“And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.” (Mark 6:38-43 NRSV)
The other day a friend posted a cartoon on Facebook. The one panel cartoon showed a Disciple speaking with Jesus at the feeding of the 5,000. The Disciple said, “But if we feed them they might all become dependent.” My amusement at the cartoon was short lived as I read the only comment made. The commenter said something to the effect of comparing a one-time miracle to food stamps is not valid. This comment concerned me.
The comment made was both right and wrong. Welfare, especially as it is done in the United States, can create dependency. There are several reasons for the dependency. Our government tries to fix poverty from a distance; they throw money at it. This creates a bureaucracy that is full of red tape, has some abuses, and dictates what people need without knowing the people in need. Dr. Doug Meeks, a theology professor at Vanderbilt, rightly asserts five aspects of poverty: financial, cultural, political, physical, and spiritual. People that suffer one of the aspects of poverty for very long find themselves struggling with more than one and soon all of the aspects of poverty. Throwing money at poverty from a distance only partially meets one aspect; financial. Since the true needs are not met dependency occurs.
As theologians, or people of a religious nature, we should ask, “Where is God in all of this?” God tends to act through people and unlikely people at that. Moses had a speech impediment, David was a murderer, and Paul claimed to be foremost amongst the sinners. God used these unlikely folks and can even use the likes of you and me. So our question changes from where is God to, “Where are we?” Where is the church? What should the church be doing? What about that one time miracle leads to food stamps?
Collectively we as Christians make up the church. There is one Christian Church that meets in a variety of places and calls itself a variety of names, but there is truly one church. When we gather as the Church, we become the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ we are to have faith in Jesus and his words to us. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 NRSV) Jesus feeding the 5,000 should not be a one-time miracle for we are the Body of Christ sent out into a lost and broken world. We have been sent into a world of need. We have been sent to address all the aspects of poverty: To feed the hungry, give a sense of self to the marginalized, power to the voiceless, healing to the sick, and hope to the hopeless. Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two small fish was never intended to be a one-time miracle. Jesus was modeling how to care for the poor.
Jesus told his disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the grass. Notice he didn’t segregate the groups in any way. The groups would have included a diverse mix of people. Jesus may have been the only thing that some of them had in common. This is where welfare systems fail. They fail to see the people in need as anything other than a number or recipient. Systems that eliminate poverty depend on the personhood of everyone involved. Sitting down in fellowship, learning and really knowing the other, is the key to the issue. What we find in this relationship building is that everyone has something to offer, everyone has something to give, and everyone has needs that can only be meet in communion and community with others.
With community and relationship building everyone’s needs may be met without concern of dependency. When we act as the Body of Christ greater things can be done and a one-time miracle can become a way of life…
That is this pastor’s opinion. What’s yours?
Blessings to You,