Popular culture affects us in mysterious ways–in my case, it’s that I can’t think about the story of the Feeding of the Multitude (today’s Gospel reading) without my mind wandering to the 2004 movie, Millions.
Short version: Damian is a seven year old boy who seems to be able to have conversations with saints, who help him figure out what to do with a windfall of a large amount of stolen currency that accidentally fell of a train, onto his playhouse. These saints include some real characters–a chain-smoking Clare of Assisi and a rather gruff, pragmatic St. Peter. When Damian encounters Peter, at first it sounds like Peter is debunking the Feeding of the Multitude–he passes it off by claiming everyone was fed because they let go of the food they had been carrying and pretended to eat from the loaves and fishes–but as we hear his story, we begin to hear something more important–the difference between magic and miracles.
In the movie, Peter goes on to explain that the miracle wasn’t the actual multiplication of the loaves and fishes, it was the changed hearts that gave up their own food. He goes on to say that when the plate made its way back, “Jesus was a bit taken aback. He said, “What happened?” and I just said “Miracle.” I thought I’d fooled him…but then I see it WAS a miracle—one of his best…”
He goes on to explain to Damian that he’s trying too hard to do good. “That kid, he wasn’t planning on doing a miracle…he wasn’t planning anything except lunch. So what looks like a miracle is dead simple.”
Now of course, this is just a movie–we only have the Gospel account of the story, and it is what it is. Where popular culture and imagination takes us, though, when we allow ourselves to be playful, (and even when we play with a little bit of jocular irreverence!) we discover a deeper understanding of miracles. Miracles are not simply feats that defy the laws of physics. That’s magic. Miracles are acts that change the human heart. Perhaps many miracles in the Bible do contain things that seem to be physical impossibilities. I don’t really have an explanation for them, but the more I understand miracles, the less I care about that part of it, honestly.
What I’ve come to discover is these stories always come with a profound change and restoration in the lives of those in the story. The woman with hemorrhages is suddenly clean again after decades of ritual uncleanliness. Jairus’ daughter is restored to him. The status of the widow whose son is restored to her is also restored to her–a gift even greater than the return of her son. The demoniac is clothed and in his right mind. It becomes less about “what exactly happened” and more about “what was restored.”
The most difficult part of believing in miracles, it seems, is when we start to see miracles in a new light, it means we have to give up on magic–and the truth is, we human beings, even the smartest and most pragmatic of us, don’t mind a little magic now and then. When our relationships are broken, we are not above wishing that other person would just wake up one day and see it our way. When we are about to lose a loved one to death, we secretly wish they’d simply return to the way they were. We are all guilty of uttering the occasional prayer for nothing but our own comfort or convenience. (I caught myself asking God for a parking space just the other day, when I was cranky and tired of driving around in circles. Of course, I knew better. But there you have it.) When we reflect and study upon those moments, we begin to see the difference–we hope for magic when we want our way. We hope for miracles when we wish for restoration of something bigger than just “our” world.
Do you have a modern-day miracle to share? If so, what was restored?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as a Priest Associate at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.
Image: From Millions