In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
One of the things that I always do during my retreats (I have five coming up over the Lenten season, by the way) is remind Christians of WHO our God is — he is great and good — and who WE are in our God — and that is also great and good. Created in the image and likeness of God, we are required to do the things that Jesus did while he walked upon this earth, and these include the working of miracles.
Most people listen to this with total disbelief, despite the numerous times that Jesus himself has said that we would work miracles. Let me just give you two examples. At the end of the Gospel of Mark, he says, “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
In the gospel of John he says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14). Try to discover the other times he says we will work miracles yourself; Jesus telling you this will impact you far more than me telling you this.
The apostles, of course, also had difficulty believing they could work miracles. So Jesus had to get them into the act, and in this story about the multiplication of the fish and loaves he does exactly this. Faced with a crowd of about four thousand people, and only a few loaves of bread and some small fish in hand, he blesses the food, and then hands it over to the apostles to distribute! And when they go about doing this they realize two things.
These are the two things that I mentioned at the start of our reflection. Our God is great and our God is good. When we believe in Jesus we are adopted as God’s children (see John 1:12). As Paul writes to the Romans, “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). He continues: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”, which basically means we can do the same things that Christ did. So why do we seem unable to?
The answer is in Paul’s conclusion: “IF”, he says, “we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory”. What suffering? We need to die to ourselves, in order that Christ lives in us. See what happens then.