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5. JESUS’ WORKS OF WONDER.
As to the fact that Jesus worked miracles, it is true, they are all agreed. And it is only on the surface that the number, according to Jn.’s account, has to be thought of as somewhat limited. He, as a matter of fact, continually presupposes that it was large (ii. 23; iv. 45; vi. 2; vii. 31; xi. 47; xii. 37; xx. 30), and in xx. 31 expressly says that he has only included a selection of them in his book. And yet it is significant that among these that class of miracles is not found which not only, according to the Synoptics, was the most common, but also (according to the general agreement of modern historians and theologians of every school) least deserves to be doubted—we mean the cure of so-called possessed persons or demoniacs, that is to say, of the 19mentally sick, a cure which is effected by physicians fairly often even in our own times.
Next, it must certainly appear strange that the miracles reported in Jn. are often more marvellous in their character than those in the corresponding narratives of the Synoptics. Amongst the stories of cures in the Synoptics we do not hear of a man being healed by Jesus who had been ill for thirty-eight years; nor amongst the references to blind men, of sight being given to one who was born blind. The daughter of Jairus, according to Mk. v. 22-43, was raised very soon after her death; the young man at Nain, according to Lk. vii. 11-17, on the way to burial, which in the hot climate of Palestine took place on the very day of death, or, according to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the Acts of the Apostles (v. 5 f., 10), immediately after death (cp. also Tobit viii. 10-16). To understand what a difference is implied when we are told that Lazarus was not resuscitated until the fourth day after his death, we must bear in mind the Jewish idea that the soul hovered about a dead body for three days after death and was ready to return to it. On the fourth day it finds the appearance of the dead person so completely altered that it forsakes it once and for all.
It would also be a great mistake to suppose that the description of the walking on the Lake of Galilee is more easy to accept in Jn.’s account (vi. 16-21) than in that of the Synoptics (Mk. vi. 45-52), because it is supposed to admit of a perfectly natural explanation. Thus stress is laid on the fact that the Greek words, Jesus walked “upon the sea,” might also mean “by the sea,” and it is assumed that the disciples with their boat, without noticing it, kept quite near the shore or had come near it again; Jesus passed close by the water’s edge, and it was only the high waves that 20made it appear as if he walked upon the water. This conception is supposed to find further support in the concluding words (Jn. vi. 21), “they wished then to take him into the ship, and immediately the ship struck the land.” On this view there is only one thing omitted, and that is the chief point we mean the four words which follow, “to which they steered.” By this, as we are expressly told in vi. 11 is meant the opposite shore of the sea. The Evangelist, therefore, really emphasises the fact that Jesus walked across the whole sea and did not need to be taken into the boat, as in the Synoptics.
Yet another view is suggested by the changing of the water into wine at the marriage-feast at Cana (Jn. ii. 1-11). This miracle is one which Jesus performed not on a man but on an inanimate object, and hardly any one can say that it was prompted by heartfelt compassion for suffering humanity. The Evangelist also assigns to it a quite different meaning: “this was the first sign which Jesus did and whereby he announced his majesty.” Not every work of wonder is in itself a “sign” of this kind. Any one of them of course may be such a “sign,” if its purpose is to accredit the divine power of the worker; and many works of wonder must necessarily be regarded as “signs” in this sense, because no other purpose can be recognised in them.
Now the Synoptics also report certain works of wonder of this kind, for example the withering of the fig-tree after Jesus had cursed it (Mk. xi. 12-14, 20 f.), and we must certainly assume that other miracles of Jesus as well, works of wonder done from compassion, seemed to them to be “signs” quite as much as anything else. Nevertheless, the distinction still holds good that compassion as the ruling idea of the wonder-works of Jesus is in these as 21much in the foreground as it is in the background in Jn. The latter mentions not merely, as we have just noted, that the turning of the water into wine at Cana was the first miracle, but also says expressly that the healing of the son of the royal official of Capernaum was “the second sign which Jesus did in Galilee” (iv. 54); in fact he uses the word “sign” continually for Jesus’ works of wonder, and in this Gospel Jesus emphasises the idea (v. 36; x. 25) that these “works,” by which he means his works of wonder, are witnesses that he has been sent by God, and that though one refuses to believe his words, one must believe his “works” (x. 38; xiv. 11).
Now the view thus taken by Jn. is directly opposed to an utterance of Jesus preserved to us in the Synoptics. When the Pharisees wish to see a “sign” from him, he answers “there shall no sign be given unto this generation.” So Mk. viii. 11-13. In Mt. (xii. 39; xvi. 4) and Lk. (xi. 29) he adds “except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” It almost seems as if this addition were in full contradiction with Mk.’s account. But appearances are deceptive. That is to say, by the “sign of Jonah” is meant something which is really no sign at all—in fact the contrary of a sign. This unusual mode of expression is very effective. An illustration will make this clear at once. Suppose that a conqueror suddenly invades a country, that the inhabitants send ambassadors to him and ask for credentials to justify his raid, and that he answers, “no credentials shall be given to you but the credentials of my sword.” And the idea in Jesus’ words about the sign of Jonah is really similar, for he says in continuation, “the people of Nineveh shall rise up in judgment with this generation (with which I have to deal), and shall condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and 22behold a greater than Jonah is here “in my person (Mt. xii. 41). Here we are actually told in what the sign of Jonah consists: it is his preaching. And what Jesus has to offer—though in a more perfect form—is of course also preaching. He desires merely to preach, not to do “signs.” Nor is this a principle which he sets before himself one day and ignores the next. The generation of the Pharisees was not unworthy one day and worthy the next to see a “sign” from him. Here then we have evidence of priceless value to show that Jesus declined on principle to do, not all works of wonder, but all such as might be supposed to serve the purpose of accrediting his exalted rank. And he must really have uttered these words, for none of all his recorders who believed that Jesus really did works of wonder with this intention would have invented them.
In order to emphasise fully the importance of such passages, we describe them as foundation-pillars of a really scientific Life of Jesus. That is to say, every historian in whatever field he may work, in a story which shows that the author worshipped his hero, follows the principle of regarding as true anything that runs counter to this worship, because it cannot be due to invention. Since we possess several Gospels, we are in a position to note, in addition, how one or more of them will sometimes remodel, sometimes remove altogether, passages of this nature because they were too offensive to one who worshipped Jesus. In their original form, therefore, such passages show us most certainly how Jesus really lived and thought, that he did so in a way which we—though we fully recognise in him something divine—must describe as truly human. Secondly, if it were not for such passages we could not be sure that we may, to some extent at least, rely upon the Gospels in which they are found, 23that is to say upon the first three. If they were entirely wanting in them it would be difficult to reply to the claim that the Gospels nowhere present to us anything but the figure of a saint delineated on a background of gold, and that we cannot know how Jesus really lived and worked, nor perhaps whether he even lived at all. The foundation-pillars on which, in addition to that mentioned above, we may lean in our effort to gain a correct idea of the wonder works of Jesus, will be discussed on p. 41, and in Chap. III., §§ 18 and 19; the rest which are important for other sides of Jesus character, on pp. 24 f., 26 f., 27 f., 29 and 43.
Naturally all that we find to be trustworthy in the Synoptics is by no means limited to these nine “foundation-pillars.” It is one of the chief duties of a historian to show that the success which a great character has had in history can be understood from his words and works. But in the case of Jesus the success has been so great that even an inquirer who is quite sober in his attitude towards him must search out and accept as true everything that was calculated to establish his greatness and to make the worship which was offered to him by his contemporaries intelligible, provided that it is not in conflict with the picture of Jesus presented by the foundation- pillars, and does not for other reasons arouse in us doubts which are well founded.
Coming back to Jesus’ words about the “sign of Jonah,” after what has already been said about it, it may be gathered how lacking in intelligence the man must have been who inserted, between the saying about the sign of Jonah and that about the people of Nineveh, the sentence “for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three 24nights in the heart of the earth.” Moreover, this insertion is found only in Mt. xii. 40, not in Mt. xvi., nor in Lk. and Mk. What then is meant? The day will come when the Pharisees shall see the miracle of Jesus resurrection. And then we are told further in Mt. that “the people of Nineveh . . . repented at the preaching of Jonah.” Did Jonah preach to them about his coming forth from the belly of the fish? And if he had done so, could it have made much impression upon them? A miracle one wishes to see with one’s own eyes, not merely to hear about. But, besides this, we are told quite correctly, in agreement with the Old Testament book which deals with Jonah, what it was that he preached to the people of Nineveh: it was repentance. Thus the idea introduced, that Jesus told the Pharisees they would one day see the miracle of his resurrection, is not appropriate here.
Why do we spend so much time on this point which is not found at all in the Fourth Gospel? The reason is that in this too (ii. 18-22) Jesus is asked to show a “sign” (in proof that he has the right to drive the dealers from the fore-court of the Temple), and that he does not decline to do so as in the Synoptics, but points to his future resurrection, just as he does in the inappropriate insertion in Mt.; this event will prove his right to have driven the sellers—two years previously—from the Temple court.
As regards the miracle at Cana we have still to note the rôle played in it by Jesus mother. Although down to this time Jesus has never worked a miracle (Jn. ii. 11), his mother foresees that he will do one, and says to the servants, even after she has been rebuked by Jesus, “whatsoever he shall command you, that do.” How entirely different is the presentation of Mary in Mk.! Here (iii. 21 ) Jesus’ friends go 25out to seize him because they think him mentally distraught. Who these friends are we are very soon told in Mk. (iii. 31-35); his mother and his brethren come and send some one to summon him from the house; and only their intention to withdraw him from his active work and banish him to his parents house will explain his gruff answer, “Who is my mother and my brethren? Whosoever doeth the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” We may take it for granted that when Mk. tells us of this intention, and of the idea that Jesus was mentally distraught, he was relying upon unimpeachable information. This is clear when we look into Mt. and Lk. They do not say a word about these two things—and why, unless it was because they dare not believe anything of the kind?—and give only Jesus’ gruff answer, without of course reflecting what an unfavourable light is thrown upon Jesus, if it was not provoked by conduct on the part of his mother and his brethren which was quite intolerable.
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