I feel sorry for these people, because they have been with me for three days and now have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away without feeding them, for they might faint on their way home….How much bread do you have?
This is the second instance of its kind where Jesus feeds thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread. I talked about the first incident on Day 133. It was awesome. Below is the second story, with the words of Jesus emphasized in boldface type:
Jesus left there and went along by Lake Galilee. He climbed a hill and sat down. Large crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the dumb, and many other sick people, whom they placed at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed as they saw the dumb speaking, the crippled made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they praised the God of Israel.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I feel sorry for these people, because they have been with me for three days and now have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away without feeding them, for they might faint on their way home.”
The disciples asked him, “Where will we find enough food in this desert to feed this crowd?” “How much bread do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven loaves,” they answered, “and a few small fish.”
So Jesus ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks to God, broke them, and gave them to the disciples; and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up seven baskets full of pieces left over. The number of men who ate was four thousand, not counting the women and children. (Matthew 15:29-38).
I am part of a church where we care for the hungry and the homeless. We serve as a PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) site, so the homeless sleep overnight in our building one night a week. We also host the homeless on Thursday mornings, and local churches take turns providing them with a hot, homemade lunch. We serve as a distribution site for a Northern Illinois Food Depository truck. People park all over our church lawn on those days as they come to stand in line and receive a box of food. We serve Thanksgiving Dinner at our church and also deliver more than 100 dinners to people on Thanksgiving morning. We do all of this despite the fact that we are a very small church. Very small. On a good Sunday we get about 70 people. We are always trying to figure out how we are going to keep it all going and we wonder, “Will there be enough?” – Will there be enough money? Will there be enough people to serve? Will we be able to keep the church open?
In this scripture Jesus gives us the answer to that question. It’s an emphatic, “Yes”. All we have to do is offer whatever we have, give thanks to God, and then act on faith, trusting that there will be enough.
Through these two food distribution scriptures Jesus shows us that in the Kingdom of God there is enough of everything. There is enough food, enough clothing and enough love, if we choose to believe. It flies smack in the face of one of the most cherished paradigms in Western culture – survival of the fittest.
Survival of the fittest is based on the notion of scarcity, and that we have to compete for limited resources like food, water, shelter, and a mate. Competition is very important because it increases our likelihood of survival. When applied to human affairs, it is referred to as Social Darwinism. Society benefits when the strong and the rich are empowered to dominate the weak and the poor, who should be allowed to just die off for the benefit of the human race. You have to fight for what you want because only the strong survive.
What does Jesus say about all of this? Nonsense. That’s what he says.
I have a favorite movie called “I Am.” The movie was the brainchild of Tom Shadyac, the creative force behind such blockbusters as “Ace Ventura,” “Liar Liar,” “The Nutty Professor,” and “Bruce Almighty.” After suffering from a chronic brain injury he decided to give up his affluent lifestyle and use his talent to help create a better world. He interviewed a many of the world’s most important thinkers and doers in the areas of science, philosophy, academia, and faith about their recommendations for creating a more just and equitable society. Here are some of his findings:
He learned that the heart, not the brain, may be man’s primary organ of intelligence, and that human consciousness and emotions can actually affect the physical world. And, as Shadyac’s own story illustrates, money is not a pathway to happiness. In fact, he even learns that in some native cultures, gross materialism is equated with insanity.
Shadyac also discovers that, contrary to conventional thinking, cooperation and not competition, may be nature’s most fundamental operating principle. Thus, I AM shows consensus decision-making is the norm amongst many species, from insects and birds to deer and primates. The film further discovers that humans actually function better and remain healthier when expressing positive emotions, such as love, care, compassion, and gratitude, versus their negative counterparts, anxiety, frustration, anger and fear. Charles Darwin may be best known for popularizing the notion that nature is red in tooth and claw, but, as Shadyac points out, he used the word love 95 times in The Descent of Man, while his most famous phrase, survival of the fittest, appears only twice.
Science is discovering a plethora of evidence about our hardwiring for connection and compassion, from the Vagus Nerve which releases oxytocin at simply witnessing a compassionate act, to the Mirror Neuron which causes us to literally feel another person’s pain. Darwin himself, who was misunderstood to believe exclusively in our competitiveness, actually noted that humankind’s real power comes in their ability to perform complex tasks together, to sympathize and cooperate.”
One line from the movie that will forever stick in my mind is that our American culture encourages us to amass and consume far more than we need. He points out that “we have a term for cells in the body that take more than their share—we call those cells cancer.” I will also remember that he says, “Contrary to what we have been taught, cooperation, not competition, is the ruling order of nature.”
It is a great movie and I wish every child could see it. I believe that it is prophetic. Scientists are affirming the message of Jesus that we are created for cooperation and compassion. Our survival is utterly dependent on our ability to help each other out, even the weakest among us. It’s a deception to believe that we have to compete. Hoarding our possessions will not make us safer; it actually has the opposite effect. Failing to help others will not make us stronger. This deception make us much, much weaker because we need each other. We are all connected. As much as we might want to ignore the pain of others we cannot do it. We were created to feel it. We were created to rise and fall together. That’s why Jesus feels sorry for the people in this scripture. He feels their hunger because he is connected to them, just as we are all connected to each other.
So Jesus tells the disciples not to worry because God will provide. He demonstrates that if we share what we have and trust in God, he will multiply it so that there will always be enough. There is no need for anyone to suffer from the lack of basic needs. If we have faith and trust in God there will be enough. There will be enough for everyone if we give what we have, give thanks to God, and believe in his ability to provide for all of us.
Think about it. Jesus trusts in God’s abundance and he can feed thousands with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. On the other hand, when people go to war in an effort to grasp more land and riches for its people, starvation usually ensues. Almost every famine in the world is the direct result of warfare and the ensuing displacement of farmers and disruption of food distribution networks. When people compete, people starve. When they have faith, everyone eats.
What does this scripture say to you?