Fears of scarcity overshadow abundance

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(Mass at Tabgha, the place of the Multiplication)

     The Gospel Reading for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12 Year B, is an account of Jesus feeding the five thousand at the site today identified as Tabgha, by the Sea of Galilee (John 6: 1-21). John points out a) that it was close to the feast of Passover and b) that Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread for the crowd.

It was a difficult question for the disciples. It would cost the equivalent of six months wages to buy enough bread for the crowd! To show how dire the situation was, Andrew pointed at “five barley loaves and two fish” in the possession of a little boy. What could that do; or why even bother?

Yet, Jesus knew what he was going to do. He multiplied the little that they had to abundance.

Like the disciples, often we only see scarcity. The root cause of hoarding and accumulation – so prevalent in consumerism – is the fear or perception of scarcity. We are afraid what we have will not carry us through, it will run out before the day is over. The truth is that the Universe is self-sustaining, that there is enough of everything to go around.

God has provided all we need for life. If we were compassionate enough and shared what is already available there would be enough for everyone and, even as in the Gospel, enough left overs. Indeed, when John narrates this story in the context of the Passover, the latter brings to mind God providing manna from heaven to feed the Israelites during their sojourn in the wilderness.

So, there is enough; only fear and greed drive us into wanting more and more and even not trusting God. In the First Reading for this Sunday (2 Samuel 11: 1-15) David not only commits adultery with Bathsheba, but orders the murder of her husband and faithful servant Uriah. Indeed, we can say that David already had everything he needed – as the prophet Nathan later chastised him – but he wanted even more and that led him to sin.

Let us pray that daily we will be guided to appreciate God’s abundance and not be distracted by the fear and perception of scarcity.

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A tale of two houses

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I remember those days of my childhood when my maternal grandfather came to visit and spend a few days with us. Occasionally he would gaze around our compound of two rectangular buildings facing each other with a dusty courtyard separating them, then he would say – almost lamenting – “this ought to be a big house; I don’t know why it is not happening”. He wasn’t talking about the two structures, but our household, his daughter’s, and the fact that we were still struggling, in poverty.

In the First Reading for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, or Proper 11, Year B (2 Samuel 7: 1-14a) King David expresses his desire to build a house for the Lord. He says, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent”. He was thinking of building a temple of worship for the Lord. But the Lord counters that with this promise: “The Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house”, like my grandfather’s wish.

The foundation of the house the Lord was promising would be “an offspring” of David’s.

The writer of Ephesians 2: 11-22 – the Epistle Reading for this Sunday – reminds us, Gentiles, that before Christ, we were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, with no hope and without God”. Christ has united Jews and Gentiles into one household of God. As he writes, we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”.

Through Christ, we now have hope and peace. Indeed that is what the Gospel Reading from Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 demonstrates when multitudes flock to Jesus seeking healing.

There is healing in Jesus, there is hope and there is peace as promised in the First Reading.

The question we ask ourselves today is this: Are we still strangers and aliens or do we know for sure that we are joined together in the household of God? Are we finding the healing and the wholeness that is available in Jesus Christ?

Whose dance moves us?

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There is something quite confounding in the Gospel Reading for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, or Proper 10 (Year B). In this reading, Mark relates the story of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist (Mark 6: 14-29). When Herod heard about Jesus and the mighty works he was performing, he was terrified. “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised”, he said. The Gospel further states that “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him” (verse 20).

What is baffling therefore is how Herod ended up beheading the man he feared, revered and protected! He knew what was right, and yet he did not do the right thing. And so, in the Collect we pray for grace to “know and understand what things we ought to do, and also power to faithfully accomplish them”.

For Herod, Herodias’ daughter’s dance upset his ability to do the right thing, but something else was even more decisive: He succumbed to his ego. It is hard to imagine that he really believed he would have given the enchantress half his kingdom. But that is the nature of the ego – to make grandiose promises.

He went even further in succumbing to his ego when he defied his conscience. He revered John, he knew of his integrity, he even feared him. Yet, his ego led him to follow the enchantress’ wishes rather than his own integrity.

How often do we hold on to our pre-set standing policies even when responding to issues of justice and compassion?

In the First Reading (2 Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b- 19) David faced challenges to his own ego. Here was an occasion to sing, dance and praise the Lord. Was it appropriate for a royal, a king, to join in such mundane behaviors of the commoners dancing on the streets? The text says he “was girded with a linen ephod” which would have left him almost half naked.

David’s wife, Michal, believed a king ought not to compromise his dignity with such lowly performances. But David would not let his ego stand in the way of praising and rejoicing in the Lord. Neither should we. Indeed, as the Epistle Reading points out, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 1: 3-14).

We have a lot to praise and rejoice in the Lord. Let us pray that we model David, not Herodias’ daughter or Herod Antipas.

Think Grace

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There is another lesson in the Epistle and Gospel Readings for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year B). In 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10 Paul talks about power in weakness when he writes, “for power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9). In his prayer to have the “thorn in the flesh” removed, the Lord reminded him that his grace was all-sufficient.

Excess, especially in material possessions – what is included in the term “materialism” – can prevent one from realizing and appreciating the grace that is available.

In the second part of the Gospel Reading (Mark 6: 1-13) Jesus instructs his disciples “to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics”. Why is that?

Jesus foresaw the dangers of scarcity thinking – a mindset of scarcity, if you like. It is true that every additional item acquired creates a longing for another one. It is equally true that it is easier to acquire and accumulate that to discard. The last time you moved you probably realized how much stuff you had accumulated, some you probably never used (or needed).

In this Gospel Jesus was instructing his disciples to focus on what they needed, the basic necessities; not only that but to live a life of sharing. “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place” In other words, he was encouraging them to be content with what was available – and often, what is available is all-sufficient. It is the mindset of scarcity, of not enough, that creates the need to hoard and accumulate.

Indeed, this is the spirit of economics of compassion where we recognize that there is enough – abundance – of everything to go around. The opposite, the mindset that there is not enough, leads to nightmares (like the pharaoh’s in Joseph’s time) and in our time that leads to panic, over-production, exploitation and waste.

Can you see God’s grace in everything?

Solutions through mindset retreats

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I just received an invitation to a fabulous mindset retreat scheduled for October in beautiful Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. You may be wondering, why would anyone bother about mindset retreats? What is a mindset anyway?

Any dictionary you consult will include “a mental attitude”, “fixed”, “way of thinking” and “how one responds” in its definition of mindset.

In the Gospel Reading for Proper 9 (Year B) Jesus taught in the synagogue in Nazareth – his hometown – and those who heard him were astounded. “Where did this man get all this?” they wondered. Why? Because he was just one of them: “the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother James and Joses and Judas and Simon”. They even knew his sisters! (Mark 6: 1-13).

That was the mindset of the people of Nazareth. Their worldview of a carpenter was fixed and they had fixed ideas of what he should say and do. Jesus was upsetting their mindset and their worldview. That is why Jesus said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house”. It is the same reason that Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief”.

All of us, like the people of Nazareth, have our worldviews which have been shaped by our mindset. In all cases, mindsets limit our scope and possibilities. I imagine everyone is familiar with phrases like, “that is impossible”, “you can’t do it”, “you don’t have the training (or education)”, “no one in the family has done that” or “what family is it?” and so on. Until one breaks out of the cycle, one will believe those phrases and one’s world will similarly be limited.

Thus, we need a mindset retreat, not only in October, but every day because most limitations are of our own making. Jesus is offering possibilities – the same possibilities he offered to his townsfolk of Nazareth. And the question for every one of us is: What is limiting you? The problem most probably is the mindset.