Among the many ways we learn to live unconnectedly, here are two that I am conscious of this week: first, how easy it is for us to pass off responsibility for what we see could be better, and second, how common it is for us to be stymied by the sheer size of the problems before us. Avoidance and inadequacy: know anything about these habits of being? Of course you do. Like me, like all of us, the human condition is greatly defined by such states of mind. But then you find a story that shifts your perspective and grounds you in practical hopefulness. That story for me is to be found in Mark 6:30-44, one of the miraculous feeding stories of Jesus. But even though this story functions as a pointer to who Jesus is -- loving Lord of creation -- it also points to how much we are involved in what he does.
The crowds have pursued Jesus to a remote place, and now they are hungry. And when his disciples raise the issue with Jesus, what does he say? “You feed them” (Mark 6:37). This is surprising. Instead of that well-practiced form of religion which believes change comes through criticism, Jesus was pointing towards the change that comes through involvement. Having seen the problem, he wanted his disciples as participants in the solution.
In my younger days, I had developed a capacity for analysis and critique, seeing what was missing in the world and in the church, and saying “that’s not the way its supposed to be, somebody should fix that”. I thought the pathway to righteousness was to critique what was wrong. But that was only the start of the journey. I acutely remember venting to my dad once, thinking we could stew together on the sorry state of the world and the church. But Dad merely said, “if you see a problem, if you see something that should be different, maybe this is God’s call for you to be part of the solution”. I am not sure he was consciously trying to echo the words of Jesus when he gave me that advice, but he was plainly was: “you do it”.
Of course, as we follow the story in Mark 6, the disciples complain about their inability to solve the crowd’s hunger problem, but that doesn’t stop Jesus from pushing the matter to its inevitable end: “how much bread do you have?” And when they report they have five loaves and two fish, he as much says, “I will start with that”.
In the healing of our world, which is ultimately something so large only God can do it (lets not fool ourselves), there is still this very real call to personal participation. Each of us is called to do something, even though what we have to give is plainly inadequate for the job. American president Theodore Roosevelt famously said these words:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
I would simply add that we are not alone in this; we are not merely those brave individuals who strive against impossible odds. No, we are participants in the work of God in the world. And yes, there is always a gap between what we are able to accomplish and what needs to be accomplished, and so we pray as we work. But the point about being a critic without doing anything is well taken. Jesus never left us that option.
You will encounter this story this week if you are following the Bible reading guide in our Deep Dive Journal. If you haven’t received your Deep Dive Journal, make sure you pick one up this weekend. You will find the reading guide on pages 100-101.
And as you read the Scriptures, let this challenge become personal for you. Have you been alerted to some way the world could be a better place? Then listen to the words of Jesus, “you do it... what do you have to give?” (Mark 6:37-38). Then, in his grace, he will take of what you give and make it more than it is.