The Nature of Miracles
What do miracles in the Bible have to do with us? If we read them only as God’s power, we would miss the point of a transformation we need today. As we hear of miracle stories in the Exodus event (such as parting of the water or striking the rock to get water), we are challenged to rethink about miracles because they call for certain action with faith. Similarly, if we read the story of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes in the wilderness, we are challenged to think and act differently than is normally thought of. Here the point is not simply that Jesus could do anything as the Son of God. In fact, miracle stories are placed in particular literary or historical context in which biblical audiences have to deal with their life circumstances. Otherwise, they are not told in a vacuum. In this sense, a miracle is not merely about God or Jesus but about people in the world who face various life struggles and difficulties. In the following we will briefly look into transformative lessons from the exodus miracle and Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes.
The Exodus Story (Exod 7-12)
Scholars believe that the early stage of the exodus story begins with a few hundred Hebrew slaves at the Nile delta area (Ramses) who flee Egypt for their liberation at all risks. These slaves believe Yahweh would help them. They were on foot and could cross the marsh reeds or shallow lakes (not the Red Sea; the Hebrew word yam suph means “sea of reeds”) without being struck down by the Egyptian chariots. The Egyptians gave up chasing them because they could not enter the lakes with chariots. Moreover, a few hundred slaves were inconsequential to the Egyptian economy. But to a group of these slaves their escape was nothing short of a miracle. Reflecting on and remembering what just happened to them, these slaves firmly believe that this event is none other than a miracle, possible only through God’s power and grace. The Lord (Yahweh) made it happen and their faith confirms it. This experience gives them words of confession and encouragement that God is the source of everything.
Actually, this miracle would not have been possible if they had not left a place of shackles in Egypt for a new home of freedom and justice. It was a miracle not because supernatural things happened but because what they thought was impossible came true in their eyes. They could have been captured and killed, but in fact they were saved.
The transformative lesion is clear: we can break shackles of oppression by trusting God. Hebrew slaves did not wait for angels to come to rescue them in prisons or their working places. If they had stayed in their place with fear and despair, they would not have enjoyed freedom. Scholars believe that as time goes by, this seemingly simple story of faith that calls for action for liberation has been embellished and expanded. But the whole point of the story is not about the graphic, majestic description of how fleeing Israelites crossed the sea by the miraculous act of God, but about people’s courage, faith, action, dream, and hope for a free home even with the cost of a death on their run.
Feeding the Multitudes
Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes appears in all four gospels (Matt 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15) and has similar transformative lessons for us. The power of this miracle story does not lie in the supernatural power of Jesus as if Jesus could provide anything for the needy, but lie in a little child's faith and action through which many people are supposedly motivated to give their own, too. Imagine people gathering in a dry, sunny wilderness. Even a little bread amounts to tons of bread for the hungry bodies and souls. A little thing of sharing could ignite others to do the same. Sharing is a miracle! This miracle story is a symbolic, moral story that challenges others to do the same like a little child and those who gathered who participated in the boy’s faith and action. Otherwise if we focus only on Jesus’ power that feeds the five thousand people, we would miss this important aspect of a sharing miracle sparked through a little child and completed through the participation of the crowd in the desert.
In this sense, a true miracle in this story has to do with a change of the heart – from self-feeding attitude to other-feeding attitude by sharing a little thing. This miracle is not merely about the power of God or Jesus who does supernatural things like changing the tree, the stone, or the wind. Many people are starving to death even today not because food is in short in the world but because people are as dull and hard as not to break their hearts for others. A miracle begins with one’s heart and with small things.