Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 30th: 2 Kings 4:1-7; Psalm 53; and Luke 9:10-17. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
The 2 Kings and Luke selections speak of miraculous plenty. Such were signs of divine providence, drawing upon the example of the heaven-supplied manna in the desert during Israel’s 40-year Exodus. One of this past Sunday’s readings was Joshua 5:9-12. Israel had crossed over the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, and with this it was said: “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.”
Stories of miraculous plenty tie in with images of heaven’s abundance. They become signs that testify to the hand of God at work in the world through a Moses, or Elisha, or Jesus. These miracles, however, are aberrations. They intrude on the natural order for a time, but they do not displace it.
Elisha’s miracle is generous. He tells the widow to gather as many containers as possible “and not just a few.” When the last of these many containers is filled, the miraculous abundance ends – just as the manna had ended when Israel entered the Promised Land. The natural order again returns.
Jesus’ miracle of the loaves is a heavenly sign to the massive crowd that Jesus follows in the line of such important figures as Moses and Elisha. The miracle is a welcome gift from heaven for the moment, but the next meal is not going to be provided in the same way. Rather, the miracle is the gateway for what follows. Jesus will ask immediately, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” which then is followed quickly by the next question to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
The miracle of the miraculous plenty was not supposed to forever transform the natural order. It was meant to transform its witnesses, especially the disciples, so that they could then be readied to make a difference in the world through their ordinary efforts. It is akin to stepping into the Promised Land. The miraculous manna ceases and Israel must now be ready to do the work of feeding itself. Jesus turns to His closest followers after the miracle of the loaves to see if they get Him, if they will be able to share with others who He is.
This evening I will be the next presenter in our Lenten Discussion Series. If you’d like to join us it will take place at the Montague Congregational Church at 7PM in person. If you’d like to join online send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for the login. I will be talking in part about the ordinary. Jesus asks us for fundamental, transformative change, and with this change we are able to build a better world. The miracle is not these momentary interventions, but Jesus’ abiding presence and grace that allow us – if we allow – to move beyond a childish dependence to a mature responsibility. Jesus provides everything we need to make a better tomorrow, but it’s up to us to follow through. When we look at the crucified Jesus, it is hard to ask always for more. Miracles happen, but lasting change is made possible when faith happens.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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