Monday, August 1, 2011

Pic-a-nic Basket Gospel

" The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:21)."
The women just had a salad and the kids settled for mac and cheese. But that's not been proven.
Sunday's Gospel was Matthew's account of the feeding of the 5000 (Mt 14:13-21). Unlike most miracle stories, this one narrative is in all four of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Yesterday, I got an email from a Catholic (a convert to Catholicism, I knowingly add) in Jackson. He said that his parish priest said in his homily that there was no real miracle, just Jesus helping people be less stingy. The story is that Jesus took some bread and started passing it out. Then the people felt bad and pulled out their secret stash and shared with everyone. Sounds less like Jewish hospitality and more like weed at an indie concert.

Multiplying picnic baskets. So simple, a cartoon bear can do it.
That "sharing story" has been around for a while. It's been batted about so much that Fr. Benedict Groeschel has named it the "Soggy Sandwich Theory" and my old friend, Fr. Aedan Manning (of happy memory) called it the "Pic-a-nic basket Miracle". Fr. Matthew Simmons and I argue if our diocese's use of the theory dates back to the 90's (my argument) or 1973 (his). To his credit, it sounds very 70ish and probably started in universal Catholic churches then. But our diocese is sort of slow to catch up so I put it solidly in the early 90's, about the time when no one listened anymore. But now someone is listening. THANK GOD FOR CONVERTS!

The "Man From Jackson" did his own research and came up with this:

"This week's Gospel reading is St. Matthew's account of the feeding of the 5000. There's an idea popular with some these days that the feeding of the 5000 was not really a multiplication of loaves and fishes but was actually about sharing.  The story goes like this:  many of those present that day really had food with them, hidden, so they wouldn't have to share with others. When Jesus gave out the small amount of food provided to him, those with food in the crowd were moved by the act of generosity and produced the food they had hidden.  Thus, all had
plenty.  Those who propose that story often ask:   which is the greater
miracle: making many loaves and fish from a few?  Or changing the hearts of 5000?

The short answer:  sharing is not a miracle.  It happens all the time.
Especially in the mid-East. Scripture is filled with examples of Jews sharing their food with strangers.  It is hard to imagine that Jews in Jesus' time would have gone hungry all day just to avoid sharing their food with others.

I heard that "sharing" take on the feeding of the 5000 many times in the United Methodist Church,  the liberal mainline Protestant denomination of which I was a part for most of my life. But, in the eleven years I've been Catholic I've heard it from a pulpit only twice--thank the Lord!

Tonight, in view of this week's Gospel, I thought I would get on the internet and try to discover the origin of that "sharing" explanation of the Lord's miracle.

I traced the origin of that story back to one Heinreich Paulus (1 September 1761 – 10 August 1851).
According to Wikipedia, Paulus was a German protestant and an apparent anti-semite who "offered natural explanations for the biblical miracles of Jesus." Besides denying the miraculous nature of the feeding of the 5000, Paulus also denied that Jesus walked on water(he really was walking in shallow water) and he denied the resurrection (Jesus just fainted). Is that the company we want to keep?

The "sharing" theory also appeared in William Barclay's commentaries in the 1940s or 1950s.  Barclay, whose commentaries I own and personally find helpful in some regards, was a liberal Presbyterian theologian.

I also looked to the Catholic Answers website which can always be counted on to give a good, solid response to questions about the Catholic faith, untainted by modernism and relativism.  I found that the Church Fathers unanimously held the Feeding of the 5000 to be a true miracle:  the loaves and fishes were multiplied by Jesus.  Not a one of them ever suggested it was about sharing."

As the Catholic Answers website puts it, "[i]n short, the entire patrimony of the Catholic Church upholds without any deviation whatsoever that our Lord actually did multiply loaves and fishes by divine power to feed the multitudes."  Why would anyone want to suggest anything else?


At St. John, the Deacon preached the morning Masses Sunday and I did something about dependence on God, money can't buy happiness and blah blah something God loves you something blah blah so I know we didn't do the Pic-a-Nic Basket thing here.
A children's story about the feeding of the 5000 1 guy.

So, let's try this. For all of y'all from other parishes, did you hear the "Soggy Sandwich" theory Sunday or what did you hear? I want to know. Leave your comments!