“Prayer Shawls and Barley Loaves”
July 30, 2012
My fiancé told me a story of a 5 year old boy in his church whose uncle was dying from cancer. The boy’s family was going to do a walk for cancer research. He asked his grandma if he gave his birthday money and all the money in his piggy bank, if it would save his uncle Don. His grandmother sighed and said, “no honey, not this time, but it will help save somebody else.” The little boy thought hard for a moment and said, “Okay. I’ll give half.”
How do you respond when a problem is so much larger than yourself? When there is so much need?
When Jesus looks at us and says,
“Where will we buy bread for all these people!?”
Sometimes we answer like Philip,
“6 months wages couldn’t do it!”
We can’t do anything. The problem is too big and our efforts are futile.
Or sometimes we answer like Andrew,
We say, “Well, there are these few loaves, but they won’t go very far.”
We recognize that we are so small and often minimize our contribution, saying it’s not a big deal and it really isn’t making a whole lot of difference.
We hear that familiar voice that proclaims I am not good enough.
I’m not smart enough,
Not healthy enough, my body is deteriorating in ways I didn’t expect
Not educated enough,
Have messed up too many times,
I don’t really belong
We’re just a small community, we can’t feed 5,000 people!
Behind this question is the deeper question….Do I have anything good to offer at all?
Specifically In the face of questions of identity and vocation, in times of discernment or transition, this question becomes a very lonely place.
The impulse to try to overcome our limits. To try to be superwoman and provide the 6 months wages.
We think that the position of where I am at now is not doing enough. If I can just work a little harder…do a little more….produce something better…be a bit more effective and efficient…gain a more power….or have a little more influence, then I’ll have something to offer this world.
But it is this very temptation that Jesus resisted. Verse 15 says that the people tried to make him king.
And I love this, this is my favorite part, he ran away, he ran back to the mountains.
Isaac pointed out to me that this is the passage that was used by Anabaptists in the 16th century when they wrote a document together in response to the peasant’s war, called the Schleitheim Confession.
Part of their document gave a defense for non-violence, for their scripture to back up their beliefs they decided to choose not the Sermon on the Mount or something like that, but this passage when Jesus flees the opportunity of becoming King.
Jesus’ avoidance of power and influence was to escape it! He wants no part of being king.
Jesus resists the office of King – the opportunity to provide security and food for the people.
He would be able to feed thousands of people every day.
But instead, Jesus offers a one-time act of charity. I find that interesting, and even frustrating. My impulse is to thing that Jesus would want to get at the root of the problem of hunger…to be more effective and to provide food for the people every day as their king. His act of charity is the kind of charity we don’t see as sustainable or even helpful in ending poverty. Jesus’ one time act of charity offers a kind of bad model for poverty alleviation.
It’s kind of like the guy who went to visit mama T.
He spent some time with her in the house of the dying. He participated in tending the wounds of the sick and each day he went to collect more bodies to bring into the home.
After a few weeks, the man grew frustrated. He realized, ‘We aren’t doing anything!!
There are hundreds of bodies here, and we’ll pick up more tomorrow, and we won’t even get close to the amount of bodies dying throughout the rest of Calcutta.
He strongly critiqued the ministry, saying, “why wouldn’t you focus on the causes of the problem, getting to the root of the issue so you don’t have to do this anymore!?”
In these examples, Jesus and Mother Teresa were not that interested in being effective….of having power…position…or influence… of being like a king
1 Samuel 8:11-18 tells us what kings are really like, what Jesus was resisting. This is when Israel starts to beg for a king. Listen to God’s response: (read passage)
Jesus offers something very different.
He offers a prophetic witness to a society obsessed with kingship…..
A contrast to the kingdom with a king described in 1 Samuel.
This is why our story echoes the story that was read in 2 kings 4. Because it’s a story about prophetic witness.
Elisha was a prophet to corrupt kings. This is one of a collection of stories where Elisha positions himself among the widows, the famished, the poor, and the dying. And from there, he offers encounters with God….miraculous witnesses to the places and people where God is working and moving. His prophetic witness proclaims that even in the midst of a corrupt monarchy, God is still at work with Israel, just not where and how you would expect God to be.
Jesus, like Elisha, offers a prophetic act, which points to a different sort of kingdom….the kingdom of God…one in which a little boy and 5 barley loaves (the bread eaten by the poor —poor-man’s bread, cheap bread, often fed to the animals) are honored and uplifted.
In the kingdom of the world, little boys and 5 loaves of poor-man’s bread are not worth very much.
But in the kingdom of God, they feed 5,000 people.
In the kingdom of God, the small, insignificant, useless, and limited people, gifts, and offerings, are prominent.
I wonder about the young boy in the story.
I wonder if he was like the boy at church. If he didn’t understand amounts like little kids and thought that his little bit would be enough.
I wonder why he was carrying 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes with him? That seems odd….like it would be a lot for a young boy. Was he on his way somewhere? Was he bringing his family’s food with him? I wonder if his offering was in fact a huge sacrifice, giving his family’s meals for the week to Jesus and the crowd.
We know so little about this little boy, we never hear of him again. Yet we know that his offering, small in the eyes of the world, was worthy and important in the kingdom of God.
When Jesus asks, “Where will we buy bread to feed these people?”
It seems the best response given, is a response like the unknown boy. Possibly naïve, possibly a large sacrifice, but it probably doesn’t appear to be great and probably never appears to be enough. And we give it anyways.
Dorothy attended the church I went to in during college.
And Dorothy was growing more frail and weak every day.
Dorothy was a shut-in and One day the pastor and my brother went to visit Dorothy to take her communion. They later shared this story with me.
Dorothy slooowly got out of her chair and handed the pastor a prayer shawl for the prayer shawl ministry at church. The church lays the shawls over the altar and when a member or a friend of the congregation is sick, they bring that person a prayer shawl to know they are prayed for and loved.
Dorothy has terrible arthritis and her hands don’t work anymore.
She told my brother that each day she rests her hands over a heat lamp for 45 minutes to a couple of hours until she can move them enough that she can offer a few more stitches, praying the whole time for the person who will receive the shawl.
When I was in the emergency room after I came home from Peru, and wondered how the tests would come back and felt more scared than I ever had in my life, my brother pulled out of his bag a prayer shawl the church had given to him. I kept that shawl around me the following weeks as I went from test to test, feeling the love and support of the beautiful sacrifice of one of God’s saints.
WE often feel that we have to feed the whole crowd, to have a solution figured out, to overcome all our messes and challenges in life, or to always be doing more in order to be more pleasing to God.
God is already pleased with the offering of 5 loaves.
The very human, limited offering.
Our story today calls us to assume God is at work in the world, doing more than we see, and more than we ask or imagine. And when we begin with this assumption, it frees us to be more willing to offer whatever we are able, and less tempted to be swept into the stream of productivity and accomplishment.
As you are trying to please God, and you find yourself plagued with guilt of not doing enough, or not accomplishing enough, do not despair. For Jesus did not expect Philip to buy bread for 5,000 people. He desires a faithful offering of 5 loaves.
Or, when you feel you have nothing to offer the church or the world, do not despair. Remember that Jesus chooses to use a little boy, willing to bring his insufficient offering to be used by God. For God does more than we can ask or imagine with poor-man’s bread, children’s piggy banks, houses for the dying, and frail hands that carefully knit a shawl. Thanks be to God.