Musical Chairs & Spoons. Two games where there's never enough for everyone.
The very idea of scarcity is frightening, isn't it? Think back to wintertime and the droves of people who raided the milk and bread aisles at the store. How much could they actually need for such a relatively short period? It doesn't really matter, though, because the fear of not having enough is what drove folks to stock up on way more than was necessary. We do it with food, with money, with jobs, and all kinds of possessions that we are so afraid to lose. We get way more than is necessary because we're afraid there won't be enough. The fear of not having enough, the fear of scarcity, is a powerful force.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, is not a story of scarcity. It should be, but it isn't. Think about it: we're told once that Jesus was a carpenter, but he never actually works in the Gospels, so what's his income? It isn't coming from his apostles, either, because they all leave their jobs, and even their families, to follow after him. They don't have homes, they just wander around--Jesus makes note of this when he comments that the Son of Man has no place to lay his head--and most days they don't even know where their next meal is going to come from, they just have to rely on someone inviting them to dinner, like Simon the Leper or Mary and Martha. Put any of us in the same situation, with no income, no regular housing, no idea how we're going to feed ourselves, and we would freak out, wouldn't we? We would be preaching a Gospel of scarcity, of fear of not having enough, but blessedly this is not the message of Jesus' Gospel.
The word Gospel comes from the Greek evangelion, which means 'Good News'. A message of scarcity is not good news, but a message of abundance is. The great irony of the Gospel of Jesus is that the story of a homeless, jobless, itinerant preacher is actually a story of the abundance of God's grace and love and mercy. This past Sunday we heard one such piece of that story, which highlights the message of abundance conveyed by the Gospel. That story is the feeding of the 5000.
'Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”'
--John 6: 1-14
This is one of Jesus' most famous miracles, appearing in all four of the canonical Gospels. The version in the Fourth Gospel, however, is a bit different. Here we see two of Jesus' disciples--Philip and Andrew--assess the current situation from a place of scarcity. They look upon the great crowd out there in the desert, and Philip comments that six months' wages wouldn't feed everyone. Andrew points out that there is a boy with five loaves and two fish, but then he scoffs and pessimistically asks, "What are they among so many?" Even those closest to Jesus can't help but be fearful of not having enough. But you know who isn't fearful? The boy.
A young boy brings what he has to Jesus.
He's only found in John's version of the story. This boy offers what he has, and he shares it, not only with Jesus but with the crowd as well. This is the great miracle of this story, that out in the desert, tired and hungry, a single individual would be willing to share what he has for the sake of so large a community. That kind of selflessness on behalf of a bunch of strangers is a true miracle! The boy does not hoard what he has out of fear, like those who raid the milk and bread aisles. He doesn't selfishly say, "Well, I guess the rest of you are just out of luck," like the kid playing Musical Chairs or Spoons. This is the very definition of faithfulness: bringing what we have to Jesus, offering it for the sake of others, and trusting that Jesus can and will use it. The inclusion of the boy makes the sharing personal. He is every person throughout history who has ever heard this story; he embodies Jesus' message of abundance and compels us to do the same because he is us.
That message that he embodies is that there is always enough, so long as we are willing to let what we already have pass through the hands of Jesus. Five loaves and two fish CAN feed 5000 people, not because Jesus performed a magic trick, but because the faith of a small child compelled that child to give what he had to Jesus, and the result was that everyone was fed. In our local community there are folks living into the witness of this boy, and our church plans to raise them up each week from now until Advent. These local mission-outreach partners are doing all they can to offer what they have for the sake of others. Two worth mentioning here are NetworX for Hope of Randolph County and Bread for the World.
NetworX began as an effort to address the issue of poverty in Randolph County, NC. It consists of volunteers (called Allies), who give of their time to work with those in need (called Champions), helping them find holistic methods for addressing their needs, from joblessness to feeding their children. It is only two years old, but already the effects are being seen in our community!
For more information on NetworX, click here .
Bread for the World is a national organization that seeks to raise awareness of hunger throughout the world by means of faith action, letter-writing campaigns, food drives, and local activism. A chapter exists in Greensboro (about an half-hour away), and in September I hope to meet with local clergy here to get a chapter started for Randolph County.
For more information on Bread for the World, click here .
I include these ministry partners of ours in this post to show that there are folks living into the example of that little boy--regular folks who look at the complex, harsh realities of issues such as poverty and hunger, and rather than be overwhelmed with fear or just throw money at the problem, they bring what they have to Jesus and meet the problems head-on with him. And when that happens, miracles occur.
Brothers and sisters, do you realize that a miracle occurs in church every single week that takes the same form as the feeding of the 5000? At our altars we take, bless, bread, and give ordinary bread and wine, pray together for them to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and then just a tiny piece of that bread and a little sip of that wine miraculously nourish us and fill us with Christ's grace. This miracle of the Mass unites us to Christ and one another and gives us the strength to go out into the world to share his message of abundance. If sharing just a little bread and wine can do that, imagine what we can do if, like that like that little boy, we shared our loaves of bread, our fish, our time, our resources with those who are in need, both stranger and friend alike. Imagine what could happen if we focused less on the myth of scarcity and more on the truth of abundance, the truth that the hungry can be fed, the sick can be made well, and the poor can be given hope for their future if we are willing to let what we have pass through Jesus' hands and be offered for the sake of others. If we could do that, well, that would be a miracle.
Miracles, it has been said, are not something that just happen, they're something that people make happen. They happen when people put aside the fear of scarcity and embrace the abundance of Jesus' power to provide grace, mercy, and healing to this broken world. And yes, it is broken, but it is not without hope. Its hope lies in every person who steps out, like that little boy, and gives what they can on behalf of someone who is in need, offering the very things they are so afraid to lose. That is the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus. It is a message of abundance because it is grounded in his abundant love, which is never, ever scarce, and never, ever runs out for anyone. If we are willing to do our part and give what we've got to him, then through the power of his love there will always, always, be enough.