Mark 6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Well, Rabbi, why shouldn’t I be angry? Anyone would be under these same circumstances. “Come away for some rest,” you said, but did you have to invite all of them too?

You didn’t? Then how else did they know where we were going? We come back from preaching, teaching, healing the sick and driving out demons, exhausted from the sheer scope of human need and the constant demand upon us, and then, Voila! More of the same! And to make matters worse, that noise you hear is not the waves pounding on the beach, its thousands of grumbling, hungry tummies. What do you think is going to happen when they all figure out that they’re hours and miles away from food and that we don’t have any to share? You ever seen a hungry, angry mob? They’ll tear us limb from limb! Why didn’t you think of that before bringing us here?

And what were we supposed to eat, by the way?

…….What’s that you say? You’re joking! Judas, come here so we can show Jesus what we have by way of money. (rattles a few coins in a can). Just how much can we buy for them even if there was a 7-11 anywhere around?…..Oh, you meant, Give them our food? Here, Matthew, show Jesus what we got by way of food, but don’t let any of that hungry mob see it; they’re getting restless. See, Jesus? Count’em: Five loaves and two smoked fish. Where’d you get it, by the way, Matthew?…..Oh, thanks, kid. Now run along.

What?…….You’re really going through with this?…… And while they’re sitting down in groups, how are you going to distract them long enough while we go search for something, anything?….

Does it matter if its not kosher?

……..I know, why don’t we use that same miraculous power you gave us to heal the sick and drive out demons to turn all these rocks around here into bread? Everyone will readily believe us and follow us then, no question about that.

Why are you looking at me like that, Lord? Did I say something wrong? Made sense to me. …

(Sigh) Five loaves of bread and two measly fish. You know, that’s a perfect picture of how I feel inside after our tour of ministry this week: empty as last year’s wine flask. You know, I’m so exhausted I almost don’t care what happens next. Somebody just make it all stop, puh-lease.

….. I’ll do what you say, Lord, but I’ve got to ask you, Why does it always has to be like this? Almost every day we go somewhere without knowing where we’ll sleep or what we’ll eat come nightfall. You sent us out to minister two by two without money bags or even an extra pair of sandals, having to depend for food and shelter upon the very people who half the time sent us packing from their villages. And now we’re about to hand our lives over to a hungry, angry mob when we go to face them with this, this, poor excuse of an appetizer.

I’ll do it, Lord, but I just don’t get it. You preach that the kingdom of God is at hand, that everything the prophets promised and that we and our ancestors prayed for is about to pass. And still, we live hand to mouth, having to just trust day by day that something will come by way of food or shelter. Meanwhile, the Roman Army never wants for new chariots, the best new armor and uniforms and horses. Our bank account sounds like a baby’s rattle (rattle can again) while Pilate and Herod and the high priest drink, dine and dress in sumptuous fashion. How is your gospel supposed to be good news to the poor when we’re almost as poor as they?

I don’t get it.

Okay I’ll shut up while you pray. And be sure to pray for our dear departed souls after this mob realizes what’s going down. ………..Amen. Here, Thaddeus, here’s the first loaf to distribute; four left before the fat hits the fire; Judas, take this one. That leaves three. Matthew, that leaves two. Here’s for you, John, that makes one. Who gets the last one? Thomas. Wipe the doubt off your face so the crowd doesn’t catch on too quick. Maybe that’ll give some of us enough time to make our escape. Here’s another last one, for you, Simon. And another last one for you, Andrew. And another last one for you, Bartholomew, And another last one….

Hey, where did those other last ones come from?….. Oh, my Lord!…Oh me of little faith! Its just like Elisha and the widow of Zarepath again! Just like manna in the desert! When no one had too much, and no one too little!

So, Jesus, was this your plan all along, to bring us to the end of our resources, so we could see the beginning of yours?

Setting: North Holland, 1551

You know, Lord, normally it would be a treat to see my name in public on a big church door. But not this way: “Wanted, Dead or Alive, Menno Simons and the Mennists.” They have my name right, but they’re going to have to come up with a better one for your little flock than, “Mennists.” It sounds like the English word for, well, “menace.” And we never set out to be that to anyone.

I remember those days when my name was on the door of the church building: “Father Menno Simons.” Then I lacked for nothing, except peace of mind, peace with you, O God. But I had everything in terms of creature comforts and job security. My larders were always stocked with the choicest meats and cakes, wine and beer. How much time and wealth I wasted in drinking, playing cards and other amusements with fellow clergy and nobility! Oh, how much my indolence and luxury cost others, even their mortal lives, their eternal souls. Our homes were golden, but our hearts were wooden.

But now that you have awakened my heart with repentance and renewal, my heart is golden, I hope. For surely our house is wooden. That is, whenever we have a house, Geertruyd and I. As I look at this fine and imposing church building on which my name is posted, in hatred and threats, I confess, Lord, that I would like for just one day again a little bit of that security, that wealth, even that esteem in which I was once held as a prince of the church. By contrast, listen to this (rattle coin purse). That’s all we have to live on this week, all that I know of, and it came to me by surprise last week.

I believe, Lord, that you’ll more than make it up to Geertruyd and me in eternal, heavenly riches. But you know my wavering, wayward heart, how it struggles with questions, questions like, Why do your faithful preachers have to go about in danger, poverty, rags and contempt, while the priests of Rome, and even the clergy of Calvin and Luther, have sumptuous homes and gorgeous cathedrals in which to preach, for the riches and approval of men and women, high-born and low? If they are watering down your Word to tickle men’s ears, and to earn the wealth and protection of warlords and profiteers, why does your faithful flock suffer poverty, abuse, contempt and even death? Why do we, the church of the poor, get our goods and lands and homes, few as they are, confiscated, and even our children? Why do we, who preach peace, face the sword, the rack, the galley and the fire?

But has it not always been like this? That we so often draw upon your heavenly riches only when our earthly ones are at an end? And that your heavenly riches are so often invested in those whom the world neglects and despises, or even despoils? That I see, in the simple faith and steadfast courage of the impoverished and rejected brothers and sisters whom you have given me to love and to lead. In them I see how true it is, that the poor are rich in faith. And that you cannot outgive the poor. Sometimes we have to come to the end of our worldly resources before we partake of the heavenly ones. Help me to stand in that place, between earth’s poverty and heaven’s riches, in patience, love and faith.

Ethiopia, 1980’s

Dear friends in Christ, I think that all the members of our little cell have finally gathered in this hut. When you didn’t show up for over ten minutes, Mulugeta, we got worried, but our prayers for you have evidently been answered. You didn’t see any security agents of the Derg outside, did you? Good. Egziaber Yemesgen.

The news you heard is true: the government has confiscated our hospital in Nazareth, as well as the Bible school there. Our church buildings in Addis Ababa are now government storehouses or schools in which they teach Marxist doctrine. If you think you’ve lately been seeing more by way of Soviet tanks and trucks and military advisors, you’re not mistaken. Just when everything earthly and material is being taken from us, everything is pouring in from them. And those of us who have had to choose between swearing allegiance to the government and to the Marxist/Leninist creed, and losing our jobs, even our freedom, are now learning to trust God day by day just to survive.

We’re like the disciples in those tense moments between when Jesus told them to feed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish, and the moment when more bread came from heaven. But for now, all we have to help the widows and the orphans among us is this: (rattle coin can), enough for two days’ worth of injera.

But the gates of heaven did open up for those disciples, and heaven’s provisions came through hands that were empty of everything else. The Derg and its Soviet allies can take from us everything by way of possessions and position, even life itself. But if we serve the same Jesus whom those disciples did, then do not be surprised when God gives, in place of everything we have lost, power. Power to witness, power to serve, power to love, power to suffer, to endure and to overcome, power to share bread, bread for the stomach, and bread for the soul.

This I’ve seen already in the faithful suffering and courageous witness of God’s little flock. Just this week I heard about Brother Tesfa, who is now in prison. He was arrested for going out to visit and pray with the sick during curfew. When the security agents asked him for his documents, with the signed permission to travel, he showed them his Bible and said, “This is my permit to be out and about.”

CONTEMPORARY AMERICA, 2012—(A US citizen is computing his income taxes)

$125 for Center for Victims of Torture; $1250 for church. $50 for Public Television. I would have given them more, but half the time they are fundraising as it is. I swear, if they broadcast another Peter, Paul and Mary or BeeGees reunion, I’ll only send them what’s in this change jar (rattle can).

Criminy! Are these all the charitable contributions that I can document for last year? Funny, each time I gave anything, I said, “Whoah! That much?” and now that I’m doing my taxes, all I can say is, “Is that all?” Why did every contribution seem so big at the time, when they look so puny now? On April 14? Maybe its because I don’t like to live any nearer to the edge than I do. But do I? All I have to do is remember my friends from my voluntary service days in Guatemala to know that I live the life of Riley, even on my modest income.

Funny, I miss the church there still. They were poor in material, but rich in spirit, while we’re– how does the song put it?– “rich in things but poor in soul.” What a contrast that refugee church was to the gaudy, golden cathedrals we visited in Europe: so big and beautiful, but so empty and dispirited, too.

I don’t have to be poor in things to be rich in spirit, do I, God? I wouldn’t want anyone to be poor, not as poor as those internally displaced Guatemalans. I can’t think that You want that, either, Lord. But maybe the size of this figure in line 32 of my 1040 Form, the one for charitable contributions, is in some mysterious way connected to the size of my spirit, which right now also feels cramped and constrained.

And it doesn’t have to be something the government would recognize. Maybe it doesn’t always even have to be church. Last I heard from Manuel Ramirez, he’s waiting on God to multiply their meager resources somehow to get his son to that hospital in Houston. For Manuel, faith means holding out his hands in trust, trusting that God will fill them with bread. Maybe faith for me means opening my hands to let my extra bread go into Manuel’s hands. Could it be, that sometimes we have to move closer to the edge of our own resources to see more of what you have in your storehouse, God? So that no one has too little, and no one too much?

The End



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