From Scarcity to Abundance
Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:13-21
The miraculous feeding of the 5000 with five barley loaves and two fish is a story found in all four gospel narratives. Obviously, it was deemed to be a very important story by the first believers. And so, it behooves us to appreciate its relevance for ourselves.
The lead up to the story is as follows. Jesus had so impressed the crowds with his many miraculous healings that they wanted to make Him their king. When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to do so, He withdrew to a deserted place by Himself.
His disciples, for their part, went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
The crowd, for their part, pursued Jesus on foot. They want to continue to experience His healing touch. But for Jesus there is something more going on here than a mobile health clinic.
In his account John tells us that, “The large crowd kept following Jesus, because they saw the signs that He was doing.”
John presents miracles as signs that point beyond themselves. The miracles are not important simply because Jesus meets an obvious need like changing water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana, or healing this or that person suffering from this or that affliction, and so on. The miracles are important because they are signs that point to who Jesus is.
And so, while the crowd pursued Jesus for healing, they keep following him because of the signs. They were captivated and taken by Him. In their experience He is someone quite out of the ordinary. For me also, Jesus has always been someone quite out of the ordinary.
In today’s gospel, Jesus provides a new sign. It is the fourth of seven signs. The crowd is hungry, and Jesus feeds them. He takes the small offering of bread and fish provided by a little boy, gives thanks for them and distributes the food to the hungry multitude. There is enough bread for twelve baskets of leftovers. As for the fish, we are told that everybody ate “as much as they wanted.”
This new sign points not simply to Jesus’ being Lord, but how, with Jesus, we move from an experience of scarcity to and experience of abundance. The disciples tell Jesus that the crowd needs to eat, and they obviously have neither food nor the resources to purchase food for so many. There simply was not enough. Five barley loaves and two fish were not going to go very far.
The disciples look to the situation and see that there is not enough to go around. Why spend what little money we have when even a pile of money would not be enough? Why take the little food the boy brought when it wouldn’t be enough for even an appetizer for Jesus and the disciples, much less a meal for a multitude? Resources are scarce. When there is not enough to go around, it is not the time to share, but the time to hoard.
But Jesus has a different view of the situation. Jesus operates out of a place of abundance. Not only is there enough, but rather there is always more than enough. With this hungry hoard, there is fish enough for all to get what they want and bread enough to gather together twelve basketsful of leftovers.
With this sign Jesus reminds the people of their history with God. In his account, John has tipped us off that the Passover is drawing near. He is asking his audience to remember that during their enslavement under Pharaoh, in times of plenty, Pharaoh hoarded the surplus produce of the fertile Nile valley. During times of famine, Pharaoh forced the people to give first their money, next their livestock, then their land, and finally their lives to him in exchange for food.
In stark contrast, as the people were brought out of Egypt, they were fed in the wilderness with manna, the bread from heaven. Each day God gave the people all the food they needed. There was always enough, and nothing was to be hoarded. The manna would rot if someone tried to store it for the next day. This was the original daily bread to which we allude in the prayer that Jesus taught us. It was a sign that God would be faithful day after day after day with enough to meet our need.
With this story in mind, the people gathered that day on the grassy hillside saw a new sign. They ate the bread and fish that Jesus blessed, broke and shared, and in so doing they saw in Jesus the God of Israel Himself.
Whether under Pharaoh, under Roman oppression or in our own day, the world and its powers operate with the very same scarcity model. The message is consistent. There is not enough to go around. Take and guard all that you can for yourself. Pay the price for what you need. It is every man for himself. The world belongs to the rich, the poor be damned. The “America First” rallying cry speaks volumes to the depth of sinfulness.
We withdraw from the World Health Organization when, in the face of this pandemic, the poorest nations are even more desperate for the resources that only we and a few others are able to bring to bear.
We want to own the anticipated vaccine for Covid-19 to ensure that our population gets it first, and that we can make as much profit on it as it will obviously bring, given the fact that every human being on the planet will need to be vaccinated. There would appear to be no limit to this nation’s greed and self-interest.
I think the Kingdom model would be for every lab in the world to be sharing information and resources, and thru collaboration producing the most effective vaccine as quickly as possible with a plan for a global distribution at no cost to each of God’s children, and this effort’s being funded by those nations with means to do so.
The Senate majority would cut the unemployment compensation check from $600 to $200 a week. They are concerned that the larger check is seriously deterring people from returning to their jobs. Those jobs that either no longer exist or pay less than a living wage.
I think a Kingdom model would recognize that people are hungry, that food insecurity is on the increase, that jobs are fewer, that more otherwise employed will be required to remain at home to care for children, that the minimum wage is nowhere near a living wage, and that exploiting workers to fatten the pockets of bosses is grossly sinful.
Here was Jesus on the hillside, freely offering abundance. Everything the people needed for life came without cost. Jesus offered not merely free healthcare and free food. Jesus offered a change from scarcity to abundance – a very different model indeed. Where God reigns there is always more than enough for everyone. And the simple truth is that if wealth inequity was seriously challenged, there would be more than enough for everyone. As Jesus fed 5000+ with five barley loaves and two fish, we could easily feed and care in every way for the 8 billion people who inhabit the earth.
In Christ God invites us to be co-creators of His kingdom. To see the signs as indicating what God intends to be our way forward through whatever is the present wilderness. God assures us that He will always make the difference if we provide, especially from our want rather than from our surplus, the where with all for Him to make that difference.
We must resist the impulse to seek to have Him do it all. If they could make Jesus their king, then He would make it all right for them. He alone could and would lift every burden and meet every need. But as Saint Augustine once said, we must “Believe as if everything depends on God but act as if everything depends on us.” The Honorable John Lewis bore witness to this kind of faith.
From our scarcity, God asks that we bring our offerings. We are to do this with the same spirit of generosity and the same willingness to put ourselves at risk as did the poor boy with his five barley loaves and two fish. If that boy gave the little that he had, then he might not have anything to eat that day. By the way, we know the boy was poor because loaves made from barley rather than from wheat was the bread of the poor.
God takes what we give. He takes what is clearly not enough, but He always makes it more than enough. Such is the nature of sacrificial love. Such is the nature of Eucharistic love. Such is the nature of the love that we sign each time we gather around this table. Such is that nature of the love that is of God. Such is the nature of the love that we are called to sign in our own lives. It is this kind of love that alone effects the miracle that we all seek. It is this kind of love that fills our emptiness and fills the emptiness of others. It is this kind of love that transforms scarcity to abundance.
With Jesus, we offer our very lives – ourselves, our souls, our bodies, our time, talent and treasure as a living sacrifice. We offer the broken places that need healing. We offer the sinful places of our lives that need repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. We offer our spiritual hunger and thirst. We offer either our emptiness or the little we have and find spiritual food and living water in abundance.
We find in Christ the Reign of God breaking into the here and now. God knows our needs and provides strength for today and hope for tomorrow. In giving our lives to Jesus, we cross over from death to life, from the scarcity of the empire of this world to the abundance of the Kingdom of God.
Through it all, Jesus, is with us in the storm and also waits for us on the shore as the boat makes its way through the storm. So, “Do not be afraid.” He continues to give us Himself as our daily bread, and that is one commodity never in short supply.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
August 2, 2020