Is anyone else disappointed with today’s miracle story from the Gospel lesson (Mark 8:1-10)? Only a short while ago, Jesus fed the five-thousand with five loaves and two fish. Now, he’s feeding four-thousand with seven loaves and a few fish. Not only is he feeding fewer people with more starting materials—he’s also doing the same miracle twice! Hasn’t he learned how to be a performer yet? A miracle worker isn’t supposed to do the same miracle twice to the same audience—especially if the second time around isn’t as impressive as the first. Perhaps, had he fed ten-thousand people with only two loaves and one fish the second time around, maybe that would have been ok. But this?
My reaction, of course, is a bit hyperbolic…but not totally inaccurate. And that says a lot about how easy it is for me to miss the point of the miraculous. I confess that I want Jesus to put on a show. I want him to amaze me with his “magic.” I want to look at the extraordinary and be overwhelmed by his power. But that’s not why Jesus performed his miracles. Each miracle reveals something previously unseen about who God is and how he works in the world. Jesus often chose expressions of power to disclose those truths, but I believe he did so because no one was noticing the disclosures that came in every-day packages. I argue that, had the world realized who God is and how much he loves the world, the “miracle show” wouldn’t have been necessary.
Yes, Jesus works his breathtaking feats of amazement partly because he was the Son of God and able to do things that no other human being could do, but he never performs a miracle simply for the sake of “wowing” an audience. He’s inviting them in. He’s asking them to consider the bigger picture. He wants the crowd (and us) to ponder what the miracle says about God and his kingdom. When I find myself gaping at the magic show, clapping my hands like a little child, saying, “More, more!” I know I’ve missed the point. In those moments—like when I initially read this morning’s lesson—I’m more interested in the content of the miracle than in the context into which it was wrought.
Feeding four-thousand with seven loaves and few fish is Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ question, “How can one feed these men with bread here in the desert?” And his reply isn’t just to provide a miraculous quantity of bread—seven baskets full leftover. Jesus uses the miracle to show them (and us) that in a place of wilderness and desolation he can still feed us. And he does it a second time to set us free from the historical moment of the event and to demonstrate that his ability to sustain the weak and weary isn’t confined to any specific time or place. First time, second time, any time—Jesus offers to feed us in ways we didn’t think were possible. If I only care about loaves and fish and five-thousand or four-thousand, I’ll never understand that.