Something greater than miracles

In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus uses five loaves and two fish to feed a crowd of five thousand. This miracle of multiplying loaves and fish is well-known to us because it is included in each of the four Gospels; Jesus even performs this miracle twice in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The miracle itself illustrates how the divine words and works of Jesus are beyond the realm of the natural world. His generosity is seen not only in feeding the large crowd, but in the 12 baskets of fragments that are collected after everyone has had their fill.

The crowd was astounded. "This is truly the Prophet," they said.

Yet this miracle - or any miracle - is not something meant to stand alone. Instead, it is a sign pointing to a greater reality - that Jesus is truly the Son of God and Savior of the world. He is to be trusted and His words believed, for He is the way, the truth and the life that leads us to eternal joy.

Too often, however, the miracle is preferred to Jesus and the salvation He offers. We see it in the Gospel today, as we hear that those following Jesus were not there for His preaching. Instead, they followed Him because of "the signs He was performing on the sick" (cf. Jn 6:2). They were amazed at His healing power, so they stayed close to Him. Then they were amazed again with the miracle of the loaves and fish, so at the end of this Sunday's Gospel, they want Jesus to be their king (cf. Jn 6:15). They wanted Him for the wrong reason: to provide for them in an earthly sense. They preferred the miracles - not the Savior and His message.

It is hard to blame them. We long for stories of miracles - healings, visions, levitating saints and other supernatural events that show God's power at work. We are astounded when God can heal our illnesses when science and medicine have fallen short. We rejoice that God can bring a wandering Catholic back to church with a personal miracle or providential encounter. Miracles are signs of God's power and of His love for us. Often, they increase our love of God and our trust in Him.

The problem rests not in our fascination with miracles, but in our desires stopping there. Too often the miracle is all that we seek, and we cannot look past them to see what they point to: the truth that God loves and loves us so much that He sent His Son to teach us, to suffer and die to free us from our sins and to rise again in order to conquer death and bring us eternal life. In the end, this is what we really need.

Sometimes, we find our prayers are asking for something amazing from God, some sign that He is present, something we can point to that will give us the boost we need to believe and trust Him more. But we must recognize that these are just signs. God promises and provides so much more. He promises His unending love for us. He promises His forgiveness for our sins. He promises to give us and our loved ones everything we need to strengthen us that we may come to know and love Him more in this world and the next. Our prayers may be answered by a miracle, or He may answer them in another way. In either case, we must have faith that His will is done and His faithfulness and love endure.

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus walked away from the crowd because people desired His miracles and desired He become their king for their earthly benefit. His plan for salvation did not involve the establishment of an earthly kingdom. Instead, He established an eternal kingdom and brought about our redemption through His death and Resurrection. Jesus is Our Savior, and we place our faith in Him.

As we meditate on this passage, let us pray that we grow to love God more and more for who He is and what He promises. May we hear the truth of the words He speaks both in the Scripture and the church. May we meet Him in the sacraments, especially in the miracle of the Eucharist at each Mass. Finally, let us pray for the faith that knows that even when He does not grant us the miracles we seek, He is there, providing all we need to fulfill His promise for our salvation.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015