The word of the day is “signs.” Christianity is a religion of miracles. In our scientific age, we might minimize the importance of supernatural events in the scriptures and the founding of Christianity. But in today’s reading of 2 Corinthians 12:10-19, Paul points to the “signs and wonders” that demonstrate that he is an apostle like the others. Thus, in today’s passage, we learn the significance of miracles and their role in the achievement of our salvation.
Miracles in the Book of Acts
The Book of Acts reports an astonishing number of such signs, wonders, and miracles. People who gather from all parts of the world hear the Gospel in their own languages (2:22); a lame man walks (3:8); earthquakes accompany prayer (4:31); an angel opens prison doors (5:19); liars and cheaters are struck dead (5:10); a Gentile has a vision of an angel (10:3); and chains fall off and prison gates open of their own accord (12:7-10). Not only St. Peter works these marvels, but Philip, Stephen the Deacon, and the apostles in general as Luke reports, “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people (5:12).
Miracles By the Hand of Paul
St. Paul insists in today’s reading that he is not lacking in such confirmations of apostleship. He writes, “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders, and mighty deeds” (16:12). Indeed, in Acts Paul blinds a sorcerer (13:11); performs signs and wonders in Iconium (14:3,4); heals a man who is crippled in Lystra (14:8-18); casts out a demon that possessed a slave girl in Philippi (16:16); heals the sick in Ephesus either in person or by handkerchiefs and aprons brought to him (19:11-12); casts out evil spirits in Ephesus (19:12); raises a young man from the dead in Troas (20:12); is not harmed by a poisonous snake bite in Malta (28:5); and heals the father of a leading citizen of Malta who had a fever and dysentery as well as those who were sick on the island (28:8-10).
This sampling of marvelous events demonstrates that Christianity is not merely a philosophy of moral virtue or a program of healthy living. It is founded on the revelation of the supernatural, the extraordinary acts of the transcendent God whose divine Word is continually at work in the world for our salvation whether people recognize it or not.
The Miracle of All Miracles
True, “signs and wonders” are not the core of the Gospel. The Lord said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39). The miracle of all miracles is the victory of Christ’s triumph over death and the grave. And the wonder of all wonders is the demonstration of the love of God of the cross. All other signs and wonders simply confirm the message of the saving, redeeming, and healing power of God in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Thus, St. Gregory of Nyssa teaches the role of these miracles, “Marvels are not performed for the purpose of terrifying those who happen to be present, but they look to the benefit of those being saved. By these marvels of virtue, the enemy is defeated and his own people are strengthened” (Gregory-of-Nyssa 1978, 68-69).
Miracles participate in God’s work of salvation from evil and the Evil One. Moreover, they reinforce the faith of believers. The faithful do not put their trust in them. But they testify to the One whose almighty mercy, power, and goodness are revealed in them. Thus, for Paul they do not replace the all-important preaching of the cross. But they confirm that he is the apostolic messenger of that Gospel.
For Reflection: Miracles Today?
Our study prompts us to reconsider our view of signs and wonders. They play an essential role in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. The prevalence and significance of miracles in the scriptures open the question of their role in the life of faith today. Has science replaced miracles as the primary way that people are healed in body, mind, and soul? What is the reason we pray for one another? Aren’t our prayers asking for some kind of divine action, even intervention? Therefore, isn’t an answer to prayer a miracle? Perhaps we are not seeing miracles in today’s world because we are not looking for them.
Gregory-of-Nyssa. 1978. The Life of Moses Translated by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson. New York Paulist Press