How did he do it? That's what we want to know, isn't it? How did Jesus feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in a little town called Tabgha?
Theologians have debated this question since the moment it happened. Some say that Jesus made fish and bread out of thin air--like Madrox, the Multiple Man, who can make copies of himself and anything he touches.
Madrox, the Multiple Man, as a member of X-Factor
Some say that the people had food on their own persons while out there in the Galilean countryside, knowing that they would be gone for a long time, and so they ate what they had, and together with the loaves and fish were able to be filled.
Still others claim that this story has nothing to do with food, but that Jesus himself fed and sustained them, that his presence and his words gave them the nourishment and strength they needed to continue on their journey.
Regardless of what theory one may ascribe to, they all agree on one thing: this was a miracle. That's a word we toss around a lot, isn't it? The US beats the Soviet Union in a hockey game in 1980 and it's the Miracle on Ice. The Tennessee Titans win a playoff game against the Buffalo Bills, and we call it the Music City Miracle. Even DC comics has Mr. Miracle, a member of the Justice League who is gifted with great speed and strength. (Yes, two comic book references in one post!)
But what is a miracle exactly? And what makes this story a miracle? The Feeding of the 5000 is one of those stories found in all four of our canonical Gospels, but there is a wrinkle here in the Fourth Gospel that, I think, makes it a miracle. Andrew tells Jesus that there is a boy there with five loaves and two fish. This boy is not present in any of the other Gospels. This boy is what makes the story a miracle.
The boy offers Jesus what he has to feed the multitudes.
All around him the boy is hearing voices like Andrew and Phillip, who are complaining that they won't be able to feed the multitudes, that what this boy is offering is not nearly enough. Still, the boy offers what he has for the sake of this community of 5000, giving what he has to Jesus, and when he does so Jesus uses it and somehow, someway, manages to feed and nourish all those people.
Many have claimed that the boy is an allegory, that he isn't real. This makes sense when we see that he only shows up here in the most recent of our Gospels, which would have used the writings from the communities of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and built upon them. Still, whether the boy is real or not is immaterial. The boy represents the crowd itself. He represents you and me. He represents anyone who hears the voice of Jesus and steps forward. He is anyone who is willing to give what they have for the sake of someone else.
The boy reminds us that opportunities for the miraculous are all around us, if we only open our eyes and hearts and spirits to see them. They happen when we show the courage and selflessness that he shows. He reminds us that miracles are not something that just happen, they're something that people make happen. Miracles don't happen when we clasp our hands together and pray for Jesus to come and give us something we want. Jesus is not a cosmic vending machine! Miracles happen when we who are the Body of Christ partner with our Lord and offer what we have to him for the sake of the Other. It feels daunting at times--Phillip and Andrew show us that with how much they complain in the story. And often times we feel like what we have to offer isn't nearly enough. But this story reminds us that one person can, in fact, make a difference. It reminds us that we can come to Jesus just as we are--however ill-equipped--and Jesus will use what we offer--however small it may seem. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it best: we can't do it without God, but God won't do it without us.
It may seem too big, or we may tell ourselves that what we offer is too small. Still, God does amazing things with the small. When we receive Holy Communion, for example, we get but a small piece of bread, paper-thin and not very tasty. And yet with that small morsel we are changed, strengthened, forgiven, and empowered. It's a miracle! Jesus does the same thing whenever we bring something to him. He takes what we offer and, with us, makes miracles.
Every single person has something to offer? What do you have to offer? Maybe you have something to offer in your church community. Or maybe in your town or city. Maybe you have something to offer the world. Whatever you offer--time, talent, treasure, whatever--amazing things will happen when you step out in faith and courage and offer what you have. And that's because Jesus is in the middle of it, and when Jesus is in the middle of soothing, the hungry get fed, the poor find hope, the stranger is welcomed, and ordinary people do extraordinary things!
Miracles are not just reserved for Jesus. They are for you and me. They are all around us, anytime we ask use the gifts God has given us to help build up the kingdom here on earth, and anything we offer something of ourselves for the benefit of others, no matter how small it may seem. We can't do it without God, but God won't do it without us. So let's offer what we have, brothers and sisters. Let's make some miracles happen.