Summary: DO you have an attitude of scarcity or by faith an attitude of abundance?
When I was a boy growing up my mother use to tell me not to leave any food on my plate. She’d encourage me to think about all those poor starving children in some foreign country who didn’t have anything to eat. I loved my mother who has transitioned from this life but I never could understand the logic of eating all the food on your plate if you are full.
I had a 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Hobbs, who would try to make us eat all of our food on our plate at lunch in the school cafeteria. Well there was some food I was disgusted by and I just couldn’t eat it no matter what. Like sweet potatoes or fish which they seemed to serve every Friday. So I devised a way of mashing the food down and covering it with a napkin so hopefully it looked like I had eaten every bite of food on my plate.
And I confess to you that I never have liked drinking pure milk. And that was the only choice of drinks back in those days of school. And my teacher insisted we drink our milk. So I opened it up and put the straw in the little pint carton to make it look like I had been drinking the milk.
I got Mrs. Hobbs back one time though for trying to force me to eat everything on my plate and drink my milk. I felt ill one day and tired to explain that to her—my stomach was upset and I just couldn’t eat. She insisted and demanded—I finally ate some food–and after that—well just let me say the janitor was soon in the lunch room with a mop and bucket.
My mother and Mrs. Hobbs had a thing about leftovers.
I wonder what my mother—who was a very devout Christian by the way—and my teacher—I don’t remember her religious orientation—I wonder what those two fine ladies, my mother and my 1st grade teacher, thought about this story recorded in the gospel about Jesus and all these leftovers he had in the feeding of the large crowd of people who had come to hear his teaching and stories? He was Jesus—God incarnate--why he didn’t he make just the right amount of food for that crowd? What a waste—all those leftovers. There was no refrigeration in those days so all those leftovers were just going to mold and rot. You’d think Jesus would know better.
A little girl Judy was leafing through a children’s book of illustrated Bible stories. When she came to the story in today’s Lesson she stopped turning the pages and began gazing intently at the illustration of Jesus standing before the great crowd, and breaking bread. Seeing the child’s fascination with the picture, her mother explained that this wasn’t the real Jesus, only an artist’s conception of Him. Still staring at the picture, the child replied, "Well, it sure looks like Him."
Right on Judy! In the story of the loaves and fishes, the New Testament writers have given us a picture of the real Jesus: the Jesus who shares His Bread of Life with us; the Jesus who heals our brokenness; the Jesus who has compassion on us, the Jesus who sees abundance where his disciples see only scarcity or what’s lacking in the situation before them.
But what would Mom and Mrs. Hobbs think about all those leftovers?
As I have thought about their concern that I eat every crumb of food on my plate I have realized that they had grown up in what seemed to be an insecure, threatening world. Both My mother and my 1st grade teacher had grown up during the great depression of the 1930s. And I know that my mother and her family continued to struggle even after the depression was over.
My mom lived in an environment where the focus was on scarcity or lack of economic security. If I left food on my plate I’m sure I was tapping into my mother’s anxiety about the days of scarcity in her childhood years. She and her other family members would have never had any food leftover—maybe some days had barely enough to eat.
But at a deeper level I know that my mother’s faith in her later years helped her to see more of God’s abundance—not just financially—but in every way—spiritually and emotionally. I know that because I observed her following the command of Jesus as we heard in his words to his disciples today—you give them something to eat. Out of her meager resources my mother shared the abundance of the divine spirit within through her love to her family and her sharing of what she did have with others.
There was a man who was cleaning up his desk one Friday afternoon when he noticed an envelope that had been opened. Someone must have placed it there while he was on the phone. He opened it and read it and to his shock and dismay it was a notice of being terminated, being laid off from his job. His entire department was being eliminated along with his position. After all the years he had given to his corporation he found himself filled with resentment and the sense of being victimized. The man sat slumped in his chair in utter despair.