A couple weeks ago I sat next to two professors in a coffee shop. One professor was a Buddhist Professor of Religion and the other was a Professor of Philosophy. The two were discussing how this world would be able to feed a future projected world population of 10,000,000,000 people. Naturally the discussion caught my interest since I believe the problems of hunger, starvation, and poverty are a concern of God. I chimed my way into the discussion. At one point I said that I was a Christian and that I believed if people would follow Jesus then we would be able to feed the entire world population. The Buddhist Professor looked at me and said that my statement was a nice sentiment but it was very problematic. I asked him to explain what was problematic about my statement other than the fact that he and I share different religious beliefs. Here was his reply: “Most Christians do not believe in following Jesus.”
“Most Christian do not believe in following Jesus.” That is quite an unsettling accusation. Though it is easy to throw out such a generalized accusation, the fact of the matter is that to a certain degree his statement is true. There are Christians who do not believe in following Jesus. They profess a propositional belief in Jesus but when it comes to living a life that follows Jesus in all his ways… well, that is something rejected for various reasons. Further more, as the statement made by this professor swirled around in my mind (and has for the last two weeks), I kept wondering about the ways and times in which I have been guilty of not following Jesus.
This entire experience stayed fresh in my mind as I prepared for the sermon I was preaching last week. My sermon was title “Give Them Something to Eat” from Mark 6.30-44 (the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people). I did not choose this text because of my experience in the coffee shop, for this text on this particular Sunday was planned several months ago as part of my sermon series “His Name is Jesus” from the Gospel of Mark.
The story in Mark 6.30-44 begins with the Apostles returning to Jesus and telling him about their ministry experiences (Mk. 6.7-13). Even though Jesus and the apostles tried to find a deserted place for some needed rest, the village people saw where they were headed to and joined them there. So, out of his compassion, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them about the kingdom of God. As the hour grew late, the apostles suggested to Jesus that he send the village people away so that they could buy themselves food to eat. However, Jesus commands his apostles saying “You give them something to eat” (v.37). The apostles responded by expressing their concern about how much money it would take to feed everyone (200 denarii — approx. 8 months of wages, as the NIV suggests). But Jesus has the apostles seat the people and then he feeds the people from the five loaves of bread and two fish the apostles had.
The apostles seem to make two mistakes. First, after all of the kingdom ministry they have witnessed Jesus doing and then they themselves even practiced, they still failed to understand what being “kingdom ministers” is all about. Had they understood, they would have offered to meet the needs of the people by feeding them without having to be told to do so by Jesus. Why? Because taking care of the needs of others is part of proclaiming the kingdom of God. It is what Jesus has been doing throughout his ministry. The second mistake made by the apostles is their grumbling about the cost of feeding these people. Have they not learned yet that God is able to provide and will provide the necessary provisions so that his kingdom will advance?
Sadly, and myself included, many Christians still make the same two mistakes today. Often we simply just get so caught up in our own little world that we fail to recognize the needs of those around us and in turn fail to meet those needs. And when we do see a need, we fail to meet it because of our lack of faith. If it is not our worry about the monetary cost, then it is our concern about the time, or some other concern. This is especially the case when the burden of meeting the needs of people appears to be a heavy burden (and I believe it is Satan reminding us how heavy that burden is and that such a burden is too heavy).
The miracle of this story is that Jesus fed the 5,000 with the five loaves and two fish the apostles had. But did you notice that Mark never tells us how Jesus was able to feed the 5,000 from what appears to be such a meager amount of food. Many, like myself, were raised believing that Jesus performed some miracle and turned the five loaves and two fish into many more loaves and fish. But Mark does not say that this is what Jesus did. Others, and often for other theological assumptions, will play rationality with this text and suggest that the five loaves and two fish were of such enormous size that there was already an adequate amount of food for 5,000 people. But again, Mark does not tell us this. Mark only tells us that Jesus took what the apostles already had and used that to feed the 5,000. Here is the point and the miracle for us today: We already have everything we need for God to meet the needs of those around us. Our job is simply this — to give them something to eat! To use what God has already given to us and meet the needs of those around us so that the borders of God’s kingdom will advance. If it is food, we already have it and should share it. If it is clothes, we already have it and should share it. If it is friendship, we already have it and should share it. If it is… I thing we get the point.
So returning to the discussion I had with two professors in the coffee shop. How will we feed 10,000,000,000 people? Better question, how will we meet the needs of the present world where there is such a huge gulf between those who have and those who do not have? I have a suggestion, since I believe that God has already given us what we need to meet the needs of those in need among this present world. Since most, if not everyone, who will read this blog is economically and educationally rich compared to the entire world, my suggestion has to do with our money and our knowledge.
Here is my suggestion: Beginning January 1, 2008, let’s commit ourselves to placing $1.00 per day into a jar. At the end of the year, December 31, 2008, this will equal $365.00. Then let’s give it away. We could give it to our church’s benevolence fund, or we could give it to some charitable organization either at the local, national, or global level. But let’s put the money in the hand of people who will use it for its intended purpose. I am labeling this idea as the “$1/$365 Suggestion.” But that is not all! Here is the rest. There is two months left before the new year is upon us. Let’s pass his idea on to as many other people as possible and get as many others as possible joining us. With the World Wide Web, the people we pass the “$1/$365 Suggestion” is limitless. One does not even need to be a Christian to participate in such charity. But for those of us who are Christians, this is one small way in which we can take seriously Jesus’ instruction “give them something to eat.”