July 21, 2015

Humanomics



A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, "Give it to the people and let them eat."  But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" So he repeated, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'"  He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. (2 Kings 4:42-44)


After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,  There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?  Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.  Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." (John 6:1-14)
 

Give it to the people and let them eat.

There isn’t enough. What will we do? How can we feed people if we don’t think there’s enough to go around? Just don’t. Put it away.

Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?

It was Jesus’ trick question. Philip fell for it. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each to get a snack.”

And then the bread breaking began. All the fears and worries, all the calculations and rationing, all looked ridiculous. When people break bread in thanksgiving to God, in the way of Jesus, unexpected abundance happens.

Most of us Westerners are schooled in the worldview of classical economics. Supply and demand. Scarcity. Not enough to go around. All commodities go to whomever has the most money. And the biggest one: The invisible hand of the market takes care of all.

Except when it doesn’t. Like when poor children don’t eat and their malnourished brains don’t develop properly. Like when impoverished countries go to war over bread. Like when people work forty, sixty, eighty hours a week a minimum wage and can barely pay rent, let alone groceries.

What do we make of Elisha’s “give it to the people and let them eat”? How do we hear Jesus’ act of going ahead with the feeding with meager provisions?

Humanomics. Yeah, I made it up. But what I mean is: Meeting human need even when we aren’t sure how the economics of it will work out. Not enough bread. Not enough money. We feel that every day. If we let that worry and fear and rationalism run everything, we would be even more cold hearted than we already are.

But occasionally prophets witness and compassion slips in. Occasionally Jesus speaks and people listen and bread is shared in crazy foolish ways. A few fish, too. Once in a while we rise above all the limitations on love and mercy that we have out of our endless anxiety over money and bread and we just do it. We feed people. We break bread together. We trust God enough to share.

Of course, there’s more going on in these stories than people being generous. There’s a divine blessing, a holy action, a mysterious multiplying of what we do to become something greater. I should probably make up a different word from  humanomics. I should probably make up a word like Godonomics. Or Jesusonomics. Or Lovonomics. How about faithonomics?

Whatever the word, the message for people of faith is pretty clear: Feed people, share bread. Befriend the hungry. Just do it. Trust the God of abundance, and scarcity will become scarce.