August 2, 2020
Isaiah 55:1-5, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21
Managing the Household
The term economics comes from the Greek word, oikonomia. The Greek word literally means “management of the household”. There are different schools that teach contradictory theories on how to “manage the household”.
John Maynard Keynes, was a proponent of full employment and government intervention as a way to stop economic recession.
Milton Friedman, on the other hand, believed and taught that the government should play a significantly lesser role. He believed that Government’s job is to stay out of the affairs of business.
As you know, these 2 approaches are still alive and well today. And each one of them has its disciples and they don’t really agree with each other!
Both of them however, use concepts like scarcity, supply and demand, markets, business cycles, products and productivity. Both of them are aware that in a free market system some people fare better than others while others simply cannot compete and they fall behind.
My task this morning is not to tell you which approach is better. Both of them, and all other approaches on how the human household should be managed, is imperfect. You see, the reality is that human beings find it very hard to manage their household. There are always some who win and some who are left behind!
My humble task, as a theologian and Christian is to try to provide you with an alternative to the rough and tumble of economics in the real world. This alternative has been called “divine economics”. Let ‘s call this God’s idea of how, in God’s Kingdom, the human household should be managed.
Last week we read about Gods’ Kingdom that starts tiny, like a mustard seed and then grows into something big and strong that provides shelter for birds. This week we get another glimpse into the Kingdom of God.
Let’s pause for a moment at out Isaiah reading. Isaiah paints a picture for Jewish Exiles in Babylon of a future where God would reign. The careful reader would notice that there is an unusual build-up of imperatives: come and buy, incline your ear, see. These imperatives serve to proclaim salvation and to invite people to be part of God’s Kingdom. The invitation is for all and it shows that there is abundance -rich food-without money! So Divine economics neither divide between winners and losers, nor work with a concept of scarcity!
This is a remarkable difference with far reaching consequences. In God’s dream for the future the covenant is to be inclusive and not exclusive! And there will be enough for all!
I believe that God wants the human household to be managed in such a way that everyone is included! There are no outsiders in God’s dream for human kind! There are only “us” – not them! And God’s Kingdom is about abundance. There is more than enough for all.
The Gospel of Matthew, as you know, was originally written to Jewish Christians. The author and original readers were familiar with Jewish history and the message of the prophets. This fact is important as we take one step further in trying to understand what God’s idea is for managing the human household.
Matthew informs us that Jesus wanted to be alone but the crowd followed him. Matthew mentions that Jesus looked at them and had compassion for them and he healed the sick. This is Matthew’s way of saying that Jesus was never a passive observer. He became involved in the plight of others because he had compassion with them!
Evening came and the crowd became hungry. The disciples pointed this out and Jesus said to them: “You give them something!” NT scholar Nielsen in his commentary says that Jesus involved his disciples! He wanted them to act with compassion – just like he did!
You know the rest of the story. With five loaves of bread and two fish Jesus fed all of them! An amazing story with a great message!
All four Gospels tell of this event. Matthew however has his own specific purpose in mind and I believe that his purpose gives us good insight in divine economics.
First of all, the image of a meal in Matthew where bread is broken points to the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus, as a second Moses, by breaking bread, introduces the kingdom of God! Jesus did not have any restriction on who was welcome and who was not. He welcomed the whole crowd. This was in contrast with the religious leaders of the time who regularly discussed the question whether Samaritans should be allowed to eat with Jews, or whether Jews should break bread with sinners, or toll collectors.
Jesus does not ask questions – everyone is simply served! He broke bread and gave it freely to all!
As I said, scarcity is a key word in our economics dictionary. And it is because of scarcity that we ferociously compete against each other because, in our understanding of economics, there is never enough for all!
However, in God’s kingdom scarcity is not an issue! Matthew says that all of them were filled and there was even left overs! 12 baskets full! There is enough for all 12 tribes of Israel! God’s Kingdom is not only for the small number of Jewish Christians to whom Matthew is writing! The kingdom of God is neither about scarcity nor is it a zero sum game! God’s kingdom is about abundance, about blessings greater than we can ever imagine.
The Kingdom is about God’s overflowing goodness and blessings and love of human kind.
I am not always sure how to share my faith as a Christian with others. I am reluctant to share my faith because of how aggressive some people are in proselytizing. How eager they are to judge the behavior of others, or how they somehow suggest that they are better because of their faith. And alternative way perhaps, as people who understand God’s abundance and generosity, we could share our deep gratitude and excitement for the inclusiveness and abundance of God’s Kingdom!
According to Jewish custom only men were counted! Women and children were not counted because they did not count! Matthew keeps to this custom. There were 5000 men but then in a surprising turn he mentions plus women and children! Once again, the Kingdom of God includes those who do not count in the society!
I want to go back to Matthew’s comment that Jesus when he saw them, had compassion for them. What he saw moved him, he took them to heart, he had compassion for them. The word for compassion is also used in Matthew 9:36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The Greek word for compassion in the NT is often translated with “loving mercy.” Jesus has compassion or loving mercy for the crowd!
And as I said, Jesus includes his Disciples in his plan to feed them: “You give them something to eat.”
I am wholeheartedly convinced that Jesus wants to include us in God’s plan to show God’s divine compassion to humankind! We, who have seen God’s compassion for humanity in Christ, we who understand God’s Kingdom is an inclusive one and it is one of abundance, are given the opportunity to illustrate what God’s compassion means in daily living. The reality that faces us in our world today is that many people are in desperate need of compassion. Their lives are a constant struggle, scarcity is a word that is part of their existence, and with scarcity anxiety and hopelessness set in. Therefore, compassion is needed and compassion in itself has become a scarcity.
You see it is much easier to do what the disciples wanted to do: send them away so that they may buy food for themselves. And as I said, the Disciples response on the surface was logical – it is a big crowd, there are no stores here, and after all it is getting late!
But there may have been other reasons why they responded this way. The crowd did not plan in advance, they should have known better, why did they not bring their own food, it really is their own fault. It is plausible that they could have had these thoughts, right, because we have used these arguments ourselves! But let me share with you one more reason why they perhaps wanted them to go away: The disciples most likely intuitively knew that they were in danger of losing what they had. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish – enough for the twelve of us- but not enough for all of us.” Not much and now we have to share? They were still in the scarcity mindset and they forgot God’s abundance!
Divine Economics! Jesus presents God’s kingdom where God’s abundance is free-for all! No one is excluded, everyone will have a place at the table, everyone counts! God gives what the world cannot give and what God gives matters! It is extremely hard to let go – especially if you have a lot and especially if you are used to think in terms of scarcity, about them and us, about accumulating. The Biblical alternative is meant as an invitation to all. It requires a leap of faith! Isaiah and Matthew considered that making the leap was worth the risk. What do you think? Amen!