One member of a congregation I served was a person who accepted a very literal belief of scriptures — with one exception. Miracles did not phase him; they happened just as they were printed in the Bible and to be taken word for word. He was a hunter in his spare time and from a Native American background, his family coming from a tribe out of northern New York. He was quite a successful contractor and known for his attention to details and ethical dealings with his clients. I had the greatest respect for his faith and the way he lived it out.
He offered to teach me about how to estimate building homes and loved to share about his work. His wife, son and daughter were pillars of the community and active in Church and social events.
It came as quite a surprise to me one day when we were talking about the Biblical miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6: 1-21). Jesus and His disciples found themselves followed by crowds, and it was late in the day. Jesus said to Philip “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” John tells us that it was to test Philip. Philip’s answer was “Six months’ wages would not buy enough for each of them to get a little.” Philip seeks to be a realist and suggests “We don’t have the money!” Another disciple, Andrew, points out “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Another nay-sayer; “It can’t be done!” Jesus’ disciples were products of the world they lived in; their reactions are reminiscent of people everywhere. “It won’t work.” “It can’t be done.” “We don’t have the money to do it.” “It can’t happen.”
Jesus chose to ignore them and instead tells His followers “Make the people sit down.” Apparently it was springtime; John tells us “Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.” Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” The account goes on. “When they were satisfied, He told His disciples ‘Gather up the fragments left over so that nothing may be lost’.” The fragments amounted to twelve filled baskets. The account concludes by the people who saw the sign saying “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
John tells us that they wanted to force Jesus to be their king but He withdrew once more. This certainly was a miraculous account and something worthy of the Lord’s doing. My congregation member saw it quite differently than I would have expected. As we began to talk about it, he said “I can’t imagine those people going out into the wilderness without having something to eat with them.” He said they certainly would have been prepared with something up their sleeves to eat or in a basket that they would have carried. His years as a hunter gave him an insight; “You don’t just start out without being prepared for the journey.” His experiences taught him to carry something with you in case the hunting is not good or you find yourself farther afield than planned.
Jesus begins this miracle by calling on the boy who has prepared five barley loaves and two fish. He is more recently from God than the adults who were there; more likely to have an element of faith and not hardened by the world. He is more willing to share what he has and so Jesus called upon him to do so. The others, seeing his willingness to share, and admire his faith, feel the call to do likewise. Soon everyone is sharing with their neighbors, everyone is fed, and there is a lot left over. The miracle? Jesus got everyone to share what they had and there was more than enough for everyone! That’s a lesson that is still with us today.
People see the needs of others and are called to share what they have. Recently a policeman was shot. The community raised $30,000 for him. A homeless man is given a job. Families are provided with homes because others provide the labor in building them. Food is made available for those in want due to the generosity of others. In the midst of all of the pessimism and nay-saying there comes that miracle when people say “I can help!” and do something. Jesus knew about our inward call to share, to help, to support, to love one another. In the midst of all of lesser instincts, God’s will for us still shines through. That’s the miracle that lives on!