Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Multiplier Effect

From Galatians 8:14-21:
14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” [11] 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Trying to understand a miracle is like trying to understand wind. One can see its effect, but what it is in and for itself remains invisible. I have heard many attempts at a rational explanation for the feedings of the multitudes in the Synoptic Gospels, and I have reached the point where such explanations miss the point. Trying to figure our how, exactly, a medium-size village was fed with a few loaves of bread is a bit like figuring out the color, size, shape, and texture of wind without any reference to what the wind is doing. Even here, Jesus is calling on his disciples to think about what has happened in the feeding of the multitudes, not in and for itself, but for what it means. What it means concerning who Jesus is. What it means for the potential of the Kingdom of God.

The holy mystery of the loaves and fishes can certainly be seen as an allegory for all sorts of things, but it is first and foremost an allegory about the Kingdom of God, about the power of the Holy Spirit moving through a community of believers, transforming their meager supplies and even lack of sustenance in to a bounty for all. Yet, bare hours after the second demonstration of this power of God to take our little and create excess, the disciples display their usual cluelessness, whining about a lack of bread. Reducing the mystery of the miracle to a singular event, to this or that demonstration of Divine power is a betrayal of what has been demonstrated. The feeding of the multitudes is what is possible, not just some event in need of explanation. We need to remember that the faith that can feed multitudes is also the faith that can sustain us in our time of need.

This is not to deny the reality of scarcity and want, especially now as we face an ever shrinking economic outlook and the threat of real privation, even among those elements of our very rich society that have never had to go without. Yet, in the face of these two realities - that of our economic mess and the revelation of the bounty of God available to all who come in faith - we need to remember that we Christians are not called to be profit-takers, good investors, or successful sales persons. We are called to offer God our meager rations, and have faith that God will take these simple things and create an overabundance for all to share. When those in need come forward, we should not turn them away, poor-mouthing our way out of our responsibilities. Nor should we, in the face of the multiple threats to our sense of composure and equanimity, pull up the planks and retire to our little Holy boat on the river, then wonder why we have so little. We have been offered a wonderful gift to share with the world, and in this sharing there turns out to be more than enough for any and all who wish to partake.

This is the miracle of the loaves and fishes. It is the prodigal love and grace of God demonstrated in loving community, taking our little-to-nothing and making an abundance for all of us, indeed for any who wish to partake.

Virtual Tin Cup

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