Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Testament Lesson #7 "He Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sicknesses"

Mark 1-2; 4:35-41; 5; Luke 7:11-17

THE MIRACLE AT CANA

"[Miracles were] an important element in the work of Jesus Christ, being not only divine acts, but forming also a part of the divine teaching" (Bible Dictionary).  The first recorded miracle performed by Jesus Christ is not in any of our reading assignments, but is definitely worthy of notice.  It occurred in a public setting, but for the personal benefit of Jesus' own mother.

"And on the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.  Jesus saith unto her, Woman what have I to do with thee?  Mine hour is not yet come" (John 2:1-4). 

Mary was clearly in charge of the wedding, since she was the one concerned about the wine. "Considering the customs of the day, it is a virtual certainty that one of Mary's children was being married" (McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, p. 135).  Since there is no mention of Joseph, it is probable that he had died prior to this time.

It is interesting that all the commentators on this scripture work hard to come up with ways to explain that Jesus must have not meant to be rude to his mother.  But in our Joseph Smith Translation, the meaning is perfectly clear:  "Woman what wilt thou have me to do for thee? that will I do; for mine hour is not yet come."  Jesus's ministry had not yet begun, but this was Mary's day, and she was in need of a favor.  Mary had purchased wine for the celebration, as indicated by verse 9, but it had run out. 

The house held six large waterpots for the hand washing of the guests.  Each pot held 20-30 gallons of water (McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, p. 453; Stern, p. 164).  At Jesus' word, water was poured into the pots, and immediately it became wine.  "A good wine was one that was destitute of spirit (alcohol)...The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape" (Barnes, p. 193).  The wine was taken to the "governor of the feast," who was not the host, but the head waiter (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 42-43).  He declared the wine to be excellent. 

This miracle became noised abroad, making Jesus well-known, and "manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him" (v. 11).  The Joseph Smith Translation makes a very insightful change, which unfortunately is not in our LDS footnotes: "And the faith of his disciples was strengthened in him." (For information on the Joseph Smith Translation, see a previous post.)  "Miracles were and are a response to faith, and its best encouragement.  They were never wrought without prayer, felt need, and faith" (Bible Dictionary).  "Miracles follow faith, and miracles strengthen faith," in that order (McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 1, p. 454)

Many more miracles were wrought by Christ during his ministry on the earth.  Some were recorded by the writers of the gospels and are a part of the reading assignment for this lesson.  Jesus cast out devils (Mark 1:23-28; 5:2-13), healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:30-31), cleansed a leper (Mark 1:40-42), healed a paralytic (Mark 1:3-11), healed a woman with a 12-year issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34), raised Jairus' daughter to life shortly after she died (Mark 5:22-24, 35-42), and raised the widow of Nain's son who was actually being carried on his funeral bier to his grave (Luke 7:11-17).



LATTER-DAY MIRACLES

"And if there were miracles wrought [by Christ] then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being?  And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles" (Mormon 9:19) 

"Wherever the Kingdom of God is organized upon the earth one should expect to find miracles performed among the Saints" (Goates, p. 6).  Sometimes the recipients of such miracles are advised by the Spirit as Christ counseled the leper, "See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way..." (Mark 1:44), so we do not hear about them.  Sometimes they are guided to share them for the edification of others, as was the man who had been possessed by a legion of evil spirits, "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee" (Mark 5:19).  When the Spirit advises, we should share stories of miracles in order to strengthen faith.

(You may want to ask class members to be thinking of miracles they have witnessed, and consider whether they should share them later in the lesson.) 


"President [Harold B.] Lee was an instinctive inveterate believer in miracles," wrote his son-in-law, L. Brent Goates.  "He was quietly but keenly interested in them and maintained [a file of them] as a verification of his faith in modern-day miracles.  When people wrote to him of miraculous results from his labors amongst the Saints, he often wrote back to them to document the event and circumstance.  These letters he would place in his 'Miracle File' as one more demonstration of God's goodness in rewarding faith...

"After President Lee's death, the file [was opened].  It contained over sixty separate miracle stories, most of them describing the healing of sick bodies, all of them telling of lives changed for the better" (Goates, p. 1-2).  He also kept the stories of those healed from sin.  "There is a power beyond the sight of man," he testified at Ricks College Baccalaureate Ceremony on May 6, 1970, "that heals not only sick bodies but sick souls...Yes, the Lord can heal sick bodies, but the greatest miracles we see are the healing of sick souls."  Thus he included stories of conversion in his Miracle File.

(This would be a good place to ask whether anyone feels inspired to share something with the class.  If they do not feel moved to relate anything at the moment, proceed with the following stories from President Lee's file.  Allow class members to testify at any time during the remainder of the lesson.)

The Faith of the Mothers in Zion
42 of President Lee's miracle stories were compiled, with permission of their authors, into a book by his son-in-law.  "Countless stories were related by grateful mothers who had sought a maternity blessing at Elder Lee's hands and were later able to bear children.  Over a dozen named their sons after him.  Some women were additionally able to adopt children as well" (Goates, p. 14). 

The Faith of a Little Boy
One remarkable story of healing occurred in Brazil in 1959 and was related by Richard R. Tolman, a missionary serving there at the time who later became a professor of zoology at BYU.

Elder Tolman and his companion met a wonderful family, the dos Santos family, who read from the Bible every night, and they began to teach them.  One day they told the family that an apostle of the Lord, Elder Harold B. Lee, would soon be visiting their town.  A huge smile covered the face of the five-year-old son, Joviniano who had been born lame, never able to walk at all.

"'When the Apostle comes,' he said enthusiastically, 'I'll ask him for a blessing and then I'll be able to walk.'

"The next day when I met with Elder Lee, I told Elder Lee about Joviniano's desire for a blessing.

"'Elder,' he replied, 'faith like that does not go unrewarded.'"

They met with the dos Santos family after their scheduled public meeting, where Elder Tolman anointed Joviniano and Elder Lee sealed the anointing, rebuking the illness, and commanding strength into the muscles and bones of his legs.

"The next day we visited the family, and the father proudly showed us that Joviniano could stand shakily on his own two legs for the first time in his life.  I telephoned the mission home with the good news and they promised to relay the message to...Elder Lee.

"In the city of Porto Alegre, as Elder Lee was about ready to leave Brazil...he bore a powerful testimony describing Joviniano's miraculous healing.  The effect of his powerful parting testimony quickly spread throughout the Brazilian South Mission and greatly stimulated the work...

"In my letter to the mission president in October 1959, I reported that Joviniano, whose legs were once useless limbs hanging from his body, was gaining more strength daily and learning how to use his legs.  By December, Joviniano was walking and still making excellent progress.  His parents had been baptized and were faithfully keeping the commandments." 

It is interesting to note that little Joviniano had to participate in the working of the miracle.  It required effort on his part to strengthen and exercise his legs. 

Elder Tolman received updates on the dos Santos family whenever he could find returned missionaries who had served in the town of Londrina where the family lived, and they remained a great strength to the Church there (Goates, p. 25-28).

Raised From the Dead
The following latter-day miracle of Biblical proportions, was a part of President Lee's file, although it did not involve him personally.  The story was related to Mrs. Leon F. Liddell by the village chief of Mapusaga, Samoa.  It was published in the Church News on May 16, 1948, accompanied by a photograph of the Eti Te'o family standing with then-Elder Lee. 

When Eti Te'o was eighteen years old, a friend of his by the name of George became very ill.  He was taken to the Navy Hospital where he stayed for six months, growing steadily worse.  "One morning [he] asked his uncle to send for the Mormon elders to administer to him or he would die.  His uncle refused, saying it could do no good since not even the doctors had been able to help him.  George then called the nurse.  'If I die,' he asked, 'please send a note to the elders and have my body taken to the mission home.'  At 7:30 that night George died."

In the morning, Eti was passing the hospital when a nurse informed him tearfully that his friend had died.  "I immediately took the news to Brother Lopati at the mission home, and he asked me to go behind the house and start digging the grave.  I had dug about two-and-a-half feet [deep] when he came to me and said, 'Put the shovel back.  We are going to the hospital to see George.'"

At the hospital, George's body was lying in the room for the dead.  It was against the law to enter such a room at the hospital, so Brother Lopati and his wife, Eti, and two other elders signed affidavits that they would go to jail willingly if they would be allowed to enter the room.  Eti was very resistent, but "Brother Lopati came up to him and told him that he had been promised in his patriarchal blessing that if he lived right he would have power to raise the dead."

They entered the room, reported Eti, and "Brother Lopati unwrapped the gauze from his face and we all knelt by his bedside.  I remember only three words he spoke as he lay his hands on the boy's head.  They were, 'George, come back.' He spoke a few words further, then said, 'Amen.'

"George sneezed and began to breathe.  His first words were, 'I would like a cup of rice.' Then he sat up and said, 'I heard your voice from a long distance.'

It was noon.  George had been dead for 16-1/2 hours.

Eti said, "I ran from the room--shaking all over.  Running down the halls, I kept saying, almost hysterically, 'George wants a cup of rice!' over and over.  I rushed into Dr. Lane's office without knocking and could only say, 'George wants a cup of rice!' He hurried back with me and when he saw George sitting up talking, he was speechless.  He could not speak for a long time, then he slowly walked over to the bedside to examine George.  After a few minutes he stated that the boy was normal and his heart action was perfect.

"Turning to Brother Lopati, Dr. Lane said, 'No one but God could do that.' He asked us to come to his house later and we stayed there all the rest of the day answering his questions.  He joined the Church in due time, as did several other hospital workers.

"Now, twenty-three years later [in 1948], George is in good health and lives in the village of Aua, Samoa--but his story will not be forgotten.  The open grave is still there in back of the mission home near where I live.  I keep it just as I left it that day.  I want my children and grandchildren to see it and know this story."  (Goates, p. 33-35)

EVERYDAY MIRACLES

Such astonishing miracles attract our attention, but we must also remember that everyday life is made of miracles.  A beautiful sunset, a healthy baby's birth, the migration of birds, the healing of a scrape on our skin--each is a miracle.

In reference to that first miracle performed by Jesus Christ at the wedding at Cana, C.S. Lewis wrote:  "God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities.  Thus every year, from Noah's time till ours, God turns water into wine.  That, men fail to see...But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off.  The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard...we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana" (C.S. Lewis, p. 1190)

"Ought we not also to turn the ordinary waters of life--the...mundane...performances that go with mortality--into the wine of righteousness and joy that dwells in the hearts of those whose lives are purified?"  (McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 1, p. 454).

"There are only two ways to live your life," the great physicist Albert Einstein said. "One is as though nothing is a miracle, and the other is as though everything is a miracle."  (I can find that quote in a million places, but never with the original reference.  If any reader knows it, please leave it in a comment below.)

THE MIRACLE OF PEACE

One of the most memorable of the miracles of Christ occured on the sea.  He had been teaching a great multitude from his "podium" aboard a boat.  (See "The Calling of the Apostles," in the previous lesson for more on the voice amplification which still occurs there.)  Afterwards he was exhausted and requested the former fishermen, now disciples, to take him to the other side. 

The Sea of Galilee is, by nature, a very stormy sea, and on this day a violent storm arose quickly.  The ship took on a great deal of water, and threatened to sink.

"And [Jesus] was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?

"And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, 'Peace, be still.  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.



"And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

"And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:38-41).

Why did the Savior rebuke his disciples for being fearful?  After all, it was a terrifying situation!  Wouldn't anyone have been afraid?  The weakness Christ saw is found in the disciples' statement to each other:  "What manner of man is this?"  They did not really know the Savior and the extent of his power, therefore their faith was insufficient.

This story provides us with an excellent lesson that can have a huge impact in our individual lives.  Sometimes we enjoy miracles that are "cut-and-dried," the problem is instantly solved, the mountain is moved, and we go on our merry way.  This was the case for many recipients of miracles in Jesus' lifetime, including those in this reading assignment.  But sometimes, like these fishermen-disciples, we must exercise our faith to ride out the storm in order to see the miracles. 

Have we studied the life of our Savior consistently?
Have we prayed and listened for answers over the years?
Have we kept the commandments and ordinances he gave us and seen their fruits in our lives? 
Have we followed the guidance of the Spirit day by day?

If we have done these things consistently over the days and years, we will come to know "what manner of man" our Savior is.  We will be able to trust him.  We will find ourselves, like Jairus, able to "be not afraid, only believe" (Mark 5:36) when the crisis comes.  We will have the faith to stay aboard the ship, in the wind and the rain and on the roiling waves, knowing that, because the Savior is on the journey with us, we will eventually make our soggy, seasick way to the goal he ordained for us. 

We will reach the shore.

RECORDING MIRACLES

Perhaps as Church members we should each keep and treasure a Miracle File like President Lee's to strengthen and encourage our faith and that of our families.  President Henry B. Eyring recommended keeping a daily record of the little miracles that occur in our lives.  "Tonight, and tomorrow night," he suggested, "you might pray and ponder, asking the questions: Did God send a message that was just for me? Did I see His hand in my life or the lives of my children? I will do that. And then I will find a way to preserve that memory for the day that I, and those that I love, will need to remember how much God loves us and how much we need Him."

Like Mormon, we will then be able to testify, "...behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Mormon 9:11).

Please follow the link in the comment by Shari Lyon below to a wonderful new painting of the Savior calming the sea by her husband, Howard Lyon. 

SOURCES:

L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Remembering the Miracles
Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1
C.S. Lewis, The C.S. Lewis Bible
J.R. Barnes, Barnes Notes on the New Testament, Vol. 9
Henry B. Eyring, "O Remember, Remember," October 2007 General Conference

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a beautiful and intelligent interpretation of this lesson. I'll be using several of your quotations and ideas.

Mindy said...

Nancy, I have been teaching for just over a year now, and I can't prepare a lesson without first reading your comments and thoughts. Thanks for putting so much time into researching the information you compile here. You have a wonderful way with words, and your testimony shines throughout everything you write. This lesson is especially touching for me. Thanks again!

dwbrinton said...

Love your posts, very insightful and thought provoking. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Don't know if the original source is listed here, but I hope it helps in your search.
Quoted in Des MacHale, Wisdom (London, 2002).

Anonymous said...

Like Mindy, I have been teaching for just under a year. I always read your post before I prepare the lessons. I do not know if you are are were a teacher of religion in the school setting, but you should be. My hope is that those I teach will walk away with 100% of the knowledge I get from you and from the approved lesson, anything less is tragic.

I look forward to reading your posts as much as anything I read during the week. Your work is marvelous your love for us out here is commendable.

Shari Lyon said...

I would love to add my husbands thoughts on the Christ calming the sea miracle and his painting he did to depict it:

http://fineart.howardlyon.com/2011/02/01/from-fear-to-faith/

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Shari, thank you so much for sharing that beautiful painting! What an inspiration!

And thanks to all of you who leave such kind comments. They are so gratifying when you are teaching to an unseen audience online!

Shari Lyon said...

Thank you Nancy, I am our wards Gospel Doctrine teacher and I fortunately get to take the painting to church as part of my lesson, but i just wanted to share what i could...thanks for the blog, i read your posts every time before getting my lesson prepared!