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Looking at a Biblical miracle from a middle distance:

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   At John 6:1 we find a great multitude had rather suddenly started to follow Jesus when they’d heard of some miracles of healing that He had done. They had arrived at a place where obtaining food was not easy.

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   What to do?

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   A boy is brought to Him with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish.

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   Jesus somehow gets 5000¹ to sit down in groups. He prays over the 5 loaves 2 fish and tells his disciples to distribute, without charge, this food to the people.

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   How should we look at what happened?

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   Although some may question if such a miracle happened, or could happen, we’ll assume that it literally did happen as described and is a real part of ancient history. Here are some observations from what we call a middle distance²:

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   First, the text itself:  “Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.’ And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the 5 barley loaves, which were leftover by those who had eaten. When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is come into the world.’ “  –Jn. 6:11-14

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   Now some thoughts about this:

   (1)  Common sense declares that this doesn’t demand that no one had brought even a scrap of food; obviously, some probably had a little food. After all, it was Passover season. The seemingly “sudden rush” to find the charismatic  healer who was moving to a higher, more remote location, probably took many by surprise and they followed unprepared to take care of their all their physical needs³.

   (2)  The sense of  account is that this event literally happened.

   (3)  To support this, is the somewhat superfluous detail of picking up twelve baskets of leftover food scraps; the record of this strongly suggests that the loaves and fishes were literally “multiplied.” Add to that the detail of “not losing” the extra “fragments.” Was the actual the eating area of  many thousands combed for every uneaten scrap? I doubt if every fallen crumb was recovered, or needed to be. Probably this is hyperbolic as was Abraham’s promised descendants becoming as numerous as “the grains of sand on the seashore.” Still, the event is clearly presented as miraculous–not some clever slight of hand, or defendable by logic or natural law.

   (4)  Jesus was clearly responding to a practical need that His presence, and other people’s interest, had caused.

   (5)  The “Jesus bread” was not, as far as the text goes, accompanied by butter jams or any condiments, nor was the “bread” offered on plates with meats or other foods. I don’t mean to sound irreverent, but the “God food” here (the bread and fish), which if any true remains still existed (could be enshrined as holy relics?), was adequate to meet the immediate need.

   (6)  No mention is made of providing drink here. Most probably, travelers of that day in that location carried canteens (or “skins”) filled with liquid.

   (7)  The miraculous provision of useful–not gourmet–food did, however, attest to or indicate divinity, though public acceptance of this was not unanimous.

   (8)  Looking at moment at all four Gospel accounts, there was only one other miraculous feeding, that of the “4000,” though physical hunger among the masses who came to hear Jesus must have occurred often during His itinerate ministry.

   (9)  Add to this the recording of several acts of clear miraculous healing in the Gospels, and you have the clear implication that when Jesus went anywhere, healing and “feeding” sometimes occurred. But there is no requirement or declaration that Jesus healed of every sick person within His eyesight or the sound of His voice. And this should not be judged as discriminatory or unfair, as we would judge it so if we admit that it was unfair that there were towns and villages that Jesus never visited in which no healing or miracles occurred. Still, here and there, many were healed, and generalizations about how He went about this appear in the Gospel record. That said, I can’t recall the record of anyone asking Jesus for healing was denied healing.

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   Some soft conclusions:

   Jesus did real miracles. He did not “miraculously transform” Bethlehem where He was born or Nazareth where He grew up. But He did transform individuals, and feed and heal people who disappeared from interaction with Him (and the Gospel record) afterwards. He was compassionate about those who suffered. But His ministry was about more than just spectacular, one-time miracles. For many, however, these miracles seemed to authenticate His divinity and authority to teach the way he did.  It was hardly a daily miracle show.

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   ¹  According to scholars, women and children were usually not included in such “official” numbering. The real number may have been as high as 15,000.

   ² A “middle distance” (or “view”) is somewhere between a “close view” and a “far view,” a concept I’m working through and will describe in future posts.

   ³ In a Pre-porta-potty age, it’s hard to visualize how other physical needs were met…