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.
Faith is certainly demanding, but Jesus has come to make believing easier. His miracles, His words, His presence – this closeness of God to us is unprecedented grace which ought to make us believe with great fervor. What we see, however, is the contrary. Caphernaum was the city most loved and cherished by Christ. It was practically His headquarters, the place probably referred to in the scriptures by “his city.” Some of the twelve were from there, He gave the discourse on the bread of life at the synagogue in that city. He performed so many miracles there. We should stop to consider what events and circumstances we have received as helps in our life of faith. If we take them for granted and begin to become lukewarm, we are all the more to be condemned. Jerusalem rejected its messiah although it had all the full revelation of God – its terrible lack of faith excuses the apparent depravity of Sodom.
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.