by David Romanik
One of the few events in the life of Jesus recorded by all four evangelists is the feeding of the multitude. The setup is the same in each gospel: Jesus and his disciples find themselves in a deserted place with a large and hungry crowd. Jesus instructs the disciples to give those gathered in the wilderness something to eat. The disciples protest, explaining they do not have enough: just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. Our Lord insists, and after he blesses the food, the disciples begin distributing their modest provisions to the assembled crowd. Miraculously, everyone eats their fill, and the disciples are even able to collect multiple baskets of leftovers. The fact that each evangelist includes a version of this story indicates that it reveals something about the heart of our faith.
The essential truth of this story is particularly clear in the gospels according to Matthew and John. Though each version of this story follows the same basic pattern, there are details in Matthew and John that are particularly instructive. In particular, when Jesus asks the disciples to feed the crowd in Matthew’s gospel, they respond by saying, “We have nothing…except five loaves and two small fish”. It’s hard to imagine a more human response to this situation. Overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and discouraged by the meagerness of their supplies, the disciples judge even what they have to be “nothing”. By instructing them to begin distributing even the little they have, Jesus reminds us that with God, we always have more than we think.
John’s gospel includes an even more poignant detail. John tells us the bread and fish come from an anonymous young boy. Instead of hoarding his supper, this boy, who appears nowhere else in the gospel, offers what he has, trusting that God will use it to provide for him and everyone else. By focusing on this young boy and his impulse to share, John reminds us that, no matter who we are or how little we have to give, we can make a difference in the lives of the people around us.
Over the last year or so, we have all been touched by the feeling of not having enough, as we have contended with the realities of inflation. While there are various explanations for the causes of rising prices, the effects are the same for all of us: what we have doesn’t seem to go as far. We have all had to adjust our habits in ways that have ranged from frustrating to genuinely painful. To my mind, however, the most pernicious dimension of our present economic reality is its potential impact on the way we see the world. It can lead us to think that even what we have is not good enough, that there is nothing we can offer for the good of the people around us.
Our call in times such as these is to place ourselves in that deserted place with Jesus, the anxious disciples, and the hungry crowds. We are called to trust that God will provide, even when we think there won’t be enough. Moreover, we must remember that each and every one of us has something to offer. This is the truth at the heart of our faith: that we have more than we think, that each and every one of us can contribute from what we have, and that with God, we are lacking nothing.
As we enter Stewardship Season at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, I pray that we will hold this truth in mind, giving thanks for what we have, sharing what we can, and trusting that God will provide.