Signs and Symbols of Hope
During the Church’s early days, the faithful rarely talked of what we now refer to as the “miracles” of Jesus’s mission. The healings, raising from the dead, and transformation of water into wine were all viewed differently. Just as the man whose sight was restored in today’s Gospel.
I am not sure exactly when in the history of the Church we started to refer to all these acts as miracles, but scripture itself talks of them as signs and symbols. Indeed, the early disciples, followers, and the New Testament authors spoke about them in these terms. So what is the difference between the word miracle and symbol/sign? Well, quite a lot. Today, we seem to want everything associated with God and his actions to be amplified, supernatural in nature, and impossible on our own. While these things may still be true, our desire to want to be “shocked,” “surprised,” and “exalted” by the act has, perhaps, caused us to elevate all of these supernatural acts to “miracle” status. I am going to return to this point again in a moment.
In a way, we seem to be missing the point of the “miracles” when the early Church did not. We tend to celebrate the miracles for themselves but rather not their importance and relevance. The act of healing or change was an act of supernatural powers, for sure; however, the reason was to prove the authority of God over all things man-made, which included our inability to heal ourselves during the time of Christ. The early Church and writers of the New Testament understood this fully, which is why they focused on the issue of signs and symbols of God’s authority and power rather than just the act itself. It proved God was above us, and most of all, Jesus Christ, in the second person of the Trinity, spoke with the authority of God. End of story. Listening to this authority is borne out in the other readings for today.
R. Those who are victorious I will feed from the tree of life. (Rev 2:17)
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
So today, perhaps if we move back for a moment and consider the “miracles” as symbols and signs of God’s authority and power, we can start to see more clearly. When we are driving from one town to another, we expect the signs that direct us there are accurate. If we drive East we don’t expect to move in a westerly direction. Signs and symbols tell us this, if we are heading the right way. For physical movement, we accept this, so why won’t we accept the authority of God without a miracle performed in front of our eyes? The answer is we want more.
Perhaps our reason for this is not being willing to accept God’s gift of hope to us. However, if we believe in hope, we already accept God’s authority and power. Not only this, but we are confident this power and his graces are coming our way in whatever form that may occur.
So, this week, let us accept the signs and symbols which God leaves for us in our lives, even if they are not all the miracles we are seeking. In doing so, that confidence and expectation of hope will return to us in considerable measure. Have a blessed week.
Michael Cunningham, OFS, is the Director and CEO of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California.