Our Part in the Miracle

In our readings of these few weeks, we hear many miracle accounts, stories that remind of us just who Jesus really is. The story of the “loaves and fishes” is no exception. Straight forward enough, Matthew tells us of the feeding of the five thousand and we are once again awed by the miracle. Jesus doesn’t perform miracles that aren’t in some way teaching us, his disciples, some lesson. Jesus invariably uses his miracles to reveal to us show to follow him in bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven.

That, of course, begs the question, “what is the lesson in this story?” We find the answer by considering first the conversation Jesus has with his disciples prior to the miracle and then, most importantly, what Jesus does not do.

Jesus tells his disciples to give the people who have gathered something to eat. They balk because there is only enough for themselves, and barely that. Jesus tells them to share anyway. Here we receive our first message. We are called to give when there’s a need, not only of our abundance, not only when we have something leftover after taking care of ourselves.

In a foreshadowing of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, Jesus takes the bread, he breaks it, and looking up to heaven, he blesses it, and gives it to the disciples. There’s something very meaningful taking place in that moment. It’s easy for us to miss it because we’ve heard those words hundreds of times so we have a tendency to tune them out. This time, if we slow down and listen to those words while also picturing the thousands filling every available patch of earth surrounding Jesus, we have an opportunity to see into the future. Our future. We will see the promise that Jesus came to fulfill. We will see our identity as his disciple, see ourselves at his feet, see ourselves holding this small piece of bread and the hundreds of hands outstretched to receive it. The disciples had to choose to trust that the little bread they had, blessed by Jesus, would feed the thousands. We have to make that choice as well. When overwhelmed by the needs of the world, our communities, our parish, our families, will we choose to send them away to fend for themselves, or will we choose to trust in Christ’s help enough to face it?

And finally, let’s take a closer look at this lesson. What is so important about what Jesus does not do? I think it’s fair to say that the entire conversation with the disciples was part of Christ’s design. Jesus could have, just as easily, blessed the bread and made mountains of fish and bread appear before the disciples. If they had seen that there was an abundance of food, they would have handed it out without question. It is likely that Jesus intended for the miracle, begun with his own blessing, to be brought to fullness only when his followers begin to distribute it to others. We learn from the lack as much as from the plenty. We give because we are called to, not because we have more than we can use ourselves.

There are so many of the lessons of this miracle in our parish today. No doubt, it has been a time of challenge, trials, pain, and difficulty. The parish has been tested. The staff has had to adjust and absorb extra duties. The people of our parish have had to find ways to stay steadfast without the presence of a shepherd. You’ve had to say goodbye to loved ones at funerals celebrated by near strangers, you’ve celebrated weddings and baptisms with priests you hardly know. Creativity and a willingness to take chances have been employed when, without a priest, something couldn’t be done the way it has always been in the past. There have, however, been blessings in the lack just as there were in the shortage of bread. We, as a staff, have heard and felt your support and good will and we thank you. We have noticed and are so proud of how the people of St. Peter’s have rallied together to remain the strong and vibrant parish that we have always been and will always continue to be.

The blessing and breaking of bread in this passage from Matthew is a reminder of the central role of community and the Eucharist in our faith. It is an element of our faith we can cling to when things seem bleak and uncertain. We can choose to trust that what we have is enough to meet the needs of our community. We can trust that when the bread is broken in our church, when it is blessed and shared, we are fed. We can believe that here will be enough to share and some even leftover.

Although he hasn’t been chosen, although we don’t know who he will be and when he will be arriving, we know that he will be joining a dynamic, vibrant, faithful community. Despite our unique challenges of the last several months, we are okay. I would argue that we’re better than okay. We will continue to distribute the bread as followers of Jesus and when our new shepherd gets here, we can greet him with great confidence, knowing that we have taken great care of our parish even in times of our own need. We have continued to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, to visit the sick, and bury the dead.

Sometimes we have to accept that the miracle isn’t finished until we do our part.

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