instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, May 05, 2011

What, never deny? Well, hardly ever

Mark Shea has taken another whack at the "miracle of the hidden fish sandwiches," the false notion that Jesus did not feed multitudes miraculously but that "the real miracle" was His moving the hearts of His listeners to share the food they had brought with each other.

As has been noted, in the comments on Mark's article and elsewhere, the "caring and sharing" story flat-out contradicts the written Gospel accounts (not to mention the Near-Eastern culture of hospitality).

I'd suggest there are two reasons why a person might prefer to contradict the Gospels on this point rather than accept them.

One is good old-fashioned rationalism of the 19th Century German stripe, according to which miracles are impossible. What is a rationalist to do with the six accounts of miraculous multiplication of food? Keep the food, get rid of the miracle.

The other is an attraction to the idea that listening to the words of Jesus can and should move our hearts to charity toward our neighbor. For those thinking along these lines, it's not so much that Jesus could not have multiplied the food as that it would be so much more awesome -- greater evidence of His divinity, even -- if instead He made those in the crowd love each other.

This second reason is not, like the first, a direct rejection of the Catholic faith. It is, however, lousy theology. It's an application of the principle, "When the facts contradict your theory, get rid of the facts."

And while such transparently lousy theology should be trampled underfoot, the trampling should be done while recognizing the good intent of the lousy theologian. It's not true that the Gospel accounts of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is in a direct sense about the love of neighbor Jesus' disciples must have, but there's nothing wrong with thinking about the love of neighbor we must have when you hear those passages. What is wrong is to think only of that.