The best New Year’s resolution? Try to perform a miracle

Were the stories of impossible feats that Jesus performed the spiritual equivalent of case studies?

BY DAVID RICKEY — One of the miracle stories about Jesus that probably has actual truth behind it is the account of how he fed 5000 (or an additional 4000, according to Mark and Matthew). It’s framed as a miracle to impress upon us that Jesus is a powerful guy.

The version of that story that appears in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) lends itself to a different interpretation, one that might hit closer to home.

The tale

The story begins with Jesus showing compassion for the multitudes who come to him and healing the sick among them. Late in the day, Jesus’ disciples come to him and say: “It’s late. Send the people away so they can get something to eat.” Jesus responds: “You give them something to eat.”

I find this interesting. Christ seems to be encouraging the disciples to perform a miracle themselves. They had been with Jesus for some time, studying, hopefully learning from him about the way life truly works. This is the time to see what they had learned. But their immediate response is: “There isn’t enough! Just five loaves and two fish!” I can imagine Jesus feeling frustrated—they haven’t gotten it yet! When he says “Bring them to me!” Jesus then prays, tears the loaves into pieces and gives them to the disciples, who begin to distribute them along with the fish.

Afterward, there is enough left over to fill twelve baskets. That’s the miracle! Isn’t Jesus amazing! But—maybe not. Looking a little deeper uncovers another reading that’s still miraculous, but something we could strive to attain in our own lives.

America’s debt scare and zero-sum-pie mindset

There was clearly a large community of people at this gathering, not just a lot of individuals waiting to get their share. Jesus first tells them to sit down; I imagine this was to get them to relax. Then, as the disciples started sharing the bread and fish, maybe someone in the crowd who also had a little bread and fish was moved to share what they had with people around them. And then more got the idea and started sharing what they had. Enough of this could have happened throughout the crowd that everyone ended up having enough and some to spare.

The disciples began from a position of scarcity. There isn’t enough! But as they began to share, to give away some of what little they had (five loaves and two fish would have been more than enough for Jesus and the disciples, others began to get the spirit and share what they had as well. And in fact there was an abundance, or at least enough to satisfy everyone with some left over. The miracle was that people in the crowd, and hopefully the disciples, learned to share.

This interpretation came to me while preparing for a Sunday sermon and watching the spectacle in Washington over the “debt crisis.” In reality, we’re not suffering from scarcity–nor abundance. Rather, we have a perception of scarcity and an underlying fear of loss of abundance.

Miracles are more like acts of viral inspiration

Spiritual teachers consistently point out the power of our thoughts. How we think governs our reality. On one very deep level this has to do with quantum physics and the Heisenberg Principle. But on a level I can actually wrap my mind around, this has to do with how my thoughts and beliefs affect the way I behave. When I am afraid that I won’t have enough, I tend to be less willing to share with others. And when enough of us share that fear, there actually isn’t enough to go around. Have you seen the ads for food savers telling about how much food we throw out? Most us buy more than we need because we fear that we’ll run out. In fact, I had a birthday party a few days ago, and the freezer is half-full of food I never got around to serving.

I believe that Jesus wasn’t trying to show off with the miracles he performed. Rather, he was trying to show us that the universe doesn’t work they way we fear it does. And the real miracles happen when our human consciousness changes. But as with the disciples, it doesn’t change until we experience the new, true reality. Perhaps that was why Jesus had the disciples pass out the bread and fish instead of doing it himself.

We have to experiment with new behaviors before we discover that they work. We are, I believe, in a new time of forced experimentation. Clearly the old ways aren’t working. Do we have the courage to try something new? True faith is not believing that Jesus performed miracles, but our having the courage to try performing a few ourselves.

David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.

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