Friday, June 11, 2010

The M Word

Last Sunday I heard a homily on the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9:10-17), the only miracle of Jesus recounted in all four gospels.

But this homilist avoided any mention of the word "miracle." He explained that in offering the gathered masses five loaves and two fish, Jesus encouraged them to share the food they already had in hand. The Five Thousand were fed not because Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes, but because his exemplary act transformed the gathering from a collection of isolated individuals into a generous community.

I have encountered this interpretation before, but the homilist made the best case I have yet heard for saying the Feeding was not a miracle. In the end, however, the case does not stand. The whole premise of the Gospel story is that as "the day began to wear away" the people lacked food. The Apostles suggested to Jesus that He dismiss the people so they could get provisions for themselves. Jesus initially directed the Apostles to give them something to eat. It strains belief to suppose that Jesus and the Apostles did not know what was in the pockets of the people, while we, two thousand years away, do.

I recall hearing the "no miracle" interpretation back in the mid-1990s, at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral, in Camden, NJ, before a congregation of poor families who might have preferred to know a Christ capable of genuine multiplication. On that occasion, the homilist felt obliged to mention that the Gospel account was normally considered a miracle story.

Now, it appears, the rhetorical setting has changed. The Feeding of the Five Thousand can be explained without even mentioning the M word, much less embracing it.

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