Over the past week we have all seen the headlines about the averted disaster of Air France Flight 358:"Miracle"; "Miracle on Runway 24L"; "It was indeed a miracle"; "The Great Escape," etc.
How else can we describe the averted disaster last Tuesday afternoon, when all 309 passengers and crew escaped within 52 seconds the flaming wreckage of a plane that skidded off the runway in a stormy weather landing?
While many are calling it an outright miracle, others would simply say it was a large dose of luck, due above all to the personal skill of the crew that prevented the accident from becoming a major disaster and massive loss of life.
How do we begin to distinguish between a miracle and a coincidence? By religious definition, miracles are always the work of God. But does this rule out the possibility of any coincidences being in some way "God's work" as well? Not necessarily!
Through a Christian understanding of the world, miracles have a place and a meaning. They arise out of the personal relationship between God and human beings.
One good example of this is the story of the paralyzed man who is brought before Jesus to be healed. Instead of healing him straight away, Jesus first tells him that his sins are forgiven. Those around him object to this, saying that only God has power to forgive sins. In response, Jesus asks them which it is easier to say --"your sins are forgiven" or "get up and walk."
Anyone can go around claiming sins to be forgiven, thus Jesus says to them, "... that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins... I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." (Mark 2:2-12). With this the man gets up, picks up his mat and leaves rejoicing. The miracle validates Jesus' claim (and right) to forgive sins.
Most of Jesus' miracles were works of mercy. They were performed not with a view to awe people, but to show compassion for sinful and suffering humanity and to reveal the kingdom of God.
Miracles are not to be regarded as isolated or transitory acts of sympathy, but as flowing from a deep and abiding mercy and human solidarity which characterize the mission of Jesus, saviour of the world.
By a word, Jesus multiplied bread and fish to feed the multitudes of up to 25,000 people at one time; by a word, He stilled the storm at sea, by a word, He healed lepers, drove out demons, raised the dead to life, and finally He set the great seal upon His mission by rising from death, as He had explicitly foretold.
Recipients and beneficiaries of God's miracles become witnesses to the power and goodness of God. They have a special obligation and mission to live lives of gratitude for everything and everyone around them. They are sent to give witness to God's greatness and goodness revealed in the life of Jesus.
So what happened at Pearson airport? It was a combination of many things: Bad weather, careful piloting, wise, prudent judgment and quick action of the flight crew, desperate prayers in the midst of the terror of passengers, kindness on the part of drivers on a highway --but above all, it was an example of God's power and mercy co-operating with human beings to avert the loss of many lives.
For some reason, God allowed all those lives to be saved. Those blessed passengers have an obligation to get the word out that God is a lover of life.
And we who have been given this precious gift of life might need to live with a bit more gratitude, kindness, gentleness and a greater recognition of a God who is deeply involved with our human history.