He was almost breathless telling me about the event he experienced. It was overwhelming to him. He and several friends from his parish were thrilled to have a myrrh streaming icon come to their community and this precious Orthodox convert was simply amazed at witnessing this sign of God’s presence and reality. I experienced this beautiful event myself and shared his awe and wonder at God’s goodness and mercy to we humans.
I also experienced something else – concern. You see, I know all too well the intoxicating power of spiritual experiences and miracles. Being raised in a religious world where the stories of the miraculous were plenty, I was use to hearing unexplainable stories of physical healings, visions, and “rescues” just in the nick of time. Some of these stories were even true! What all these stories had in common was the sense of thrill that accompanied them. And that’s where I got concerned.
Look at our lesson today in John 4:46-54:
At that time, there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live”; and he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
The Gospels are filled with Jesus doing miraculous healings, walking on water, and even raising the dead. But these events also have something else in common, Jesus makes no show of His miracles. They are matter of fact, and even treated as “normal” if that word can be applied to events like these.
So here, we see the same sobriety and normalcy, but with a tinge of warning.
Jesus tells this man who desperately approaches Jesus on behalf of his deathly ill son, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Why does the Lord say this? Wouldn’t any father who loves his child do the same if he know Someone who could save his child’s life? Of course he would. As usual, the Lord says this for everyone else’s benefit, including us. And He does this to direct us away from the spectacle and toward a sobriety that leads to spiritual maturity and freedom.
The danger in becoming intoxicated with wonder filled events is that intoxication, left unchecked, always leads to addictions. And addictions always result in the loss of freedom. All too often our wonder at wonderful events blind us to the “back door” dangers of becoming fixated and then actually needing these events to shore up our immature faith. And that leads us off the narrow path that the Orthodox Faith insists we walk.
Today, God, in His mercy and love for us, gives us markers of His presence and His grace in wonderful events like weeping icons, physical healings, and miraculous interventions to rescue us. But He also, for the very same reasons, chooses, out of His love for us, to not do miraculous “signs.” We rejoice when He does AND we rejoice when He doesn’t, knowing that our faith isn’t addicted to “signs and wonders” but to the sober and mature love we have for Him Who leads us to be Orthodox on Purpose!