Thought for the Day : Saturday 30 May

Thought for the Day from Robin Fishwick from UCL:

Readings: Numbers 32:1-27 and Luke 9:1-17

Meeting the Miracle

I remember the late Rabbi Blue telling a story of a man who was constantly praying that he should win the lottery. Week in, week out, he is asking God the same thing, “Please God, let me win the lottery””Why can’t you let me win the lottery?” Eventually God answers him back, “Come on, meet me halfway here, buy a ticket”.  

Today’s New Testament reading tells of one of Jesus’ most famous miracles, the miracle of the loaves and fishes and I want to look at how it is we can meet the miracle part way. And for the sake of variety here is a link to a song I wrote about that about 12 years ago:

I wrote the song after getting a real sense of the urgency of the problems besetting our world, particularly in relation to climate change and the environment. I remember Rowan Williams, who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, impressing upon fellow Christians that we can’t carry on as “normal” expecting God to intervene and sort out the mess we have got ourselves into. So the song starts with watching someone waiting for the lights to change on a pedestrian crossing without having pushed the button – rather like the man who doesn’t buy a lottery ticket but still prays he might win the lottery. The song alludes to four biblical miracles including the one in today’s New Testament reading and the parting of the Red Sea which we had a few weeks ago. Neither of these miracles start from nothing.

There are two ways of looking  at miracles; we can see them as events when the normal rules of physics are suspended or we could see them as occurrences of something amazing or phenomenal. Whichever way you see miracles, you’ll probably agree we could do with one or two right now. Personally, I generally tend towards the latter view of miracle. The word miracle comes from the Latin mirare, to wonder, to be amazed and I constantly have to remind myself to stop and wonder at the amazing things that happen all the time. At times of crisis it also helps to be reminded that amazing things do happen.

My mother, a devout Roman Catholic to this day, relayed to me as a child what a priest had told her was the “real” miracle of the loaves and fishes. The real miracle was that people shared – that they ceased to be preoccupied with how they could provide for themselves and became involved in the project of looking after each other. The priest was definitely of the opinion that the five loaves and two fishes were actually  the tip of the iceberg; that most of the multitude had come with some sort of provisions, but only in the smaller groups of fifty did they feel ready to share their treasures. There is also a message here  about hope and despair. The task of feeding the five thousand seems impossible and the resources available seem pathetic. In John’s version (6:9) it’s just one small boy with the loaves and fishes. As soon as Andrew mentions this to Jesus he follows it up with “but what is that among so many?” He seems afraid that the others will laugh at him for even mentioning the boy and his meagre provisions and so promptly rejoins his friends in the solidarity of despair. Bless you, Andrew! Dare to hope, dare to dream, dare to think that the problems that beset us are not always as insuperable as they seem. And Jesus takes up that fleeing spark of hope. He takes the bread, give thanks and shares it. And the miracle is under way.

So how do we meet the miracle part way? The first thing you have to do is identify the space within which the miracle can occur. The disciples were suggesting to Jesus that he dismissed the crowd so that they could find themselves food but somehow the idea of feeding them all came up as a possibility. That idea was a leap of imagination, a liberation from the view that “being realistic” involves assuming nothing will ever change. The second thing to do is not be afraid at the scale of what is needed, but rather to marvel at what already has happened. An obvious thing these days is to look at how the world has changed beyond expectations – how many seemingly unchangeable things have changed. A less obvious thing is to do what I think Jesus did as he offered those loaves to God – to give thanks for, to be amazed at, the very miracle of life that we live in day by day – the miracle of bread existing. The third thing to do is to contribute what you can, not concerned that it is too trivial or insignificant – what Ken Butigan calls “our modest efforts to mend the brokenness of our world”.

Loving God, give me the courage to dream of amazing things that can happen in this world through your grace, give me thankfulness to see the amazing things that do happen through your bounty and give me the hope that I might play my part in wondrous things, even when it seems foolish to hope.

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