August 2, 2020
Huge crowds followed Jesus. He felt compassion for them and healed their sick. He saw that they were hungry and, rather than send them away empty, he fed them on just five loaves and two fish . . . and there was an abundance of leftovers. The twelve baskets of leftovers is a symbolic way of saying there is enough to feed the entire world, and there will be plenty leftover.
In recent weeks, we have heard what the Kingdom of heaven is like . . .
Today’s gospel account doesn’t use the same language or cadence, but it too is focused on what the Kingdom is like.
Debate often swirls around the miracle in today’s Gospel:
We know this story/event was very important to all the early Christian communities because it is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospel accounts. Today, we hear it from Matthew, but it also appears in Mark, Luke, and John.
Why did Jesus feed them? Because they were hungry. It really is that simple. The refrain of today’s psalm rings true and clear: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; answers all our needs.” God desires to satisfy our hungers in a big way. Ours is a God of abundance. The man, Jesus, took on the same spirit of abundance in feeding the 5000.
Have you ever known someone with that spirit of abundance and generosity? I have, and I do. And they inspire me a great deal, but I’ll admit that on most days, my attitude is much more like that of the disciples in today’s story than that of Jesus.
Marilee and Leon Gaston lived it! Parents of eight children, the Gaston family filled up—crammed—an entire pew on Sunday morning at St. Patrick Parish in Spokane, WA back in the 70’s and 80’s. Rene and I, just out of college, were youth ministry coordinators at St. Pat’s for a period of time and had at least three, if not four of the Gaston children in our programs. Their household was a mix of “homemade” and adopted children. Of wide racial mix. Of wide abilities and some with extraordinary needs. Over the years, we had several meals at the Gaston house. It was always chaotic, fun, loud . . . and abundant. Garden fresh salad and vegetables, homemade pasta, and fresh baked bread, all laid out with an Italian flare . . . it was just extraordinary! They were not a family of means, by any measure, but Marilee and Leon Gaston were extraordinarily generous, and never turned anyone away.
In today’s gospel, the practical, level-headed attitude of scarcity meets head on with the genuine, faith-filled spirit of abundance at that moment when Jesus said to his disciples, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”
Jesus, well formed in the words of the prophets, knows of God’s abundance. Just as we heard from Isaiah, Jesus knows God’s desires to satisfy our hungers in an abundant way.
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
The disciples, not so well formed, quite naturally and logically behave out of scarcity. They were genuinely concerned for the well-being of all those people when telling Jesus to “send them away so they can get something to eat.” It was the logical, practical, and in their minds, compassionate thing to do. I certainly get that.
I don’t fault the disciples . . . at least not any more than I fault myself. For me, the practical mindset of scarcity comes naturally, even though I know it is destined to fall short literally every time.
Having an attitude of scarcity is not sinful, but having no desire to take on a spirit of abundance just might be.
And so I pray:
O God, I hear you beckoning me to take on a spirit of abundance, but it’s a challenge and a stretch for me to trust you, and others, that much. Teach me. Teach me your ways, O God.
In response to my heartfelt prayer . . .
I hear: At the heart of scarcity is selfishness, while generosity lives at the heart of abundance.
I hear: Scarcity leads to exclusion and isolation, while abundance leads to community and radical hospitality. (Thank you, Marilee and Leon Gaston.)
I hear: Scarcity highlights all your differences, and even ranks and prioritizes them, while abundance recognizes and celebrates how you all are more alike than different.
I hear: Scarcity allows for social systemic entrenchment perpetuated by the dominant culture, while the spirit of abundance can empower systemic change.
I hear: With the attitude of scarcity, perhaps the best you can say is: “All lives matter,” and it makes perfect sense to you. Indeed, it may even feel generous and magnanimous. Ah, but with a spirit of abundance, you can confidently proclaim “Black. Lives. Matter.” knowing that no one else is slighted when that is said. There is more than enough for all, but you must lift up and recognize those who have been, and are, systematically dismissed.
I hear: Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, the result of scarcity is hate. Yet, every single time, the outcome of abundance is love, and love knows no bounds.
I hear: “Let ALL who are thirsty come to the water.”