Reflection on Matthew 14.13-21: Signposts and Pebbles
the Revd Adrian Jones
Did you know that the clothes fashion trend for Summer 2020 is “the capsule wardrobe”? Apparently “we are all looking for clothes that will have a lasting impact” and we have “a focus on classic legacy buys rather than whimsical and artistic creations.”
Although I have never claimed to be ‘on trend’ myself, I’m interested to know that the buzzwords for fashion week in September are "realistic" and "wearability", as this is what I’ve always looked for in my clothes!
Scepticism about miracles, even amongst Christians, has been in fashion for quite a while – the trend has been to dismiss these ‘violations of the laws of nature’ as either fabrications or illusions. It is easy for those who exalt one type of logical thinking above all other routes to understanding, to explain away the miracles we read about in the Gospels because they don’t fit the way that they see the world. But that is precisely the point of the miracles …. they are events that don’t fit our usual expectations.
And we mustn’t fall into the temptation of thinking that people of previous generations were simpler or more gullible than we sophisticated modern types. The Gospel writers and the readers of previous centuries knew exactly what the miracle stories of Jesus implied and how extraordinary they are.
It might help us if we thought of them first as signposts, and then as pebbles….
This particular miracle story – the feeding of the five thousand – features in all four of the gospels. So we can assume that it has something very important to tell us. In Matthew it follows on from the scepticism of the folk in Nazareth when they hear Jesus teaching, and the alarm of Herod the tetrarch as he fears John the Baptist is back from the dead – this miracle acts as a signpost to point us dramatically to who Jesus really is.
Feeding more than five thousand people with so little food demonstrates that, beyond the physical world which has been so disturbed by this miracle, Jesus is the source of everything we truly need for life to be satisfying and full. He can meet all our deepest human needs, with so little from a human point of view – just himself.
The miracle also acts as a pebble …. just like a stone thrown into water, it causes disturbance and ripples. The miracle disturbs our rational logic, our assumptions that we know how the world works, that we know what is and what isn’t possible, and that our knowledge gives us the control.
The ripples from this pebble disturb our calm sense that we know what God must be like too. What happens as the bread and fish are shared is preposterous, irrational, nonsensical, but it’s also outrageously generous, inclusive and compassionate. The miracle is meant to disturb us and give us a fuller view of what God is doing in the world through Jesus and what the Kingdom of God is like.
I find it hard to believe that last year the people of the UK spent nearly £61 billion on clothing – it’s staggering isn’t it? The miracles of Jesus are staggering too, because they point to the reality of who Jesus is and they disturb our comfortable view of the world and of God. The good news is that Jesus doesn’t need you to be fashionable …. He will do the remodelling if you let him.