Between the Gospels there seem to be many stories about feeding thousands. They all read fairly similarly, and it’s easy to sort of mash them all together into one story. This is okay, I suppose. There is a similar point to them all, and here in Mark we get a second mass feeding story, which is very similar to the first. I can’t get past this question that Jesus asks: “How many loaves do you have?” As churches across the nation struggle, this is our question.
You see, in many ways the Church today is in the desert struggling to find food. Finances are a struggle across the board and most churches are not sure how we’re going to do what we are called to do. Here Jesus and his disciples are in the desert and Jesus feels a call to feed the people. But they have little to no resources. His disciples are doing what most churches today are doing which is focusing on what we don’t have: “How can one feed theses people with bread here in the desert” (8:4). To put it another way, “how can we feed the people when we have nothing?” Jesus turns this around to focus on what they do have: “How many loaves do you have?” (8:5). This question is loaded. It does two very important things:
1) It does not deny the scarcity of resources. If Jesus was in denial of their scarcity he would have simply said, “feed them”. And then they probably would have carelessly started to feed the people and quickly run out. But he doesn’t. By asking them how many loaves they have, you can almost see Jesus’ brain starting to work: The only way the people will be fed is if we are real about what our resources are and use them creatively and wisely. So he’s aware and real about their scarcity.
2) But the other very (and more) important thing he does is believe that whatever it is they have is enough to do what they feel called to do. They don’t have enough to perhaps do all that they want to do, but he believes that they have enough to do what they’re called to do. Seven loaves? Okay, let’s make seven loaves feed the people. There is certainly a miracle in this story, but I also wonder if buried within it is a kind of creative strategic sense that we as the Church need to adopt. When I hear Jesus asking the question, “how many loaves do you have” I can almost see him starting to strategize creatively how he’s going to fulfill the call the feed the people with whatever it is they have. I don’t know that this feeding just magically happened. It took creativity, strategy and trust all working together.
Do we trust God and our God given creativity enough to believe that we can fulfill our call with whatever provisions we have in this desert? It may not be enough to do all that we want to do, but do we trust that it is enough to do what we’re called to do? And in all of its many and varied forms, what the Church is called to do is make sure that no one goes away empty, hungry, and thereby discarded and overlooked. What are the hungers of the people in our communities? And what do we have to feed them?