Anatomy of a Miracle
Have you ever experienced a miracle?
How do we know if something is a miracle?
Six months wages wouldn’t buy enough for all these people to have even a little, they said. What are five loaves among so many people?
If we really hear this story – which chances are, many of us don’t because if we’ve heard it before we heard it in Sunday school and so instead of listening to it we are mostly just remembering it – but if we really hear this story, it messes with us a little.
Because the most interesting part, the part we might fixate on- or at least I am, is HOW this thing happens. Did the bread just multiply? Did Jesus keep ripping and ripping and it never got smaller? Did people decide when it got to them to reach into their own pockets and bags and add to the stash? How?
But the story doesn’t get into the details of how it happened, that is not important, I guess. You’ll just have to wonder. Most miracles, it turns out, are that way.
So when I think about how it happened, I realize I always imagined that Jesus, with holy hands sanitized, tore up the bread and piled it into some nice clean baskets or giant tupperware containers and the disciples politely passed them down the straight, organized rows, (fifty rows of one hundred?), in perfect usher offering synchronization.
But it sounds instead like Jesus picked up the rolls, and maybe also the small, slimy fish?, ripped them in half with his grubby hands and placed them in the grubby hands of the person sitting closest, who tore off a chunk (or took a bite?) and reached over, handing the rest into the grubby hands of the next person, willy nilly, germs and dirt everywhere, munching away, wiping dirty fingers on tunics and grass, until all were filled.
And the disciple’s didn’t supervise this mayhem- making sure the bread reached the end of the row, skipping the next row (because it’s heading the opposite direction there) and handing it off down the line, personally responsible for each mouth. No.
The people passed it to each other in their haphazard sitting groups, clumped in the shade of trees or spread in awkward smatterings of reclining bodies. Reaching out to each other, looking in a stranger’s eyes, here, did you get some?
What about her?
Can you hand this to them? No, that guy there, with the kid on his lap. Yeah, them. I don’t think they have any yet.
And this miracle, this being fed one and all from one kids’ lunchbox, they didn’t conjure it or pray for it, they didn’t faith hard enough, think the right thoughts or please God in any particular way. They were not deserving of this miracle in any extraordinary respect, nor did they even ask for it, in fact. It just happened. Because God decided to do it, and for no other reason, really.
They were hungry. Jesus fed them. That’s it.
And this also wasn’t an individual miracle. Individual people had been miraculously healed in font of them that very week, in fact, that does happen from time to time, miracles for individuals, healing and spectacular transformations of soul or body, but this wasn’t that.
This was a healing of the whole. A healing, in some way, of them all. The whole crowd shared this food, passing it hand to hand, person to person. Some may not even have realized they were hungry, and yet they too were fed.
I came alone today to hear the preacher.
I came with a friend to find the healer and watch him work.
I’m an observer, just one of the crowd.
But suddenly the focus shifts from the stage to the spectators, and the camera pans onto them, and like Oprah’s audience reaching under their seat for the keys to a new car, now we’re all part of this thing.
But unlike Oprah’s surprise new car- which feels like a miracle in the moment (and later looks like taxes and paperwork and insurance, and latte spilled on your lap and a fender bender down the road) -this one feels completely ordinary in the moment, not really special at all.
Real. Earthy. Food. Sweat and grass, and buzzing insects, hot sunshine and animated conversation.
It feels like life, not shiny or special, no screaming and weeping and jumping up and down and thinking, How did I get SO LUCKY?
In fact, perhaps not even grasping how very lucky you are.
Most miracles feel kind of normal.
Because in a way, all of life is a miracle.
After all, the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
In fact, it was not until they saw the baskets filled with leftovers that these people realized there had been a miracle.
Miracles look like someone passing you ordinary food, and they taste like crusty bread and salty fish and bubbly laughter, and they smell like human bodies and summer warmth. They don’t often seem extraordinary in the least, and most often, we miss miracles.
And if we do happen to recognize miracles, it’s after the leftovers have been all cleaned up.
It’s later on, when we realize a prayer has been answered: when a phone call from the right person at just the right time made a difference. When we leave the AA meeting with the one particular story holding us up – propelling us forward.
When we get the offer to help move, the sharing of garden wealth, the neighbor who brings your kid home from school and gives them a snack when you’re stuck on the other side of town.
When you’ve made a surprise friend you never thought you’d have, or endured a situation of such suffering as you never thought you’d have the strength to sit in with another, but you did. It’s when you’ve really listened and heard someone’s soul, or when you’ve been truly, deeply heard.
And if we’re going to recognize the miracle, it’s then, looking back, that we suddenly notice the abundance instead of the scarcity, that we feel peace washing over us, or gratitude or love, wonder and awe at the hope that peeks through the cracks of this world with relentless persistence, and in shock we realize, we ourselves were part of a miracle. That what just happened was nothing short of miraculous.
And in the insight of retrospect, the mundane becomes sacred.
What are five loaves among so many people? they ask, so utterly aware of the scarcity. This kid has something, but what is his something among so many people? It’s nothing! One little lunch isn’t going to make a difference to the hungry masses.
What can we possibly do?
What is my dollar bill and friendly greeting to the whole of her homelessness and unemployment?
What are my words to such grief and loss?
What is my puny internet credit card donation against such catastrophic loss of life, livelihood and home?
What is my wordless hug against the force of such devastating news?
What difference could what I do possibly make?
And in the world’ scarcity mindset – no real difference. None at all. It’s laughable to even try. In the world’s mindset miracles don’t happen, and most of us are alone. So it’s almost mocking the seriousness of the situation to even suggest it, so utterly insignificant is my little contribution. So pathetic what I have to offer in the big scheme of things.
But Who is this king of glory?
Or to put it another way, Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?
This one comes from different mindset than the world, a different reality completely– a way of living and being where gifts multiply and miracles happen.
This one is operating with different rules altogether, where people – in their most insignificant offering of hope or help, do make a difference. Where lives are changed on small choices. And where all people are connected. Where miracles happen and we’re part of them, and most of the time we don’t even realize it because they are ordinary, which is also another way to say, so extremely prevalent.
This one is a God of abundance and not scarcity. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
And they ate their fill.
We’ve been talking lately in church about faith. Not faith as some kind of doubtless belief. Not a muster yourself kind of certitude. Faith not as the guts to pray for miracles or the audacity to try to convert your neighbor, not even as any kind of conclusion whatsoever. We’ve been talking about faith as being the moment when you are stirred to ask, “Who is this Jesus? Who is this God who encounters me in this way in this moment?”
Faith doesn’t give you answers – at least not many, but it may make you have to question what you’ve ever known or believed. And faith may open your eyes to something wonderful that you had never before noticed. It may reveal the miracles around you.
And Faith calls out of us trust, or at least stirs in us a tentative wonder that gently invites trust. Faith in God can never be about facts or conclusions.
It is always about the person of God and your person coming into contact in one way or another.
The response of faith is wonder and gratitude, – even if explanations and understanding are nowhere to be seen. Maybe especially then. In those times where you might always be left wondering. How in the world did so much come from what seemed like so little?
Your life is filled with miracles. And you are a part of more miracles than you will ever know. Because the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.
I dare you to live that way.