Jesus and Elisha perform great miracles. What do we modern westerners do with this?
It’s possible you come from a church background in which the obvious takeaway is to pray for God to do the same thing in our lives here and now. Or maybe you believe such events are still possible, but less probable.
In any case, most of us preachers want to avoid suggesting that the difference between then and now is our lack of faith.
Once upon a time, Europe lived in an age of faith, which found buoyant expression in the massive popularity of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage shrines flourished across Europe, some drawing millions of followers each year, and new pilgrimage destinations emerged regularly to meet the demand.
I have a friend who was a college professor before she made the brave decision to leave the security of academia and strike out on her own as a writer. Once or twice a year she sends me two books and a nice note expressing her reluctance to add to the number of books I need to read—and her conviction that I will love these two. She is always right.
At my 20-week ultrasound appointment, my husband and I learned that the baby that we are expecting has a fatal birth defect. Sometime very early in his development something went drastically wrong. His skull never formed—the whole top and back part of it simply did not exist. We will probably never find a medical answer to why he developed this way.
The Bible is full of strange things—oil cruets and flour containers that never become empty and young bodies that are restored to life at a word from Jesus. Are we supposed to believe that these things happened? Maybe the ancient peoples did, but we moderns suffer under the curse of Bultmann’s lightbulb: we know why the light switches on. We are cursed by rationalities that prevent us from seeing the Bible as one overarching story in which our own lives play a key role.
Ministry is befuddling, either in the way the people we serve are just so very strange, or in the way the grace of God catches us off guard—or both. Granted, some out there “get” the liturgy and sound theology we’re offering them, and in admittedly wobbly ways try to embody what the scriptures are about.
There is an odd reticence about the healings in the lessons for this Sunday—there’s an expectation of big-bang pyrotechnics, followed by a matter-of-factness in the healings that seems to disappoint. The haughty Naaman is downright offended by the simplicity of Elisha’s prescription for curing his leprosy. I thought he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place . . . But nothing that glamorous is planned.
When I think of the Christmas story, I see the crèche that was displayed each year in the front hall of my family home. The manger scene began to take shape during the last week of Advent, when we cut fragrant pine branches and spread them on the hall table, then placed figurines of oxen and cows in the center. Mary and Joseph took their places amid the creatures.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.