Do we believe that God still raises people from the dead? Apparently we do. There’s a book which lists 400 occurrences since the time of Christ, of Saints raising people from the dead. Francis Xavier is one of these saints, he alone is said to have raised four people during his time as a missionary throughout East Asia. So why does God raise people from the dead and why doesn’t he do it more often? This is a question of conjecture into the mystery of God, but let me do the best I can to answer.
If we look at the readings from today, we will find a common pattern to these miracles of revival. Firstly, they are between a mother and her son. The son has died, but through the grace of God, the son is revived and given back to his mother. So what can we bring out from the pattern?
Firstly, miracles confirm and strengthen faith. In both cases the witnesses to these miracles make a statement about God’s presence and activity on earth. About the prophet Elijah the mother said, “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God, the word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.” And about Jesus the crowd said, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.” God confirms the workings of his agents through miracles. The people already have some faith, but through witnessing miracles their faith is enlivened.
But this is not all, both of these miracles communicate or reveal something; they are signs. They are not only signs of God’s presence and activity in the minister; they explain and foreshadow God’s workings. Why in both cases is the mother said to be a widow? These miracles communicate that God is bringing humanity back to life. The human race had lost it’s future; it’s son. She had also lost her husband; her relationship with God. But through the working of God; her future was restored; her son was given back to her. That is, these physical, earthly miracles were signs of what God was doing spiritually.
These miracles point to even more, however. They foreshadowed what would happen to Christ, the Son of God and of Mary. But prepare us to understand that if it was by God’s power working through a minister that these boys were raised; then it was also by God’s power that Jesus was raised. But in the case of Jesus, it was not by God’s power working through any minister; the power was within the Son himself. He had no need of an external prophet raising him from the dead; thus Jesus himself was and is divine. The resurrection of Christ was different from all other miracles that have ever been worked. We see this reflected in the change of faith in the disciples when they witness their risen Lord. Scripture tells us, when they saw him, they believed. Their faith was brought to another level, not in its strength, but in what it understood about Christ, his power, and his plan for them.
And this brings us to a truth about miracles in general, they are worked for a spiritual purpose. Yes, he looks upon our earthly difficulties with compassion, but more importantly is our spiritual well being. He works the physical miracles, to assure us that he has power to work spiritually. If he has the power to bring back the dead, he has the power to grant eternal life. If he has the power to heal physical sickness, he has the power to heal spiritually, to cleanse me of my sin so that I can live in the joy of Christ. Getting back to the example of St. Francis Xavier, he was a missionary, and these people had no idea of the truth of his preaching. This was a perfect context for God to work miracles, to signify to these people the truth of the words he preached.
Of course this leads us to ask, why doesn’t God work more miracles then? If they strengthen our faith and reveal truth, why are there only 400 documented cases of revival and not 4 billion? This is a mystery of God’s loving will, but we can conjecture a few reasons. First if God surrounded us by miracles, there would be no more room for faith. His existence and activity would be so clear, that the gift and grace of faith would be an unnecessary thing. Belief based on faith rather than observation and reason is of a higher order; it is more certain because it comes from God. It is more precious. God likes to confirm faith, but he doesn’t want to take away its primacy. Secondly, if God surrounded us by miracles, we would have no option but to believe in him. As it stands, miracles are rare enough that they can people can turn from their gift of faith, from their belief in God without clearly being wrong in every way. God allows us to explain away the miracles he works and has worked in history in order to respect our freedom to choose him. If he caged us in a world of miracles; we would have no choice but to believe. Finally, by withholding physical miracles except when circumstances are appropriate, God teaches us that spiritual well being is of a much higher value than the physical. He doesn’t always answer our prayers regarding extending our life on earth, but he offers eternal life in heaven. He doesn’t always heal the wounds of our bodies, but he guarantees the effectiveness of a priest’s absolution of our sins in confession.
As we move through Ordinary time once again, we will be hearing more of the miracles of Christ. Let us understand them for their true power; not as invitations to expect miracles in our own lives; though it is appropriate to ask for them; but to see miracles as proof of God’s power and love; and revelations of aspects of our faith. Whether they have happened to others or to us; we can rejoice as they bring great benefit to both the Church and to all future believers.