2 Kings 4:1-7, 42-44, John 6:1-21 – Pentecost 11, 2018 – Pastor Goede
These incidents of Elisha and Jesus multiplying the oil and bread and fish have been on my mind these past weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot these past weeks about abundance and deprivation and need. I spent the last two weeks clearing out my parents’ house. My mom lives in a nursing home, but my dad is still in his house. He’s 91, and for the moment, he’s fine staying in his house. Still, he won’t be there forever, and there’s a lot of stuff to sort through. He was not keen on my suggestion last year that we have a yard sale. Soon enough, we’ll auction the house and contents, he would say. But, he was feeling weighed down by all the stuff, so he decided that a sale was a good interim step.
My parents have a lot of stuff. They’ve never had a sale or brought anything to Goodwill or even thrown much away. My mom inherited the hoarder gene from her mother. My grandma was a “saver,” and she wasn’t the only one in her family. I remember going to her sister Bea’s house on Sunday afternoons and boggling at all the boxes and bags stacked in every corner. Now, Bea’s daughter Virginia lives in the house she inherited from her parents, which has gone from boxes and bags in the corners to candidate for reality television show. She parks in the driveway because the garage is full of stuff. She can’t watch TV anymore because hers broke years ago, and there was no way a repairman could get to it. She sleeps on the couch just inside the front door, because she can’t reach her bedroom. Her brother came and dug her out several years ago, and her church did it again a few years after that. Now, there’s just as much stuff as ever, and no one is anxious to dig her out again. My dad and I had some serious discussion about what to do if Virginia shows up at our sale, which she probably will, and wants to load up her car with stuff.
Hoarders are such a puzzle, because they turn ideas about abundance and deprivation on their head. They have so much stuff, which seems like it should be abundance, but it’s so overwhelming that someone like Virginia is deprived of the most basic things, like a bed to sleep in and food made in a kitchen and a bathroom where you can shower. All the stuff can hide some real emotional deprivation; some parts of your life must feel very barren to be so obsessed by such disordered acquisition and possession. Hoarders are no longer the master of their stuff, but enslaved by it.
Remember that the widow comes to Elisha in danger of enslavement. Her children are on the brink of being carried into slavery to pay her husband’s debts. She’s desperate for Elisha’s help, because she has nothing left but a jar of oil. She seems to live in great deprivation, but Elisha takes the little she has and multiplies it to abundance. The children keep finding empty vessels in their house, and the jar of oil keeps pouring and filling them up, until they can’t find anything else to hold it. Then the oil stops, when there is plenty. It doesn’t keep pouring and creating problems of too much oil. It’s enough for them to pay their debts and live on for some amount of time. In the same way, all of the people listening to Jesus eat until they’re satisfied.
There’s plenty left over, but no one keeps breaking the loaves trying to wring out more to sell or to keep for the next day.
What the widow and the crowds have in abundance is faith that God will provide, and God meets their faith. God provides enough oil and fish and bread, for the moment. God provides a response to real need, which meets some real deprivation in lives. For instance, the widow is alone. She has children, and she still lives among the company of prophets and their families. But in this society, where it’s so crucial to have a husband, she struggles on without her husband, and that must feel like deprivation, to be without her crucial protector. But God works through Elisha and fills that need, and the widow is fed, satisfied.
These passages were on my mind these past weeks, as I cleared out the house and thought about abundance and deprivation. They made me think about what it is that I hunger for. What do I have in abundance? Where is there deprivation in my life? How is God providing for me? For all of us?