I've always believed that the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21) was the best kind of miracle story. There’s just no way you can tell it that it’s not a miracle.
It’s late in the day, the story goes, and the disciples want to send a crowd of people away so that they can find food in local villages. Jesus tells them - the disciples - to feed the people. That seems ridiculous to them because all they have is five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, and gives it the disciples to distribute. Everyone gets fed and there’s twelve baskets of leftovers. It’s a miracle.
It’s a miracle in so many ways.
Jesus, with the power of God, made five loaves and two fishes turn into enough food to feed everyone. Ok, that’s a miracle. It confirms Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, and has powers beyond this world. It’s about affirming who Jesus is and what the power of God can do.
Jesus, with a demonstration of generosity and graciousness, inspires everyone in the crowd and they look to see what they have that they might be able to share. Radical hospitality at its best. That’s a miracle. It’s about affirming that Jesus is about showing us what we are all capable of.
It’s a metaphor for how all must be fed, both physically and spiritually. Still a miracle.
Even if Jesus had said sure, send them all from this “deserted place” to the local villages, I guarantee someone would have said “it’d be a miracle if they could find enough food for everyone.”
Still, then, a miracle. All are fed and there’s leftovers. It’s like the greatest of all potlucks.
For me, though, the story’s not just about being fed, physically or spiritually, it’s about compassion and kindness. It’s about sharing together, both in the abundance and scarcity of what we have. Especially how Matthew tells it.
The author of Matthew places the story immediately after everyone hears the news that John the Baptist has been executed by Herod. John, who proclaimed the Messiah’s coming, was a colleague in ministry and, according to Luke at least, was a cousin of Jesus was dead. “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” (Matt. 14:13)
It’s no wonder Jesus wanted to get away. I imagine he was grieving. But the crowd follows him. It would be easy to suggest the crowd followed him out of their own need, but what if the crowd, having heard the same news, was grieving too? What if it wasn’t just Jesus’ compassion for them in their need, but that the crowd felt compassion for Jesus? Perhaps this was a community sharing their grief and beginning to heal together.
If that’s like communities now, I imagine more than a few of them, those that could anyway, stopped on the way to make a casserole or “a covered dish” or pick up some groceries they would have been happy to share. Still a miracle.