As promised, we’re done with the Apostle Paul for a bit. I hope that we have gained a more generous view of Paul that acknowledges his deep love for a gospel of justice and peace even where his writing can, at times, be problematic. Now we’re going back to the Gospels, so more stories and less jibber-jabber. Specifically, we are going to follow along with Matthew for a few weeks until we begin beatifying some dead people in anticipation of All Saints Day. We’re still a little bit off the lectionary, so I’d like to step back to last week’s Gospel passage, Matthew 14.13-21, the story of the feeding of the five thousand.
When we step back into the stories of Jesus, we are confronted with incredible tales, so incredible that they are hard for the modern mind to believe. In this week’s story, Jesus feeds five thousand men, plus women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish. We know this is not possible.
This leaves us with a few options. We can accept the impossible and call it faith. We can dismiss it entirely and write off the whole Christian project as a lie. We can posit a story behind the story, wherein everyone shared or sacrificed or added to what was provided to make sure everyone got what they really needed. Or we can look to the meaning behind the story without worrying about whether it is literally-factually true.
Even if we assume, as many modern readers in the wake of Joseph Campbell do, that the meaning is the critical point, we still have to decipher what the meaning is. The common understanding is that these stories show us Jesus’ divinity; that is their purpose. Only God could do such things. That may be true of the author’s agenda. If we study the Gospel of John, that is certainly the point; Matthew may hold that as well. However, if we focus on that point, we have a single item to which we must assent, requiring little commitment or transformation. More importantly, we miss the very content of these acts of power that should define our lives as Christians: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, freeing people from the bondage of the fearful voices in their heads. These are works of power, truly. We may not be able to speak a word and have it done, but that does not absolve us from the task.
Too often, we assume that, because we do not have the miraculous, mind-bending power portrayed in the stories of Jesus, we have no power at all. It seems to me that it is far better to refuse to believe in miracles than to refuse to believe that we can change the world. Indeed, if we have faith like a mustard seed, we can move mountains; we can change the very landscape of our world.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, for a conversation about works of power. Where is our power as Christians centered? What is our response to that power? See you there!
Grace & Peace,