Sunday, July 25, 2021
“Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?’”
Part of what makes a drama, suspense thriller, action movie, car chase, or fight sequence so exciting is the stakes involved. That may be world wide destruction, personal death, or the end of a meaningful relationship, but when the stakes are high, we are drawn to the action. Something important is going down. Everything hinges on the result. Most of our lives aren’t lived this way. More often than not, it seems like the stakes are pretty low. We get caught in the mundane, ordinary, and apparently inconsequential. Stephen Covey popularized one way of understanding activities through his use of The Urgent Important Matrix. This matrix rates tasks as important or unimportant and urgent or non-urgent. Categorizing activities into one of the four quadrants can be a helpful tool for productivity and time management. Much of our time seems to get used for the unimportant and non-urgent or for the unimportant and urgent. With the pandemic this past year, we were often in the important and urgent crisis mode, which over a sustained period can lead to stress, burnout, numbness, or agitation. In many of our lives, we don’t spend enough time with the important non-urgent tasks and activities. In any case, when the stakes are high, we feel the tension and are drawn into the story. When they are not, well…
An important caveat to the above matrix is that people last forever. We all have an eternal destiny, one that God desires for eternal love and communion, but it’s not guaranteed. Even our seemingly mundane, unimportant, and non-urgent actions can be imbued with love and eternal significance. More than that, by God’s grace and providence, he can use the small and seemingly insignificant gifts we offer for a disproportionately good outcome. In the economy of grace, even our smallest actions can have outsized results. Take the five barley loaves and two fish. What good are these for so many? No good, without God’s grace. They are of no significance until God’s abundance is added. In his infinite goodness, however, they are enough to meet the need. We can get discourage by the smallness of what we have to offer. We may reckon that our gifts will make no meaningful impact. We may even refrain from acting because we think that it will take more than we have to offer to make a difference. This is the moment for faith, when we trust God to take our offering and use it for his purpose. Could God do it without us? Of course, but St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” God has chosen to work through us. Even our small gifts are significant for God’s purposes, for the people he loves.
It reminds me of the many adaptations I have read by motivational speakers, preachers, and online of the Star Thrower story. Originally published as part of an essay in 1969 by Loren Eiseley, an anthropologist, naturalist, and writer, the adaptations are usually a simpler retelling that go something like this: Along a shore covered with thousands of starfish washed up by a storm, a man notices a child picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the water. A moment later, the child does it again. Incredulous, the man says to the child, “There are so many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The child is crestfallen and looks down at the sand. A moment later, she reaches down, picks up another starfish, and tosses it into the sea. She looks up and says to the man, “I made a difference for that one!” We are called to do what we can, give what we have, and trust in God. It is the exuberant and innocent faith of a child. With God, five barley loaves and two fish offered by a boy were more than enough. What will God do with what you have to offer?