Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
A man was helping two customers in his antiques store when one of them aimed a gun at his head. Just as he went to shoot, the man threw his hand up. Turns out his gold wedding band deflected a shot that surely would have killed him. “I don’t know if I was just lucky or if I had other help,” he says, “but it was wonderful either way.” IS IT A MIRACLE?
A woman survived jumping out of an airplane with a faulty parachute – a free fall of 3,000 feet – with only a broken leg, a fractured pelvis, and a concussion. As she plummeted, the chute’s ropes twisted around her. She later told reporters she had prayed, “God save me, please; I have a son,” but could recall nothing else until she woke up in the hospital, surrounded by her amazed and grateful family. IS IT A MIRACLE?
The tire blows as a young woman is on her way college. She was headed straight off a 33-story cliff when her car swerved across traffic, then careened back into the median. The trucker who stopped to call a tow truck and make sure she was okay said that she was maybe a foot short of going over – and the car just changed directions, missing three cars head-on as well as the cliff. The man told her, “God must love you, because that had to be a miracle that you’re not dead.” IS IT A MIRACLE?
We hear stories like this and can’t help but wonder if they are true. We hear responses to these miracles like the man in that last story, who attributes that young woman’s salvation to a God who especially loved her. But does God really give special treatment to some and withhold from others? Is that really the God we believe in? Some may say that’s what today’s gospel is all about – Jesus feeding these lucky 5,000 plus people who happened to be with the right guy at the right time. Some would say this miracle of healing and feeding is all about Jesus proving his divinity. But is that really all there is to the story? I have a hard time believing in a God that needs to prove anything. Think about it… God Almighty looking down from above, but worried, “Oooh will they like me? Oh I hope these mortal humans accept this proof I’m trying to send them…” No, I just can’t believe that was going on. Let’s look again at what this story is really about.
Jesus heard the news about the death of John the Baptist and he is grieving. This is what we say when we say Jesus was fully human. His first impulse is much like ours when we hurt, when we’re exhausted, when we are suffering. He wants to be alone. But here’s the interesting thing. When Jesus sees those crowds of people, he decides against suffering alone and chooses compassion. The Latin root of compassion means to ‘suffer with.’ So here is Jesus choosing to suffer with those who followed him. They weren’t just sick, they were the weak and lowest in social status. Jesus didn’t just feel sorry for them and decide to help those poor people. Jesus, in his grief and suffering, met them in their suffering. Jesus heals them, because this is who Jesus is. This is what we mean when we say Jesus is fully divine. In his divinity Jesus meets us where we are, as we are, and heals us – because that is who he is. That is what he does. Is it a miracle, or is it simply who Jesus is?
As we wrestle with the point of this story – Is it about healing, is it about feeding the 5,000, is it about miracles, or what? – We are also offered two different understandings of community. We’re offered, what I like to call, A Tale of Two Kingdoms. One kingdom is based on a perspective we know very well. This is the same perspective that the disciples are coming from when they go to Jesus and say, “This place is like a desert, and it is already late. Let the crowds leave, so they can go to the villages and buy some food.” See, the disciples think they are being thoughtful. They look around and respond to the need around them based on the perspective they know and are most used to. This perspective comes from a kingdom of hierarchy and individualism; where what we have is dependent on what we do for it – how hard we work for it, plan ahead, and take care of ourselves. This kingdom blames our poverty on a lack of effort, preaching that if we just do more we will not only fulfill our needs, but also achieve all of our desires.
And Jesus responds, not with parables, but with blessing. He responds by giving these people the experience of a community like no other, an experience of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a kingdom based on compassion, connection, being with one another in whatever state we find ourselves – grieving, celebrating, hungry, lonely, good mood, bad mood, doesn’t matter… We choose to be with one another.
Let Jesus be who he is and see the Kingdom lived out in the people gathered around him: Healing, blessing, brokenness (yes, that’s still there), and sharing. Jesus uses what is right there in front of him for the people right in front of him to experience the Kingdom right there, among them. Jesus uses his followers, these imperfect people who still just don’t seem to get it, to pass the miracle on to one another. And there is more than enough. There is more than they ever realized was there at first glance. This is a kingdom of abundance and grace; where people are simply loved and cared for because they are there standing right in front of you, not because of anything they did or didn’t do.
When we feel overwhelmed, when we grieve and hurt and just want to get away, follow the example of Jesus. Keep it simple. Look at what’s right there in front of you. Take a deep breath and be in the moment. Where is compassion? Who are we called to (suffer) be with? Who is there to be with you? We are never as alone as we may feel.
We know, some of us better than others, that there are things that happen in our life that just can’t be explained. There are things that can’t be proven. We try to make sense out of it. We look for the deep meaning of it all. We call it a miracle or good luck, intuition or feeling. Can’t you imagine this is what the people gathered that day with Jesus and his disciples would have had to do? They are trying to explain what happened to their friends who weren’t there, but it’s like trying to describe a dream. “Somehow it just happened, we were healed, we were fed, we were together…” So after that day, realizing that words could never fully express what happened, what do you think all of those people did? Did they just keep on living their lives like nothing changed? I wonder, what if we let it be what it is – something life changing, or lifesaving; something we just know is true. Maybe then, our desire will be less about naming and describing it and more about responding to it by the way we live after.
The Kingdom of Heaven: is it just an unexplainable miracle? A fluke? A heavy blow of idealism completely removed from reality? Or is it more real than we even know? It is a reality that we can actually truly experience if only we keep it simple and let God be God. This is the life we are called to live with one another:
- a life in response to who God is
- a life based on the reality that God provides
- a life that trusts God’s faithfulness over our own
- a life obedient to the call that we ‘go and do likewise’ to love one another, and to forgive one another, no strings attached.
We may not be able to explain the great and small, every day miracles that fill our lives, but perhaps that is part of the gift of it all. With every miracle, we experience the in-breaking of God’s kingdom and an opportunity to respond in our compassion for one another.
In a minute we will share the words of the Apostle’s Creed. Somehow (miraculously?) these words have lasted thousands of years, connecting us to the early Christians of the first century, and uniting us with faith in a God more mysterious and alive than any words could ever contain. These words are our attempt to explain a God beyond our meager vocabulary, a God who creates, lives with us, saves, connects, and unites beyond space and time because that is simply who God is. Would it take a miracle for you to believe that? Would it take a miracle for us to live like that is the God we believe in, the Jesus we follow, the way we live? Maybe it would, but the beauty of it all is that our God is a miraculous God. Let’s live like we believe it, let’s live in awareness of who God is – an experience of who God is, and share the good news.