A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat.’ But his servant said, ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’ So he repeated, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord. 2 Kings 4:42-44
Doubting God’s abundance and buying into the scarcity mentality is nothing new; it’s been a part of human behavior for thousands of years. While many doubt, others have learned to see plenty wherever they look and in whatever their situation. What makes the difference?
Recent scientific research suggests humans are naturally geared toward empathy and generosity; it’s how our brains are wired. It would seem that selfishness, greed, and a scarcity mentality are largely the product of conditioning and teaching. In our predominant Western cultural narrative, for example, we are told that the person who has the most and the best is the winner. We are told to get all that we can for ourselves because there may not be enough if we don’t take care of Number One. Marketers spend billions of dollars convincing us that we need more, newer, and better stuff—no matter what the cost to our neighbors, our planet, and our overall well-being. We are conditioned to see ourselves as lacking and needy rather than as blessed and having enough. In short, many of us are being sold a lie and consuming it without question.
Have you ever noticed that it is often those who possess very little who are the most generous and joyful? Among some peoples and cultures, sharing comes naturally. If you have resources and someone in your family or tribe needs something, you use what you have to meet the immediate need, trusting that when you have great need, there will be others ready to help you. Meals are stretched to accommodate all who come to the table. If someone needs a place to stay, room is made. You wouldn’t think, for example, of sending a relative to a nearby hotel if you have room to spare in your own home. A web of connections and community is tightly woven to provide care and provision for everyone. No one is left behind, and the community members will sacrifice to try and provide something for everyone.
In these cultures, often in places where poverty is great and oppression is the reality of life, people know that the whole is stronger than any one of the parts and that in some cases their very survival depends on the strength of their shared life in community. Of necessity, they have not let go of their innate ability to have empathy for one another and to hold lightly to things and tightly to people. God’s provision and abundance are very real and not simply the stuff of Sunday school stories. We have much to learn from our sisters and brothers whose experience is so different from our own.
Turning to the 2 Kings reading, I have no clue why the man from Baal-Shalishah had a difficult time wrapping his head and heart around Elisha’s directive to feed the people with the loaves of barley and grain that was his offering and why he couldn’t perceive God’s abundance working through his simple gift. His vision wasn’t big enough and his lens wasn’t wide enough for God’s plenty. But he learned, and we can learn, too.
We, you and I and all the members of the beloved community, can unlearn that cultural lie and see what God is truly capable of doing with, through, in, and even in spite of our meager gifts. Let’s challenge one another to bear witness to the stories of how God is at work and where we see gifts being multiplied. Miracles are truly all around us, and we are part of those miracles. God uses us and our gifts to accomplish the divine purpose; this is most certainly true. Let’s set this beautiful truth before others so that they may eat and be fed, strengthened and sent, blessed to be a blessing. They are enough, and there is enough—and then some.
Living in God’s amazing grace, Pastor Stephen Blenkush
with the cross of Christ forever,