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Why Didn't John the Baptist Work Miracles?

Q. If St. John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), then why didn’t he work miracles as the prophet Elijah did?

A. Speaking of John the Baptist, whose nativity we celebrated last week, Scripture declares: “John performed no sign” (John 10:41). I don’t know that the Church has ever spoken definitively on this issue, so I’ll venture a speculation.

The miracles Jesus worked, Scripture tells us, were signs intended to direct people’s attention to Jesus Himself. They gave testimony to His divinity. When the Apostles and other followers of Jesus worked miracles, these too were signs — pointing, not to the Apostles, but to the Lord Jesus whom they preached.

With St. John, however, we have a situation in which many people had already concluded, before Jesus’ public appearance in ministry, that the Baptist was himself the Messiah (the Christ). He had to deny that notion publicly and point to Jesus instead (see John 1:15, 19-27).

Even then, some people continued to elevate John to an extraordinary status. After he was beheaded by Herod, some claimed that Jesus was the Baptist come back from the dead (see Matthew 14:2; Luke 9:19).

We also have historical evidence suggesting that some of John’s followers did not follow his lead in recognizing Jesus as the Redeemer, but instead developed a separate religious sect that considered John its founder.

John’s primary role, of course, was precisely to serve as a sign himself — to point others to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). But God had him perform that role through his compelling preaching, his rite of cleansing, and his personal example, rather than through miracles.

Even without performing miracles, then, John constantly ran the risk of being mistaken for Christ or being followed instead of Christ. Think how much worse the situation would have been if he had performed miracles!

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