via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. –Matthew 14:13-21
In my experience teaching the Gospel stories, there are three main knee-jerk reactions to Jesus’ miracles:
1) Some disregard the stories immediately using human logic and let the slippery slope of faith take over. “There’s no way Jesus could have turned five loaves and two fish into an abundant meal for five thousand people. It just didn’t happen. So what in the Bible can we trust? I bet none of it is true.”
2) Some believe the stories immediately using faith and let apply that faith to the whole Bible. “Jesus is God, fully divine, and these awesome miracle stories get at that. What is in the Bible happened as it is written and is true. God is requiring us to live in wonder and trust through faith.”
3) And others try explain the miracle in a way that uses logic but doesn’t require dismissing the story completely. “It was radical of Jesus to ask the crowd to sit and rest and be served. Originally, the crowd was individually selfish, but the miracle here is that Jesus got them to share. When everyone gave what they had, there was more than enough.”
Where do you fall when you read the miracle stories? Do you believe in miracles? How does that affect your faith lens in your daily life? How do you react when someone who believes the opposite expresses that?
What if we tried, just for a moment, to not jump into the reactionary space we are used to when reading the miracle stories? What if we suspended our instincts and sat down in the middle of the miracle stories and looked around? It’s hard to do. These stories get straight at something that divides us. We don’t want to be considered silly or faithless. Instead of jumping to a conclusion about happening truth, though, let’s ask, “What do we have to learn about the nature of God and Jesus from these miracle stories?”
One thing that strikes me about the miracle narratives is how Jesus uses very ordinary material to do extraordinary things. He turns water into wine. He stills the storm. He uses his own spit to heal the blind man. In the story above, bread and fish are the material used. Nothing could be more ordinary. It seems to me, then, that things like food and water and our imperfect bodies matter to Jesus. He pays attention to them. They are essential ingredients in his ministry. Through the remarkable, we learn that God has dominion over the mundane, the ordinary, the elemental. God has our very ordinary daily lives in God’s sight. It begs me to stay awake and pay attention to what comes out of my tap, what I’m chewing on and this body that I was given. There is truth in these stories, enmeshed in the ordinary and extraordinary, for us to ruminate on about God’s activity in our world. There are more subtle and profound truths there for me to find, and they can be missed if we hurry to explain and make sense instead of sitting in the muck of the middle and letting God whisper to us.