Miracles Are a Call to Faith

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 16 December 1987, the Holy Father spoke of the twofold relation of faith to Christ's miracles. Faith is a condition for their accomplishment and also an effect, since miracles engender faith in the recipients and in those who witness them.

To confirm his messianic mission and the coming of the kingdom of God, Jesus wrought "wonders and signs" which were directed and closely linked to the call of faith. In relation to the miracle, this call has two forms. Faith precedes the miracle and indeed is a condition for its accomplishment. Faith is also an effect of the miracle, because it engenders faith in the souls of those who are its recipients or witnesses.

It is known that faith is a human response to the word of divine revelation. The miracle is organically linked with this word of God the revealer. It is a "sign" of his presence and action—a particularly striking sign. All this is a sufficient explanation of the particular link which exists between Christ's "miracles-signs" and faith, a link so clearly outlined in the Gospels.

The Gospels contain a long series of texts in which the call to faith appears as an indispensable and systematic factor of Christ's miracles.

To head the list one must mention the pages concerning the Mother of Christ: how she acted at Cana of Galilee, how she acted earlier, and especially, at the moment of the annunciation. Precisely here we find the culminating point of her adherence to the faith, which will find its confirmation in Elizabeth's words during the visitation: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:45). Yes, Mary believed as none other, being convinced that "nothing is impossible for God" (cf. Lk 1:37).

At Cana of Galilee her faith anticipated, in a certain sense, the hour of Christ's self-revelation. Through her intercession he performed that first miracle-sign, thanks to which Jesus' disciples "believed in him" (Jn 2:11). The Second Vatican Council teaches that Mary constantly precedes the People of God on the pathways of the faith (cf. LG 58 and 63; Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, 5-6). We can say that the first foundation of this assertion is already found in the Gospel which gives an account of the "miracles-signs" in Mary and through Mary in regard to the call to faith.

This call is repeated many times. When Jairus, one of the officials of the synagogue, came to ask for his daughter's restoration to life, Jesus said to him, "Do not be afraid; just have faith" (and he said "do not be afraid" because some had advised Jairus not to bother Jesus) (Mk 5:36).

When the father of the epileptic asked for his son's cure, he said, "But if you can do anything...help us." Jesus replied, "'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith." Then comes the fine act of faith in Christ by this sorely tried man, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (cf. Mk 9:22-24).

Finally we recall the well-known conversation of Jesus with Mary before the raising of Lazarus, "I am the resurrection and the life.... Do you believe this.... Yes, Lord, I believe..." (cf. Jn 11:25-27).

The same link between the "miracle-sign" and faith is confirmed in the opposite sense by other facts of a negative kind. Let us recall some of them. In Mark's Gospel we read that Jesus of Nazareth "could not perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed by their lack of faith" (Mk 6:5-6).

We know the gentle rebuke that Jesus once addressed to Peter, "Man of little faith, why did you doubt?" This occurred when Peter began by setting out courageously on the waves to go to Jesus. Then, because of the strong wind, he became afraid and began to sink (cf. Mk 14:29-31).

More than once Jesus emphasized that the miracle he worked is linked to faith. "Your faith has saved you," he said to the woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years and who came up behind him, touched the hem of his garment and was healed (cf. Mt 9:20-22; and also Lk 8:48; Mk 5:34).

Jesus spoke similar words when he healed the blind Bartimaeus who was seated by the roadside leading from Jericho. On hearing that Jesus was passing by, Bartimaeus cried out insistently, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me" (cf. Mk 10:46-52). According to Mark, Jesus replied, "Go your way; your faith has saved you." Luke is more precise: "Have sight; your faith has saved you" (Lk 18:42).

Jesus made a similar statement to the Samaritan cured of leprosy (cf. Lk 17:19).

Two other blind men besought Jesus for the restoration of their sight. Jesus asked them, "'Do you believe that I can do this?' 'Yes, Lord,' they said. Then Jesus touched their eyes and said to them, 'Let it be done for you according to your faith'" (Mt 9:28-29).

Particularly touching is the case of the Canaanite woman who kept on asking Jesus to help her daughter who was "cruelly tormented by a demon." When she prostrated herself before Jesus to beg his assistance, he replied, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." (This was a reference to the ethnic diversity between the Israelites and the people of Canaan, which Jesus, Son of David, could not ignore in his ordinary behavior. But he referred to it from a methodological viewpoint in order to arouse faith.) Then the woman intuitively made an unusual act of faith and humility. She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Because of these words, so humble, courteous, and trusting, Jesus replied, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish" (cf. Mt 15:21-28).

It is an event difficult to forget, especially if one thinks of the numerous "Canaanites" of every time, country, color and social condition, who stretch out their hands to ask for understanding and help in their needs!

We should note that the gospel narrative continually stresses the fact that when Jesus "sees their faith," he works the miracle. This is clearly stated in the case of the paralytic who was lowered at his feet through an opening in the roof (cf. Mk 2:5; Mt 9:2; Lk 5:20). However, the same may be said in so many other cases recounted by the evangelists. The element of faith is indispensable. But once that is verified, Jesus' heart is prompt to hear the requests of those in need who turn to him for assistance through his divine power.

Once again we observe, as we said at the beginning, that the miracle is a sign of God's power and love which save all men and women in Christ. For this very reason, however, it is at the same time a call to faith. It should lead to belief, both the one for whom the miracle is worked and the witnesses of the miracle.

This holds good for the apostles themselves, from the very first sign Jesus performed at Cana of Galilee; it was then that they "believed in him" (Jn 2:11). Later when he miraculously multiplied the loaves in the vicinity of Capernaum, an event linked with the preannouncement of the Eucharist, the evangelist notes that "from that moment many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him," since they were unable to accept what appeared to them "a hard saying." Jesus then asked the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Peter answered, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God" (cf. Jn 6:66-69). The principle of faith is therefore fundamental in the relationship with Christ, both as a condition for obtaining the miracle and as the purpose for which it is performed. This is set out clearly at the end of John's Gospel, where we read, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:30-31).