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The Most Popular Miracle

July 26, 2015 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

July 26, 2015
John 6:14-35
Fr. George Smiga

The miracle that takes place in today’s gospel is called, “The Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fish.” It was a very important story for the early church. We know this because in the gospels there are two versions of Jesus’ birth, four versions of Jesus’ death, but six versions of this miracle. The evangelists really liked this story. They kept telling it over and over again. And they told it in a very peculiar way.

In the New Testament it is usual that the way in which Jesus performs his miracles is described. Jesus places his fingers in the ears of a deaf man, and he hears. Jesus tells Peter to step out of the boat and Peter walks on the water. Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, and Lazarus comes. But in the miracle of the loaves and fish, we are never told how the loaves and the fish are multiplied. Did Jesus keep pulling loaves and fish out of the sack of the young boy? Did the food fall from the sky like manna? Did bread and fish suddenly appear before each person reclining on the grass? We are not told how the multiplication takes place. Instead all that we get in this story is the beginning and the end. The beginning: 5,000 hungry people in the desert with only five loaves and two fish. The end: all are satisfied and there are twelve baskets of fragments left over.

What a strange miracle story. It has no middle. We are never told how Jesus performs this miracle. You would think that if this miracle was so important to the evangelists they would do a better job of telling it—unless of course the way that they tell it is the very point. I would like to suggest that this story of the loaves and the fish was so important to the early church because it provided a clear definition of faith. Faith is believing that God knows our trouble and our hunger and that God will feed us, even if we do not know how God will do it. Faith is believing that although we are in the desert without food we will be satisfied, even though we cannot imagine how that might come about. This is why the comments of Andrew and Philip are in the story. Neither of them can imagine how Jesus could feed 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish. Andrew says, “What good are these among so many?” The evangelists use such statements to make it clear to us that faith is not about imagining how God will work. Faith is believing that God knows our hunger and will satisfy it, even though we cannot picture how such a solution might occur.

When we are worried about a family member who is struggling with addiction, faith is believing that God knows that problem and will lead the person we love to a better place even though we think the situation is hopeless. When we have a relationship with someone that does not work, that keeps hurting us, and frustrating us, faith is believing that God sees that rupture and is working to bring it to a place of reconciliation even though we cannot imagine how that would take place. When we have to recover from a divorce or undergo a long series of medical treatments, faith is believing that God knows our fear and weakness and will give us strength even though it seems impossible to us.

The story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish has no middle. It never tells us how the miracle takes place, because the evangelists understand that faith is not knowing how God will work, but believing that God sees our hunger and will give us food—with twelve baskets of fragments left over.

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