Postscript for July 29
The high tech training programmes, the carefully designed diets, the sophisticated apparel and the little tents to replicate altitude training while you sleep, seem a long way from the original Olympics. Then you showed your strength by sprinting 200 metres in full armour, or paid your money and sponsored a chariot and horses to bring you glory. Then, as now, the watching crowd expected to see something spectacular. While early
games commenced with a mass slaughter of sacrificial animals, these days we watch an opening ceremony of Ben-Hur proportions, bigger and brighter than we have seen before.
The Olympics bring out in us a vision of hope that, despite all our failings and setbacks, despite even our innate lack of talent, somehow we will win through. At each Olympiad we wait for the “miracle” stories – the athlete who has overcome all odds to become a multiple medal winner, the least favoured who becomes the darling of the crowd and the most unlikely winner who makes up ground and outruns the champion by a fraction of a second.
In this morning’s gospel we hear the story of an epic miracle. Sitting on a grassy hillside, a crowd of five thousand are fed by Jesus from five loaves and two fish. There is no training to prepare for it, and no spectacular sound and light show that focuses the attention of the crowd on what is about to happen, just the faith of the disciples who follow the instructions given them by Jesus, and then gather up the leftovers. It is in its simplicity, its lack of fuss and flourish, that this story carries such weight. The achievements of some Olympic athletes may well appear astounding at the time but eventually fade, but this miracle, when Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, and fed the five thousand, remains one of the most enduring and powerful stories of his ministry.
The army of Olympic Village caterers, with all the planning and preparation they are involved with to keep the athletes fed, couldn’t fail to be inspired by this account of feeding a large and hungry crowd from so little. May it remain a miracle that continues to inspire us as well.