Jesus Fed the Five Thousand with a Scarce Amount of Physical Resources, but He Had All the Resources of the Kingdom at His Disposal.
Most of the time I operate through the lens of scarcity. I’m afraid of not having enough time or resources. Will I have enough time to do what I desire? Will I have enough money to provide for my family?
Walking alongside families managing their wealth, I frequently see this scarcity mentality.
I was sitting recently in the kitchen of a couple in their 80s. They have a net worth of over $20 million. We had spent many hours together getting clarity on many questions: How much was enough for them? How much is enough for their heirs? What should they do for others?
I felt satisfied with helping them and their family answer these questions. We’d eliminated their estate and capital gains taxes. Now they were in a position to give away more money to charitable causes than they ever dreamed of. It was just a matter of implementing the plan.
Suddenly the wife blurted out, “What if I get a chronic illness?”
Hours after being confident in having enough money for the rest of her life, fear took over. She was worried about running out of money.
Paradoxically, this scarcity mindset often increases as wealth increases. Families with massive resources start placing their trust in the provision, not the provider.
An Incomplete View of Scarcity – and God’s Capacity to Act
The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in his book The Critique of Dialectical Reason, observes that scarcity is the overriding rule of life. Reflecting on the philosophy of Marx, Aristotle, Plato, and Kant, he concludes that the fundamental issue of human existence is scarcity when you examine it from a purely physical realm.
But as followers of Jesus, we’re not looking at life from a purely physical realm.
In Matthew 14:13-21, the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, the disciples view life through the lens of scarcity: “We only have five loaves and two fish” (emphasis added).
Most likely the site of this miracle was the Plain of Bethsaida, a flat piece of land in the Jordan Valley at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. There were two main cities proximate to this plain, Bethsaida itself and Capernaum. Bethsaida would have been seen as a Hellenistic city, making it off limits as a place to buy bread for observant Jews. That left Capernaum, about four miles away, as the nearest option for buying bread. Capernaum is thought to have had a population of around 7,500 at the time of Jesus. So almost by definition, there would not have been enough extra bread produced that day in Capernaum to feed 10,000 or more people. Plus, we are told it is also late in the day. The disciples’ resources appear scarce compared to the need.
A similar story is told in I Kings 17:7-16 where Elijah encounters the widow of Zarephath. She is about to run out of food, but because she submitted to Elijah’s request to feed him, her small amount of flour and olive oil never ran out.
The disciples would have surely known of this story. Observant Jewish boys started their education at age five, memorizing their Hebrew Scriptures. By the time they were bar mitzvahed at fourteen, they would have memorized much, if not all of their Scriptures. Thus, they failed to remember what God had done in the past and therefore failed to see why Jesus was capable of dealing with this situation in the here and now.
Moving from Scarcity to Abundance
If we view life through the lens of scarcity, we will always be fearful and anxious. So how do we live the abundant life Jesus promises?
The Father invites us to a share in his kingdom where there is a different mindset, where there is abundance. A scarcity mentality is not for a disciple of Jesus. He wants us to have a stewardship mentality of all that the Father has generously put into our hands. If we are able to lift our eyes above the physical realm, then we’re able to look at a world beyond.
We are human. We fail to remember what God has done and therefore what he is capable of doing presently. It is important to remind ourselves over and over how God has provided in the past. That could be why “remember” is one of the overarching themes of Scripture, occurring some 269 times because God knows how easily we forget. Our definition and understanding of whatever “scarcity” and “abundance” mean is shaped by remembering who God is, what God cares about, and how God does things. And that shapes our trust and confidence.
Jesus says: “Put the resources in my hand and see what I can do with it.” Scarcity becomes abundance. The disciple’s transition to this insight. So should we!
If we set our minds on things that are above, if “May your kingdom come here in our experience, right now” is the prayer on our lips, the attitude of our hearts, and the perspective of our gaze, then we will live in abundance. We will enjoy our lives differently than other people. We will be fearless. How does that sound?
The True Meaning of Abundance
We are serving a king who has an abundance at his disposal. After the feeding of the 5,000, there are twelve baskets full of food. The leftovers of the abundance of the kingdom are far greater than the scarcity the world offers.
Often times abundance is confused with having all our material desires met. Scripture seems to indicate that abundance is not that, but being close to Jesus, giving him what we have, and trusting him to provide for what we need. Abundance is sufficient, enough.
This truth of abundance is difficult to apply to daily life. However, I am starting to think more about my daily bread and not worry whether I will have enough money for a nursing home. I am starting to think about being a spiritual being that will always exist, rather than thinking about dying. I am focusing on staying close to Jesus, listening to him, and obeying what he tells me to do.
Jesus, I want to believe more in abundance! Help me with my unbelief.
From a steward in progress.