Math – you either love it, or you hate it. It inspires no ambivalence. It’s rigidity, its precision, its unforgiving exactitude is what haters hate and lovers love. The unyielding constancy of mathematical relationships in the cosmos are a testimony to a predicable universe. In an ever-changing world, math is changeless. Even cosmological change, itself, is governed and measured by unchanging mathematical relationships.
But while mathematical truths do not change, the techniques and the technology of mathematicians do. This is observed whenever you attempt to help a small child with homework. “It’s only long division,” you think. Certainly, you are qualified to help your young padawan mathematician with that. But then you encounter it – ‘new math.’ All the methods you learned and the tools you used, back in the day, to navigate the rigors of math are now different. You begin to say things like, “let me show you an easier way.” Or “I don’t know why this ‘new math’ overcomplicates everything.”
Everyone is frustrated. You in your attempt to help. And your third-grader, who is now more confused than ever. Even my undergraduate degree in applied mathematics, does not empower me to teach ‘new math’ to teach my children. We think we see the problem and its solution clearly, only to realize our assumptions and our approaches are all wrong. But this is not only a problem in math.
What is true of math, is often even more pronounced in our spiritual lives. On the surface, our problems seem to be merely a matter of logistics, resources, or relationships. We believe we have a clear grasp of the problem and the solution, only to realize our assumptions and approaches are all wrong. Wrong because they lacked any consideration of faith. In the Christian life there is nothing in which faith does not play the leading role. Paul pointed this out when he wrote, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) Nothing is aspiritual.
Jesus’ disciples discovered this in a remarkable way in the ‘feeding of the five thousand.’ The setting for this story is complex. The disciples had just completed a highly acclaimed ministry tour of Galilee. The gospel was preached, demons cast out, and lives changed. And the local powers took notice. Herod took notice. Herod, who had just executed John the Baptist, feared this new groundswell of preachers and teachers. The Twelve were exhausted. They had not even had time for a meal together. Jesus, too, was exhausted emotionally by the news of John’s death. They crossed the Sea of Galilee to get away for a few days. But as often happens in the lives of those in ministry, the vacation turned into work.
Throngs from the surrounding towns and cities found Jesus. They came out to his ‘desolate’ retreat to find healing and truth – over five thousand families. Jesus did not turn them away, but cared for them. As the day wore on, however, exhaustion and hunger take their toll. The disciples instruct Jesus to send the people away to find food and lodging. But Jesus tests them. “You give them something to eat!” Jesus puts a brewing humanitarian crisis back in their laps. How will they ever meet such a need? What did they learn on their ministry tour? What did they learn from his teaching that day? What have they learned of his power and faithfulness?
The disciples believe this is a crisis of logistics. But it is really a crisis of faith. Will they operate by faith or sight? Can they trust Jesus to provide for those he calls? Will they grasp that spiritual life and practical life are not mutually exclusive? The mathematics of feeding this crowd are staggering. And, the mathematics of their resources are ludicrous. What can Jesus do with one boy’s lunch? The disciples thought they understood the problem and its solution, but their assumption and approach was all wrong.
More than rest and food, they needed to trust Jesus with the math! Eight months wages might have provided a small bit of bread for most of the crowd. But in Jesus’ hands a boy’s lunch fed thousands until they were full. And there were leftovers! Not scraps, but uneaten servings. Twelve baskets full to feed the empty stomachs and faith of The Twelve.
What will Jesus do with your life, if you place it his hands? What will he do with your modest or lavish resources? With your plans and desires? With your time? Perhaps you are concerned that if you give these to the Lord, he will take, but not give? That you will not have enough? Or that you can’t trust how he will use what you think actually belongs to you.
Only John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand mentions the boy whose lunch became food for thousands. We don’t know anything about him, his reasons for being there or if he struggled to yield what was his to his master. What we do know is that when he put what little he had in the Jesus’ hands, he had more than he needed and so did thousands more. Jesus taught.
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.Luke 6:38
Can you trust God with your resources, your desires, your plans, your time, your family, your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Maybe it’s time to find out. Join us this week as we examine John 6:1-14 and consider the call to exercise faith in giving.
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.