Can’t or Won’t

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Mark 8:1-10

As it happened, another large crowd gathered without any food. Jesus called his students and said, “I feel so bad for this crowd. They’ve been following me around for three days with no food. If I send them home hungry they’ll starve to death on the way back. Some of them have come a very long way.”

His students answered, “How can anyone get enough food for all these people here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Well, how much bread do you have?” he asked them.

“Seven loaves,” they answered.

So he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and broke them with gratitude, and gave the pieces to his students to pass around. As it turned out, they also had a few fish, which Jesus also ordered them to pass out. So everyone, about four thousand people, ate till they were full, and the pieces left over filled seven baskets. After which Jesus sent them back home. Then Jesus took his students and they caught the first boat to Dalmanutha.

(See also previous commentary about feeding the multitudes. Also, note that as with Matthew, Mark’s gospel records two such episodes. The passages that take place between the two are significant. A three-part series on these starts here.)

The question Jesus’ students are asking is, in effect: “How can you expect us to do something so big?”

And Jesus’ answer is: “Use what you have and do it.”

Too simple? Most of the time what keeps us from doing the amazing, big thing we really want to do is our saying we can’t. But the Jesus is ready to call our bluff. Is it that we can’t? Or we won’t?

How much bread do you have? Jesus asks. And why are you holding onto it so tightly. And, once things get going, the disciples discover (or did they get outed) that they actually have more than they at first reported. Look! Fish! Who knew we had fish! And even then, Jesus has to order them to share.

Chances are, we have more resources than we think we have. It’s the willingness to expend them that is in question.

It’s true for individuals. But it’s also true of churches. How many churches are sitting on huge endowments, and clinging to the money with white knuckles while they and the crowds of hungry people in the neighborhoods around them starve to death? All the while whining about how they’re too few and decrepit to do anything great for Jesus.

It’s true for churches. But it’s also true of businesses. Non-profits. Even nations.

Next time you’re presented with the opportunity to do something really big, something that will really help a lot of people [Hint: it’ll probably happen sometime today.] consider why you’re saying no. Is it because you really can’t. Or won’t?

Inspiration Trumps Command

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1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

Friends, we want you to respect your hard-working leaders when they tell you what to do, and not only to respect but love them. And no fighting amongst yourselves – put the troublemakers on notice. Cheer the depressed and help the weak. Be patient with them. No tit-for-tat. Scratch each other’s backs. Be joyful. Pray. Be grateful. God wants you to be grateful. Don’t be a wet blanket on the fires of enthusiasm for God, but check everything carefully, keeping the good, rejecting the evil.

Hugh MacLeod drew a cartoon a few weeks ago about the leader who demands to be loved. Hugh says, “There‚Äôs something very funny and slightly tragic about a guy who tries very hard to command respect, but fails miserably.” Because you can’t command respect, let alone love. You can only earn it. And it’s something that has to be continually re-earned in every interaction.

And, though Hugh was referring to corporate culture, the same is true in your family, in your church, in your bridge club. Wherever. People are people. They’re not yours to command, even if they are your employees, your children, your spouse, your volunteers, your clients, your parishioners, or your committee members. You can’t make them like you. You can’t by your command make them be joyful. You can’t make them pray. You can’t keep them from fighting with each other. You can’t make them be grateful.

What you can do is command yourself. You can find your own reason to be joyful, or grateful, or both. You can unilaterally unplug from the argument. You can voice your own respect for someone else. You can tell someone you love them. You can pray. You can do this yourself. Not because by doing so you will somehow begin to command anyone else to follow your example. But because, strangely enough, when you focus on yourself and what you can do, you’re just a little more inspiring for those who are inclined to.