finding hope when the money is gone [April Synchroblog]
People are crying out for hope in these times of great economic uncertainty. And for far too many, the economics are no longer so uncertain; they have become a rock hard reality of joblessness, food stamps and evictions. We are all caught up in this beast of an economy run by a corrupt world order. People are afraid.
In times like these it helps to go back to our stories of hope. At our church we recalled together the stories of Jesus as He fed the 5000 (plus families and all). This story is familiar – the people are hungry and Jesus has compassion for them. A young boy offers up the bread and fish that he has brought with him. Jesus takes the food, gives thanks, breaks it and gives over and over till all are fed and there are 12 basketfuls left over. This same Jesus doesn’t bat an eye as we watch our riches slip through our fingers. He is the One who takes what little we have and multiplies it till our baskets are full and our nets break. The difficulty for us is trusting Him with our little.
This story is told again in a delightful little film from 2004 called Millions. (It is directed by Danny Boyle, who is also the director of this year’s Oscar favorite, Slum Dog Millionaire.) It is the fictional story of a young boy of a simple, devout faith who has lost his mother. He often turns to conversations with the saints of old for consolation. One day he finds millions of pounds just days before England is going to switch over from the stirling pound to the Euro. He believes that the money fell from heaven. He’s sure it came from God, after all, he reasons, who else would have that kind of money?
Damian is too innocent to fully comprehend how others will perceive and lust for his newfound wealth. He just wants to give it away to the poor. With his limited understanding of how the world works, he has a difficult time finding ways to give the money away. His practical older brother wants to hide it from the government (They’ll take 40% for taxes. Do you know how much that is? That’s practically all of it!) The older brother also feels that they should invest in real estate because giving it away to the poor “just isn’t practical”. The harshness of the greed that Damian encounters seems all the more discordant when reflected through his guileless eyes.
He is discouraged with how difficult the task of giving to the poor becomes. One of his saintly friends, St. Peter, reminds him of the story of the fish and loaves, only with a slight change. St. Peter recalls that a boy of Damian’s age offered his bread and sardines. Jesus put them on a plate and started to pass it around. The first man who got the plate took nothing because he had a piece of lamb in his pocket. He took the meat from his pocket and pretended that he got it from the plate. “He’s looking out for number one, you know,” says Peter. The man passed the plate on and the same thing happened over and over. And finally, the people started to take what was in their pockets and add it to the plate. It went round and round and everyone ate and the plate was returned to Jesus heaped with leftovers. Peter thinks Jesus was a bit taken aback by this. But He called it a miracle. This was because, Peter said, “doing this made each of us bigger”.
Now I struggle when some attempt to de-sacramentalize the works of Jesus by diminishing the supernatural act of multiplying the fish and loaves. That kills our longing for mystery and places us back into the realm of modern reason where anything that doesn’t measure up to that is cast aside. But I do understand the “miracle” that is described here. For us to each give up our hoarding and to give what we have that God might multiply it is an act of deep faith. It is an act of those who have tasted of the right-side up Kingdom. Perhaps the miracle is that we begin to understand that by really pouring out, we “become bigger”. And we learn as Damian learned, “The money just makes it harder to see what’s what”.
Interestingly, not too long after we began to discuss this “breaking and multiplying” story of God in our church, a guest preacher came in and told of how he recovered a lost fortune because he went about it “God’s way”. I could see the congregation visibly relax while hearing this. Having a way to insure the safety of our bank accounts settles us all back into this upside down world. Surely God will give us a means or a plan to make enough and more for ourselves. But sure enough, hope shrinks back down again to mere trust in what we can see and what we believe we can control. (Though I would hope that this economic crash might finally help to kill the illusion of control!) It takes so little to shrink our prophetic dreams down to safe and manageable portions. We lose our Kingdom vision and begin to pad our own small fortresses.
Our stories help us to recall who we truly are again. We are the mass of people trying to find a place to sit in the shade as our stomachs growl. Our shared hunger pains bring to mind our primal inter-connectedness as human beings. And we see and taste our interdependence as we feast on bread that has been made from grain harvested by our neighbor’s hands and ground under his millstone, then mixed and kneaded by a neighbor woman’s hands. The fish recalls the friend who spends hours mending his fishing nets after straining the sea for food. Our quiet fear is addressed as we each embrace the courage to offer what little we have for God to break apart and increase for the greater good. We learn that when our brother’s stomach is filled, our own is nourished as well. We are comforted by the truth that we are not meant to exist alone. In remembering this, we grow bigger.
Whether we offer our loaves and fish in faith that God will supernaturally increase what we place in the communal baskets, or whether we begin to embrace again the ability of creation to bring forth more than enough for everyone so that we each take only what we need, both can be considered miracles. Whether manna, oil, fish, bread or good wine, increasing what we give into shared abundance is one of the things God does best.
We bring hope into this world just as Jesus did. He said, “You give them something to eat.” And then Jesus became the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave over and over …
Now You are multiplied-
We are your fingers and Your feet
Your tender heart We are Your broken side.
Take and crumble small and cast us
On the world’s waters-
Your contemporary shewbread.
Feed us to more than 5000 men
And in our daily flood of living
Pour Yourself out again!
Other Synchrobloggers: (I will add links as they come in – it will be slow as I will be away this week)
Beth Patterson: hope and other non-sequiturs