Bread to Share

Matthew 14:13-21

Bread to Share

August 6, 2017

 

          Jesus sees things a different way from the rest of us.  After we heard his Parable of the Sower, someone told me, “No decent farmer is going to just keep throwing seed out there in places where it probably won’t grow.”  That’s true; but Jesus doesn’t see it that way.  After the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, someone said, “Yeah, but if you leave the weeds alone, pretty soon they’ll take over.”  I know that’s true and you know that’s true, but not Jesus.  He sees things a different way from the rest of us.  Jesus thought a yoke could be light—you saw how heavy that yoke was we had in here; he thought a cup of cold water was enough to make a real difference in the world, when we all know it’s not.  Jesus saw things a different way from the rest of us.  And his mission is to get us to see things that way too.

          In today’s gospel reading, there he goes again.  He thinks that if we will share our five loaves and two fish, it will be enough for everybody.  Silly Jesus!  He just sees things different from the rest of us. 

          Of course, as it turns out they really did feed thousands with those five loaves and two fish.  So maybe Jesus isn’t so silly.  And maybe we ought to at least try out his way of seeing things.  

          So how did it happen, that miraculous feeding?  Some have suggested everybody ate only the tiniest bites of bread and fish, that it was not an all-you-can-eat buffet but a kind of symbolic meal.  But that’s clearly not what it says.  Others suggest that once the disciples started sharing, other people were inspired to share the food they had hidden away and it turned out there was plenty there all along.  I’ve always liked that reading—after all, which really is the greater miracle, multiplying loaves or getting people to share?  And of course many people simply believe that when Jesus took the loaves in his hands, one loaf somehow suddenly became a hundred.  But that doesn’t really explain anything, does it? 

          That’s because to ask Did this really happen? or How did this happen? is to ask the wrong questions.  The real question is Do we have eyes to see how this story happens all the time?  As Megan McKenna has put it, this is not a story about something Jesus did a long time ago; this is a story about how life is for followers of Jesus in a world of need.1

          When Jesus looks at the world, he sees that if people will only share what they have, there will be enough and baskets full left over.  Jesus sees a world where abundance, not scarcity, can guide our every decision.  Now deep in our hearts we suspect Jesus is wrong about that.  But he is Jesus, after all, so let’s try humor him and see what might happen. 

          It turns out that the whole Bible is a story of abundance. In Genesis 1, God created heavens filled with stars, seas teeming with creatures, and plants producing of their own kind.  And God called it very good.  When the people of Israel were hungry in the wilderness, God provided manna to eat—they couldn’t horde it or store it up, but every day for forty years there was enough.  During a famine the prophet Elijah asked a poor widow to share her very last morsel of bread; she did, and her jar of flour and jug of oil never ran out (1 Kings 17:6-16).  Elijah’s successor, Elisha, took forty barley loaves and fed the entire country (2 Kings 4:42-44). 

          The Bible is a lesson in abundance . . . but we are slow learners.  Perhaps that’s why the Feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story reported in all four gospels—the Bible wants to make sure we see things the way Jesus does.  And probably that’s why just one chapter after today’s gospel reading Jesus does it again—this time feeding 4000 people with seven loaves (Matthew 15:32-39).  And fresh off the Feeding of the 5000, guess what the disciples say when Jesus wants them to feed the 4000?  Do they say, “Okay, Jesus.  It worked before, so it’ll surely work again.”  No, fresh off the Feeding of the 5000, when Jesus wants them to feed the 4000, they say, “But where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?”  Jesus sees a world of abundance, but in our perpetual fear of scarcity we are such slow learners.

 

          Ultimately our fear of scarcity leads to unattractive consequences.  On a personal level, our fear of scarcity leads to never-ending anxiety.  I’m like the disciples—I want everybody to have enough to eat, really I do, but what if there’s not enough, I worry?  What if we run out?  What if more people show up?  What if I don’t get some? What if this, or what if that? 

          At its worst, this fear of scarcity leads to downright selfishness.  Since we’re not sure there will be enough, we’d better keep all we can for ourselves.  And once you start down that road, no amount ever feels like enough; even the fullest of pantries can’t alleviate our fear.  No one intends to be selfish, but fear of scarcity leads us to places we never meant to go.

          That’s on the personal level.  At the level of the church, this fear of scarcity leads to timidity, to a smallness of vision.  It’s hard to take on big ministries, if you’re afraid people won’t support them.  It’s hard to reach out and care for new people if we’re always worried about ourselves.  Sure, Jesus fed 5000 people with twelve disciples, five loaves and two fish, but we’re not sure Jesus can do anything like that through us . . .  Fear of scarcity leads to timidity, a smallness of vision. 

 

          The good news is that there’s a whole different way of seeing—Jesus’ way of seeing things. Instead of fearing a world of limited resources, Jesus invites us to see a world of God’s abundant gifts and endless possibilities.  It’s a way of seeing that leads to big dreams, bold plans, and extravagant sharing.  It’s very exciting, but also risky, a little scary. 

          Fuad Bahnan, an Arab born in Jerusalem, was the pastor of a small Christian church in predominantly Muslim West Beirut.2  In 1983 the Israeli army pushed north into Lebanon.  Leaders of Pastor Bahnan’s church were worried the Israelis would take Beirut and try to starve out any Palestinian fighters there.  So they decided to buy vast amounts of canned goods and store them at the church, just in case. 

          Their fears came to pass.  West Beirut was entirely cut off.  No one could enter or leave.  No food was allowed in.  The leaders of the church met again, to decide how to distribute their food.  Two proposals were put forward.  One was to distribute the food first to church members, then as supplies permitted, to other Christians, and finally, if any was left over, to the Muslims.  The second proposal was just the opposite:  to distribute food first to their Muslim neighbors, then to other Christians, and finally, if any was left, to members of their church.  The meeting lasted six hours.  It ended when one elderly woman, well-respected, stood up and cried out, “If we don’t demonstrate the love of Christ in this place, who will?”  The food was distributed first to Muslims, then to other Christians, and finally to themselves.  In the end, there was enough for all of them.2  They had learned to see with the eyes of Jesus, a world of abundance, in which five loaves and two fish really can feed us all.

 

     The question for today is not Did this really happen? or How did this happen? The question for today is not even quite Will we share our bread, our time, our money? though it has implications for our sharing.  The question is Can we see the world the way Jesus sees it?  Where seed is scattered lavishly whether it grows or not.  Where weeds are allowed to grow with the wheat.  Where yokes can be easy and even a cup of cold makes a difference.  And where five loaves and a couple of fish are enough to invite everyone to sit at our table.  Where not fear of scarcity, but God’s miraculous abundance guides our every decision. I want to learn to see the way Jesus sees.

1 See Megan McKenna, Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 16-17.

2 Michael L. Lindvall, The Christian Life: A Geography of God (Louisville: Geneva Press, 2001), 125-26.

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