The Scriptures are not unlike the great catch of fish Peter made when, even after coming up empty handed all night long, he obeyed Jesus and set out into the deep. Like him we can read and hear the same passage again and again but, at Jesus’ command, it yields up treasures new and fresh.
This very thing happened to me on Thursday morning at Liturgy reading Luke 6:17-23. We hear this quite a lot in Liturgy because it is the reading for venerable monastic saints. The reading is St Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, and because of this and its connection with the monastic saints, when I hear it I think of the beatitudes - Blessed are meek, merciful, etc - and I associate the saints with these virtues and consider their blessedness. All good thoughts.
But Thursday I was suddenly struck by the words just prior to this in the reading: “And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.” (vs. 19) And then the One with this power that was healing them all, spoke! And suddenly I realized that the same power that went out from him and healed them all was also at work in these words: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled….”, and so on.
The great temptation for us, and for so many who hung around Jesus, is to think of the power that he exercised as magic, as impersonal force that he has somehow harnessed or channeled. This is why so many followed him seeking a sign, seeking miracles, but later turned on him when he set his face to Jerusalem and to the Cross. The Cross, after all, doesn’t look anything like magic or any sort of miracle to merely superstitious eyes.
But this is to completely misunderstand Jesus. He is not a magician, channeling power as simply a force for miracles and healing. His power is not magic, but divine grace. It is simply God himself in action, we might say. Grace is God working, and so it is not impersonal power but personal, divine act.
What hit me so clearly Thursday morning is that this same grace by which Christ healed them all is also at work in his words, which are also filled with divine power. His word, after all, brought the world into existence with simply a “Let there be….”, as we see in Genesis 1. His word alone raised Lazarus from the dead. And his powerful word says, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled….” The same Jesus who healed them all speaks to us in the Gospel today, and his word is the eternal, grace-filled word of God. And so, by keeping this word, aligning our life with his commandments, we become those who are touched by him, healed, and made whole. And the same Jesus who healed them all and who is present to us in his word is most fully present and acting in his Body and Blood in the chalice at the Divine Liturgy.
As God would have it, the same day I heard this word in Liturgy a friend sent me the following quote, which summarizes nicely some of these thoughts:
It is not commanded to us to seek for miracles. On the contrary, “an evil and adulterous generation looks for signs”. This desire for miracles is rejected in spiritual literature and life. We are commanded to not seek for miracles, but the Miracle, the most glorious miracle of human existence: the tasting of life from the Divine Body. And this miracle is completed at the Liturgy.
The world seeks magic and it seeks miracles no less today than 2,000 years ago (Dostoevsky emphasized this in the Grand Inquisitor). In fact, CS Lewis (among others) has pointed out the connection between the aims of much modern science and technology with medieval magic. But Christians seek not miracles, but The Miracle: Christ. May we seek him, and may we find him, where he always is to be found: in his word and in the chalice.
With love in Christ,