Summary: An alternative view on the feeding of the multitude.
Some of you may remember that many years ago I, asked the children of this church to go around the congregation and gather whatever sweets that were in your bags or pockets. The kids went around and some of you gave quite generously the sweets you had, they were placed in the offering plates. Of course to make sure the address worked; I had placed some sweets in the plates and planted some with members of the congregation. I admit that I was surprised at what went out and what came back in. You were very generous indeed, you pooled your resources and the amount of sweets that came back, far outweighed the amount that went out!
That day, I emptied all the sweets into one container and gave them all to the kids and I think they particularly enjoyed their Sunday Club and Bible Class that day, perhaps they were a little quieter for the leaders as their jaws worked overtime to chew their sweets.
There was a point to the address that day; there was a point to the sermon – the sharing of the food with the 5000. This biblical story is again shared with us today, but there are many ways to interpret this story, some look upon it as a divine miracle performed by Jesus to enchant the congregation, it was a miracle performed to display his powers, his authority, to reinforce God’s promise in Him. Only divine beings can perform miracles and therefore the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 was seen by many as proof positive that Jesus was more than just a prophet or wise man, he was unique.
I have never viewed this parable as being a miracle that Jesus initiated although in the bible it certainly indicates that his hand had something to do with it. Indeed just as a point of interest, this is the only parable that is retold in all of the four major Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some would argue that the mere mention of this parable by the four writers indicates something special and holy happened that day and I believe it did. Let me make this quite clear, there was a miracle that day, the feeding of the 5000 was a miracle and a clear one at that – but was it by Jesus clicking his fingers or blinking an eye?
Let’s first think about what we consider to be a miracle. The healing waters of Lourdes are often described as having miraculous properties and they have been attributed to many people recovering from terminal illnesses and painful conditions. Indeed so much so that there is a story of a man who sued his former employer for injuries sustained during the course of his work. The insurer was absolutely sure he was at it, they followed him – the man knew they were doing that, he had the savvy to know this big claim would be investigated. Eventually both sides went to court and the man won his case and the company paid out a very hefty sum.
After the case was over, the investigator approached the man and told him, “I will continue to follow you and one day, I will catch you.” The replied with an enigmatic smile on his face, “I am going to buy two tickets to Lourdes for you and me, and you can come and see the greatest miracle ever performed.”
The investigator knew there was no legal way to prove or disprove a miracle. No one can argue that miracles don’t happen, for they are beyond explanation. It’s like someone asking you to prove there is a God. We can explain our faith, we can argue that there is because we believe but we can’t actually point at one image, object or celestial body and declare that’s God! Just as we can’t declare that miracles do or don’t exist and that really threw the investigator, the injured party had out manoeuvred him.
All of us here know the man was ‘at it’ as did the investigator but to prove otherwise was the issue. Miracles are always difficult issues, like angels there are some who really don’t accept them or believe in them. Some view them as superstition and myth, some view them as nothing more than tack, created only to commercialise religion or control by fear.
How do we define a miracle? If we thought of having tea and toast for breakfast and in the morning our spouse made us tea and toast, would this be a miracle or would it just be coincidence? If we had a coffee morning and suddenly discovered that we had no coffee, only to discover a jar lying at the bottom of the stairs, would that be a miracle or again coincidence? What if we later discovered that on the way into the kitchen, one of our ladies discovered her jar of coffee had fallen out of her bag?