Or, “Did You Think That Money Was Heaven Sent?”
I’m reflecting on the need churches – like any family or community – have for material and financial resources.
We are often tempted to believe that the way to address our resource needs is to attract a larger crowd. More people, more money.
On one occasion, Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people, with five small loaves and two small fish (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). Some people suggest that what actually happened was that others, resistant at first, got out their food and shared it too. After all, a change of heart is a greater miracle than full stomachs. But it doesn’t add up. If a significant number within the crowd had brought food with them, the crowd would not have needed feeding in the first place. The crowd benefit from the food, but they don’t contribute anything: they don’t even participate in the distribution or in the clearing up afterwards. In fact, the crowd simply add to the workload of the disciples.
The ‘crowd’ represents those we serve (and we should serve gladly). But Scripture reveals – and our own shared lived experience confirms to us – that our resource needs are never met by attracting a crowd.
If the crowd is not the answer, then we are often tempted to believe that the way to address our resource needs is for the faithful few to give more.
But the disciples had very little. The faithful few always have limited resources. Not just finite resources (everyone’s resources are finite), but limited resources. God knows this, and indeed, would appear to prefer to use such people.
There is never enough money to do the thing God has asked you to do. Never enough. Why? Because if we had enough, we would receive the glory. But if there is not enough – not by a long way – and yet God provides, the glory goes to him.
Does that mean, then, that we don’t do anything? Not at all! To return to the feeding of the multitude, Jesus involves his disciples from start to finish.
Let us consider the various forms of capital: spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual, and financial. How is each at play in this event?
This story begins with spiritual capital, with the covenant relationship with God (“all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you”) and shared kingdom responsibility that Jesus knew and was drawing his disciples into. Though the four Gospel writers draw out different emphases, the context for this story is one of conflict between the life-affirming kingdom of heaven and the enslaving prince of this world.
As Jesus draws his disciples, spiritual capital overflows into (overflowing) relational capital. Andrew looks beyond the disciples to find out whether anyone has any resources they are willing to contribute. He asks around. The crowd is a poor return for his investment (1:5000+) but hidden in the crowd of people who have come to Jesus for what he can do for them is one person who is open to respond – and one disciple who is open to bring them together.
Relational capital in turn releases physical capital. In this situation, the physical capital is edible. In itself, it is not enough; but, blessed, broken and shared, it not only goes far enough for everyone to eat their fill, it creates a surplus. The surplus amount speaks to us (a symbolic reminder of the tribal affiliations God liberated from Egypt and would shape into a people; a symbolic indication that in Jesus, God was liberating and people-making once more); but it is clear from Jesus’ instruction that he also intended the surplus to have a literal benefit – that, rather than being wasted, even more people might be fed, somewhere else, before the bread went stale.
Stewardship of physical capital requires an investment of intellectual capital. God-given intellect does not meet the need, but it plays its part. Jesus has the disciples organise the crowd into groups of a certain size, and deploys them to distribute the bread and fish. This is not a chaotic free-for-all, whereby some receive too much and others go without.
Finally, we come to financial capital. At first we might think that there is no financial capital involved in this miracle of provision. Philip does suggest that two hundred denarii would be woefully inadequate (intellectual capital helps us to be realistic about the need facing us, which is essential, for denial of our need separates us from the resources of heaven) but as it turned out, no money was required. And that in itself is significant, for whatever financial resources the disciples had – and needed – were not depleted. Financial needs are real. God is capable of meeting them. Part of his meeting our financial needs may include enabling us to do certain things without cost.