There are at least 3 miracles Jesus performed that were used by the Gospel writers to transition from one literary section in the Gospels to another. These miracles were also used as metaphors. I am going to write about the three I have noticed which are most obvious. If there are others, I am not aware of it.
OUTLINE OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels) follow very similar outlines.
I. Birth Narratives are found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. The Birth Narratives move from the beginning of each book and end just before the Baptism of John. From the Baptism of John to the end of the books, the Synoptic Gospels follow the same outlines.
II. In The Early Ministry of Jesus, people discovered who Jesus was. Readers discovered gradually who Jesus was through his teachings and through his works of power, that is, his miracles. Most of Jesus’ miracles were performed in this section of the Gospels.
The Early Ministry of Jesus begins with the Baptism of John and climaxes with the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus is visited by Moses and Elijah. This section is also climaxed by the disciples’ discovery that Jesus is the Christ – the promised messiah.
At least 8 miracles in this section demonstrated that Jesus had power and authority over elements of this world. Those elements included sin, demons, the spoken word, the world of the unclean, death and life, the seas and the storms, the Sabbath, and over Rome itself. Each of these were addressed individually in recent posts.
III. Jesus’ Walk to Jerusalem was the second part of Jesus’ ministry which was marked by more teaching and less by miracles. The teaching was designed to help the disciples unlearn some of their preconceived messianic understanding and in place of self and national interest, learn who the messiah really was and what it meant to follow this messiah.
IV. During Jesus Time in Jerusalem, he debated with the powers of Jerusalem and prepared his disciples for the fall of Jerusalem which was to begin 3 decades later.
V. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the last section.
HEALING USED AS METAPHOR
At least three healing miracles of Jesus were carefully placed in the literary structures of the Gospels as metaphors to transition into a new section within the outline of the book, or to conclude a section.
When the writers use miracles as metaphors, it does not mean that the miracles did not happen. It is possible for a true miracle to take place and for the writers to see that the miracle as a metaphor for something the disciples or the readers were going through.
Years ago I was a pastor of a church that was going through a lot of struggle in part because so many new cultures were coming in. During that time a baby in our congregation was healed from a terrible ear infection. The healing brought new life into the infant creating a lot more work and responsibility into the lives of the parents. I got a phone call from the mother one week after the healing with the mother telling me she could no longer control her little girl because the child was into everything. Before the child was healed, the baby was easy to take care of, but within minutes of praying for the baby, she became a terror.
I believed the healing I witnessed was metaphorical in that our congregation was like that child. As long as the church was unhealthy, it remained docile and easy to keep under control. But as soon as the new people came in (especially new people from other cultures), it seemed like things got out of control. Some members of the congregation felt threatened and wanted to turn the church back to where it was before (in other words, get rid of some of the new cultures), but others got involved in great ways. Overall the church faced new difficulties and stresses it never had before. The baby had come alive and got healthy.
The same was true in Jesus day. There were healing miracles that demonstrated what was going on with the community of disciples andwith those reading the Gospels.
THE THREE TRANSITIONS
“I see men as trees walking (Mark 8:24)!”
During the first part of Jesus’ ministry, as he was showing his disciples that he had power and authority over different realms, the disciples and others were asking who Jesus was and how or where he got such authority. Meanwhile, the demons knew who he was and boldly confessed that he was the Son of God. Even though the demons knew, people did not get it but were very curious. Many of the religious leaders thought Jesus got his power from Satan, Herod thought he was the spirit of John the Baptist, common people thought Jesus was a prophet, but the disciples came closest to the real answer because they had seen Jesus take authority over so many realms. Toward the end of the first part of Jesus’ ministry, after his authority was demonstrated, Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought he was.
After several answers were given, Jesus asked who the disciples thought he was. Peter answered correctly by saying he was the Christ and this answer was, according to Jesus, a revelation from God. But as soon as Jesus began stated that the Christ had to suffer, the demonic side of Peter’s revelation came out and Peter rebuked Jesus. Jesus in turn rebuked the demonically inspired words of Peter pointing out that Satan serves human desires and needs and not God’s.
Peter’s confession and rebuke revealed that he saw in part both God’s and Satan’s side of things. He saw that Jesus was truly the messiah/the Christ, but his revelation was dragged down to self interest and national self interest. He saw men as trees walking. He had blurred vision. He was beginning to see God’s plan, but he only saw in part. He was like the blind man who came to Jesus to be healed, but was only healed half way. Only after Jesus spit a second time into the blind man’s eyes did he see clearly. Mid way through Jesus’ ministry, the disciples were like the blind man before he got the second round.
I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)!”
After Peter’s confession and rebuke, the revelation that Jesus was the messiah (the first of two applications in opening the disciples eyes) was established at the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was glorified and visited by Moses and Elijah. Coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples’ struggle and half sight was again emphasized from a different angle by a man who wanted his son to be delivered from a demon, who previously went to the disciples, but the disciples failed. Before his son was freed from a demon, he confessed to Jesus that he believed but needed help with his unbelief. In the words: “I believe, help my unbelief,”
Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road (Mark 10:52).
After the confession of a faith struggle, the Gospels changed direction into a description of what it really meant to follow the Christ. In this next section of Jesus ministry there are fewer miracles (in fact, Mark has no miracles in this section until the transitional conclusion miracle), because Jesus wanted to help the disciples to see that following him was not self centered or nation centered gratification. Rather, following him meant serving others and taking up a cross. The disciples could only see clearly after they understand what it meant to follow Jesus. Jesus was the messiah and that meant glory, power, authority, and all that came with being the messiah; but with all the glory came responsibility and suffering.
When Jesus had finished teaching the disciples about suffering and responsibility, he entered into Jerusalem and the last week of his life. The end of his ministry began when he entered Jerusalem and a blind man cried out from the crowd, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus answered his request and opened the man’s eyes so that he could see clearly.
The disciples were blind before they met Jesus, they saw his works and their eyes began to open, but they could only see clearly after understanding that following Jesus included service, suffering, and dedication to God’s plans rather than to human plans.
These transitional healing miracles were more than transitions. They helped define where the disciples’ feelings and beliefs were during crucial periods of Jesus’ ministry. The miracles also reflected back to the readers many of their own thoughts and feelings; for many readers were also in expectation of some great hero who would rise up and serve the interests of human power, as well as self and country interest.
I like readers of my blogs to draw their own conclusions, but in this case, I would like to give some food for thought; especially since this is election season.
How much is our Jesus a reflection of our own self or national interest? Are we also serving the messiah half blind? Do we see mostly what Jesus does for us and for our country? Does Jesus serve the interest of our own concepts of what our country should look like?