9 Pentecost • August 2, 2020
Genesis 32:22-31 • Psalm 17:1-7, 16 • Romans 9:1-5 • Matthew 14:13-21
In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Here is a wonderful story of a major miracle in Jesus’ ministry, wonderful in that it tells in detail exactly how the miracle happened, precisely what Jesus and his disciples said and did.
When I was trained as a business consultant, we were expected to produce breakthroughs by working with our clients, and we did. A breakthrough, as we understood it, was making the impossible happen. Marking the impossible happen is akin to making miracles. And the process we used was exactly as described in this passage from the Gospel of Matthew.
This is hard for us Twenty-first Century Americans to hear, since we know quite well that there is no such thing as a miracle. And indeed, we can easily explain how anything that might be called a miracle could happen. We can look back and see the details, the actions that resulted in the miracle. And so we discount the miracle. “There’s nothing miraculous here,” we say since we can explain it.
Looking back it is obvious what happened. But how about before the miracle, before the breakthrough, before, when it was clearly seen to be impossible. So let’s look at the feeding of the five thousand.
Jesus is tired. He needs a little space, a time of quiet to refresh himself. So he takes off for some private time, getting into a boat and sailing to another place where nobody was. But the crowds were not having it. They had seen him cure the sick and tell his marvelous stories, and they walked around the lake on foot so that, when he came ashore, they were there to greet him. So much for quiet time!
But he felt their pain and need, and out of his compassion, he sacrificed his quiet time to heal their sick. When the evening came, his disciples were concerned with the welfare of the crowd and suggested to Jesus that he send the crowd to the villages in the vicinity to get something to eat. This is the first phase of generating a miracle—identifying a need.
The second thing is to propose the most efficient action to satisfy the need, to propose a possibility, to consider an obvious way to satisfy the need. So Jesus says that there is no need to send them on a journey to get food. Feed them yourselves, he says, feed them here and now.
What immediately arises is that it is impossible, a lack of resources or some other obstacle that clearly cannot be overcome. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish,” the say. It is impossible to feed so many people with so little food.
But Jesus is unwilling to let it go; he has faith that they can be fed. So he says, “Let’s go with what we’ve got,” with the faith that, once started, something would show up to make the impossible thing happen.
Five loaves of bread and two fish are brought forward. Jesus then proceeds with an ordinary meal by blessing God, thanking him for the meal. Then, as with any other meal, he broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to distribute.
Did Jesus know that somehow the five loaves and two fish would suddenly multiply and feed the multitude? Absolutely not. All the evidence indicated that they had a pittance in the face of a great need. It was impossible and Jesus knew it. What he did have, however, was faith—faith that what was needed could happen, he knew not how.
And it did happen. The impossible became a reality and there was more than enough for everyone. Looking back, it was simple to see how it happened. People tend to be self-protective and they are also smart—they did not come out into the deserted place without something in their pockets. After all, his disciples thought to bring along some bread and fish. So did the rest of the crowd; they had their own dinners with them, but everyone was keeping their own dinner for themselves, hidden secretly in their clothing lest others might want to part of it.
When Jesus showed generosity and a willingness to share what little he and his disciples had, the others began to get generous as well, and there was plenty for all—twelve baskets-full left over. This is an easy explanation, one that many people have come up with.
But here is the thing about miracles—it all depends on where you are looking from. Before the fact, it looks impossible. After the fact it looks obvious and simple. A breakthrough—a miracle—cannot happen if we let the impossibility of a situation stop us. It take faith to proceed despite what appears to be impossible.
On one engagement with a computer company, our consulting group had been working with a team of six people who had been given a project. But they were stymied because of a lack of equipment. They had been told that the necessary equipment would not arrive for six weeks and moving ahead was impossible. But the team cost the company about $12,000 a week and six weeks of inactivity would break their budget and the project would fail.
We forged ahead anyway, working from a commitment to the possibility that the project could be successful. “A commitment to a possibility” is business language for “faith.” We lived in the possibility and refused to be stopped by the apparent impossibility; we had faith. And the miracle—the breakthrough—occurred. The needed machine was sitting on the desk of the proper person and the project succeeded.
How? Looking at the situation from before the fact, the lack of a machine made success impossible. But after the fact, the solution was embarrassingly simple—an identical machine was sitting unused on the desk of the team leader. It had been given to him just because of his status in the organization; he had no use for it and had entirely forgotten about it. It was only a matter of noticing it, and moving it about two yards to a new location—an overnight solution.
Faith is a very practical matter. Not a belief, but a commitment to a possibility. My friends, Jesus invites us to have faith, and to ask for whatever we desire. He promises that God will provide it.