A few pointers

signsIn the four gospels, there are several stories of the miracles of Jesus, and several words used to describe them.

Sometimes, they are referred to as “works,” using a mundane Greek word — ergon — that could simply be translated as “deeds.” John uses the word often: the gist, generally, is that Jesus knows that his Father has given him work to do, and that God is actively working in and through him (e.g., John 14:10).

Sometimes the word used — dunamis — suggests the power or supernatural ability represented by the miracle. It’s the word from which we get the English, “dynamite.” Thus, while the NIV has the word “miracles” in Matthew 7:22, the NRSV has “deeds of power.”

And sometimes, the word is “sign” — semeion — as it is in John’s description of Jesus’ act of turning water into wine: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11, NRSV).

John uses the word “sign” several times to describe what Jesus does. His miracles are not ends in themselves, but are meant to be direction pointers. They point away from themselves to a reality beyond them: God is alive and well, acting here, now, in and through his Son.

The problem, of course, is that miracles can also draw attention to themselves. Read the stories in John. Sometimes Jesus’ miracles succeeded in pointing to the larger truth and eliciting a response of faith. And sometimes not.

Given all this, though, it’s interesting to realize how invisible this first public sign of Jesus seems to be. Mary approaches Jesus privately to ask him to do something about the shortage of wine. Thus, Mary knows about the miracle, but she was expecting one in the first place.

The servants also know about the miracle, because they had to carry out Jesus’ instructions. But the headwaiter knows nothing about it. And presumably, neither did the host nor the wedding guests.

As miracles go, therefore, this is a rather quiet one.

John, however, suggests that the consequence of Jesus revealing his glory in this way is that his disciples believed.

Okay. Believed what?

That Jesus could do miracles? Well, duh. That he was therefore God’s Messiah? Probably, though their understanding of what the Messiah should do and be needed some revision. That he would be arrested, crucified, and raised from the dead? Definitely not.

The point, I think, is that the disciples saw the miracle, and were even more willing to trust him, to follow him, to give their lives to him. They could be a thick-headed bunch, and still had a lot to learn. Some of those lessons wouldn’t come until after the resurrection and after Pentecost. But however shaky their understanding, it was important that they trust their Master.

Jesus didn’t need any fanfare. He wanted the trust of his followers.

That includes all who would be his disciples, in every time and place.