See Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:54-58
When I was in elementary school, I remember when all the kids in the neighborhood got together and put on a show. We rigged up a curtain of sorts by hanging an old bedspread in a screened porch, and arranged folding chairs for the audience. Then we practiced a small play, and added in a few musical solos, for which I played the piano. (Because we couldn’t move the piano closer to the play, I had to play it very loud, and even then it was barely audible.) As I remember it, it was a prodigious feat for little kids like us.
We invited all our mothers to come to our performance. (That was back in the days when housewives were not an endangered species and most mothers were home all day.) Although we did not charge admission, we went through the motions of collecting tickets and ushering our guests to their seats. Our audience was charmed by how cute that was. Then we put on our play.
We put a lot of work into our play. We had to invent everything from scratch and improvise sets and costumes from things our mothers reluctantly loaned us, and yet they didn’t pay attention! They sat there and gossiped with each other, commenting on whether this kid was a natural singer or that kid was terminally shy. At the end, they retained nothing of the plot or the story of our play; they just told us how cute we were. Cute! The word stung! We wanted them to take us seriously, as if we were adults putting on a play. But they were so well acquainted with us that all they saw were cute little kids, and no play at all.
Well, that is pretty much what happened to Jesus in today’s reading.
Jesus went back to His home town and preached in the synagogue. However, because they were well acquainted with His upbringing and family background, the people were so caught up in discussing about how such a person could say and do such things, that they did not pay attention to the implications of His ministry. Even Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.
Then it says that Jesus couldn’t do any miracles there except for a few healings.
Now some people think that healing is caused by faith in somewhat of a mechanical fashion; like heat causes gas to expand or butter to melt, and that Jesus was unable to perform miracles because the necessary ingredient was lacking. After all, how many times did Jesus say to someone, “Your faith has made you well” ? It almost sounds as if Jesus were giving lessons!
But I exhort you to study further. (I am not going to bury you in proof texts here, just point you in a direction for further study, so that you can come to your own conclusions.) If faith were the cause of healing, then healing would always result from faith. However, we see that there are exceptions where there is great faith and yet no healing. If such incidents haunt you from your past, I encourage you to exhume them from your memory, because I think there is much edification to be derived from these ‘failed’ healings.
In the New Testament we find that blessings do not come from impersonal, indifferent ‘spiritual principles’ which we may manipulate at will, but from a sentient and caring God. We do not conjure things in prayer, we do not compel healing by our faith, we REQUEST these things from God. By the very nature of a request, it may either be granted or denied. We see this in one instance where a leper approached Jesus for healing, and said, “If you want to, you can make me whole.” Jesus answered, “I want to,” and the man was healed.
Therefore we see God as the source of all things. God causes healing and all the other blessings of life to come to us, not some impersonal principle of faith. (The technical term for obtaining things by manipulating ‘spiritual principles’ is ‘magic,’ and God forbid we should do that!) Faith then, is the reason for healing and not its cause. In all cases of healing, and for that matter in any of Jesus’ miracles, the ultimate purpose was to cause, edify, or reward faith.
Since healing comes as a result of God’s choice and not our compulsion, it is clear that God may sometimes deny our requests. Since we know that the reason why God grants our requests is to draw us nearer to Him in faith, then it follows that He denies our requests if granting them would drive us away from Him.
Here are some examples of situations in which I think God would likely deny a request for healing:
- Where delayed healing prevents the sick person from a destructive activity or situation.
- Where continued illness motivates the sick person to self-examination and repentance.
- Where immediate healing would cause the person requesting it to become grandiose in glorifying his own importance.
- Where the sick person has finished his life, and the illness motivates him to finish his spiritual maturity, and motivates those around him towards God.
There may be others. Now take those haunting memories of ‘failed’ prayers and seek God’s wisdom in declining your requests. In facing those situations once again, you will be surprised how often even your limited human faculties can perceive the wisdom of God. Some, however, you may still not be able to understand. Have faith that these too served God’s higher purpose, and seek in prayer to conform yourself to God’s perfect will and wisdom. Magic seeks to make God conform to its will; true spirituality seeks to conform itself to God’s will.
Here is a hypothesis which you can test through study:
The source of healing is God’s will, and not our faith. God freely chooses whether to grant our requests; we cannot compel Him to act. Our faith is the reason why God grants our requests: to cause it, to edify it, or to reward it. Because God seeks to benefit us by granting our requests, any requests we make that would not benefit us are lovingly denied. We do not possess God’s perfect knowledge in this life, so there are instances in which we cannot figure out the reason why our request was denied. (Sometimes we are simply overcome by emotion and unwilling to face facts.)
So why could Jesus work no miracles in His hometown? Because He could not accomplish His purpose with them. There was no faith to edify or reward, and none could be caused: if He worked a miracle, they’d all chatter about whether or not someone of His background could do such a thing, but miss the whole point. Because He was able to heal a few sick people, we see that the phrase “couldn’t do any miracles” means that even though He was able to do miracles, there wasn’t anything to be accomplished by it. (When we say, “I can’t do anything” we do not mean that we are unable to act, but that our actions would be futile.)
In other words, if Jesus did work a miracle, the people would see the play, but not follow the plot. Just the problem we had when we were putting on our play.