Sunday, March 01, 2009

Simon is Surprised

One of the most unnerving things about miracles is that no excuse is made for them. I'm not talking about the straw-grasping scientific conjecture which attempts to explain the inexplicable. I mean the paranormal. We as a people are a bit obsessed with the paranormal. Maybe its our overarching fear of death, that immaterial border beyond which empirical though cannot reach. Perhaps we simply have a fascination with the fantastical. I suspect that both of these are true, and yet miracles do not subscribe to either characteristic. In the most immediate terms, they just are what they are.

Besides the important context in which Jesus performed miracles (although "performed" is not a great translation; the Greek "ginomai," translated "performed" in Matthew 11:20, has more in common with bringing something into being than with performance in the modern Western sense of the word), there is a conspicuous absence of taboo or spooky language. There are no creaking floors or clanking chains. Jacob Marley and the spectral King Hamlet are nowhere to be found.

A virgin is pregnant. It is no wonder that Mary asks "How can this be?" as if she were asking how a stopwatch worked. Her frame of reference for God is firmly rooted in reality, not the deception of light shows and wand-waving, much as I enjoy Harry Potter and find a pressing sense of Gospel truth woven amongst its narratives. Mary's character, as spoken by Gabriel in Luke 1:28 and revealed by her submissiveness to God ten verses later, stands in stark contrast to that of the superstitious Simon the Sorcerer. Simon, according to Acts 8, had made a long enough career out of amazing people with magic for word about to spread throughout Samaria. He seemed to think that the movement of the Holy Ghost was more akin to a magic trick than to the genuine and immediate action of the Divine.

Surrounding miracles, the language of the Scriptures is rather journalistic in its sparseness. What was water is now wine. A blind man sees. A leper is made whole. A dead man is quickened. There are no wands or flourishes. There is no spooky music.