I came across a math problem on social media this week. I thought I would give it a go, even though I am terrible at math. It was a multiplication problem, and the trick was to figure out where the parentheses should go. But that turned out to not matter, because it was a series of steps that concluded with “times zero.” So no matter how you added, multiplied, or subtracted the other numbers, “times zero” resulted in zero. Anytime you try to multiply something by nothing, you get nothing. (Cue Billy Preston.)
Many of us are familiar with the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in the New Testament. All four gospels record Jesus’ feeding the multitudes of people with a small portion of barley loaves and fish. This story is so important, it is the only story besides the resurrection that is recorded in every gospel.
But did you know that a similar story appears in the Old Testament?
Our scripture from 2 Kings today tells a story about Elisha that sounds very familiar:
2 Kings 4 (New Revised Standard Version)
42 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.”
43 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.’” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
There are several things that jump out in this passage. The man presented food from the first fruits to Elisha, who was a man of God. The phrase first fruits refers to the first and best part of the harvest in the amount of ten percent. This tells us that the giver was obedient to the tithing law. He brought one-tenth of his harvest to Elisha as the Law instructed. Somehow this man understood that you can’t multiply something from nothing, and so he brought his small offering with the understanding that it would be multiplied.
Do you tithe? This ancient practice is as relevant today as it was in those times. The people of God who give generously of their time, talent, and tithe can tell you what blessings flow from this practice.
And we have to pay attention to Elisha’s response. His instruction to his servant was to give it all away. He didn’t take a portion for himself and then instruct the left-overs be distributed. No, he is confident that his needs will be met if the people are served first.
When you receive an unexpected blessing of abundance, what do you do with it? Do you hoard it, bury it in the ground, bank it, or do you share it? God’s word affirms his desire that we should serve others before we serve ourselves. We can do this with confidence, knowing that Jesus’ example of washing his disciples’ feet was a lesson to us about how to have a servant’s heart. Where is God calling you to put someone or something first?
Finally, this passage assures us that God always makes good on his promises. Elisha was standing on the word of God when he made the crazy suggestion to feed one hundred people with twenty loaves of bread and a few heads of grain. He probably didn’t even count what had been set in front of him. He didn’t do the math to figure out how small to cut the slices, like a worried mother would when too many people show up at the birthday party. No, he just gave it all in the firm belief that God would multiply it, simply because God said he would. And not only did everyone get enough to eat, there were left-overs!
Where is God calling you to stand on his promises? Where is he nudging you to let go of the little that you have so that you can receive the abundance he is waiting to deliver? When we let go of the things we hold onto the tightest, such as our resources, our time, our fears, our past history, our mistakes, our pre-conceived notions, etc., it is only then that we are open to what God is trying to give us.
We live our lives out of a theology of scarcity or a theology of abundance. Jesus came so that you might have life, and have it ABUNDANTLY. God invites us to trust him today and let go…and receive.