In the Name...
A monastery opened a fish-and-chips restaurant to accommodate the large number of visitors and pilgrims and one customer, thinking himself clever, asked one of the brothers, "I suppose you're the 'fish friar?’" "No," answered the brother, straight-faced. "I'm the 'chip monk.'"
This morning we are asked to think about one of Jesus' miracles which has become so well-known as to be proverbial - the feeding of the 5,000, the multiplication of fish and loaves. The few, the little, becomes the many and much. A miracle if ever there was one.
Strange to say, though, miracles are hard for some people to accept and even for those who do they can be hard to talk about because deep down we feel there's something unreal about them. They're special events, of course, but there's a tendency to equate the word miracle with the word magic. Presto changeo, out of the hat come fish and loaves. But, miracles aren't magic because magic is about making things happen that are physically impossible.
Now, this might seem a strange distinction to make. After all, how could water, to use another famous example, become wine? Well, quite easily, actually, because that is a miracle that happens every year right around here. God has created a container called a grape and what it does is hold water which at the end of a process becomes wine. At Cana of Galilee, Jesus took some containers and water and sped up the process with a few shortcuts. That was the miracle. It would have been magic if the water had turned into gold or butterflies.
And the healing miracles are basically just diseases or conditions going into remission. Again, perfectly natural, just sped up. So, too, the fish and loaves. That's what they started with and that's what they finished with. The fish didn't become cheese and the loaves didn't become steaks. Jesus just made more of what he had. And this happens every day in nature.
One wheat plant contains 100 grains which can each produce 100 more. One codfish lays 10 million eggs over a lifetime. Of course, physical conditions aren't perfect so the 10,000 grains don't all germinate and the 10 million eggs don't all hatch, but, the potentials of the miracles of nature are endless. And Jesus, being the Lord of Nature, could realize these.
Miracles, then, are not isolated from other acts of God. For that matter, they're not isolated from other acts of Man because Man is made in the image of God and has a small share of God's power over Nature. Man alone of all the creatures on earth can shape his environment wherever and whenever he wants. Wisconsin beavers build great dams, but, they can't decide to move to Nevada and build a dam across the Colorado River to provide electricity for Las Vegas. We look at a forest and see houses, at a field and see a baseball diamond, at an ocean and see a shipping lane. Call it progress, call it civilization, it's one way of imitating our creator.
In Eden, we were given the earth and all its creatures to subdue and rule. And even though we're currently in a Fallen state and subject to the laws of Nature, we have not lost all the power we were given.
The thing about gifts, though, is with them, often comes responsibility. As the Bible says, "to him to whom much is given, much will be expected." We have been given the whole world. Fortunately, we have also been given every skill and talent to be responsible stewards of it. Our natural and intellectual resources are plentiful. The only thing we often lack is the will to serve; the will to use what we have been given in the best possible way.
Our Gospel today presents us with the feeding of a crowd, but it is the second of two miraculous feedings which occur in the Gospel. This one takes place on the eastern shore of the sea near Bethsaida. The other, the first one, takes place on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee not far from Capernaum. When we look at the accounts, we see that both feedings have many elements in common but there is at least one important difference.
In the first feeding, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to get their own food. It seems they don't see why they should be bothered to worry about the crowd's lack of dinner plans. But, in the second feeding, as we heard, the question is asked, "How can we feed this crowd?" That is quite a different reaction and one which shows that in between the disciples had learned an important lesson, a lesson of will.
One of the sad facts of human life is that there are areas of the world where people lack food and it's true that this is nothing new. It has always been. But, never before has so much of the world been able to do so much about it. Indeed, in many ways, Mankind has advanced tremendously in its stewardship of the world's resources. We have taken tremendous steps, but every step of the way we have struggled with the questions of Why and How.
There are whole countries, continents, where the majority of people remain hungry. We call these places the Third World, but they are part of God's world, our world. And for these places we are the makers of miracles. We have done brilliantly in improving the quality of life and use of resources, but there is so much more to do and not just as humans, as Christians, as Christians.
There is a danger, as our society has become more secular, to regard our advances as purely human endeavours. The concept that we are what we are and have what we have because of God is not in the forefront of our thinking. But, when it is, then we become disciples and start asking How, not Why. Miracles happen when we obey God. And so many miracles are within our grasp. We just have to believe and act.
Then may it be truly said, "And they all ate and were satisfied."
In the Name...