Sharing the miracle
Nehemiah 9:16-20 | Psalm 78:1-29 | Matthew 14:13-21
You’re sitting near the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by scores of people. You’ve spent the entire day together in this deserted place, far from your homes, watching incredible events unfold before your eyes. Who knows why you’re here. Maybe you wanted to be healed. Perhaps you wanted to be a part of the large community that seemed to be developing around this man called Jesus. Or maybe you were just curious, following the crowds simply to see what would happen. Regardless of the reason, you’re here now, in the presence of this astonishing man and his equally astonishing deeds. You heard from a passerby that his dear friend and cousin John the Baptizer has just been killed and he was just coming to this place to get away and mourn, and yet here he has been all day, showing compassion to crowds of strangers in the midst of his own distress. Amazing.
It has been a long day and you are ready for some food and rest, yet you cannot seem to tear yourself away. It is a long way to your home but, hungry as you are, you do not want to leave to begin the long journey, for fear of missing out. Suddenly, this Jesus tells you all to sit on the grass to share a meal. How in the world is he going to manage to feed everyone?? You are just close enough to be able to make out what he and his disciples are saying to one another… “5 loaves of bread…2 fish”. That’s it? There are thousands of people here!! Maybe the rumors you’re heard about this man are true…maybe he really is a false prophet looking for glory, or possessed, or insane. You begin to get up, determined to avoid the inevitable fiasco and make your way home for your dinner while there is still a slight bit of light left. You look toward Jesus, shaking your head at the idea that such a small amount of food could feed so many…and you stop. Your breath catches as you see him look to heaven, bless the bread and break it. There is a palpable change in the air…something has happened. You look around…the same sea, the same people, the same small amount of food gathered in baskets around Jesus…maybe you were simply imagining things. You watch as his followers begin to pass out the food, a small piece of bread and fish for each person. You KNOW this will not go far, it’s impossible. And yet, they continue to move through the crowd, passing out the food. You receive your own ration and watch in disbelief as the disciples move on. You wait for them to hold their empty baskets upside down and yell to their leader that there is no food left. Instead, they just keep passing. On and on and on, they move through the throng, every person receiving their part of the meal. You can barely eat as you begin to process what you have just seen. As the meal ends, Jesus’ followers gather up the leftover bits of bread…12 baskets full. Enough to feed many, many more people. How? How had 5 loaves and 2 fish become such a feast, enough to fill the stomachs of thousands? Who IS this man, who when calling upon God to bless the food was able to produce such astounding results? Have you witnessed a miracle? Are you actually in the presence of the one…the Messiah? One thing is for sure…your life has been changed. Forever.
Miracles are by nature astounding and amazing…events and experiences that cannot be explained except to say they are the work of God in the world. Unfortunately, through time and repetition events like the one we hear in the Gospel today can cease to be miraculous in our eyes and become mere stories…important records, yes, but stories nonetheless. Moments that once left people breathless, reeling in the presence of God’s power now seem like myths to us. We sometimes think that since these events did not happen directly to us that they are miracles in the past, not affecting our lives today.
This is not a modern phenomenon. As God led his people out of bondage in Egypt they constantly disengaged themselves from the miracles surrounding their emancipation. In both the Old Testament reading and the psalm for today we hear of how they “were not mindful of the wonders that (God) performed among them” (Nehemiah 9:17). In not realizing that the miraculous events we so often hear of are connected to our own lives we are distancing ourselves from God’s works in some of the same ways they did so long ago.
What happened by the Sea of Galilee is not meant to be a legend to us, to show us how powerfully God worked in people’s lives then. The miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fish is not relegated to that space and time…we experience a continuation of it every second of our lives. When Jesus looked to heaven he was preparing to share with each and every one of us the abundant grace of God. The bread of life…passed around in baskets…later shared in the upper room…celebrated now at this table. The feeding of the multitudes continues here today. Take up the leftover baskets overflowing with God’s love and go into the world, sharing the miracle that we have been blessed to receive.