Summary: If we get hung up on materialism and materialistic explanations, we might miss the most wonderful truths of all.
Seventeenth Sunday in Course 2021
I’ve been teaching and studying chemistry for most of the time since the year 1962, which for most folks alive today was the Dark Ages. The one law of science that governs my discipline is called the Law of Conservation. Before and after a chemical reaction, three things are the same. They don’t change. Mass, or amount of stuff, energy, and charge. They are conserved. So when a scientist hears today’s first reading and Gospel, if he or she has no faith in Christ, the tendency is to scoff and say, “that’s impossible.”
Actually, this law is one of the first learned by children. Uncle Jimmy reaches behind little Jaime’s ear and pulls out a dime. At the age of two, the child probably thinks he brought the dime from non-existence to existence by magic. By the time the child is five or six, he’s trying to put aside the magic explanation and maybe learn some palmistry himself. We all intuitively know that things don’t just appear and disappear. They have to come from somewhere and go to somewhere.
That’s why we call today’s remembered events from the lives of Elisha and Jesus miracles. Mira! We exclaim, when they happen. By definition, a miracle is an event with no materialistic explanation. Christ instantaneously telling a murderous sea to be calm, and the storm ceases; Peter saying, “In the name of Jesus, rise and walk,” and the crippled man rises and walks. Or, in the case today, five loaves and two fish feed at least the 5,000 men and probably as many as 25,000 men, women and children.
Elisha takes about ten pounds of barley loaves and a few ears of corn and feeds a hundred hungry workers. They ate and maybe even had seconds, and some was left over. Could this have been explained as food coming out from the men’s sacks to supplement what was given? Maybe so, but it is presented clearly as a miraculous event. It survived perhaps a few hundred years of oral tradition and then the copying of the manuscripts for a couple of thousand. Why take the trouble to record and perpetuate a lie? This, after all, was one of Elisha’s minor signs of his office.
But in sheer contrast, we read the Gospel of John and see there a clear and abiding record of the feeding of five thousand men, and an unknown number of accompanying families, with five loaves and a few fish, and then when everyone ate their fill–that’s repeated, you heard–they had more bread and fish left over than they had started with.
Oh, but I’ve heard priests explain this by Jesus’s exhorting the people to share what they had with the other folks who had nothing. Sharing and caring was the real miracle. Brothers and sisters, beloved of God, that is sheer balderdash. Certainly there may have been one or the other incident of sharing in a crowd that big, kind of like the old story of “stone soup.” But the Scripture, and the underlying oral tradition, are very clear. Twelve baskets were filled to the brim with what was left from five barley loaves and two fish. Not from “what they had shared from their stash.” And the response harkened back to Moses in the desert, who predicted a prophet like himself would come and do wonderful things like Moses acting under God’s providence. They yelled to each other, “This is the One. This is the Prophet.” Would they have plotted to make Jesus into their revolutionary King if all He had done is urge them to share food that they already had. And, as we’ll see in the following weeks, they kept asking Jesus if He would continue the sign that reminded them of Moses in the wilderness. Would Jesus keep serving them free bread?
So forget the question “how did Christ do that?” It’s not relevant. He did it. He used divine power. He was divine and human, both acting for His people in need. Many of us here today can testify to ways in which Christ, sometimes through the agency of other people, other followers of Jesus, got us out of binds that looked impossible to break through. Others can tell how He got them resources that literally saved lives or houses or ministries from destruction. Tell each other of what God has done in your lives that almost equal turning 5 loaves into a feast of plenty for thousands. Because God wants to fill up every need, every gap in our lives, that prevent us from growing in His Spirit and bringing others to a knowledge of Christ and His Church. Acknowledge the miracles, both two thousand years ago and right now in our midst, and share the stories.