Monday, August 05, 2002

More evidence of faithless preaching

Amy reports on Rod Dreher's homiletic experience this past weekend, and wonders where the interpretation of the loaves and fishes as a sharing event comes from, oddly perhaps the one who has spread this false interpretation the most is the otherwise excellent commentator on Scripture, William Barclay:

Even William Barclay, whose background material for the word of God is fantastic, weakens a little bit when confronted with some of the signs that Jesus did, and injects for optional consideration some of the screwball ideas which have been bandied around by theologians whose faith is as weak as their explanations.

A good illustration is the case of the feeding of the five thousand with one hamburger bun for each thousand and a couple of sardines. It is asked if it is logical to believe that people like this would set out without taking food, and it is suggested they all had a pretty ample lunch stashed away in their haversacks. But they were selfish and did not want to get it out lest they might have to share with the others. However, when Jesus began to pass around the meager supply of food which he had cadged from a little kid on the fringe of the crowd, everyone got ashamed and hauled out his provisions, and it turned out they all had more than enough to eat after all.

As Barclay points out, if this explanation is accepted it "was not the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes; it was the miracle of the changing of selfish people into generous people at the touch of Christ. It was the miracle of the birth of love in grudging hearts." This sounds very beautiful and I am all for changing selfish people, but I do not think for a minute it is what happened here. If it was I doubt that all four of the gospel writers would have recorded it.

Barclay writes that if there was an actual multiplication of loaves and fishes it would be hard to understand. He is correct, but I think that the outstanding expositor overlooks one thing. The miracles of Jesus were happenings. They were matters of fact, and can only be interpreted in the light of evidence or testimony of eyewitnesses. Facts need not be understood in order to accept the testimony. We are not called upon to explain them but to weigh the evidence. It is correctly said that "Facts are stubborn things." A fact does not depend for its validity upon whether or not anyone can explain it, or whether or not anyone believes it. Belief of a fact may change a man, but disbelief of a man does not change a fact.

The interesting thing about the "miracle" of sharing is that it would only be a miracle in our culture. People in Jesus' time shared quite openly.