How God Makes a Miracle

olive-850336_640How does God make a miracle? In the beginning, God spoke and created the miracle of life. In the gospels, Jesus spoke and healed the sick. In Acts,the Spirit of God descended in a mighty wind and spoke through the disciples in many different languages. In these and other instances, God performed a miracle with a divine word.

But sometimes God works a miracle through ordinary means, using the ordinary objects and everyday actions of human life. For example, when Jesus feeds the crowds, he uses the ordinary loaves and fishes of a boy’s lunch. When he gives sight to a man born blind, he begins by spreading ordinary mud on the man’s eyes. In this story of a poor widow, God also uses ordinary objects with extraordinary results:

Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few. Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside. So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” But he said to her, “There are no more.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.” ((2 Kings 4:1-7)

The word of the prophet Elisha may have set events in motion, but the rest was then left to the neighbours who lent their jars, to the children who carried them, to this unnamed woman who poured the oil. For this miracle, God used ordinary oil, ordinary household jars, and ordinary people.

I sometimes wonder, if the woman had borrowed fewer vessels, would God have given her less oil? If the neighbours had refused to lend them, would God have still met her need? In this text, it seems that God chose to limit divine power and to work instead through human action and human compassion. Once there were no more empty vessels, there was also no more oil.

Today we too could use a miracle. As Elisha heard the cry of the prophet’s widow, so we also hear the cries of people in need. As the prophet’s widow suffered from poverty and an oppressive economic system, so people still endure similar trials today. People still go hungry. Poverty still threatens the well-being and freedom of many women and their families.

And so we might well ask, if God is a God of miracles, where is our miracle today? How can we believe in God’s mercy and miraculous power, when so many still suffer and even starve?

For some, such questions may make us suspicious of any talk of miracles. That’s just a story in the Bible, we might say. That kind of thing doesn’t happen today. Others of us might tend to re-interpret this story in more narrowly spiritual terms. God satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst, we might say. When we are lonely and in need, God reaches out to touch us.

It’s true that God meets our inner and hidden needs with divine love and provision, but this story of the prophet’s widow seems to say something more: God meets our outward physical needs as well. Yes, the Merciful One met her spiritual needs–comforting her in her mourning and giving her strength to care for her children. And yes, her physical needs were met as well in a miraculous way! God intervened in the widow’s poverty-stricken situation and worked through her and others to provide.

Today we can also cooperate with God’s work in the world. We can share our resources with others, lend our vessels, carry them where they may be used. We can take what little we have and start pouring it out. Then perhaps God will use us to make a miracle.

Merciful and Mighty God, grant us the courage to reach out, to share, to work together with you and others to relieve suffering and do good. Fill our empty vessels, multiply our meagre resources, transform our ordinary actions with your extraordinary power. Amen.

Reflection/Writing Prompt: In what specific ways can you cooperate with God’s work in the world? How do you stand in the way of God’s work?

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6 replies

  1. Your poignant reflection recalls the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” a prayer for this moment.

    • Yes! Marian, I love the immediacy of that prayer, that at any moment, God might make me, or any of us, an instrument of peace. That means every moment is full of possibility, even those ordinary moments that we might sometimes take for grant.

  2. This is wonderful—and yet the concept has troubled me for years. Why does it seem that God works miracles for me—we’ve not died of starvation or sickness—even as refugees drown by the hundreds? It’s so painful to reflect on this dichotomy that I typically push it off to the side. I seem less and less able to do this as I age. I do not intend to undercut the beauty and encouragement of your piece April. Just pondering out loud.

    • I ponder this with you, Dorothy. In this Scripture text, God worked a miracle for a woman who was poor and suffering, and I want that miracle today for everyone who is poor, for everyone who is suffering. Yet that miracle doesn’t come for everyone today, nor did it in the time of this poor widow. That’s partly why I ask, how do we stand in the way of God’s work? Because I think we do get in God’s way both by our personal action or inaction, and by the structures of privilege that benefit some and put up barriers for others. We need to be asking the question you pose and many more like it. Thank you for raising this.

  3. Pope Francis said, “Pray for the poor, then go and feed them. That’s how prayer works.” The Laws of Nature are never suspended; magic never happens; calling good fortune “miraculous” is choosing to see reality through kaleidoscope glasses. The living earth and us in it is the most improbable of circumstances, the closest we can ever come to the comprehension of the amazing, the ‘miraculous’ if we must.

    • Thank you for the encouragement, George. I’ve also heard it said that in prayer we make ourselves available to God, which goes well with your Pope Francis quote.