As we come to Matthew 14:15-36, we see two crucial miracles which have been much pondered. The first, of course, is the feeding of the five thousand; and the second is Jesus walking on the water.
C.S. Lewis considered these miracles to be (in one sense) very different from each other.
The feeding of the five thousand was a miracle which repeated, at a specific time and a specific place, what God does everywhere, all the time:
[T]he two instances of miraculous feeding . . . . involve the multiplication of a little bread and a little fish into much bread and much fish. . . . Every year God makes a little corn into much corn: the seed is sown and there is an increase. . . .
Look down into every bay and almost every river. The swarming, undulating fecundity shows he is still at work “thronging the seas with spawn innumerable” . . . . And now, that day, at the feeding of the thousands, incarnate God does the same: does close and small, under his human hands, a workman’s hands, what He has always been doing in the seas, the lakes and the little brooks.
C.S.Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study 164-65 (MacMillan 1947).
In the multiplication of the bread and the fishes, Jesus shows himself to be doing what God does all the time. Lewis calls this a “Miracle of the Old Creation.”
From the biggest picture to the smallest interaction
Okay, so you take a triangle, like so. A simple equilateral triangle.
Now you connect the midpoints of the sides to divide it into three triangles that are ½ as big. (There really are four, plus the original one, but it looks like three.)
Now you take each of the three, and you divide them. You have nine triangles, each the 1/4 the size of our original.
Do it again! Now you have 27 triangles, each 1/8 the size of the original. You can
keep on doing this, and the patterns are not the same, but they are similar, on a smaller and smaller scale.
This is one of the simplest illustrations of the concept of fractal geometry, which you may have heard of, and which has all sorts of useful applications in the real world. Some very simple rules (like “connect the midpoints of a triangle”) can result in some very complex and beautiful patterns.
(Don’t worry, this is not a TED talk, there’s a sermon in here somewhere.)
I am going to begin posting the handouts from the Matthew class here. Once I catch up with where we are in the class, I will probably post them one by one. Here are the general charts and chapters 1-4. Any feedback would be appreciated.
. . . which of you, if your son were to ask for bread, would give him a stone? or if he were to ask for a fish, would give him a snake?
If therefore, you, being evil people, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?
Jesus’ immediate point in Matthew 7:9-11 is that if earthly fathers are reasonably unlikely to play such a grotesque practical joke on their children, God can be expected to respond to good requests with good, not trickery.
But when Jesus had stones instead of bread, what did he do? He accepted it as something from God. Obviously, I’m thinking about chapter 4, the temptation of Jesus in the desert — is that relevant here? I think it is.
If I see a stone on my plate, instead of jumping to the conclusion that God is angry with me, I might contemplate the possibility that God’s immediate purpose is not the satisfaction of my hunger.