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September 5, 2003
"He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak."
Mark 7:37

Well, what a nice thing to say about someone, that He does everything well! A lovely compliment. We might just leave it at that, except that, upon rereading it, we cannot help but notice who says it: it is "the multitude," in my translation. "The crowd," in others. The crowd thinks Jesus is an immensely gifted person. Amazing. They can't stop talking about it. "He does things so well."

One thing you can always count on about the crowd in the gospel of Mark: they never get anything right. They can be counted to misunderstand just about everything Jesus does, or to comprehend it only superficially. They are the voice of error, the embodiment of an uncritical herd mentality. When they speak, we should listen -- something worth debunking has appeared.

Jesus heals a deaf man and the crowd goes wild. "He has done all things well." But is that really who Jesus is? A first-century Paul Bunyan? Someone who is bigger and smarter and nicer and braver and wittier than everyone else onstage? Is Jesus just a superhero?

People often appropriate Him that way. Jesus is a better version of ourselves. Jesus can do the things we can't do. Jesus preaches better than you. Jesus can leap tall buildings in a single bound. The Jesus Action Figure, making the rounds in toy stores and hip gift shops these days, is a clever bit of satire: take Jesus and make him into GI Joe in a robe, and right away you understand that you haven't said much about Jesus at all when you've said that he did a lot of things well.

It seems that nobody in the crowd, steeped in scripture as some of those people must have been, made the connection between Jesus' healings and the familiar prophecies about the coming of the Kingdom of God. "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped." Things will be different when the order of God prevails. That which limits us and breaks our hearts will be no more. What cannot be healed here, will be healed there.

More than anything else, Jesus understands himself to be a sign of this blessedness. His work is to proclaim the Kingdom, to show its radical healing of all that ails us. His miracles aren't about him. They're about God's redemption of the world through him.

Do you read the miracle stories with a touch of wistfulness, or more than a touch? Do you read of a healing and wonder for the thousandth time why your child died, your husband, your sister? What happened to their miracles? Didn't Super Jesus care enough about them to shrink his tumor, strengthen her heart, conquer the virus that savaged him? Is His presence a thing belonging to the past, a remarkable feature of first century life in a small country of the ancient Near East, not something we should expect today? Has He moved on, leaving us to live with our sorrows and hope for heaven?

Not everyone in first-century Palestine was healed of their diseases. All of them eventually died. Not everyone Jesus touched was healed, even -- in His home town, we read, He could perform no miracles. And the ones He did heal -- they, too, eventually died.

Not everyone was convinced by His preaching. Enough people weren't that it would be possible for the state to kill Him without anybody raising much of a ruckus.

Not everyone who knew Him had faith. His best friends often did not: failed to understand, failed to remain awake, failed to stand by Him, hid in fear after His martyrdom.

There may have been some things He didn't "do well," judging by outward appearances. But doing things well is not why He is here, just as it is not why we are here. Success is not Jesus' message. His message is fidelity to the Kingdom of God, and hope in its presence through a difficult life.

Study hard. Do your best. Do as many things well as you need to do well. But everything here is passing away, as we are. In the end, we are in Christ, and Christ will be all in all.
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