Growing up, I was taught to scoff at the explanation of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand that insists that Jesus’ “true miracle was getting people to share.” On the surface, this explanation seems like a flattening of the miraculous to some sentimental platitude. If it’s an exegesis that is part of a systematic neutering of the figure of Christ of his divine wildness, then it is certainly suspect.
Jesus did multiply these loaves, I am supposed to insist in response, the miracle is solvent in the face of Schleiermacher and his liberalizing allies, in the face of Science, writ large, and all her cynical acolytes. Religion is more than fuzzy feelings and Jesus had greater goals than getting people “to share.” Sharing is some free love hippie ideal and Jesus, I was taught to affirm unflinchingly as a child—despite his Birkenstocks—wasn’t a hippie.
As an adult, however, I realize what a luxury fuzzy feelings are, how very unlike hippies Jesus was and yet how unlike Baby Boom America he was, too, and that actually, most adults are much more into “owning” and “earning” than “sharing.” Sharing, in New York City, seems like the epitome of spiritual goals. Sharing—generosity—is a wildly radical ideal that—*checks mainstream political agendas*—no one is really into.
In fact, as I ponder this miracle at Mass, as I ponder my own stinginess, I think of how I actually would have encountered these five small loaves of bread and two fish. How do I approach scarcity? With fear. With massive amounts of fear—with hoarding, with protecting, with staking my claim and clinging for dear life to whatever meagre scraps I have scrounged for myself. I label them quite clearly “mine,” and bury them safely in the ground.
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is the miracle of abundance. If you have ever acted with generosity, if you have ever led first with love, and let rejection and fear take the backseat, you realize that something does change. There does seem to be more. The lack that we were so terrified of never seems to loom as largely as we feared.
The miracle is God’s approach to scarcity—which is gratitude, abundance, and gift—a complete acceptance of the small morsels offered and a superabundant pouring out, until we are sated, until we cannot contain all that we are intended to receive.
The older I become and the more I own, the less I’m confident of having, the more I sense the looming horizon of lack, the more scared I am of running out—abundance seems like no small miracle at all.