Don't Kill the Miracle

Do you think that the miracles of the bible are simply exaggerated stories that were "trumped up" for effect? Maybe you're missing an important teaching?
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source:

         John Paul II was succinct about his view of how to read the bible.  He taught that the bible was a “unity” with both new and old testaments informing each other.  The bible is elegant in the way that the old foreshadows the new and the way the new affirms the fulfillment of the old.  The second week of Easter we are reminded of the abundance of the Lord as we read the miracle of the loaves.  The concept of this story, though, is not a new one. We can look at a much earlier Exodus 16: 15-18: “’Now, this is what the Lord has commanded. So gather it that everyone has enough to eat, an omer for each person, as many of you as there are, each man providing for those of his own tent.’  The Israelites did so.  Some gathered a large and some a small amount.  But when they measured it out by omer, he who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and he who had gathered a small amount did not have too little.  They so gathered that everyone had enough to eat.”  This is, of course, a reference to what the Israelites were supposed to do with manna which was so strange that people did not know what it was or what to do with it!  This story is elegant in more ways than one; first it reflects the feeding of the five thousand inasmuch as it is clearly shows that no one is left wanting.  Next, the Exodus reading reflects the lack of the savior’s presence on the scene because people are operating based on their own greed, some gather more than instructed some don’t bother to gather enough.  At the feeding of the five thousand, because of the presence of Jesus and his prayer, amount is not an issue for anyone.  In fact, all are recorded to have eaten “their fill” with plenty left over.  Each story a precursor, reflection or confirmation of the other.  Hand in glove, so to speak.  

            The point of this essay, however, is not really a commentary on food, or abundance. It is, rather, a focus on the idea of miracles and how we can sometimes inadvertently destroy the blessings and teachings that they are meant to bring us.  Miracles are clearly and unequivocally recorded in both Old and New Testaments with regularity.  Since we see them in both locations, there must be more of a reason for their presence than simply a record of the things that Jesus did. For reasons that we shall see later, this particular miracle is a favorite of mine.  One Sunday, I attended Mass at a church that is not my regular community.  The Gospel was the one cited above, the John 20 reading.   The deacon who preached the homily went to great lengths to explain that “most likely” this occurrence was not a miracle at all.  He explained that the people who traveled to hear Jesus most likely brought food with them and that the real miracle of the day was that they all “shared” and every one had enough to eat!  Yikes, for the sake of decorum, that is the strongest comment that I will make in this context.  That was a bad day at church.  I tried to speak to this guy before leaving but could not; it was probably better that way!  It took about a day for my annoyance to wear off and then I became very sad by what that homily did to me and for that matter, all who heard it.  N.T. Wright, bishop of the Anglican Church in England, gave a great teaching which reminded people that we tred in dangerous territory when we take a biblical story and try  to bend the circumstances to fit into contemporary times and situations.  The bible simply was not meant to be read that way.  The lessons are, of course, universally applicable, but not the physical and political realities of biblical times. We would do well to remember his teaching.  The concept that the each of the crowd of five-thousand men, not counting women and children came individually equipped with large sacks of food that they had been toting around in the dessert sun for a couple of days is simply silly.  It is even more unlikely that each person had so much pre-packed food with them so that after each person ate, not sparsely, but to their fill, that there was enough left over so that the scraps filled twelve additional baskets, is even sillier!  Last, the idea that over ten thousand total strangers from different regions and tribes, openly and willingly shared all with each other, with no problems, is highly unlikely.  Finally, the concept that someone would want to trade a miracle story for any of these lame replacements is simply insulting to the miracle itself. 

            We know from the bible itself that Jesus calculated the scene and the results of the miracles that he chose to do.  Even in the above story we see that Jesus “pokes” at his disciples before performing a miracle to solve an impossible situation.  He asks Philip: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”   We can safely assume that he did not expect an answer like 7-11 or Jewel!  The next piece or scripture says this; “He said this to test him [Philip], because he himself knew what he was going to do.”   Supernatural miracles are clearly part of the plan.  Jesus knew that humans learn in a variety of ways, some by hearing, some by seeing, some by doing and most of all by experiencing something that clearly turns the human experience on its head.  He was a true and wise teacher and knew that if people participated in experiences that they could not explain, they would naturally tell the story over and over again.  The supernatural experience would be burned into their memory as well as their heart and because of the miracle they would be changed as well as become effective witnesses to the kingdom. 

              Are you smarter than Jesus?  Do you have a better plan about how to evangelize complete strangers from foreign countries?  If your answer was no to both questions, than be very careful not  to disrespect any miracle story that is recorded in the bible by removing its “miracle status” in lieu of some “more logical” explanation that you have come up with.  Enjoy the fact that a miracle is a miracle and no less likely today than the recorded miracles of biblical times.   You might have your own miracle story to tell.  The Charismatic Movement has been around in this country around forty years or so.   The “early days” were in the seventies and the gatherings of Catholic Charismatics were huge numbering in the thousands.  It was a breath taking, life changing time. I attended one of those monumental events at the University Of Notre Dame with my prayer meeting buddies.  That year the organizers decided that we would be house “en masse” in circus sized tents.  The people of the Cenacle Prayer Group numbered around thirty and occupied a corner of the tent.  The week-end conference was alive with singing, teaching, sessions and worship 24/7.  Our little community decided to have a Mass late on Saturday.  Along with one of our dear Sisters I was sent to “town” to get Bread for the Mass and set up.  We took out two sandwich rolls and broke them up on a makeshift paten, enough to accommodate our small group.  As I recall, the altar was a guitar case .... it was the 70's!.  Mass began on that clear night in the middle of a massive tent and word spread like wildfire.  Within fifteen minutes over a hundred and fifty people appeared for Mass.  As sister and I kept exchanging frantic glances, our Jesuit priest calmly distributed communion generously to all present.  At no time did Mass stop, at no time did the paten become empty, at no time was the celebrant grabbing for crumbs to distribute as communion.  There was abundance, we don’t know how it got there, there was plenty left over.  There were amazed people!  I have told that story scores of times, I clearly remember every detail because I experienced it firsthand even though it occurred over forty years ago.   Don’t diminish any miracle you encounter because you have an attitude that limits what God can do. Don’t kill the miracle; you might lose a supernatural gift that was right at your fingertips. 


Copyright © 2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved. 


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Published by: Dcn Juan E. Rodriguez
Date: 2011-01-06 08:43:33
Wonderful article. I am a permanent deacon and have heard this heresy teaching in some of the most liberal dioceses. The only thing I can say is that when we stop believing in the True God we start to fabricate our own lies.

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