A friend reminded me today of an interpretation of this miracle story that I’ve heard before. The basic gist of it is that the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was caused not by some supernatural quantitative multiplication of bread and fish, but rather by the fact that people had brought food with them and decided to share. This makes Christ out to be some kind of parental figure who gets his children to not be selfish but share. The miracle story becomes instead a lesson in morality about the importance of sharing. While sharing is important, it doesn’t quite express the freshness of the Gospel – any civilized group of people understands the probable utility and calculated risk involved in sharing; no need for the Gospel there.
The Lord has given us words. These words lead us back to His presence, to the truth about Him, and why we are here. The words of revelation have an incredible power to bring us back to the path of truth and salvation. To follow where the words lead us force us to let go of the thoughts, practices, or words that are incompatible but have become part of our way of life. In all of this, in the pain of our conscience, the guilt and the shame, God reaches out gently and lovingly. His words purify, clarify, and give us the space to respond freely. Our response to these words is an act both inspired by and carried by grace. Grace allows the disciples of Christ to respond humbly and confidently in times of persecution. Those who are concerned about preserving their human and earthly life at all costs, who see death as the ultimate evil, are unable to cooperate with the consoling grace of God.
Apostles are sent to bring peace. Peace only finds a place in a home where people who are truly listening dwell. Who is worthy of peace? Who is worthy of the Gospel? The one who receives humbly whoever the Lord sends them. The attitude of a humble servant who is able to listen and learn from the messengers of God will earn him also the gift of peace. We don’t need to be overly worried or prepared ahead of time if we rely on God’s Providence. Prudence requires us to think ahead, but never so well and so far that God would only be getting in the way. Coming to rely fully on God’s Providence will increase within us the gift of sacred peace. The world cannot give this peace, because the world only produces an incomplete and superficial version. The peace of the world is the calm between storms; the peace of Christ is given in the midst of storms: His Providence will only be made more perfect by the storm.