Between Heaven and Earth

Parables vs. Miracles

Jay: We’ve been talking about what shapes our view of God and grace—starting with the effects of our modern educational experiences followed by the effects of the life and ministry of Jesus. We discussed Bloom’s taxonomy, which posits that we progress through stages our cognitive development: Recall and understanding of knowledge, its application, analysis, and evaluation, and finally creativity. We noted that in this process our thinking starts out as concrete but transitions into abstract thinking, which is where the spiritual realm is. 

Last week, we began our consideration of the effects of Jesus’ ministry with a look specifically at the parables he used to teach. We will continue to review the ministry of Jesus as a whole with a discussion of the miracles of Jesus and then his crucifixion and resurrection as the concluding part of his ministry. 

We determined that the parables—storytelling—enables us to place ourselves in the story and thus gives us a concrete way to think about and relate to abstract aspects of the Spirit such as sacrifice and forgiveness and value and judgment and acceptance and salvation. The parables do not offer much to explain themselves, lending a sense of timelessness or universal principle. They rely on the concrete actions within the story to get their abstract messages across. 

Today, I want to transition to another component of the ministry of Jesus: His miracles, of which there were 37. Some Bible scholars divide them into seven categories, but I would categorize them into four: Healing (25 miracles), providing for physical needs (six miracles), power over nature (three miracles), and resurrection (three miracles). 

The healing miracles clearly comprise the vast majority and range from blindness to leprosy to bleeding to demon possession to mental health to paralysis and more. The power-over-nature miracles include Jesus’ calming the waves in a storm, walking on water, and withering a fig tree. The providing-physical-needs miracles include the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000, turning water into wine, enabling the disciples to net a large catch of fish, and paying temple tax with money from the mouth of a fish. The resurrection miracles were raising the widow’s son, Darius’ daughter, and Lazarus from the dead. 

What can we glean from these miracles? How do they help us to develop our view of God? What do you see as the result of those miracles? Do the four categories help us to move from a concrete way of thinking about God to an abstract way? What attributes of God do they help us to see a little bit better? 

Donald: it seems to me that those four categories can all be summed up as taking care of people’s needs, and caring is pretty foundational, at the base of Bloom’s pyramid—something concrete. The parables seem to be more abstract, harder to follow, than the miracles. “Take up your bed and walk” does not need a whole lot of background to understand what’s going on, whereas the parables can make you work to glean their meaning. The miracles provide a clear understanding of what Christ was about and help build our mental picture of what Christ looks like. The miracles are pretty foundational.

C-J: When I think of Christ’s ministry, I see that ministry and mission as being synonymous. And when you are in a place of leadership, transitional leadership—because Jesus was really speaking to the Jews about “Don’t get so caught up in the letter of the law, you have a relationship with God that is outside of the temple” and I think that’s what he was always doing through each of those caveats that you mentioned, that this is a relationship, it’s an important relationship, and he was constantly demonstrating leadership and dominion over all things. 

I think that we see miracles as out of the ordinary, but for me, I see miracles every day, in the most common places. I go: “Oh, my God, I could have done that. But where was God in that moment?” I see it completely different. I see him coming with a very distinctive beginning and end game. He had a limited amount of time. He had a time of foundation work—learning the Word of God, being an example to others. 

Leadership is dependent on who you’re talking to. You’re always a leader, but how you demonstrate that depends on your audience. He knew how to speak to the children, who were very foundational and concrete. He knew how to speak to the people who had walked a long time in spirit and truth. The miracles were to remind them that in chaos, God does not exist. It is peace that God brings. The peace is knowing that there’s something beyond this temporal realm. So I always see Christ coming with a mission. And his role was to be a leader.

David: I think it’s important to remember that Jesus’s mission and ministry were fundamentally spiritual. The danger of the miracles is that we want to apply them to the physical world. We want to think that he showed that the physically blind can be healed any time, but the point of the miracle was to was to illustrate that the spiritually blind can be healed any time. 

I certainly take Donald’s point that the miracles reflect the great care that Jesus had for us. We can learn from that and apply the lesson in the real world, in the physical realm. But fundamentally, Jesus’ ministry was about spiritual matters, not physical matters. The great danger of the miracles is that people want them to apply in the physical world. 

It is true that we see what seem like miracles all around us. We see all sorts of signs that God is active—somebody’s heart is moved to do some good work and we take that as a little miracle. It is indeed wonderful when that happens but it’s not the impossible kind of miracle we associate with Jesus.

Robin: The Commandments were concrete in the sense of being written in stone and they have foundation. But sometimes they have limited success. “Thou shalt not…”, they say; but we’re probably going to do it anyway. But the parables are intriguing because their meaning is not just spoon fed to us. To find a Pearl of Great Price, you’re going to look for it. Parables maybe were designed to get us to think, to discuss, to study the Word of God, and to pray to God to open our understanding so we can perceive the meaning and see how to apply it for others.

Don: The underlying story of almost all the miracles is one of forgiveness of sin, which amounts to a very concrete illustration of healing by highlighting the forgiveness of sin and the accentuation of God’s grace. I think the spiritual nature of these healings is important. Whether or not one receives physical healing is not as material as whether one receives God’s grace. I think when we look at the miracles, particularly the healing miracles, we have to look at them in the context of the time, which was that Jesus was not only healing but—primarily—forgiving sin.

Donald: Miracles are doing whereas parables are saying. The creation was spoken into action. So God was doing and saying. He just didn’t do it—he said it. Maybe this connects to Christ who spoke things, such as “Pick up your bed and walk.” He didn’t just walk by somebody and all of a sudden a miracle happened. Miracles start by saying something, they are not just a response to something seen.

How does that connect to praying for a miracle? We all have done that. I’m not sure what we’re really are hoping for positive outcomes, but does that change God’s mind or Christ’s mind?

C-J: I’m not sure. I think it’s intention and purpose. When you speak something, there’s intention and purpose in it. And for me, I always see the stone being cast into the pond, and it will make its ripple. Now, some things are definitive: “Let there be light,” as an example,  There wasn’t, then there was. But most of what we experience in time and place is a ripple. 

And there’s intention in it, so the one that’s closest to the shoreline, the one that’s the furthest distance from where the stone was dropped, indicates as to how much had to happen before things come in alignment. And then there is calm again, and you would never know the stone had been dropped. But I really believe that God is all about intention and purpose in a very specific time and place with people who are supposed to be present. They’re in consciousness and spirit, ready to receive the message. And I just see that everywhere. Everywhere in Scripture, I see it everywhere. When I look out my window. Nothing happens by chance. Everything is in God’s perfect timing. And am I paying attention to why I’m viewing it at this point? It’s a whole different way of gathering and propagating a relationship with the divine.

Jay: I can get my mind around the healing miracles (the majority). They seem to be very much tied to forgiveness, the thought at that time being that if you had a physical or mental ailment there must have been some kind of sin either in your life or your parent’s life to cause it. Eradicating the ailment would also mean that the sin was eradicated along with it. Therefore, seeing the healing miracles as an expression of what God is and helping us to understand the abstractness of forgiveness and the abstractness of grace helps me get my mind around that.

There are two kinds of healing miracles: One where somebody is brought and asks for it; the other is the kind that people just get it. They reach out and touch Jesus, who doesn’t do anything but they get healed. So I think there’s things to be said about forgiveness and grace for those things also. But what about these other ones?  I can see that the healing miracles help me to see the abstract concepts of forgiveness and grace, but what about the other categories? Are they the same? Was it revealing the same attributes in your mind? Are there different attributes there that you see?

C-J: I see them as a continuum. Just because I received the grace of forgiveness, that isn’t the end of the story. What does God say?—“Go out and be a witness, go out and greater things than these shall you do.” His time was limited. But the message was, if you’ve received, your responsibility is to be a witness, a testimony of that restoration process. And all of those things that you just ticked off are about restoration. Whether I get it just by being in the room, I reach out for it, all those things, being taken away from adversity. It’s always about restoration, God is always about taking us back spiritually to the garden, to the place where we can walk with understanding and continue to grow in that relationship. 

We’re not as needy in the garden. It seems to be like a partnership. “Go freely, experience it, talk to me.” It’s like a parent watching a child play, when the child runs back and puts their head in the lap of the parent. “Go play, get to see what your environment is about, touch it, smell it, experience it. I think that’s the way God is with us. “Go and see all that is there so that you can grow and become and use that medium as a reflection of what you’ve received in Revelation, and transformation”.

Reinhard: I see the comparison between parables and miracles. In the parables, Jesus talks mainly about the character of God the Father, about how we have to behave, about the plan of salvation, and about love, mercy, things like that. The parables, I think, were intended primarily to teach his disciples, while the miracles were to show the general population both how powerful is a God who can defy Nature and how compassionate is a God who cares for people in distress. It shows the character of God. When Jesus calmed the stormy sea for the terrified disciples he grew their faith and trust in him. 

So all in all, the parables and miracles were part of Jesus’ mission to complete the plan of salvation, as was his crucifixion—he died to save humankind, as planned by his Father. The plan of salvation teaches us that God wants to take us back, that he forgives us, and that though judgment will come someday, God is love.

Donald: Actions speak louder than words. I wonder how that applies here. Was it necessary for Jesus to provide miracles, or could Christ’s ministry have been conducted through words? Did the actions in the miracles speak louder than the words in the parable? That is who Jesus was—he wanted to care for those he was confronted with.

C-J: I think those miracles were provision. When Jesus said to the people who were closest in his inner circle: “Greater things than these shall you do,” he knew they knew that he was in trouble with the Romans. If they could put their hands on him, he’d be crucified along with all the other people that were considered rebels. I want to believe that God’s purpose was to empower us to live not to be magicians, as in “If you’re truly a believer, if you truly have the hand of God, you will be able to do these things,” but that God was making provision through faith and demonstrating “Greater things than this shall you do.” 

Some of that is being still. When you’re in a battle and chaos, sometimes the best thing and only thing you should do is to pause. And in that moment of pause, there’s a brief evaluation of “What is my place and purpose, here and now? What is the most effective thing that I can do for the people around me so that we aren’t casualties?” 

I think Jesus really recognized that all eyes were on him because they had put a label on him. “Are you the Messiah? Are you the one that has been prophesied? Are you going to bring peace? Are you going to wipe out these Romans? Are we going to go back to our normal life? Are you going to create a world where there’s prosperity and we don’t need to wonder if it’s going to rain and our harvest will grow? All that shall be behind us?” 

The checkboxes for a Messiah were many and profound, but Jesus was saying: “What I’m trying to show you here is that you have the authority to affect change where you live, here and now, I don’t care if you’re living in the country, in the city, if you’re rich, if you’re poor, if you’re sick, if you’re healthy, you have the authority within you to affect change.” That’s an incredibly important message. Because where does real change begin? In the spiritual world, that transitioning from being having no value, to having great value. 

I believe that once we experience salvation and grace and truly come to a place like: “Me? You looked at me and saw value in me?” that it is a profound sense of gratitude that never leaves me. Sometimes I’ll just start praising God through the day, because I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude. “Go and do what has been given to you.” That’s profound. I don’t always do it. Well, sometimes I don’t even know what’s happening. But I believe this what Jesus’s message was: Recognize the gift that you’ve been given in this time and place and go out with authority over this dominion. It’s just transformational.

David: I was curious about whether other religions have any beliefs in miracles and examples of  miracles, so I asked ChatGPT. It seems that most religions do, even Buddhism, though Buddha himself counseled against them. Mystical miracles, as opposed to healing and caring miracles, seem more common. 

But then I wonder: What about all the people who did not have the benefit of Jesus’ ministry? People who are not Christians, basically. We know that God is the God of all people, so how does he convey to the whole world all the messages Jesus conveyed to the Jews, which later filtered down to the Romans and Greeks and other non-Jews, but never took hold in (most of) China or India? 

Jay: I’m trying to stretch us to look beyond the miracle as simply a healing miracle or a providing physical need miracle, to ask: What does it say about God? What does it say about the deity itself?

Don: One way of looking at the four categories of miracle is that these really all are the same thing. They’re all restoration events, whether they are restoring health or restoring the life or restoring good weather or restoring needs that one has, you could argue that they really all are classified under restoration. 

Anonymous: Miracles in general are demonstrations of God’s power over everything. Jesus was trying to show his listeners that God is so powerful, he can do everything and he has control over everything. Maybe his listeners were not sure. They did not experience it in their lives so they had doubts about whether God can or cannot, or will or will not heal. But Jesus came to show them that God is over everything, has control of everything, and is so powerful. He’s calling on them to trust in him and to have faith in him even if they don’t see very much, and that’s why he came to show them. Because it’s so abstract about God that many people just cannot get it. 

Miracles, I’m thinking, are a “shake up” call for people who have seen the glory of God, have seen the miracles of Jesus, yet still don’t get it, like the disciples in the storm, who had just witnessed the miracle of the fishes and the loaves. It just went right over their heads. They didn’t get it and they didn’t have faith. The miracle of the calming of the storm was to shake them up, like: “Come on now. Can’t you see it?” I mean, you couldn’t forget it or other miracles, like the resurrections of the little girl of the Centurion and of Lazarus. 

It was a shake-up especially for the Pharisees, who heard everything about him yet kept on unbelieving. The healing miracles went down well with people who already had a lot of faith—that’s why they came to him for healing. He rewarded them for their faith in coming to him for healing but he wanted them to know that he had power not just over the sickness, but over their sins as well. That’s a good message for believers. 

Parables, I think, are for those who don’t understand anything, who have eyes but don’t see, ears but they don’t hear. Jesus would say after a parable: “The one who has ears, let him hear.” (e.g., Matthew 13:9,43) The parables are down to their level. hoping that one day when they when they experience something similar to a parable it will click and then they will understand. They are for people who don’t believe, who don’t understand, who have no idea. 

And of course, in general, they’re all to restore the image of God in the people and to help them look toward that, see more of him, and understand the abstract a little bit more. But it starts with the concrete.

Donald: I would concur that it’s the power of God that we’re really talking about here, and while we are focusing today on the 37 miracles in Christ’s ministry, the power of God, the Bible itself, and all of creation are miracles of God. The parting of the Red Sea was quite a different type of miracle in that it saved thousands of people at one time. It would be interesting to compare Christ’s miracles with the other miracles in the Bible. 

Jay: Indeed. We will look at what that comparison might reveal, such as the power of the Word, the  power of God.

Michael: I have said that Jesus did not seem to be a successful teacher with his parables in his time and place, but of course Christianity—the movement that resulted from his teaching—is one of the most successful movements in history. I wonder if the miracles were more influential than the parables in getting the disciples to carry the torch forward. 

Scripture is silent about whether any of the disciples tried to reinterpret any of Jesus’s parables, though Peter spoke of people changing and talking in tongues and believing in Jesus. It seems to me that only Paul, later on, was able to really capture what Christianity and Jesus were about—better than any of the disciples.

Jay: Paul was another one who had to experience a miracle. It is very interesting that he was the only one who got it.

C-J: I think if we truly understood that we are sons and daughters of God, which means we are spirit beings first, and we can just slough off the temporal, it’s much easier to be able to receive and I think that’s why Paul was able to receive. People having that encounter, that Damascus experience. It wasn’t about him being able to see again—physically see the world around him. He said: “Lord, Lord.” Jesus didn’t speak first: “Lord, Lord” and I think that we cannot manifest that within our psyche, within our reality, if you’re mentally healthy. 

That is something that is a reconnection of the Divine, with the creation in us. We got separated, our spirit beings got separated, you can say it’s through sin or over-intellectualizing things; I don’t know. I think the Damascus experience is very personal, it isn’t about Gideon saying, “Well, I believe if I put this down, and this happens.” Speaking for myself, I don’t need a miracle. I have miracles. But I don’t base my life on those miracles. It’s just a profound sense of the Divine everywhere and in everything, even if I don’t understand. And that I believe is that cord being reconnected. Only God can do that. In any faith, at any time or place.

Jay: Next week, Donald will talk a little bit about photography and the image of God. Can the abstract be portrayed through picture? Can we can get a sense of or a feeling for the abstract, from photography? Can God be revealed through what we see.? Does it tie in with the miracles of Jesus and how they reveal some things about God? 

One of the aspects of God that’s come out in today’s conversation is his power as revealed by the miracles of Jesus.

David: Perhaps we could also see if there’s anything to be gained from a look at the post-Jesus miracles—statues of the Virgin Mary weeping blood and so on.

Donald: The whole concept of “miracle” may be worth discussing. Sometimes it seems quite different than the 37 miracles of Jesus. A patient healed by a physician might call it a miracle, while the physician says it’s just science.

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