Are miracles also parables?


Scripture: Mark 6: 32-44 Nigel Bunce

Are miracles also parables?  Today, I want to present Feeding the 5000 as an example of bringing the Kingdom of God closer. Not to explain the miracle. The miracle occurs whenever we realize that there is enough to go round, after all.

The feeding miracle

The Feeding of the Five Thousand is probably the best-known of Jesus’ miracle stories. I have spoken before about interpreting the miracle. Is it historical fact? Or is it a parable about Eucharist? The idea that Jesus gives blesses, breaks, and shares bread and fish. Parallel to how we bless, break, and share bread and wine at Holy Communion.

However, this story might also be a parable about scarcity and abundance. It starts with scarcity. The day was getting late. The disciples saw a looming problem. They thought that Jesus should send the crowd away to buy food.

Sometimes, scarcity is an illusion

Instead, Jesus said that the crowd should stay. The disciples should provide food. But it seemed that there wasn’t enough. Just five loaves and two fish. But yet in the end, there was enough for everyone.  There was even food left over.

Maybe it was an example of sharing, as in the poem that I read to the children, The day that Aaron shared his lunch. But, we can never know. In my opinion, it’s not important to know how it happened.

Food scarcity and food waste

In today’s world, we read constantly about food scarcity. Even in wealthy communities like Milton and Burlington, some people are hungry. Yet across North America, consistent estimates are that one third of all food goes to waste.

One issue is that people confuse “best before” dates with expiry. Supermarkets throw away blemished fruit and vegetables. I remember a movie The good lie about Sudanese refugees in Kansas. One of them lost his job at a grocery store, because he gave a homeless person discarded food from the store’s dumpster.

Some people buy more food than they can eat and it rots in their fridges. Others throw food away rather than eat left-overs. Food waste allegedly accounts for 8% of worldwide carbon emissions when it rots.

I’m afraid that I am a bit ‘holier than thou’ on this subject, perhaps because I experienced rationing as a child. For me, the eleventh commandment is, “Thou shalt not waste food”!

Food waste is a world-wide problem

Inadequate storage and poor transportation infrastructure cause food to rot. A recent report attributed 8% of global carbon emissions to food waste rotting.

Another factor is increasing demand for meat. The newly affluent in Asia have gone from a plant-based diet to a high-meat diet in one generation. Estimates are that planet Earth could feed ten billion people. Just reduce both waste and meat consumption. No need to make everyone vegans! 

Are miracles also parables?

You might ask what this has to do with a church homily. My answer is that Jesus told parables – stories. To paint pictures of what the Kingdom of God might be like. Think of the Feeding of the Five Thousand like a parable. There really can be enough for all, even when it seems not to be so.

Another thought. Why do we draw a rigid line between what Jesus said and what he did? We accept parables as having a truth that lies below the surface. Perhaps some of the events in the gospels also have parable-like qualities.  In other words, are miracles also parables?

Let’s think about that idea for today’s feeding miracle. First, let’s remember that people had different ideas in Jesus’ day than we do today. It was a world where there was much less scientific knowledge. So it made sense to accept miraculous explanations.

Today’s ideas are different 

You might be more than a little leery if I claimed that I could feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. You’d be right. Now, you could say that I’m just an ordinary person and Jesus was Son of God. Again, you’d be right. I have no special powers.

But now let’s try to imagine the author of Mark’s Gospel. Maybe Jesus had told a parable about feeding a large crowd. A couple of weeks ago, in one of our Evening Prayer services, I said that ancient writers presented ideas as dramas, with the protagonists debating.

We don’t do that today. But in those days, it was common practice. I’m not saying that’s what Mark did. Only that’s it’s possible. Therefore, it’s not always obvious to us what the Gospel authors meant when they wrote about miracles.  So: are miracles parables? Possibly.

Today’s small miracles

Today, we provide mini-miracles for sharing food through food banks. Which, by the way, also address the question of food waste. Here in Halton Region, the Food for Life truck collects left-over and near-“expired” food from local supermarkets and bakeries. It then goes to various drop-off points.

To my mind, Food for Life brings the Kingdom of God a little closer. There is no bureaucracy. The clients don’t have to justify why they need the food. It is simply available, and not wasted. I wish St. George’s could participate in Food for Life. Unfortunately, without public transit, prospective clients can’t get here.  Photo: Volunteers with Food for Life.

Community versus individualism

Programs like Food for Life are community efforts. Unfortunately, Western societies have prized individualism at the expense of community. Thus, as society became more affluent, it became harder to identify with people who are less fortunate. Affluence and individualism combine to isolate us from each other.

Yet, at times of disaster, e.g., wildfires or massive floods, people reach out to one another in surprisingly generous ways. Like in the Feeding of the Five Thousand, when there seems not to be enough to go round.

When there is not enough accommodation, because of fire or flood, people pitch in. They open their homes to strangers. The community discovers that there really were enough resources after all.

Are miracles parables for bringing the Kingdom of God closer?

Much of Mark’s Gospel is about the Kingdom of God. A hundred years ago, the roof of St. George’s blew off in a hurricane. The congregation couldn’t afford to replace it. But, other local churches pitched in to help. That’s another example of what the Kingdom of God looks like in practice.

What I’ve tried to do this morning is to present Feeding the 5000 as an example of bringing the Kingdom closer. Not to explain the miracle. Sometimes, scarcity is an illusion. The miracle occurs when we realize that there was enough to go round, after all.  Are miracles also parables? It certainly sometimes seems that way!