17th Sunday – B

2 Kings 4:42-44, Eph 4:1-6, John 6:1-15

Blonde Miracle Diet: An overweight blonde consulted her doctor for advice. The doctor advised that she run 10 miles a day for 30 days. This, he promised, would help her lose as much as twenty pounds. The blonde follows the doctor’s advice, and, after thirty days, she was pleased to find that she’d indeed lost twenty pounds. She phoned the doctor and thanked him for the wonderful advice which produced such effective results. At the end of the conversation, however, she asked one last question: “How do I get home, since I am now 300 miles away?”

The miracle that takes place in today’s gospel is called, “The Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fish.” It was a very important story for the early church. The evangelists really liked this story. They kept telling it over and over again. Every time I read and reflect over it, I get inspired. Let me reflect with you only just two points from the Gospel today.

Jesus looks up and sees a vast and hungry crowd, and he gives his disciples a command: “Make them sit down.” Now at first this command of Jesus can seem marginal, a throwaway line. But things change when we ask, “Why would Jesus say it?” I suggest that Jesus wanted the crowd to sit down so that they would not miss what he was about to do. Think of it. In a huge crowd, there are all kinds of things happening. People are talking and arguing and complaining and thinking and wondering. As they mill around in their own particular preoccupations, it would be easy for them to miss the miracle that Jesus was about to perform. So Jesus’ command to sit down was a command to pay attention, to recognize the action of God before their eyes.

This command of Jesus can be very useful to us in dealing with miracles, because we often overlook the miracles in our lives. Now of course, if the sun was to stop still or rain began to fall up, we would all notice that. But most miracles are not so dramatic. Some miracles are constantly present. They are the ones that are easy to overlook. We can overlook the way in which our lungs draw oxygen from the invisible air, which allows us to remain conscious and alive. We can forget the way our kidney filters our blood, preserving the elements that are good and eliminating the ones that are poisonous. We forget the miracle of how a baby learns to talk, how suddenly we can come to an idea, how music can make us cry. We forget the wonder of how a blade of grass grows, or how a few cells within the womb divide and multiply until they form a human person with fingers and a personality and eyes that can see color.

Jesus calls us to sit down, to pay attention, to recognize the wonders that surround us. If we do that, think of how it could change us. Would it not make us more humble, more hopeful, more patient, more alive? We live in a world of miracles. Let’s make sure that we take the time to see them, because every time we take one in, we recognize the presence of God.

In the New Testament it is usual that the way in which Jesus performs his miracles is described. Jesus places his fingers in the ears of a deaf man, and he hears. Jesus tells Peter to step out of the boat and Peter walks on the water. Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, and Lazarus comes. But in the miracle of the loaves and fish, we are never told how the loaves and the fish are multiplied. Did Jesus keep pulling loaves and fish out of the sack of the young boy? Did the food fall from the sky like manna? Did bread and fish suddenly appear before each person reclining on the grass? We are not told how the multiplication takes place. Instead all that we have in this story is the beginning and the end. The beginning: 5,000 hungry people in the desert with only five loaves and two fish. The end: all are satisfied and there are twelve baskets of fragments left over.

What a strange miracle story. It has no middle. We are never told how Jesus performs this miracle. You would think that if this miracle was so important to the evangelists they would do a better job of telling it—unless of course the way that they tell it is the very point.

I would like to suggest that this story of the loaves and the fish was so important to the early church because it provided a clear definition of faith. Faith is believing that God knows our trouble and our hunger and that God will feed us, even if we do not know how God will do it. Faith is believing that although we are in the desert without food we will be satisfied, even though we cannot imagine how that might come about.

This is why the comments of Andrew and Philip are in the story. Neither of them can imagine how Jesus could feed 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish. Andrew says, “What good are these among so many?” The evangelists use such statements to make it clear to us that faith is not about imagining how God will work. Faith is believing that God knows our hunger and will satisfy it, even though we cannot picture how such a solution might occur.