Today’s Gospel reading is the first of a series from St John. Those of you kind enough to follow my Patristic commentaries will have sensed the riches the Fathers offer here – and perhaps my own relief at getting back to St John for a while after the meagre pickings offered by Mark. I can’t hear that reading without reflecting on a sermon I once heard where the priest began by saying that ‘Like all moderns you and I have difficuly with miracles, but you have to understand what the Gospel is really getting at …’. Because it woud be unseemly and a cause of scandal, I did not do what I wanted – which was to stand up and say I had no difficulty with miracles, or with understanding what the Gosple was ‘really’ getting at. I hesitated to ask the priest whether he believed in the miracle at the heart of our Faith – the Resurrection? No one familiar with the Alexandrian school of Biblical interpretation would be unfamiliar with the ways in which the Fathers read the miracle – but they none of them doubted that they were writing about something which had actually happened; their typologies unlocked the deeper, spiritual meanings of the Gospel – but they did not shy away from its truth.
Quite why, believing, as I do, the literal truth of the Resurrection, I should be supposed to have difficulty with the maker of all things producing enough food to feed the five thousand, is beyond me – except on the presumption that I can’t believe either miracle literally. There are all sorts of things I can’t explain except with the help of experts, including how this machine I am typing on works and turns what I am typing into something which you can read. But I see it happen, so I believe. Much the same was true of the people in today’s Gospel – they saw what Jesus had done and they believed in him. That, however, required no faith, and it is clear Jesus asks us to trust him – to have faith in him. It is not that we are not blessed if we see and believe – but it is to say that those who believe and have not seen are the more blessed.
What, after all, could be more far-fetched than that the God who made the heavens and the earth should have become a man in Judea and have taken upon himself my sins so that I might have life eternal? I did nothing to deserve such a gift; indeed I should be inclined to say quite the opposite; justice as the world understands it would not see me spared, even by my own conscience. Yet God says he has saved me – set me aside, made me one of the elect. Like King Saul, I might fall from that election through my own folly, but God has lifted me up. He found me in my sin and in my despair, and he has raised me and made me a son by adoption. How can that be so?
If I can believe that – and I do – then some fishes and bread being transformed into a meal for five thousand is small beer indeed. As in that miracle, God’s love and bounty overflows, and there is enough – and more than enough – for all. A miracle!