I don’t doubt that miracles happen. I see them every day…from gravity to in my personal battle with cancer, some things are just too amazing to logically explained. But I know it’s tempting to shrug off such miracle stories about Jesus. Taken at face value, they seem far fetched and unbelievable. But isn’t that why we call them miracles?
Is it even necessary for our faith to believe that Jesus really walked on water, or magically multiplied the loaves and fishes? I fear that when we focus too much on the seemingly impossible things, we might overlook the true miracle and miss what God is revealing to us in them.
Perhaps it’s not so much that a human could multiply loaves and fishes in such an astounding way. The real miracle is that one human could represent, by his words and deeds, such signs of hope and healing that people would follow him and feel their hunger satisfied.
Perhaps we shouldn’t read it as a miracle story, but see it as a parable about what we are called to do and who we are called to be.
If we are going to follow Jesus, or take his name as our religious identity, then at some point we must understand that Jesus is going to turn to us and say: You give them something to eat.
How we respond to his command will make all the difference. One little boy gave up all his family had, five barley loaves and two fish. Did his act cause others to let go of what they were secretly hoarding?
Anglican priest Jason Cox will argue this story is “not so much about magic” as it is about “how we see the world, and what we do with what we already have.” As Cox points out, “The magic has already happened: God has already given us a world out of nothing, already provided sun and earth and water and seeds—how much more magic do we need?”
If you read the story closely, you will notice Jesus doesn’t make something out of thin air. “He takes what God has already provided. He draws out the resources that are already present in the community.”
Jesus teaches us to see the “what’s there” with new eyes – his eyes – through a lens that comes with having real faith in God’s mystery. These new eyes help us to see and to understand that “Whatever God has already given us, is always enough.”
Think about what God has given you, the blessings, the gifts of hope and peace, and perhaps material things. Have you ever opened your wallet or cupboards and found exactly what you need? I have – many times! So many times now that my first instinct is to respond by saying, “Thanks, God.”
Gratitude for these gifts is great. But Jesus isn’t asking us to simply be thankful. He’s commanding us to be faithful. He’s calling us to share what we have – to let go of our fear and stop holding onto to what’s “ours” so tightly. When we are able to do that then we will discover that “we absolutely have enough bread to feed the whole world.” That alone would be a miracle, wouldn’t it?
How are you using the blessings God has given you to feed the spiritual and physical hunger of others? Look around your house or apartment, look deep into your heart and ask yourself, “What am I keeping from others that is stopping real life miracles from happening through me?”
Speaking to a massive crowd in South Africa last week, President Obama recognized how lucky he was to receive an enormous financial blessing with the new tax cuts. He knew that this windfall was on the backs of the less fortunate.
To paraphrase President Obama, “There’s only so much you can eat or have. You don’t have to take a vow of poverty to help people out a little. If there are people out there who don’t have enough to eat, then let me pay a little more in taxes...I can afford it.” He punctuated his point by reminding us “What an amazing gift it is to help people and not just yourself.” (click to watch video clip here)
When he saw the crowd that had gathered and learned that they were hungry, Jesus didn’t prayed for a miracle. He took what they had, blessed it and broke it, and began to distribute it to everyone. Jesus knows what God was capable of doing. And Jesus knows what we’re all capable of too!
The gospels tell us Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God. And this story helps us to get a foretaste of what that kingdom is to be: a partnership between heaven and earth.
If we were willing to share what God has gifted each one of us, then perhaps there would be no hungry people in our neighborhoods, maybe no one in the world would thirst, or be without shelter and peace. We would all have hope; no one would be left behind.
This story is a reminder that we all have something to share. There’s plenty for everyone. And left overs to boot! This is the abundance of God’s love and grace, poured out for us and for the world. Through Jesus our cup overflows; transforming hearts with so much love that we have to share and giveaway in order to merely contain it.
What might this church be like if we took all our different talents and resources, and deliberately pointed to Christ’s abundance in response to human hunger, suffering, and pain? Jesus taught us how to multiply our resources. He taught us how to use them not merely as a handout, but to be a true revelation of God’s amazing grace.
Many people followed Jesus with the hope of seeing a miracle happen. But they would come to discover that they themselves are called to be the miracle, and do miraculous things for others.
Through this set of lenses, we notice what is truly miraculous is not that someone could walk on water without sinking. But that one person’s presence among ordinary, insecure, and timid people could calm our anxieties so much so that we can walk where we once feared to go before.
The miraculous story of Jesus’ resurrection is not so much that a dead body could come to life again. But through our journey with Jesus, we find hope on the far side of despair; faith that could overcome our doubts; and the courage to live as Jesus lived, well beyond the sting of death.
More than merely miracles, Jesus gives us a compelling and tangible picture of what the Kingdom of God is like, here and now. And in the world to come. Unbelievable? Miraculous? Look through the eyes and heart of the one closest to God, and see for yourself.
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. C (Westminster John Knox: Louisville) 2009. pp 284-88.
Cox, Jason. Take, Bless, Break, Give. episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. (07/26/18)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”