I love a good mystery – something that keep you in suspense to the very end. A mystery-lover once attended a mystery-dinner play at the local theatre, but because he arrived late, his seat was in the back of the room – far from the stage. The man called the usher and whispered to him; “I love a good mystery and I’ve been anxiously anticipating this play. However, in order to carefully follow all the clues and fully enjoy this mystery, I need to watch it up close. Look how far away I am! If you can get me a better seat, I’ll give you a handsome tip.
The usher agrees and says he will be back shortly. Looking forward to a large tip, he speaks with his co-workers in the box office. With only three minutes left until curtain, he finds an unused ticket. Returning to the man in the back row, he whispers, “Follow me.” The usher leads the man down to the second row, and proudly points to the empty seat. “Thank you so much” says the theatregoer, “This seat is perfect.” He then hands the usher twenty-five cents! The usher looks at the quarter, leans over and whispers, “The butler did it.”
I love a good mystery. But really, what truly makes something a good mystery must be something that is left unanswerable. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a mystery as ‘something not understood or beyond understanding’. In Christian terms, a mystery is described as ‘a religious truth that can only be known by revelation and which cannot be fully understood; for example: The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist. A true mystery is something we are able to walk away from and finally say “I just don’t know” and leave it at that.
The other side of the coin says that I must do everything possible to find, to produce or even fabricate if necessary – a solution. In the book “The Craft of Research” the authors describe the potential rewards and pitfalls of using modern research in solving a mystery. The reader is told, that although we might want to believe that all opinions are sound, they warn that “mistaken ideas, even dangerous one’s flourish because too many people accept too many opinions based on too little evidence. And as recent events have shown, those who act on unreliable evidence can lead us – indeed have led us – into disaster.”
This is an interesting warning, quite applicable to modernity, although it was written more than five years ago. Personally, I must admit that I find that there is a lot of mystery, of unanswered and unanswerable questions surrounding the present-day Pandemic. Although there appears to be a great deal of research being done, the results of some reports leave you asking more questions than answers. Are certain blood-types less susceptible to infection by the virus while other researchers question the validity of this research? What’s effective and what’s not effective in counteracting the virus is being contested by various groups of people. Wearing or not wearing masks, wearing them indoors or outdoors or both and now which material should the mask be made of to provide proper protection are questions that are continually evolving as the fashion industry competes to out-sell their competitors. Other than maintaining good hygienic practices, a proper answer to the question of transmission and protection is a mystery.
Prior to the pandemic, the city of Kamloops was looking at moving its Third International Buskers festival to a new location. In Grande Prairie, where Mary and I used to live, we had a similar event called the International Street Performers Festival. The city would close the main street through the center of town to traffic for a weekend as performers from all around the world would come and do their shows on the open street. I was always amazed by some of these amateur illusionists who performed their magic-tricks while surrounded by a circle of onlookers. I’ve always been interested in magicians and the amazing trickery that is performed by some of the great illusionists of our time, Blackstone, Houdini and Copperfield. When I was younger, I would expel a lot of energy and research into discovering the mystery hidden behind the trick.
I have never been interested in actually doing magic, although my research did once lead me towards the occult. I suppose it was my fascination with Harry Houdini who was well known in his day for exposing those who abused trickery for their own personal gain. Many still exist today, in different forms, spiritualists, fortune tellers, palm readers, horoscopes readers and so on. These performers use their well-honed skills of observation and deception to make people believe that they have mysterious powers to see into the future. Long before radio or television, these well established con-artists of old, would travel from town to town with their horse drawn wagons making a living on any money they could get from gullible towns’ people, whom they amazed with the mystery behind the secret power of wonder drugs and tonics they had to sell.
Slowly, the world was introduced to a new form of mystery – the mystery of suspense as families huddled around a picture-less box and listened to their favourite radio programs together. It was an interesting time in human history as the listener was forced to use their imagination, to not only piece together the story they heard spoken, but to also attempt to solve the mystery before then end of the broadcast. Orson Welles induced panic with the 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” while keeping his listener in suspense, right to the very end of the mystery, with “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows."
Television removed some of that mystery by showing us our favourite characters in person, while attempting to introduce us to a new level of secrecy and mystery which was now filled with visual special effects and the trickery of the television camera. Master illusionists like Copperfield performed their trickery before live-audiences while mobile TV cameras were moving around them, before, during and after the trick had been completed making the solving of the mystery even more challenging for the audience. Today, a great deal of the mystery produced by street magicians and amateur illusionists has been demystified with the onset of the internet. If you want to remove the mystery from something and find out how its done - a simple google search will reveal the secret making what was a mystery - no longer a mystery.
There isn’t all that much today that is still a mystery. But really, if we can’t explain something away with science or trickery, we simply demystify it by removing anything that can’t be explained and then we call it a myth or a made-up story. Simply consider the number of people who don’t even believe in the Bible but who will argue for hours on whether Jonah was swallowed by a large fish or a whale (mammal). I honestly can’t understand how shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” can continue to exist in modernity when we willingly explain everything away. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, known as the Age of the Enlightenment, scholars began to demystify the Bible by removing anything that could not be explained by a rational mind, which includes; creation, the flood, the dividing of the sea, being swallowed by a fish, the great sharing of food, miracles, the virgin birth, as some today question the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
But, as much as we want to explain and have answers for everything, there are still some things in nature that continue to elude us and simply can’t be explained. Gravity keeps us securely planted on the earth while the rotation of our planet should actually propel us out into space. No one will doubt the ability of a bumblebee to fly, although engineers have determined that it should not be able to fly because its body is way too large for the size of its wings. Every now and then, a healing miracle occurs where even doctors are unable to explain what happened.
But, as with all things, humans are hard at work trying to solve a mystery so that it doesn’t remains a mystery. It’s part of our nature because we want to know the how and the why. Something about being human makes us want to explain everything and leave nothing unexplained. We want answers to our questions, and we don’t want anything to remain a mystery.
Today's gospel is another one of those stories that is filled with suspense and yes - mystery. The story had such an impact on the lives of his disciples that the same account is found, with slightly varying degrees, in the gospels according to Mark and Luke. As evening approached, we are told, the disciples asked Jesus to send the people away so that they could go into the neighbouring villages to buy some food for themselves to eat as Jesus challenges his followers saying “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16).
It’s a familiar story and the essence of the story is the same in each case. A large crowd has gathered somewhere out in the countryside of Galilee in order to listen to Jesus. Having heard that John the Baptizer has been murdered by Herod, “[Jesus] withdrew to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13) possibly to grieve, while crowds of people followed Jesus and the disciples from their towns. Jesus seeing the crowds has compassion on them and heals their sick. The sun is beginning to set and it’s time for all work to cease and to send the people home. Instead, Jesus shocks his followers by telling them to feed the people. After the disciples make an accounting of their own meagre supplies, they report to Jesus the bad news – “we have here only five loaves of bread and two fish” (Matthew 14:17).
When the disciples first came to Jesus, they must have been concerned that evening was approaching and that the crowds might be growing hungry. They might have already been reasoning that five loaves and two fish might not be enough even to feed themselves. If Jesus sends the crowd away, then Jesus and the disciples can also return to the village where they are staying and get some food. But then, to the disciples’ surprise, Jesus turns to them and says “they do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). I don’t know if we today can even begin to imagine what the disciples’ must have thought. The size of the crowd was overwhelming. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one or two or five thousand people as the disciples consider the amount of food, that they do have, thinking; “this is absurd – it’s not even enough for us!” “Jesus must be crazy to think that we can feed all of these people”.
Today, if we have company to feed, we simply take something out of the pantry or freezer, and we are ready to accommodate our guests. But we need to understand that in the first century people literally lived from hand to mouth and from the report of the disciples they hardly had even enough food for themselves. They brought the little amount of supplies they had, gave it to Jesus who orders the crowd to sit down as he takes the meagre offering, gives thanks, lifts them up to heaven, blesses and breaks them and then gives them to the disciples to distribute.
In Matthew’s account, we quickly jump to the end of the meal as scripture says, “they all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basket fulls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14:20). Notice, in order to drive this great miraculous feeding mystery home that the disciples collected twelve baskets full of the broken leftovers of those five loaves of bread. They actually had more leftover in the end than the five loaves they began with!
The feeding of the multitude is one of the Bible’s great mysteries. But scholars don’t like unexplainable mysteries and so the church has tried to demystify it - to remove the divine or miraculous by explaining away what actually happened that day, by trying to determine where all the bread might have really come from. But, the reality of our inability to travel back in time ultimately says that we will never have an answer to this mystery, we will never truly know what happened that day some two-thousand years ago in Galilee with the exception of what has been preserved for us by the writers of these three gospels. Some will continue to try to explain it away, calling it the great sharing of food, while others will say that the meal never happened.
And so, I guess, as much as we might want answers to everything there simply are some things that will always remain a mystery. Having said that, we need to understand that living in a world that makes every attempt to have an answer for everything - we will need to recognize that there must always be a place in our life for mystery – for something that can’t be answered.
This is what the apostle Paul was alluding to when he wrote to the Christians living in Corinth. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). On this side of eternity, you and I will never fully understand everything. Some things, like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the real-presence in the Eucharist, Christ atoning sacrifice for us on the cross, the forgiveness of sin and the resurrection of the body are some the great mysteries of the faith that baffle the rational mind which can only be accepted as truth by faith in the Word of God.
We are surrounded by great mysteries that we willingly accept without question. Within our world exists one of the greatest mysteries of all – that of love. Can we truly understand what it means to love or to be loved if we can even begin to understand what love actually is? And, when we make the move into the realm of faith and God’s love for us - can we even begin to understand a love that is so undeserved that it held Christ to the cross for our sake?
I would suggest that there is and that there must be a place for mystery in our lives; whether it’s in the beauty of a flower that springs forth from a seed, a caterpillar that is transformed into a butterfly or the miraculous feeding of the multitude from God’s Word. There is more to us and to our world than we will ever be able to understand on this side of eternity and as we stand in awe of everything God has done, we have to admit to ourselves the great mystery that everything a loving God has done is for our benefit. How is it possible you might ask? It’s a mystery. And so, for now, along with Paul, “we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12) as we fathom the great mystery of God’s love for us in the present.
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We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.