Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Miraculous Feeding of the 5,000

Today, I overheard a snippet of a conversation taking place on the first floor of my house as I walked through the second. "Oh, you Methodists and your non-miraculous reading of that miracle," said one housemate jokingly to another. I knew exactly what he was talking about, and it prompted me to think a little further about my troubles with a particular reading of the passage in question. But I get ahead of myself.

The feeding of the 5,000 (or 4,000...or 5,000, not counting women and children...but still a lot of people...) became a boring narrative for me sometime in middle school. I'd heard it so many times I tended to zone out when that Bible story was being read or preached on.

Imagine my surprise when one time earlier in college a sermon on this Gospel lesson caught my attention. Having drifted off mentally as usual, I was suddenly listening and disoriented. The preacher was wondering aloud whether perhaps the crowd was moved by the generosity of the young boy with the fish and the loaves. Perhaps someone pulled out a piece of bread here, a hunk of cheese there, and before long everyone's little to offer became a lot to eat.

I felt myself immediately averse to this account, but I couldn't explain why. In fact, more recently, my friend said she thought that it would have taken a greater miracle to move the crowd to such generosity than it would have to reproduce baskets of bread and fish. I had to agree with that. But I was still troubled, and I think I'm starting to figure out why.

Let me make it clear that I'm not opposed to this Stone Soup version of the story. I'm open to different readings of the Bible, and besides, the stone soup approach works wonders in the household of which I am currently a part. It isn't so much this interpretation that bothers me, it's where it came from and what it can lead to.

In my Old Testament precept last week, we were discussing a book by Peter Enns called Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Enns attempts to find a way to reconcile a non-literal reading of the Bible with the maintenance of Scriptural authority (to summarize very crudely). In order to give us background on where the debate over the Old Testament and the authority of Scripture began, our preceptor described to us some of the theological and philosophical history of the various issues. He talked about one school of thought that sought to explain, in modern terms, the seemingly miraculous happenings in the Bible. One scenario that struck me was that on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was walking on a sandbar and simply appeared to be walking on water. There were several other explanations that rubbed me the wrong way, and the interpretation of the feeding of the 5,000 that I outlined before was ranked among those.

My issue isn't so much that I'm so attached to and dependent on the miracle status of the stories from the life of Jesus that I can't give them up, like a child with a security blanket. I won't call down curses on someone who says the demoniacs in the Bible were schizophrenic or otherwise mentally ill. (By the way, it seems to me that curing someone of a mental illness is at least as impressive as casting out a demon.) What troubles me about this whole train of thought is the obsessive need to explain everything. Faith is an art that requires an ability to live in the tension between the known and the unknown, the revealed and the unseen, the fulfilled and the yet-to-be. Certainly we should be exploring the Bible with minds that are open to new inspiration, but we should not take our need to explain so far that it becomes an attempt to control and manipulate the text. And we must never forget that while alternative explanations of Bible stories may be interesting, when they become the focus, we miss the point. The technicalities of how a miracle occurred should never become more interesting or important than the Miracle Worker. Explore possibilities, share new ideas, ask questions; but don't get rid of the mystery.

7 comments:

Andy Crewson said...

Nice post, Sarah. I read Enns' book earlier this summer and really liked it. I found his point that we need to understand the Bible for what it is, and not what we want it to be, particularly brilliant. I think this is relevant to your post; our culture wants a historical and scientific explanation, but this whole question was completely uninteresting to the biblical writers. They were telling a story about the nature of Christ!

Leigh said...

De acuerdo. Thanks for the post.

Rob said...

=) You lift me up.

Kevin Baker said...

Amen. Like the way you think ;-)
K

Sweets said...

Amen! I found your post while researching the symbolism of the two accounts, and I appreciate your exhortation for exercising faith and not getting sidetracked by focusing on what is less important.

Barrett said...

Sarah,
I don't know if you remember me, but I believe I met you at Christ in the Desert Monastery several years ago over a spring break. I stumbled onto your blog because this post is linked amidst the lyrics of a song by the flobots on their website.

http://flobots.com/music/lyrics/defend-atlantis/

Maybe you knew that already.

Anywho, thought I would say hello while I was here. Blessings to you.

Barrett Smith

Sarah said...

I just read some of these comments...Hi Barrett! I remember you!! :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Miraculous Feeding of the 5,000

Today, I overheard a snippet of a conversation taking place on the first floor of my house as I walked through the second. "Oh, you Methodists and your non-miraculous reading of that miracle," said one housemate jokingly to another. I knew exactly what he was talking about, and it prompted me to think a little further about my troubles with a particular reading of the passage in question. But I get ahead of myself.

The feeding of the 5,000 (or 4,000...or 5,000, not counting women and children...but still a lot of people...) became a boring narrative for me sometime in middle school. I'd heard it so many times I tended to zone out when that Bible story was being read or preached on.

Imagine my surprise when one time earlier in college a sermon on this Gospel lesson caught my attention. Having drifted off mentally as usual, I was suddenly listening and disoriented. The preacher was wondering aloud whether perhaps the crowd was moved by the generosity of the young boy with the fish and the loaves. Perhaps someone pulled out a piece of bread here, a hunk of cheese there, and before long everyone's little to offer became a lot to eat.

I felt myself immediately averse to this account, but I couldn't explain why. In fact, more recently, my friend said she thought that it would have taken a greater miracle to move the crowd to such generosity than it would have to reproduce baskets of bread and fish. I had to agree with that. But I was still troubled, and I think I'm starting to figure out why.

Let me make it clear that I'm not opposed to this Stone Soup version of the story. I'm open to different readings of the Bible, and besides, the stone soup approach works wonders in the household of which I am currently a part. It isn't so much this interpretation that bothers me, it's where it came from and what it can lead to.

In my Old Testament precept last week, we were discussing a book by Peter Enns called Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Enns attempts to find a way to reconcile a non-literal reading of the Bible with the maintenance of Scriptural authority (to summarize very crudely). In order to give us background on where the debate over the Old Testament and the authority of Scripture began, our preceptor described to us some of the theological and philosophical history of the various issues. He talked about one school of thought that sought to explain, in modern terms, the seemingly miraculous happenings in the Bible. One scenario that struck me was that on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was walking on a sandbar and simply appeared to be walking on water. There were several other explanations that rubbed me the wrong way, and the interpretation of the feeding of the 5,000 that I outlined before was ranked among those.

My issue isn't so much that I'm so attached to and dependent on the miracle status of the stories from the life of Jesus that I can't give them up, like a child with a security blanket. I won't call down curses on someone who says the demoniacs in the Bible were schizophrenic or otherwise mentally ill. (By the way, it seems to me that curing someone of a mental illness is at least as impressive as casting out a demon.) What troubles me about this whole train of thought is the obsessive need to explain everything. Faith is an art that requires an ability to live in the tension between the known and the unknown, the revealed and the unseen, the fulfilled and the yet-to-be. Certainly we should be exploring the Bible with minds that are open to new inspiration, but we should not take our need to explain so far that it becomes an attempt to control and manipulate the text. And we must never forget that while alternative explanations of Bible stories may be interesting, when they become the focus, we miss the point. The technicalities of how a miracle occurred should never become more interesting or important than the Miracle Worker. Explore possibilities, share new ideas, ask questions; but don't get rid of the mystery.

7 comments:

Andy Crewson said...

Nice post, Sarah. I read Enns' book earlier this summer and really liked it. I found his point that we need to understand the Bible for what it is, and not what we want it to be, particularly brilliant. I think this is relevant to your post; our culture wants a historical and scientific explanation, but this whole question was completely uninteresting to the biblical writers. They were telling a story about the nature of Christ!

Leigh said...

De acuerdo. Thanks for the post.

Rob said...

=) You lift me up.

Kevin Baker said...

Amen. Like the way you think ;-)
K

Sweets said...

Amen! I found your post while researching the symbolism of the two accounts, and I appreciate your exhortation for exercising faith and not getting sidetracked by focusing on what is less important.

Barrett said...

Sarah,
I don't know if you remember me, but I believe I met you at Christ in the Desert Monastery several years ago over a spring break. I stumbled onto your blog because this post is linked amidst the lyrics of a song by the flobots on their website.

http://flobots.com/music/lyrics/defend-atlantis/

Maybe you knew that already.

Anywho, thought I would say hello while I was here. Blessings to you.

Barrett Smith

Sarah said...

I just read some of these comments...Hi Barrett! I remember you!! :)

 

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