A Child and a Miracle
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9)
Many years ago, some seminary classmates and I organized a mission trip to Cuba. Among many inspiring moments was a birthday party for a youth group member at the Havana cathedral. Each arriving child brought a gift, and it was all food and drink. Some brought a can of soda; others brought an egg; a couple of others brought a small loaf of bread or a small amount of sandwich meat. Before long, there was food and drink to satisfy everyone. We learned that the gift each child brought was from his or her weekly ration. I could help being moved by the spirit of generosity in these young people despite the scarcity they were living under and felt ashamed of my own lack of generosity despite the abundance back home.
The scripture verse above comes from John’s account of the miracle story of the loaves and the fish. It is about a paradigm shift from scarcity to abundance, at the heart of which is this anonymous boy with five barley loaves and two fish. In Greek, the boy is referred to as a little child, paidarion, and is thought to be from a humble background, as barley bread was a staple of the poor. What were five barley loaves and two fish for such a large crowd indeed? But to this little child they were everything he had—and yet he freely offered them all. This anonymous, insignificant, poor little child with his small, insignificant gift became the instrument of a miraculous grace that changed the paradigm of life from scarcity to abundance and must have had a profound impact on the faith of those who experienced it.
When I was serving at a parish on Long Island some years ago, I used to give children-oriented homilies in the family services. One Sunday, the Gospel story was a miracle story. Without much thought or expectation, I asked the children, “What is the difference between magic and a miracle?” One child raised his hand and said, “Magic doesn’t change anything, but a miracle does.” A poignant, awesome moment of silence! That little child understood what a miracle is better than any adult in church. I ditched the rest of my homily and let those words be the Gospel message for the day.
Children can experience and connect with the mystery of God in a way which can only come from a spirit of innocence and openness. I have seen it again and again. The Bible gives many examples of youth called to be God’s prophetic voices and agents of grace and transformation. I am convinced that the children and youth in our church have the gift and the power of the Spirit to make a difference, a miraculous difference, in the church today. We wish for children to fill the pews yet are seldom willing to empower them to be agents of grace and transformation. When we are praying for a miracle, we are essentially praying for change, sometimes a radical change. The youth are not the future of the church but the present members of the church. What would happen if we let them offer their spiritual gifts and empowered them to play a critical role in the church? We might just see a miracle.