July 26, 2009
A man was very rapidly losing his hair, and this caused him a good deal of concern. So he was attracted to an advertisement in the newspaper. “Miracle formula! Guarantee: a full head of hair within 24 hours!” Now of course he was skeptical, but he was also hopeful. So he called the manufacturer. “How is it possible,” he said, “that you can guarantee a full head of hair in 24 hours?” “It’s a miracle formula,” the manufacturer responded. “It’s made of persimmon and olive.” “I’m suspicious of miracles,” the man said. “But you assure me that this formula will grow hair?” “Oh, no,” said the manufacturer, “it doesn’t grow hair. It shrinks your head to fit the hair you have.”
We can be justified in being suspicious of miracles, especially when they are miracles that contradict the laws of nature. Now I believe that dramatic miracles can happen. But they’re few and far between. That is why it is important to remember that there are different kinds of miracles, and why Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are so helpful. Jesus looks up and sees a vast and hungry crowd, and he gives his disciples a command: “Make them sit down.” Now at first this command of Jesus can seem marginal, a throwaway line. But things change when we ask, “Why would Jesus say it?” I suggest that Jesus wanted the crowd to sit down so that they would not miss what he was about to do. Think of it. In a huge crowd, there are all kinds of things happening. People are talking and arguing and complaining and thinking and wondering. As they mill around in their own particular preoccupations, it would be easy for them to miss the miracle that Jesus was about to perform. So Jesus’ command to sit down was a command to pay attention, to recognize the action of God before their eyes.
This command of Jesus can be very useful to us in dealing with miracles, because we often overlook the miracles in our lives. Now of course, if the sun was to stop still or rain began to fall up, we would all notice that. But most miracles are not so dramatic. Some miracles are constantly present. They are the ones that are easy to overlook. We can overlook the way in which our lungs draw oxygen from the invisible air, which allows us to remain conscious and alive. We can forget the way our kidney filters our blood, preserving the elements that are good and eliminating the ones that are poisonous. We can forget how our pancreas works with its own sugar thermometer, keeping the level of sugar in our blood constant. If it failed to do this, we would go into a coma and die. We forget the miracle of how a baby learns to talk, how suddenly we can come to an idea, how music can make us cry. We forget the wonder of how a blade of grass grows, or how a few cells within the womb divide and multiply until they form a human person with fingers and a personality and eyes that can see color. We can overlook the fact of the earth spins on its axis and thereby prevents the oceans from falling into the sun. Science continues to explore and explain many of these phenomena in our world. Yet science is not the enemy of miracles. Even when we can explain our world, it does not make it ordinary. It still retains its wonder.
Jesus calls us to sit down, to pay attention, to recognize the wonders that surround us. If we do that, think of how it could change us. Would it not make us more humble, more hopeful, more patient, more alive? We live in a world of miracles. Let’s make sure that we take the time to see them, because every time we take one in, we recognize the presence of God.