Multiplication

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.

Abundance by Kathy Schumacher

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a way of outsourcing a task or obtaining information for a project by using the input of a large group of people, typically on the internet. Social media, smartphone apps, and electronic surveys are just some of the means by which interested parties can source work or gather information. People are invited to collectively contribute ideas, time, expertise, or funds to a common goal. For example, traffic tracking apps such as Waze use driver/rider generated reports to communicate accidents, objects in the road, construction, and police on your journey. Uber pairs drivers with people who need a ride, an example of crowdsourced transportation.

Lays Potato Chips has really maximized the concept of crowdsourcing in its campaign “Do Us a Flavor,” where they asked people to submit ideas for potato chip flavors. Then the public was invited to vote on the flavors they would like to try. The top four submissions became actual products. So new flavors such as Crispy Taco, Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle, and Beer Cheese have been crowdsourced from inception to having the final selection available at your local Wawa. I don’t know who came up with the idea of Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle potato chips, but I want some.

At the heart of crowdsourcing is the notion of people coming together to help each other. I once traveled to Florida using Waze, and saved close to two hours in traffic. Others ahead of me reported a crash that had shut down the highway, and WAZE suggested a faster route.

Crowdsourcing existed in the early church, but they didn’t call it that. Martin Luther was an original crowd-sourcer. His frustrations with the institutional Church led him to write his “Ninety-Five Theses: A Disputation on the Power of Indulgences” and nail them on the door of the church in Wittenberg, which was located in the heart of the city on the public square. People read it, printed it, translated it, and shared its ideas with others throughout Germany and the rest of Europe, and thus the Reformation began.

But Jesus, of course was THE original crowd SOURCE. He spent a good deal of his ministry among the crowds. In the wonderful miracle known as the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” we see him at his crowdsourcing best:

Matthew 14 (The Message)

Supper for Five Thousand

13-14 When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.

15 Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.”

16 But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.”

17 “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said.

18-21 Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.

Did you notice how that went? The disciples were expecting Jesus to come up with the meal. Jesus told the twelve to figure something out. They came up with five loaves and two fish, and lunch was served on the lawn. So Jesus sourced the miracle, and the crowd sourced the “re-source.”

What resource are you holding onto that would be better shared with the crowd? Where can you offer your expertise, your ideas, or your opinions in a way that constructively benefits others? Where is God calling you to take the Good News out into the public square and re-form the people?

Whatever your resource may be, God calls us to break our loaves and fish open and offer them to the world. And whenever you have served the least of these with whatever you have, you have served the Lord. And don’t forget to pick up the leftovers.

Fishing off Avalon Pier by Michelle Robertson