The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
We’ve all heard the saying, money is the root of all evil. I don’t know about all that. Money is a tool like a hammer is a tool. You can use it to build a house, or you can use it to really hurt someone. And evil is such an abstract idea. When we’re talking about evil, we’re really just trying to explain away how humans cause suffering. But it doesn’t really get us anywhere.
I think what might be more accurate, more helpful, more practical is this:
Scarcity is the root of all suffering. Okay, maybe not all suffering, but a lot of it. Sometimes hurricanes or earthquakes cause suffering, but when it comes to suffering caused by humans, I think scarcity is usually at the root of it.
Here’s what I mean when I say scarcity: it’s simply either the reality or the belief that there’s not enough. When there is real scarcity, when we really don’t have enough, every moment is coated in worry. Every day becomes a hustle. It’s exhausting.
And when we believe there’s not enough, even if there is, we fight tooth-and-nail to protect what we have and to get more. We lose track of how much is really enough. We get selfish. We do harm.
Scarcity is what causes poverty, what drives some of us to take and hoard more than we need. As if there’s not enough wealth for everyone.
Scarcity is what causes some people to oppress other people. As if there’s not enough freedom or power to go around. As if freedom and power aren’t infinite resources.
Scarcity is often what causes tension in our closest relationships. As if your way is the only way. As if there’s not an endless variety of beautiful and valid human expression.
Scarcity is what causes us to work or give beyond our energy or resources. As if you are the only one who can get it done. As if you’re not surrounded by a whole community who can jump in when you need a rest. As if God won’t provide.
And by the way, when I say “you” I also mean “me.” I am certainly no stranger to this scarcity mentality.
But the gospel we heard just now is Jesus laughing in the face of scarcity. He says, “let’s feed this crowd.” And the disciples say, “uh, Jesus, there are thousands of people, and we have exactly five loaves of bread and two fish. It’s not enough.” And Jesus replies, “As if.”
And listen, I’m not so interested in the miracle part of this. The miracle is awesome, and I don’t discount it, but I’m more interested in the faithfulness Jesus demonstrates in this story. Faith in God’s abundance.
First, he centers the people’s need. The disciples say, let them find their own food. But Jesus sees the circumstances. “We are in a desert. There’s no food nearby. We belong to them, and they belong to us. We’re gonna find a way to feed them.”
And Jesus has food. I’m willing to bet that his disciples were going to give him the first portion of those five loaves and two fish. Jesus will not go hungry, but still, he makes the need of other people his concern.
Second, Jesus looks up to heaven. He immediately recognizes that he can’t do this on his own. No matter how hard he or the disciples work, their efforts alone will not feed all these people. Instead, Jesus looks to God.
Third, Jesus blesses the loaves. Every week, even now, we pray what Jesus prayed in Matthew 6, “give us this day our daily bread.” This is an expression of trust in God. “Give us THIS day, today, our DAILY bread, or what we need right now—not tomorrow, not a week from now.” God provides for us today, this day, as we need it. We don’t need to stockpile our bread. Jesus blesses the bread, praising God, trusting God.
Fourth and finally, Jesus sees that God’s will is accomplished through the goodness and abundance of this material world. This world God created. God does not mystically fill the bellies of the people. God doesn’t miraculously erase their hunger. No, God provides more than enough of this world’s bounty, loaves and fishes to feed everyone.
I don’t know about you, but I feel relief when I hear this story. Not even Jesus had to do it all himself! He needed to be there, though. He needed to care about the needs of others. He needed to take initiative. And when he did, it was God who provided, even when it seemed like there wasn’t enough.
And do you know what Jesus did right after feeding those 5,000 people? He went to a mountain by himself to pray. To rest. To rejuvenate. Though there was certainly more need, more people to teach, more healing to do, he also recognized his own need and trusted God’s abundance enough to care for himself.
Scarcity is such an unnecessary burden. In reality, our God created for us a world of abundance. In reality, there is actually enough for all of us to thrive—enough food, enough money, enough joy, enough rest. But only when we recognize that it’s not just about us. Only when we let ourselves see the need of others. Only when we recognize that we can’t do it on our own. Only when we put our trust in God. Amen.