Jesus said to his disciples, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.”Mark 6:38
This is one of my favorite questions in Scripture, for a simple reason: I need to hear it, and to be reminded of the truth that it teaches me, more often than I care to admit. Too often, I focus on the needs that I see around me, not the resources that I have. The disciples saw five thousand hungry people, and felt overwhelmed. I get that! Sometimes I feel like there are five thousand things that I should be doing or could be doing, and I, too, feel overwhelmed! It all seems so important! But how can I possibly accomplish it all? It is often at these very moments that I hear Jesus gently asking me, “How many loaves do you have?” It is just at those moments, when I am feeling overwhelmed, that I hear Jesus inviting me to change my focus – rather than focus on the needs that I see, focus on the loaves that I have. Trust Jesus. Focus on the resources that are all around me, hiding in plain sight. Then? Share what I have, and simply take the next step in faith.
“How many loaves have you?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Go and see.” And they report back: five. Five loaves. And two fish. And with that, Jesus blesses and breaks the loaves, and gives them to his disciples. And they share it with the five thousand. And everyone ate and were filled. And not only that, but when the disciples collected the leftovers, they discovered that there were twelve baskets of food more than they needed! It was miraculous! And a miracle so important that it is recorded in all four gospels. And a miracle that clearly is intended to teach us that with Jesus, there is always enough.
You see? Jesus doesn’t want us to focus on what we don’t have, or on what we need, or on how we are ever going to accomplish what we feel called to do. Jesus wants us to focus on what we do have. Not how many people are there to feed, but how many loaves we have. Jesus us to bring our needs to him, and then to trust him. Because with Jesus, there is always enough. There is always enough for us to do what he wants us to do.
(By the way, as an aside, have you noticed that the opposite is also true? That without Jesus, there is never enough? Without Jesus in our life, we will never have enough money, we will never have security, we will never have enough power, influence or control, we will never have enough of anything that we have. We will never be able to focus on how many loaves we have, because we will always be concerned with running out. And it really doesn’t matter how many loaves we have. Because without Jesus, it will never feel like enough.)
I am a second career pastor. I was ordained when I was 35. My first career was in economics. And economics quite literally defines itself as the study of the allocation of scarce resources among competing ends. In other words, the whole field of economics assumes that we live in a world of scarcity, not abundance. That is often the case, I suppose, but it is not how I want to look at the world anymore. I want to look at the world in the way that Jesus looks at the world. I want to trust that with Jesus, there is always enough.
You probably can guess that most economists love to use math. And I still do. But I really like the strange math behind this gospel story. I really like that five loaves, plus two fish, plus Jesus, equals more than enough food to feed the five thousand. That’s pretty good math, isn’t it? That’s the math of the gospel. That’s the economics of the gospel. And that is the equation that shows us that with Jesus, there is always enough.
But it’s easy to forget this, isn’t it? I know that it is for me. That’s why I like that the story told just two chapters later in Mark’s Gospel, of the feeding of the four thousand. Remember that one? Again, there was a great crowd and Jesus wanted to feed them. And, again, the disciples panicked. They said to Jesus, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” They had forgotten the miracle of feeding the five thousand already! And they were there! No wonder we tend to forget these things, too! But Jesus, with patience that can only be described as divine, asked them the same question as before: “How many loaves do you have?”
We all need frequent reminders, don’t we? That with Jesus, there is always enough. And without Jesus, there is never enough. It’s so easy to forget, especially in today’s world. It’s so easy to get caught up in the problem, in the lack of resources that we have. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed. That’s when this little question can be so helpful. It can get us right back on track.
So, that’s how I want to approach the world – by asking this question, as many times as I need to, “how many loaves do I have?” And then, sharing what I have, and trusting the Lord to provide what is needed.