On the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the gospel invites us to look at our belief in miracles. When it comes to miracles, it seems to me that there are three prevailing outlooks. The first one is that miracles take place every day. People who have this outlook believe in the marvelous power of prayer. For them, Jesus Christ, the healer, is always present for those with sufficient faith. Prayer makes things happen and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick yields actual healing be it for body, mind, or spirit. The words “Miracles Happen” express the outlook of these people.
The second outlook is that miracles never happen. People who have this outlook believe in accepting reality and might pray for the strength to do so. For them, Jesus Christ, the redeemer, is the hope in which they place their trust. For these people, prayer is primarily an act of submission and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is a preparation for death. The words “Stuff Happens” express the outlook of these people.
The third outlook lies somewhere between the first and the second ones. It is the outlook which is the operative spirituality for the gospel reading we hear today. Notice that Mark’s gospel does not want us to concentrate on the miracles that take place. Peter’s mother-in-law does not immediately jump up and go out to proclaim that a miracle has happened for her. Instead, she goes to work providing care for her family and hospitality for their guests. And Jesus does not remain to cure people he proceeds to the neighboring villages to proclaim the Good News. In Mark’s gospel, this emphasizes the fact that, “Yes, miracles do affect a few people” but more importantly the salvation of the cross affects all people. The words “Jesus Is Lord” express the outlook of these people.
A miracle is a vehicle of meaning, a sign, which challenges us for a personal response, invites us to conversion, and comforts us in our struggles. If I were to ask you, “Have your experienced a miracle?” What would be your response? “Well, of course!” “Well, I don’t know?” If at this moment you are living and breathing, then you are experiencing a miracle.
On a clear night, step outside your home and look up into the sky. The vastness of the heavens is a miracle. Everything that you see in the heavens belongs to one galaxy. There are hundreds more beyond our own. Maybe thousands…some much larger than ours. Let’s limit our miracle just to our own solar system…a tiny fraction of the universe above us. Because it is impossible to grasp the astounding distance, we need analogies, like those used in grade school science books, to assist us.
Imagine a perfectly smooth glass pavement on which the finest speck can be seen. Then shrink our sun from 865,000 miles in diameter to only two feet…and place a soccer ball on the pavement to represent the sun. Step off 82 feet and to represent proportionately the first planet, Mercury, put down a tiny mustard seed. Take 60 steps more and for Venus put down an M&M. Walk 78 more steps…put down a green olive representing our earth. Step off 108 steps from there and for Mars put down one speck of glitter. Sprinkle around some fine dust for the asteroids and take 788 steps more. For Jupiter place an apple on the glass at that spot. After 934 more steps, put down a kiwi for Saturn. Now it really gets involved. Mark 2,086 steps more, and for Uranus put down a jellybean. Another 2,322 steps from there you arrive at Neptune. Let a cherry represent Neptune. All this will take two and a half miles and we haven’t even talked about Pluto! If we swing completely around, we have a smooth glass surface five miles in diameter, yet just a tiny fraction of the heavens–excluding Pluto.
On this surface, five miles across, we have only a seed, M&M, olive, speck of glitter, some dust, an apple, kiwi, jellybean, and a cherry. Guess how far we would have to go on the same scale before we could put down another soccer ball to represent the nearest star. Come on guess! We would have to go 6,720 miles before we could arrive at this star. And this is just the first star among millions. All this in one galaxy among perhaps thousands, maybe billions of galaxies. And all of it in perpetual motion…perfectly synchronized…the most accurate timepiece known by us.
Don’t tell me miracles don’t happen! It is obvious that they do. Remember that for most of us a miracle is a vehicle of meaning, a sign, which challenges us for a personal response, invites us to conversion, and comforts us in our struggles.
Fr. Bob Kelly