Something about spacious miracles

Something about spacious miracles

Think quick: which of Jesus’ miracles do you remember first? There’s no winning answer, just l.ock away the answer.

My answer took me back to Year 10 at Wesley College. Before I get there, though, here’s the miracle:

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

My theological understanding of what went on in this miracle is fairly simple. Jesus took the lunch of a boy who was willing to give sacrificially and blessed it. Something miraculous and supernatural took place that was inaugurated by Jesus and activated by the obedience and faithfulness of the disciples. The food didn’t multiply upon being blessed; it multiplied upon distribution. While there’s plenty of significance to be gleaned from the miracle, I just want to leave my understanding of it there for the moment.

When I was in Year 10 at Wesley College, our new Headmaster spoke in Chapel for the first time. He read this passage. In an act of what I would consider supernatural dilution, he advocated that the real miracle wasn’t so much that Jesus did anything special. Rather, that the boy’s generosity was a catalyst for evoking the generosity of those around him. By being obedient, generous and forthcoming with what he had, Mr Kefford argued, the boy’s generosity was positively contagious to the others around him. Those who were previously ‘hiding’ their food not only dragged it into the light but also shared it with those around him. The miracle was a miracle of spacious generosity.

I guess it was a neat and salutary message to selfish school boys. Heretical in my humble opinion, but neat and salutary nonetheless.

After chapel, I took on the Headmaster (probably shaking in my size 7 shiny black leather school shoes) and challenged him about whether there was any need to water down the Bible. I suggested that maybe Jesus was more than capable of a miracle that was well beyond our comprehension, rather than seek out an angle that made it more conceivable or palatable. He thanked me for my thoughts and said he’d take them on board. In truth, he was probably glad to see the back of the fundy Baptist boy.

As I reflected on this on Sunday morning, I realised that whether or not has rending was accurate to the events that might have taken place 2000 years ago, the notion of behaving spaciously was demonstrated in his the dodgy re-telling. The bow was long, the theology wobbly, but the premise was fair.

Our words and our actions either inspire and grow, or deflate and diminish those around us. Our attitudes are contagious. And, from that perspective, we’re all leaders. We’re all capable of building up or tearing down. Unintentionally or intentionally.

The Apostle Paul recalled a principle considered in Proverbs when talking to the church at Corinth:

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop.

I vote yes to miracles that can only be explained through the supernatural. I also vote yes to the authority and divinity of Jesus being the moderator of those unexplainable signs and wonders. But I also vote yes to the (often miraculous) notion that you and I, through going about our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life with eyes on eternity, can change the flavour of the world around us, to the glory of God. We can be positively contagious. There’s truth in it.

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