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A Vision Check Up

I have “senior moments” – those times of forgetfulness that are becoming all-too frequent as I get older. I’ve tried organizing my life with lists, calendars, and self-help books on ordering my world. Unfortunately, I usually forget where I put the list, leave the calendars on my desk, and the books find their way back to the shelf in favor one something more compelling. I need to apologize for my forgetfulness; more often than I care to admit.

Fortunately, the “to Do” lists still get done, I manage to get to the necessary appointments on the calendar, and I constantly re-read books I already have which cuts down the cost of new ones (I’m blessed to have an extensive library). I’ve found that repeated reading shines new light on things. I see it differently than I did and often, I find things I never saw before.

I was talking to my friend Charlie the other day about one of the miracles mentioned in the Gospels called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand”, and the one most people are familiar with. I’ve read the story hundreds of times over my life, but Charlie shared a perspective I’ve never thought about – the miracle of self-lessness.

The feeding of the five thousand is one of the miracles found in each of the Gospels. Each of the authors found this to be important. My favorite, and the one that started my discussion with Charlie, is from the Book of John, Chapter 6:

“After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee… the crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick…

When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Phillip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Phillip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Phillip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”

One of the disciples – it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter – said, “There’s a little boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down “… about five thousand of them. The Jesus took the bread, and having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.

When the people had eaten their fill, he said to the disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets from the five barley loaves.” (John 6.1-13 The Message – paraphrase mine)

I’d always believed the miracle was the five loaves and two fishes being enough to feed five thousand people. That certainly is a miracle, but after my conversation with Charlie and a fresh reading of an old story, the real miracle is much deeper than that.

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Imagine five thousand hungry people – the other Gospel’s say it was late in the day and the disciples were concerned enough to ask Jesus to send them away. In fact, they interrupted his teaching to bring this matter to his attention. Jesus’ response – “Nope, you feed them.”

I can only imagine the look on Phillip’s face when Jesus handed the problem back to him. He must’ve been thinking Jesus had been in the sun too long. Andrew, ever the one bringing people to Jesus, brings him a young man with 5 loaves and two fishes and says, “This is what we have to work with.” I’d like to think Andrew’s faithfulness came into play, but I have a feeling it was to say “This it. It’s all we could find.”

Traditional teaching focuses on Jesus’ blessing and the multiplication of a miniscule amount of food to feed the crowd but a deeper look reveals an even more miraculous occurrence. A crowd of hungry people take just enough and everyone has their fill.

Let that one sink in a moment. A large crowd of mostly strangers has been out in the sun all day to hear this new prophet. They haven’t eaten all day and suddenly a basket of food comes by. Without ever looking in the basket they take enough and pass it on. Sounds simple enough, right?

The Miracle I Never Noticed

It was a miracle that five thousand hungry people didn’t try to take everything in the basket. Had they looked inside they would have seen the small amount and yet the Gospel writers tell us everyone was fed. They didn’t record any instances of hoarding (they couldn’t say the same of pandemic era consumers!). Everyone passed the basket along. It was assumed there was enough for everyone.

That is a miracle indeed. For a moment in time, no one looked through the lens of scarcity. Jesus’ world was a world of “enough” – enough for me and enough to go around. It runs counter to the prevailing world view of scarcity -get it before it’s all gone. Everyone should have a slice of the pie, but there’s never enough pie. Even if there is, my slice needs to be bigger than your slice. Economists call this capitalism, which is a fancy, more politically correct way of saying selfish and self-centered.

That’s why I’m captivated by stories of people who step out of “scarcity” and into “enough”. Scarcity demands competition. It separates and divides people into “Us” and “Them”. It’s credo of “Do unto others before they do unto you” sows seeds of superiority and distrust. Fear is at its root and discord, violence, and strife are its fruit. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all of the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion (can anyone say TV evangelism and prosperity gospel… my thoughts added); paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming, yet never satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on”. (Galatians 5.16-20 The Message)

“Enough” on the other hand, drives people to be self-less and kind towards everyone. “Enough” says just that – enough – “there’s enough to go around so why don’t I enjoy what’s here and pass some of it along to someone else who really needs it?” Again, the Apostle Paul says it much more eloquently than I:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a basic conviction that holiness permeates (all) things and (all) people (even those we don’t like or don’t like us… my thoughts again added…). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”  Galatians 6.22-23 (The Message)

“Enough” is the lens through which we see the world as it was meant to be. “Enough” is God’s gift to His kids.

Sometimes I forget to put on my new glasses, or the lenses get fogged up with “stuff” (a nice word for fear and worry) and I begin to see a hostile world of scarcity out there. Sometimes I forget for a long while. I make myself miserable until I remember my new lenses and my vision becomes clearer.

For example – when I came to work at Opal’s Farm and Unity Unlimited, Inc. I quit taking new clients in my writing business. The farm would take all my time to make it successful. I had a contract salary with Unity, but I also knew that there was little to no funds for the farm. As Ms. Opal often reminds me – “we’ve done so much for so long with so little that we can do anything with nothing”. Donations and consequently, my salary were small and intermittent for the first year.

My wife and I are fortunate enough to have retirement income. It covers our living expenses – sometimes – but we count on my work to provide for the shortfalls with our bills. We burned through what little savings we had those first few months. By October that first year I finally had nothing to pay the mortgage with. I was in a deep depression. I was sure I’d made the wrong decision and announced to my wife one evening that I had really screwed up, that I should give up a go get a job that paid even if it paid a little. Her response threw me a little…

“Greg, we prayed about this, and I know this is where God wants you to be.”

“I know, but (another case of being a know-it-all and a “but” head as my friend Jim would say) is we don’t pay the house payment tomorrow they’re going to start foreclosure’. Where will we go then?”

She was silent for a moment. “You’re right, but we’ll go somewhere. Why don’t you give it one more month and we’ll decide then.”

“Okay, but we’ve got to do something, and I don’t see anything we can do (echoes of the disciple Phillip?)”.

I didn’t sleep well that night – there was too much on my mind – but I got up, dressed, and off to the farm. The phone rang as I drove (Relax folks, I have a hands free phone system). It was our Executive Director, Dione. “Guess what? We just received a grant from one of our donors. Come by my office today and pick up a check.” When I got there, I was in shock. The check was just enough to pay all our bills through the end of the year.

I got home, shared the joyous news with Margaret, and went back outside to have a little chat with God. I had to confess my thickheadedness and distrust. After all, how many times in life have I been on the receiving line of blessings I most certainly don’t deserve (It’s that thing called grace). In hindsight I know that God has had my back 100% of the time. I told God, “I get it. I won’t worry about how we’re going to make it anymore.”

I haven’t worried about the bank balance since that October night three years ago. Somehow there’s always enough – the bills get paid, seed gets planted, and crops grow (rinse and repeat). We don’t have all the things I used to think we wanted, but we live simply, have everything we need, our home is peaceful, and life’s storms just don’t seem that bad anymore (Yes, Virginia, it still gets stormy…).

How do you see the world – through scarcity (there’s never enough) or through God’s “enough”? When we have enough,” we always have “enough” to share. If you have “enough” already, please be sure to pass it on. If you don’t, give me a call. I bet we can do a better job on those lenses if we work together…

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Leonardo Boff & Clodovis Boff, translated by Paul Burns, Introducing Liberation Theology (1987)

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