by Sarah Brock
AM Psalm 89:1-18 PM Psalm 89:19-52
Jeremiah 16:10-21; Romans 7:1-12
How is it that five barley loaves and two fish were enough food to fill 5,000 people? And, there were leftovers! How is it then that with all of the resources in the world, so many people are starving?
As a cradle Lutheran turned Episcopalian, I’ve participated in my share of church potlucks. In my experience, regardless of how many people are in attendance, there is always an abundance of food.
So, when we have such great capacity to feed people, why are there so many who go hungry?
This year, one of the ways I’ve chosen to observe the season of Lent is to cultivate my awareness of how my use of resources effects others. To pay attention to what I consume regularly, whether it’s food or water or fuel. To acknowledge that the more I take, or waste as the case may be, the less there is available for someone else.
It can be challenging to remember that such resources are not in infinite supply. Where I live, there are at least three well-stocked grocery stores in walking distance. When I turn on the tap or the shower, I expect clean water to immediately spurt out. While I may not be taking water or food directly out of the hands of someone else, we do not have endless resources. The way I hoard or waste what I have access to means that someone else will not have enough.
Yet, even with increased awareness, I’m definitely not Jesus and it’s highly unlikely I’ll be feeding the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish anytime soon. So, what can I really do?
There are two things I notice that this massive community meal has in common with the church potlucks I’ve attended. The first is an abundance of food, more than enough to go around. The other is the act of sharing. When we share food or share a meal, I think it makes us more aware of the needs of those with whom we share it. Whether it’s accommodating allergies, food preferences, or simply asking if someone would like more.
But, this awareness seems harder to carry into my daily life, an awareness of the needs of the human family and not just my own. How simple it would be to share a box of my favorite cookies with the local food pantry, instead (or even in addition to) treating myself. How simple it would be to help prepare a community meal. Yet, instead of turning into a response of love and gratitude, my growing awareness of the distribution of resources makes me feel convicted and helpless in the face of such an enormous concern.
I feel a little like I imagine the disciples felt when Jesus asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (6:5) They certainly don’t have the resources to feed such a large crowd. But, Jesus is gentle with them.
Jesus simply takes what they have, gives thanks, and gives the food to the people seated all around. Without judgement or condescension or frustration that it’s up to him to provide for so many who came unprepared. And, he is gentle with himself. At the end of the meal, he senses the mood of the crowd and cares for himself by withdrawing. Balancing time in community with solitude. He is not only aware of the needs of the crowd around him, but also of his own.
Jesus reminds me that it is ok to be gentle with myself. To feel convicted for my wasteful habits, but also to know grace. And, most importantly, to be awake to and transformed by the experience of both.
Wherever you are in your journey this season of Lent, I hope you are awakening. Whether you gave up or took on or simply continue to be, I hope you come to know both conviction and grace. I hope you are gentle with those you encounter along the way. I hope you are gentle with yourself.
Sarah Brock is becoming a postulant in the Diocese of Massachusetts and lives in Boston.
Image Credit: My own.