Weekly Bible Devotional
“Financial Freedom: Living the Life of Fulfillment”
November 24, 2019
Scripture for Sunday: Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Notes on the Text:
This was a time of fear and uncertainty for Jesus, his disciples, and all his followers. Just before this episode in Matthew’s Gospel, the writer had recounted how Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist and had his head presented on a platter. Matthew has John’s disciples come and tell Jesus of the execution. John the Baptist was the one who preached and prepared for the ministry of Jesus. He was his colleague in ministry, a prophet and a teacher. John the Baptist was executed for denouncing Herod Antipas’ marriage to his brother Philip’s wife when Philip was still alive (a violation of Jewish law). After hearing the sad news, Jesus went to a lonely spot as a direct response to John’s execution. Maybe Jesus saw the writing on the wall for him. He could be next. But people followed Jesus even to his place of solitude. Perhaps they needed to be comforted and assured themselves. The world was closing in on them! The dream of the Kingdom of God becoming a reality in their lives seemed so unlikely under the political circumstances of their day. The disciples were also fearful. They responded out of a sense of fear. When Jesus asked them to give people something to eat, the disciples’ response reflected their sense of scarcity. They thought that Jesus was asking them to go out and buy food for everyone. They had forgotten about how God provided the people of Israel with manna in the desert. They had forgotten about the story of the Prophet Elisha’s multiplication of the barley loaves that were given to him by a servant. They had forgotten about the power of a community sharing what they have in order to survive. They also forgot about God’s vision for abundance. They were controlled by their fear of scarcity because it seemed that the Roman system of scarcity and domination was winning. Their vision of what was possible was reduced to nothing! But when the disciples gave their five loaves and the two fish, people began to share and the miracle happened.
This is an amazing miracle of a group of people being transformed from being fearful and grieving to a people who are able to step outside of themselves to serve the greater good of the whole community. Their worldview was headed in the direction of a survival mode, but this miracle was about them being redirected to the path of faith, generosity and openness.
This is certainly a story of a miracle, but it is not what we have traditionally limited it to. For centuries, this story has been viewed as a magic/supernatural act of multiplying the bread, despite the fact that there is nothing “supernatural” reported in the Gospel itself. What we are told is that “they all ate and were filled.” Most likely the people shared the food they had with them. A peasant in Palestine, then and now, travelled with food. In his book, Binding the Strong Man, Ched Myers writes, “The only ‘miracle’ here is the triumph of the economics of sharing within a community of consumption over against the economics of autonomous consumption in the anonymous marketplace.” This way of looking at the story helps us to see its greater power for transforming not just the bread, but also the people.
With the traditional understanding of Jesus’ transforming of the loaves, we would put the focus on the loaves themselves experiencing transformation and becoming an endless supply of bread. But with looking at the story in its context and paying attention to its details and symbols, we can see that what was really transformed were the selfish hearts of five thousand men to be inspired to share the food that they brought with them. The real transformation then, was not of the loaves, but of five thousand selfish minds. Which would be the greater miracle?
We have come to the end of this sermon series about financial freedom. The big idea behind this series is that we only feel free financially when we are able to live by the values and vision of God for our lives. We live in a culture that assumes scarcity as the state of the world and thus we swim in the deep waters of fear and competition. We learn this story of scarcity in childhood and live by it until something wakes us up and helps us to examine the validity of this story. In the Christian faith, that something is faith. It is that ability to connect deeply to the divine essence of life to see the world and our lives more clearly. Faith helps us to choose the path of love and freedom even when the world around us is filled with fear. The transformation that happens to us through faith is about living to our fullest potential and helping our world to evolve and grow into the ways of love and sharing. Even though we may feel powerless against the tidal wave of scarcity and fear in our culture, we have to remember that what we are calling forth is God’s sacred process of transforming the ugliness and fears of our lives into beauty and care.
Our Bible story for this week invites us to take action and to choose to live by God’s vision for our world. We can look at this story as a great miracle to help us admire the power of Jesus and of God. But as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “The problem with miracles is that we tend to get mesmerized by them, focusing on God’s responsibility and forgetting our own. Miracles let us off the hook. They appeal to the part of us that is all too happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, do it all. We do not have what it takes, after all. What we have to offer is not enough to make any difference at all, so we hold back and wait for a miracle, looking after our own needs and looking for God to help those who cannot help themselves.”
What we learn from this story is the amazing promise of hope for our world when we learn to share and cooperate. When we dig deep down in our hearts and souls, we are able to live by God’s vision for our world where financial freedom, sharing and sufficiency are the norms. Remember these few truths from this sermon series:
- The Power of Daily Practice of Gratitude
- The Necessity of Daily Spiritual Practices of Centering (accessing our souls)
- The Need to be Intentional about Letting Your Money Express Your Soul
- The Sufficiency that Is Deep within Your Soul
- The Six Currencies we have (relationships, money, time and place, truth, wellness, and gracious leadership)
- The Importance of Keeping the Cycle of Blessing Going through Generosity and Giving
Prayer by Macrina Wiederkehr:
O God of so much giving,
My true life is all around me and within me. Life surrounds me and embraces me. Open the windows of my eyes. Take away the veil that prevents me from seeing the simple treasurers that are in my reach. Make me a friend of wisdom. O May this come to be! Amen.
Finish the following sentences and then share with a neighbor:
When I am anxious about money, I …
When I am afraid about money, I …
When I am troubled about money, I ….
When I notice another is anxious about money, I …
When I notice another is afraid about money, I …
When I notice another is troubled about money, I ….
Faith is about remembering God’s story of abundance and the sufficiency of our souls. Reflect on how remembering your connection to God helps you during times of financial anxiety. Now complete these sentences:
When I ……………………………………………., I will not be anxious.
When I ……………………………………………., I will not be afraid.
When I ……………………………………………., I will not be troubled.