Year B, Pentecost 9
I suspect that most of us have prayed for a miracle at one point in our life. Sometimes the prayer was answered with that miracle, sometimes we don’t see the miracle. Of course all of us define miracles differently. The most common way that we hear miracle described is a transgression of the laws of nature. It is when something happens that cannot be explained with a rational explanation. Our faith and our Bible are full of miracles. Over the years, people have tried to come up with explanations for many of these miracles. When Moses divided the Red Sea, it was actually the Reed Sea, which is much narrower and at a certain point of the year the Reed Sea is shallow, allowing for easy crossing. Another theory is that it was the Red Sea but that there was a powerful wind that exposed a reef which the Israelites then crossed.
Jesus performed many miracles during his time on earth, things that could not be explained, things that were simply extraordinary. For every miracle he performed, there are many people who have tried to provide rational explanations. Consider the Gospel reading for today. Jesus fed more than 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. The traditional understanding is that he multiplied the loaves and the fish. Perhaps the baskets were just bottomless baskets and the bread and the fish never ran out because no matter how much bread was given, the basket was always full. We don’t know because John doesn’t say how so many were fed with so little, he just says that they were fed until they were satisfied. The rational explanation is that all of these people actually had bread and fish with them. It wasn’t like they were carrying around raw fish. Many people would carry pickled fish when they were travelling. When they saw Jesus giving thanks for what he had, they took what they had and shared. While this explanation does not defy the laws of nature, it still feels like a miracle to me.
Every Gospel tells this miracle story. It is the only miracle story that is described by all four Gospel writers. They don’t all agree on the particulars. This is not unusual. We know that the Gospel writers were all writing at different times with different perspectives. It is perfectly understandable that they would have different details in their stories. One of the unique features of John’s version of this story is the boy who brings forward the 5 loaves and 2 fish. He is not in the other Gospels.
We don’t know if he came up on his own, but Andrew announced that there was a boy and he had food. You would think that the disciples had some food as we;;. They were pretty much nomads and they probably carried food with them. Yet none of them pulled out their supply to share. It was a boy from the crowd.
I wonder about this boy. Why did he come to the disciples with his meager offering? How did he even know that food was needed? We don’t know, but I have a theory. Perhaps this boy was in the front of the crowd sitting with his parents, watching Jesus with rapt attention. The boy saw Jesus scanning the crowd with a look of concern on his face. He saw him talk to his disciples, even saw the disciples trying to convince Jesus to turn the crowd away. He saw all this and thought to himself, “I bet they are hungry and here I have 5 loaves and 2 fish. It’s not much, but it’s something.” He argued with his parents because they didn’t want him to give up their food, maybe the only food they had to sustain them for the day. They tried to stop him saying that Jesus surely had his own food. He was a great prophet and a miracle worker. If he wanted food, he could make it appear out of thin air. What use was their small offering to this great man?
But the boy presented the food anyways because he had it and he wanted to contribute in some way to the ministry of this great man. Maybe he was afraid that that Jesus and the disciples would scoff. Barley bread was the food of the poor. They could turn up their noses at him. It was worth the risk. So he brought his offering forward, shyly, hesitantly and he pulled on the sleeve of one of the men who was standing close to Jesus. The man was about to turn the boy away, but then the boy saw something in his eyes, a spark of something he could not describe. Then the man knelt down and he thanked him and brought him to Jesus saying, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Then Andrew hesitated as if he was second guessing himself. He added, “But what are they among so many people?” Then the boy knew that this was not just for Jesus and his friends, it was for everyone. He felt even more foolish, but then Jesus looked down at him and he accepted the bread and fish as though it was precious to him and he thanked him and told him to go sit down. Then the boy saw Jesus held up the bread that he had given him and gave God thanks. Baskets were passed and the baskets were full of the bread he brought forward, but there was more, so much more. What was once little is now great. His small offering was transformed by Jesus.
Part of that narrative is my musings, but the end is the Gospel truth. Jesus took a small offering and he made it great. He shared it with thousands. How the bread multiplied is not important, but the way it was presented is critical. We pray for miracles. We beg for miracles. We wait for miracles. What we don’t realize is that Jesus is waiting for us too. Jesus has the power, but he has given us the materials needed for the miracle. He is waiting for us to present those small gifts. Sometimes the gifts are material things. Sometimes the gift is who we are as children of God. Because we live in a time where we worry that we will never have enough, enough time, enough money, enough strength…we hold back on what we share with God. We think that an hour a week is all that God wants. But God wants all of us, even when we think that all of us is not good enough. So I ask that you consider what it is that you have to give and you take one of the index cards at the end of the pew and you write it down. Then when the plate is passed, you add that offering to the plate as a promise to God of what you will share. Because no matter how small the gift that you present, God will transform it. God will multiply it. What once was meager, what once was small and insignificant is now great. Each of us carries the materials for a miracle. Don’t wait for a miracle, start it.