How can we deny a miracle?
I must confess that when I read this Sunday’s gospel (or it’s parallel accounts in Matthew, Mark and John) of the feeding of the five thousand, I get a little salty. I get annoyed, because I think of the fact that about five out of ten times you hear this gospel proclaimed in a Catholic Church, it will be followed by a homily setup to convince the congregation that what the accounts of the evangelists say happened, didn’t happen. I heard it happen last year in our very town. Father will tell the congregation that, Jesus didn’t really “multiply” the loaves and the fish, rather the real miracle is that he moved the crowds to share what they had until all were fed.
I get annoyed with this interpretation, because it’s novel and inaccurate. It is not evident that one of the early Christian writers shared this view. As observed by St. Ambrose: “It is clear that the multitude were filled not by a scanty meal, but by a constant and increasing supply of food. You might see in an incomprehensible manner amid the hands of those who distributed, the particles multiplying which they broke not; the fragments too, untouched by the fingers of the breakers, spontaneously mounting up.” St. Augustine also makes it clear that this is a miracle: “He multiplied in His hands the five loaves, just as He produces harvest out of a few grains. There was a power in the hands of Christ; and those five loaves were, as it were, seeds, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by Him who made the earth.
Here is why the “Miracle of Sharing” misinterpretation is problematic:
- It takes away from the sovereignty of Christ and reduces him to a moral teacher who just tells us to be nice and share.
- It imposes a greed upon the crowds that is not evident from the account
- It obscures the obvious foreshadowing of the Eucharist
As our Church now faces a lack of understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and a real loss of wonder, awe, and reverence for this great gift of Jesus to his Church, we should not be surprised. If we take the miracle away from Jesus in the Gospels, then how much more difficult is it for us to believe that a miracle happens every week on our altar? If Jesus can multiply five loaves and two fish, then he can fulfill the salvation that the prophets of old promised. If Jesus can multiply loaves and fish, he can multiply our faith. If Jesus can satisfy earthly hunger, he can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. If Jesus can perform this miracle, then he can change my life. Jesus can take my offering of self, no matter how inadequate, and make something amazing out of me, for his kingdom. As he took, blessed and broke the bread for the crowds, so now he does for us in our Eucharist, and so he can transform our simple offerings of bread and wine into himself, so can he transform us, enabling us to carry on his mission of salvation to the ends of the earth. But if Jesus did not perform this miracle, then he is just another nice guy.