The Miracle of Sharing?

I was a little dismayed this morning when our pastor preached on the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes using the “exegesis” that goes: one boy came forward willing to share his lunch, and after the disciples got everyone to sit down and Jesus blessed the boy’s lunch and started handing it out, then everyone realised that there would be enough to go around if only they too shared what they had brought…

Two questions:

1) Do you think this interpretetion “spoils” the miracle by downgrading it to a pot-luck dinner?
2) Did your pastor use this idea?

13 Comments

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13 responses to “The Miracle of Sharing?

  1. Matthias

    was this a Lutheran or Catholic pastor Schutz??

    • Catholic. He is my parish “pastor”, a term still in use in the Catholic Church even though we don’t use the title as a form of address.

      Incidentally, we were staying with Bishop Anthony Fisher in Sydney recently, and my youngest daughter called him “Pastor Anthony” – which I told him was the greatest possible compliment he could be paid by a Lutheran!

  2. mike

    A little dismayed?

    1) Yes and
    2) No

    But that infamous interpretation did come to mind – and what I did think of is that it turns the job of the priest into that of a kindergarten teacher.

  3. One of those odd Sundays when the three year and the one year more or less coincide (though we had Mark’s account). Here’s how I preached it:

    http://weedon.blogspot.com/2009/07/homily-for-trinity-7.html

  4. Paul

    I heard the homily you describe a couple of years ago, but not today.
    I think the “explanation” of your homily concentrates too much simply on the “where can we get some good take-away” problem the Disciples had, and does downgrade the miracle.

    The homily I heard today said that the miracle demonstrated that when we bring our poor gifts to the Lord, he can use them to do great things – we are tranformed by God’s relationship with us. That made sense to me and seemed to be talking about a much more important issue than a shortage of food one day.
    The priest today also pointed out that John was the only Evangelist who does not mention the Eucharist at the Last Supper (I hope I got that right), and this miracle is his message (or rather, his report of Jesus’ message) about Eucharist.
    The priest then gave us homework to study John 6 in preparation for the Gospels of the next few Sundays – I think giving homework is not a bad idea in a homily.

    • You got it right, Paul, and so did the priest. In John, the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, a foreshadowing of the institution of the Eucharist, is the preface for Jesus’ discourse on himself as “the bread of life”, the heart of which is John 6:53: “Unless all of you eat the flesh of the Son of [Adam], and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you.”

  5. Peregrinus

    1) Do you think this interpretetion “spoils” the miracle by downgrading it to a pot-luck dinner?

    2) Did your pastor use this idea?

    Answering the second question first: No.

    Answering the first question: Actually, no, I don’t.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a pretty feeble interpretation. But the important thing about the signs is not that they are supernatural (as in, amazing, we would need trick photography to replicate this in the movie adaptation of John); it is what they point to. That’s why they’re called “signs”.

    The more spectacular a sign is, of course, the more effective it is at drawing attention. On the other hand, the more it draws attention to its own amazingness, and the less to what it is supposed to be pointing to.

    This may be a particular problem for out materialist, sceptical age. There’s a temptation to see the signs as proof of Jesus’ divinity or, at least, his supernatural character because, hey, he can walk on water, which we all know to be impossible. And there’s a converse temptation to dismiss these scriptures as fantasy because, as we all know, walking on water is impossible.

    I think earlier generations were accustomed to the idea that there was a lot of things in the world which they either didn’t know about or didn’t understand, so somebody doing what had been assumed to be undoable didn’t present the same challenge to them; it was just something special, remarkable, that they didn’t understand. I strongly suspect that they didn’t see the same sharp natural/supernatural distinction that we make.

    The important issue here is not whether the provision of an abundance of food was supernatural or not; the important issue is what an abundance of food means. If we get hung up on whether it’s “miraculous”, we’re being distracted. Do we suppose, for example, that the blind man was any the less cured if we found some natural explanation as to how mud made out of spittle could resolve a medical condition causing blindness? Were the multitudes here any the less nourished if their bread and fish were naturally procured?

    So I don’t have any trouble with an interpretation that says “look, this doesn’t have to be miraculous to be meaningful”. But I’m suspicious of an interpretation which insists</i? on a natural interpretation, because it seems to me to fall into the same error. Natural or supernatural is actually not the point.

  6. Good, Perry:

    To insist on a reductionist, materialist interpretation is terribly narrow, and, as you say, misses the point of the sign – which the crowd certainly got: This really is the Prophet who has come into the world. Our Lord, alas, had thereupon to scarper, since, misunderstanding His Messiahship, the crowd came to seize Him and make Him King by force… It is not material, but spiritual food, sustenance for our souls unto everlasting life, that Christ offers (though not in a body-denying manner of course!). Sheen puts it well that Communism offered land and bread, just as the Roman Emperors, bread and circuses – but both were but distractions for the plebs. Our Lord offers to feed us that we may have the strength to walk His way to heaven, and be seated with Him upon His Father’s throne.

    • Peregrinus

      Actually, I’m not convinced that the crowd did get it. As you point out, they wanted to seize Jesus and make him king, in keeping with an essentially worldly view of who the Messiah would be and what he would do (which in fairness was then, and is now, the mainstream Jewish understanding of the Messiah). In other words, what they saw was the material benefit of an abundance of food, and they saw that as prefiguring other worldly benefits.

      But we shouldn’t be too hard on them. First, they didn’t have the opportunity to interpret what they had just seen in its context in the entire gospel of John, and as members of a Eucharistic community. From where they stood, their reaction was an interpretation wholly consistent with their Jewish heritage, belief and practice; it was a faithful response to the sign.

      Secondly, in pointing to the material significance of an abundance of food, they are right, just not completely right. I don’t see Jesus as offering us spiritual food instead of material food; the kingdom involves both. So Jesus really did feed people in the sense of nutrition, proteins and carbohydrates, as well as in the cultural, emotional and psychological sense of sharing meals with them, as well as providing perfect spiritual food. He really did restore sight to the blind, heal the sick and so forth. Which is why the Catholic tradition has always insisted that material works – schools, hospitals, practical acts of love – are essential to Christian life. The sacramental eucharist cannot not substitute for them any more than they can substitute for it. And if we provide healing, nourishment, education or whatever through non-miraculous means, that does not in any way diminish the significance of what we do.

  7. Kiran

    1)Oh yes, it does. It comes from the whole naturalist tradition that begins with the premise that miracles cannot happen. I do tend to Perry’s point though, that it isn’t wrong so much because it “downgrades” as because it misrepresents the facts and pushes a certain viewpoint. The thing I suppose which most concerns me is that, here, revelation rather than coming first comes a distant second in understanding the ways of God.

    2) No. Thank heavens. We had a nice homily on Caritas in Veritate.

  8. Connie

    Something to that effect was published in the church bulletin. I think it does downgrade the miracle and how does it explain the 12 baskets which were left over.

  9. 1. Yes (I agree with Kiran’s view)

    2. Mercifully, no.