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February 15, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

Each Spring I try to develop a theme in these articles that is appropriate for the Lenten season.  In the past I have written on the theme of resurrection in general, the resurrection appearances of Jesus, the geography of the Passion among other efforts.  I thought that this year I might share some thoughts on the miracles of Jesus.

The four Gospels record thirty-nine miracles of Jesus.  None of them are included in all four Gospels.  Matthew records the greatest number with twenty accounts.  John includes the least with only eight.  Seven of these take place prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  The last story follows the resurrection and takes place in the Galilee.

John’s Gospel is written later than the Synoptics which were all composed prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Luke wrote first around 57 AD while Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea by the Sea.  Mark and Matthew followed shortly after, and are dependent in part on Luke’s account.  John wrote his Gospel from his bishopric in Asia sometime in the nineties.  It is carefully structured at several levels.  Each of the miracles has a theological purpose.  Even the language used to describe the miracles is different in John.  The Synoptics use a Greek term which is the origin of our English word “dynamite.”  It is usually translated as “mighty work.”  John uses the Greek word “semeion,” which is translated as “sign” or “signs.”  In other words John is concerned that we understand that the miracles are pointers to the identity of Jesus.  His emphasis is on who Jesus is which is demonstrated by what he does.

Having just returned from my last trip to Israel I am very much aware that each of the miracle stories bears the evidence of familiarity with the time and place of the account.  The details all fit the situation.  They communicate the author’s presence at the scene.  It is these details that I would like to explore with this series of articles.  Since we do not have time or space to consider all thirty-nine miracles I am going to stick to the Gospel of John.  Half of these seven, eight if we count the miracle following the resurrection, take place in and around Jerusalem and half in the Galilee.

The first of the signs recorded by John takes place after Jesus’ baptism and temptation on his way back to Galilee following Passover.  He has met several of the men who would become his disciples at the Jordan where John was baptizing.  One of these was Nathanael of Cana (John 21:2).  There is a large wedding feast being held at Cana which is about nine miles north of Nazareth.  Jesus mother is attending the wedding feast and Jesus and his disciples are also invited.  This is the first use of the term “disciple” in the Gospels.  There is implied some family connections, although we do not know what they are.  Joseph was originally from Bethlehem.  Mary was from the Nazareth area and likely had relatives there.  This was a large party.  We will say more about this next week.

None of the miracles were done “in a corner,” as Paul expresses it.  The first one especially has a large audience.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs