trade the latter for the former.