What is that between so many? (John 6:9)
How should we understand the miracle stories in the Gospels? To be sure, we can assert that if we are able to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, then this is such a big and all encompassing matter to believe, that any stories of miracles are quite small in comparison.
Well, true as this may well be, it seems all too easy for many.
And there are those, good and believing people, who remain uncomfortable about the miracles in the Gospels and try and explain them away. Perhaps there is some natural explanation, they say. Perhaps the walking on the water was a trick of the light. Perhaps the stilling of the storm was co-incidence. Perhaps the feeding of the 5000 was not supernatural at all, but an extraordinary act of sharing by the crowd, so that all were fed.
Mm. Perhaps. But perhaps those who try and explain these things away are missing the point. They try to make the miracles stories into some moral insight about humanity. They are explained as human actions, human misunderstandings, human gullibility. And in reducing the stories they make them unremarkable, hardly worth telling. Their difficulties lead them to make the account - and Jesus - too ordinary, too banal.
We can see this when we consider today’s Gospel in the light of others. For there is another occasion when Jesus is asked to perform a miracle with bread. Only on that occasion he refused. It was when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. Now why perform the miracle now, and not then?
We might suppose that the obvious reason is that Jesus refuses to turn a stone to bread to create a spectacle - but he willingly makes a little bread into much bread to feed the crowd.
But there is perhaps a much more important reason why he feeds the 5,000, but does not give in to the temptation in the wilderness. That is because the Devils tempts Jesus to Destroy - Destroy the Stone to conjure up the bread - while the miracle which Jesus willingly performs does not destroy nature, but multiplies it.
And this is always true. And this is what miracles are.
Jesus takes what we give him and makes more, much more. A little love is multiplied into great love. A little sorrow for our sins becomes an overflowing forgiveness. Our small talents and abilities become great with his help. Our simple prayers are joined to his all embracing will. Drops of olive oil convey his healing power. A little water is made the gateway to eternal life. Our gifts of bread and wine become his Body and Blood.
Christ takes our little offerings and makes them great. God does not destroy nature, but expands it and enhances it and glorifies it. As St Thomas Aquinas says “Grace perfects nature”.
The stone is not destroyed but the loaves and fish are much multiplied.
It is just like the words of the Christmas carol:
“What can I give him, poor that I am,
if I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
What can I give him?
Give my heart.”
A small offering: a great reward.