Miracle, Not Magic

What do miracles look like? Do they flash before us like a spectacle, visible to all who look? Or do they unfold in a more hidden and quiet manner?

The miracles we encounter in the Gospels are most often acts of hidden transformation, evident only to those willing to see them.

Magic versus Miracle

Last year during the Fourth of July, my boys and I attended a fireworks show that ended with a surprise: a sudden explosion of flames that drew gasps from all the crowd. While it captivated us in that instant, it left behind only a cloud of smoke. Is that all? I wondered. A great blast of fire to seize the attention, but without any substance to nourish the mind or imagination.

In contrast, our Lord does not offer us such magical explosions. Rather, He works with the stuff of ordinary life, and brings about secret transformations which appeal to our human understanding.

Multiplication of the Loaves

Consider now today’s Gospel passage of the multiplication of the loaves. Imagine you are one of the thousands who have come to hear the words of this Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps you had brought a little food to sustain you for the beginning, but as time passes you find yourself unable to leave; there is something irresistible in the presence of Jesus, compelling you to stay. The food runs out, yet you remain where you are.

After three days, Jesus relieves the hunger of the crowds by taking the little bread that is available and allowing it to be multiplied to abundance. Yet what would you have seen if you were one among the crowd? You would see simply that the disciples were distributing baskets of bread and fish to the crowds without running out. There was no visible explosion of nothing into something, but rather a continuous and generous supply of food.

Discerning the Miracle

How, then, did the crowds come to believe? Faith opened their eyes. They had been there long enough to realize that there was scarcely any food left. When the apostles finally come bearing the overflow of food, so much that everyone was satisfied, they recognize that a hidden transformation has taken place. Somehow, the bread and the fish have become supernaturally abundant. Only those who had spent time with Jesus, those who had gone hungry over those three days, could put together the pieces of the picture to recognize the miracle that had taken place.

One wonders why Jesus did not simply bring forth all the bread at once in a sensational display. After all, he didn’t need the disciples’ help. At a word he could have brought forth a shower of food upon all the people. Why not?

Such a display would have enthralled the people without instilling their faith. Miracles are not meant simply for themselves, but as signs which point to the Giver behind them, inviting people to belief. Jesus did not wish to bombard us with mere spectacle, but desired that each person put together the pieces of the puzzle so that its meaning might come forth. Such is His respect for our reason.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes prepares us for the far greater miracle of the Eucharist. There, too, we see no visible change in the bread, yet through a pure-hearted faith in Jesus’ words, we may put all the pieces of the story together and thereby discern that a transformation in essence has truly taken place.

Today, friends, let us give thanks to the Lord for giving us miracles rich with meaning, if we are willing to see them. He will never seduce a soul with magic tricks but gives us gems of truth that when seen together in the proper light, reveal the fullness of who He is.

[Readings: 1 Kgs 12:26-32; 13:33-34; Mk 8:1-10]

Radhika Sharda, MD

Radhika Sharda is a practicing physician and a convert to the Catholic faith from a Hindu background. She has written a book of essays on literature, Savour, which may be found on Amazon. She lives in Raleigh, NC, with her three young boys.

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