If you are a student of History and, in particular, a student of American History, you may already know that Thomas Jefferson wrote his own Bible. Well, he didn’t exactly write it inasmuch as take the Bible as we know it, take out a few things, and make it a Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. He described the principles that guided him in this endeavor in a letter to friend and fellow American founder John Adams, as a need to “strip off the artificial vestments in which (the true words) have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves.” He only trusted the gospels and, even then, only the teachings of Jesus and none of the miracles, believing if you just find the words of Jesus, “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”
I imagine most of us can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson in some ways. He was really saying that the supernatural elements of the gospels are kind of embarrassing. I mean who would take mud nowadays, splatter it on someone’s eyes, and expect that the person would be able to see afterward? And aren’t we all a little skeptical of the healings Jesus performed? Couldn’t you just as easily explain them as the power of positive thought instead of the miraculous intervention by God?
Most of the time I hear someone preach about this particular gospel, that fear of the supernatural seems to come through clearly. I heard a priest suggest that what really happened at this meal was not miraculous. It wasn’t that Jesus took five loaves and two fish, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to 5000 men. It was a lesson in sharing. When the people saw the young man willing to offer his five loaves, they were likewise willing to offer what they had and then there was more than enough. It transforms the point of the gospel into one about sharing what we have with those around us. The problem with that interpretation is that it tells the EXACT OPPOSITE point of the one found in this gospel.
This gospel has two apostles that are a part of it and who act as two different types of disciples. The first is Philip. Philip is the believer whose response seems to indicate a purely natural faith. He believes what he can see, touch, taste, and smell. When Jesus tells him to get enough food to feed the crowd, Philip’s natural reaction is skepticism. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?…Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Philip didn’t have the right to be skeptical. I imagine we’ve all looked at budgets and check books and known that bills were coming down the pike and wondered where the money was going to come from. Philip doesn’t know that a miracle is about to take place here. Yet, if had been paying attention, I think he should have.
Andrew, on the other hand, is the one with supernatural faith. Jesus told him to find food and so he does. The boy’s five barley loaves and two fish become the basis for a miracle. Andrew had the ability to put his skepticism in check and believe that God can work miracles where most people cannot see solutions.
The idea of supernatural faith is frightening, nonetheless. Heck, even the word supernatural has been corrupted by Science Fiction shows to indicate the presence of ghosts, demons, aliens, and other weird phenomena. Having a supernatural faith means simply believing that more is out there than what our senses can perceive. It means trusting that there is a God who loves you and who wants you to love him back, a prospect that is as frightening now as it was at the time of Thomas Jefferson. I say it’s frightening because if we believe in a supernatural component to God, we have to have a relationship to a God who, as Paul said in the second reading, “is over all and through all and in all.” God is complete transcendent, completely immanent, and wanting to communicate with us. It would be much easier to dismiss these contradictions in favor of a teacher of morality who passes on whit and wisdom to us. But, if we limit the Bible to something that we can grasp and accept and take out anything that we find challenging, we have to ask are we creator or creature?