My Sunday message was on the topic of generosity. I preached on the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John, chapter 6. The Feeding of the Five Thousand is the only miracle told in all four of our biblical gospels. But only John provides the detail that it was one young boy who provided the five loaves of barley bread and the two fish. As modern people we are often unaware that children were not thought of in the ancient world in the way we think of children today. I remember in seminary a professor sharing from one ancient philosopher who wrote that children were “bundles of chaos that needed to be beaten into submission.” That was neither a joke nor hyperbole. In the ancient world, the only value a child had was their potential to grow up and become a respectable adult. (Who, if they did so, would then become their aging parents’ “social security” and the opportunity for the family to continue to produce heirs.) Their status as a child was of no value in the ancient world. Furthermore, John’s mention that the bread was made of barley indicates this child came from a poor peasant family (which most people in the ancient world did anyway). Barley grew faster than wheat and was cheaper and easier to harvest. So, Jesus’ partner in this miracle was someone who was poor, vulnerable and socially insignificant. And, for this miracle to occur, this boy had to give up everything he had with him that day. True confession: I would have probably hidden a loaf under my tunic just in case things didn’t work out. But that little boy gave up everything while others, at least according to John, contributed nothing.
The longer I live the more convinced I am that few things demonstrate our faith in Jesus more than radical generosity. We can say we trust Jesus. We can yap about it until we’re blue in the faith. But, the willingness to give sacrificially for the well-being of others – making ourselves vulnerable and taking risk – will truly reveal whether or not we trust Jesus.
I think that’s a timely message. Maybe we should all think about it when we go to the store and are tempted to hoard a six-month supply of toilet paper!
Some of us are very fortunate right now. We have jobs that allow us to work from home. We have employers who continue to pay us. But that is not the case for everyone. So, if you are still getting your pay check (or social security or pension), why not share it with someone who’s not. Some small businesses have been forced to shut down and send their employees home. While I assume our government will take steps long-term to meet their financial needs, that won’t help them right now when their utility bill or rent is due.
Also, many NPO’s that serve the most vulnerable members of our community, like the homeless, are struggling right now. When volunteers don’t come in to supplement staff, staff must be paid overtime for those extra hours. Many of these places allow volunteers to bring meals into shelters and facilities or donate ingredients and prepare food on site. They count on that when they prepare their annual budgets. Since they serve at-risk populations, they can no longer take the risk of potentially contaminated food. So they are expending additional resources (beyond their budgets) to purchase food for their clients.
Today I emailed the owner of my favorite coffee shop to see how things are going. If her business is struggling I plan to send her a check and also to make a donation to Family Promise this month. I’m blessed to be continuing to receive a paycheck. I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe folks will fearfully hold back their contributions to churches in the coming weeks and my income could eventually be jeopardized too. But today, it is not and I can’t afford to be stingy and selfish based on “potential” future shortage when others are facing a real shortage right now.
I close with these words from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Corinth: “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (1 Cor. 9:8)
(To read my Sunday message on John 6 and Generosity, go to http://www.trinitylafayette.org/sermons)