See The Crowd and Have Compassion!Fr. Barnabas Powell
It was actually, physically, painful to hear her say those words. I was at the point of both tears and disbelief. You see, we had the opportunity to help some homeless people in our community by participating, as a parish, in a wonderful ministry to homeless families in our county. We are blessed to live in one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest counties in Georgia and even the nation. And yet, with all that wealth, we had learned that there were at least 600 homeless children in our public schools in our area. The ministry is called Family Promise.
We were at the launching information session about this ministry in our county when a lady looked at me and said that we had our own problems to deal with. Let somebody else take care of them! I was uncharacteristically speechless for a moment. You see, we had a building on a beautiful piece of property here that sat empty most of the week. Sure, we were packed on Sundays, but through the week we had all this space and no one using it. And all the homeless ministry asked for was 4 weeks a year, to help house some homeless families. Thankfully, our parish council approved our participation unanimously!
But what was I to make of such an inward-focused vision of Christian ministry and responsibility? Can a community truly be Orthodox Christian if it only focuses on itself?
Look at our lesson today in Luke 9:12-18:
At that time, the twelve disciples came to Jesus and said to him, “Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish — unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.” And they did so, and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Now it happened that as he was praying alone the disciples were with him.
We know this story well, but notice how Jesus responds to His disciples when they suggest that the hungry be sent away to go get food for themselves.
Jesus tells them “You give them something to eat!” Of course, that statement set off all the usual comments about “We don’t have enough money” “There are too many” or “We need to take care of our own first.” Well, maybe that’s not what they said, but I bet you’ve heard similar statements in the past. Hey, maybe you’ve said as much!
What they did do is say that all they had was “five loaves and two fish.” Certainly so little could never feed so many, right? Well, sure, with that attitude. But Jesus commands them to sit down on the ground, all 5000 men, not counting women and children, and He takes what they have and blesses it. And you know the rest of the story! The leftovers were a hundred times more than the original gifts!
You see, dear one, God needs you to abandon the notion that we don’t have enough. This lie of scarcity is paralyzing our parishes all across the country! This inward focus of so many Orthodox parishes is a symptom of deep spiritual illness. And it first rears its ugly head when we start insisting we have an outward focus rather than being blind to the “crowd” around us!
My wonderful executive coach once told me “Don’t lead with barriers!” Don’t tell me why it’s impossible. Tell me what needs to happen and then begin! Because you are never going to have “enough” to “feed” all the souls around you UNLESS you learn to submit all you have, as little as it may be, to God for His blessing. When you learn, when your parish learns, when your family learns, that God has to be included for there ever to be enough to do the glorious work of feeding the hungry, both physically and spiritually, then, and only then, will the leftovers be more than what you had in the beginning!
That’s why I’ve stopped answering the question “Father, what does the church need?” And I’ve started insisting that folks appreciate that when they stop giving TO need and start giving FROM gratitude and faith, we will not only have what we need, but we’ll have leftovers enough to share with others.
Today, are you stuck in the poverty of your own blindness? Are you willing to see your life become a blessing to all around you as you abandon the small-minded doubt of “we don’t have enough” to “Let’s share what we have with God’s blessing?” If you can make that shift in your own heart, you’ll be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, Your people perish for lack of knowledge! We are dying as communities so focused on ourselves that we can’t see the hungry crow around us. And this is killing us, Lord! Please rescue us from this deadly blindness and grant us the courage to offer You what we have for Your blessings. We will always have what we need when we focus on You and on those around us rather than ourselves. Amen