You might be familiar with this story. There is a large hungry crowd who have followed Jesus even when he was trying to get away- the gospels of Mark and John don’t line up so perfectly very often but in this case this story is the story we were following in Mark- now in John’s words, there are just so many people, 5000 men plus women and children, following Jesus and they are far from home and town and what are we going to do about food?
It was on the disciples’ minds and Jesus knew it, so he brings up the question. Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat? Philip answers the expected way. We just can’t do it, we can’t feed them we don’t have enough money even if there was somewhere to go and buy food.
In John the miracles are not named miracles they are called signs. The signs point the way to God. Everything Jesus does in John is to reveal God. So it isn’t that he has been healing people, but there have been, 6:1, miraculous signs performed on the sick.
And so people want to follow this Jesus, revealing God in their midst by these signs, even if they don’t call it that yet.
Jesus prepares with this question to do another sign- point the way to God’s nature once again- in what is about to happen.
So yes it is a miracle of multiplying loaves and fish, however it happens- but it is also so much more. This is how, in the gospel of John, Jesus re-orients his disciples to the ways that are God’s ways and not this world’s ways.
And the reorientation he wants to give is that with God, there is always more than enough.
Because of an instinct for survival that comes from the pre-history of humankind, we have a tendency to live out of a scarcity mindset. Those first homo sapiens and their cousins learned the lesson, that We need to gather up more, so that we will have enough to eat, and survive this winter. We need to be stronger so we can win, outlast others, take over more land, survive more easily, to take more- this is stretching now into not pre history but up to somewhat recent history, right. Try to take because otherwise you might not have enough. Fast forward into our economy in the US today and the evidence of this trend, and the damage it does, is everywhere. One stunning example, is the island of garbage floating in the ocean, just the wrappers and bags of all the stuff we just have to have- right up to that infamous toilet paper shortage at the beginning of this pandemic. All of this bears out the scarcity mindset, the lack of consideration for others and our planet, we are afraid we won’t have enough.
But Jesus is trying to reorient us, his disciples then and now. We don’t have to live in a scarcity mindset. We can trust that God will provide, and in the meantime, we are called to share. Like the one boy who offered up his packed lunch. Five small barley loaves and two small fish.
Jesus has the people sit. He takes the loaves, then the fish, gave thanks and started giving it out. As much as they wanted, to every person. There was enough. There was more than enough, there were twelve baskets left over.
Sometimes we talk about, just how it happened. But I want to focus on, what Jesus was trying to show. There is a deep trusting that God will provide, that God has more than enough. And yes, at least one person, that small boy, gave away what he could have held back for himself, to start it all off. Jesus was revealing God’s way is not the way of scarcity but abundance. Not, take all you can to take care of yourself, but give away what you could call your own, for the sake of others.
Really Jesus has been revealing this all along, he has been healing abundantly, so there are abundant people, who have abundant physical needs and hunger. God has given Jesus all he needed so far, so Jesus continues in that way. He starts with what is offered, the 5 loaves and 2 fish, thanks God for that much, and after that just starts giving it away.
All eat until they are full, then 12 baskets of leftovers are gathered. There are symbolic meanings to these numbers but also it just shows, there was more than enough.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to live in this orientation to abundance, this trusting that even if we don’t know how, somehow God has enough for us. And we might not be able to accomplish miracles but we can share what we do have, thank God for that little bit and then see what happens.
I came across an article about the difference between scarcity and abundance mindsets, it’s called why so many smart people aren’t happy, and it’s from 2016. We have physical needs and then we have emotional needs and we have psychological needs, and once all of those things are fulfilled in relatively equal ways, the author says, people who live out of a scarcity mindset, that they need to prove themselves and always be competing with others, are more unhappy that others who see life as based in goodness and something to be shared and enjoyed together.
I could see myself reflected in this article, in that for many years in school, when we had group discussions about topics, when I knew we were going to have to write a paper about something, if I had a good idea, I would keep it to myself. I didn’t want other people to be able to expound on my idea and get credit for it. I hoarded my thoughts. I was in a competing and scarcity mode.
I am not sure if I changed out of that mode, as far as idea sharing goes- before going to seminary in Argentina. It’s not that there is no competition there, there is for sure, but in at least in that learning environment where people offered so much help and patience to me, as a foreigner, and I had SO much to learn from others with such different lived experiences, that I started offering more of what I really thought, and sometimes it helped the conversation and sometimes I was totally off but again the environment of collaboration in the realm of ideas was so strong that I think it really helped shape me as a person. That there isn’t really a downside to sharing, the blessing always returns.
Now this article is not related to faith, and we know that Jesus wasn’t only concerned with making people happy. If he had, we wouldn’t have a lot of the gospel stories that we do. But the concept of what is good for us, is what God wants for us, is behind this reorientation to abundance. God does want us to have the deep happiness of knowing God’s love and goodness and mercy and forgiveness will never run out.
Let us be careful: abundance living is not the same as greed. It is the opposite. The abundant living Jesus calls his disciples to is first one of sharing. When there is more than enough, Jesus doesn’t go around and encourage people to gorge themselves. Instead he collects the extras. (what does he do with them, we’ll never know.)
We are called to share what we have with those around us. This is a very counter-cultural value, because all around us the voices continue to clamor for us to buy the latest this and that and get more and make sure you don’t run out! I receive advertisements via email daily for Christian books and products, it even gets into our subconscious that way, through churchy channels. But Jesus never peddled anything- his way was the way of sharing.
And deep sharing can be scary. To think of giving away so much that you might lack is not comfortable. Yet I hear the generous givers and supporters of this congregation testify that the decision to give to God first has always been a blessing. Not that I am only talking about your offering, because I am not- I am talking about a way of life that is always trusting God will provide, and always sharing what little there is with others.
So far in our Back to Basics of Discipleship we have discussed the idea that we go! That there is a balance to compassion and service with rest and renewal, and now, that the disciple of Jesus is living with trust in god’s abundance that is shown by sharing.
Is there a way god is calling you to trust that with God there is always enough? Is there a way in which you feel Christ calling you to offer what little you have to others?
Let us take in this sign of Jesus as a reorientation to God’s abundance, let us give generously and give thanks to God as we do so, Amen.