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Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children (Matthew 14:19-21).
If we consider Jesus our spiritual example, if we take him at his word that the works he did we can do also, and greater things, a story like this, meant to inspire, can inadvertently discourage. How many of us are even close to being able to perform such a miracle? This type story forces us to conclude that Jesus was either a different kind of human, or we have a very, very long way to go in our quest for spiritual understanding.
I have heard the concept of a miracle described in two ways. The first is “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” The second sees the miracle as “the fulfillment of a natural law we do not yet understand.” A prehistoric people who witnessed a jumbo jet flying over their heads, for example, would undoubtedly conclude they had witnessed a miracle. Yet the laws that allow a multi-ton craft to fly were as much in place then as now. A miracle to one is routine to another.
If we focus on this story as a miracle, we miss the principle it teaches. There is a condition of lack and apparently not enough supply to meet the need. Jesus, looking up to heaven, took his eyes off the appearance. He gave thanks for the answer before it was apparent. He then took the action of passing out the little he had. In other words, he began giving in the very face of lack, a clear act of faith. One writer suggested that as he began to give, others, following his lead, brought out food they surely would have taken with them. After all, five-thousand desert dwellers would not be foolish enough to venture into the wilderness without proper provisions.
Such stories, passed down orally for decades, undoubtedly suffer from excessive elaboration. God incarnate, after all, must be shown to wield power over nature. The problem is that we place our faith in the so-called miracle worker and miss the transforming principle that we can apply to our own situation. In most cases, it doesn’t take an inexplicable breach in natural law to bring a desired change. Action based on trust in God is the real change agent demonstrated by Jesus. This is certainly a thing he did that we can do as well.