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Miracles and Wonders: Motives of Credibility

by Brant Pitre April 09, 2021 0 Comments

Learn more about The Mass Readings Explained >


Dr. Brant Pitre connects the baptism of Jesus to the crucifixion in order to show why Jesus needed to be baptized.


Alright, so that’s the New Testament reading for the week. What about the Old Testament passage for this time? It's a little harder to see the connection in this case. If you go back, the first reading for this Sunday is from the book of Deuteronomy. This is what it says; see if you can figure out what the connection might be. Moses said to the people of Israel:

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren -- him you shall heed — just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, `Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' And the LORD said to me, `They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.'

Alright, so pause there. What in the world does this have to do with Jesus in the New Testament, Jesus’ exorcistic ministry? I think there are couple things here. First, this is a very famous prophecy of what the Jews would come to call “the new Moses.” In other words, for ancient Jewish tradition this was regarded as one of the first prophecies of the Messiah. That one day, once the people of Israel were in the land of Israel, once they had fallen into sin as Moses said they would, God would raise up for them a prophet who would be like a new Moses and, just as Moses had spoken the word of God to the people of Israel, so too the new Moses would speak the words of God to the people, and in doing so...actually let me back up for a second...That's what it means when it says “I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all I command him”. In other words, he's not going to be like some prophets, who are false prophets, because there are going to be people in the history of Israel who will rise up and they will purport to speak the words of God, but in fact it will be false prophets, they’ll be charlatans that will come along. But what Moses is saying here is one day there’s going to be someone just like me, who will speak to you the true words of God, right, and who will lead you back to the truth. So in that context here, the connection with Jesus is of course that Jesus’ public ministry began with him doing what in the synagogue?  Teaching and preaching. So when Jesus begins his ministry, he teaches the word of God to the people of God, and in order to show that he isn’t a false prophet, he also demonstrates his power over the demons. In other words, he couples his teaching with supernatural signs and wonders just like Moses did. In other words, think about it for a second, you go on the Internet and find all kinds of people who are telling you that they are teaching the Word of God, right, that they have a message from God that they want to give to you that you can believe, but it's one thing to just talk the talk, it's another thing to confirm your teaching with supernatural signs and miracles and wonders, right. So the miracles of Jesus will always seem to be kind of a motive of credibility for believing that he was a true prophet just like Moses and not a false prophet, right. Moses didn’t just say hey everyone I want to lead you out of Egypt, he also performed 10 plagues; right, to show Pharaoh that he had divine power, that he was commissioned by God to lead the people out of Egypt. And the same thing was true when he was in the desert and people were starting to doubt him. What did he do? He performs signs and wonders. He called down bread from heaven or he struck the rock at Mer’ibah and brought forth water for the people to feed them in the desert. So the miracles of Moses were motives of credibility for believing in him.

You can actually see that that seems to be the link when you look at the Responsorial Psalm, because the Responsorial Psalm for this Sunday is a very famous one, it’s Psalm 95 with the refrain:

If Today You Hear His Voice, Harden Not Your Hearts

And in verse 7-8, we have those key lines:

O that today you would hearken to his voice!

Harden not your hearts, as at Mer'ibah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me,

and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

I’ve talked about this Psalm in other videos because it's frequently used in the mass, but just to reiterate here, when it says “harden not your hearts as at Mer’ibah and Massah”, those are the two names of the places where the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses struck the rock in order to give them water. So Massah in Hebrew means “testing”, okay, because in the book of Exodus 17, the people put God to the test. He’s just finished delivering them from Pharaoh, leading them through the waters of the Red Sea in Exodus 15, now they get to Exodus 17 and they’re thirsty and they actually say is God among us are not. In other words, where is this so-called God, what has he done for us lately? So they put him to the test by doubting Moses and by doubting that God is actually with Moses, so Moses strikes the rock and he performs a miracle and gives the water from the rock to show them God is with them. Mer’ibah in Hebrew means “contention”, right. Why? Well because there was contention. There was another fight later on in the wilderness journey; this is in Numbers 20, where the people do the same thing again. They cry out against God, they cry out against Moses, and so Moses brings forth water from the rock for a second time in order to lead them to faith; he performs this sign. So that's the link between the miracles of Moses and the miracles of Jesus, the miracles of the first Moses and then the exorcisms of the prophet like Moses. So Jesus here is going to perform a sign and wonder in order to show them he’s not just one more teacher, right, this is a new teaching with authority.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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