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Sunday, December 13, 2009


"Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments." (Proverbs 23:6-8 NIV)

I was thinking the other day about how society obsesses over public figures, politics, sports, money, beauty (and the exploitation thereof), popularity, and so forth. Sometimes it seems as if everyone is endlessly running from one crowd to another, chasing after the illusive power and prestige associated with a person or thing, fawning over people shamelessly and gobbling up any attention they can get from them.

I just have to ask--why do we do it all? In the verse above, the stingy man "is always thinking about the cost." The way I read it, the stingy man is viewing his food--his delicacies whatever they may be--as a source of power over others. He is always calculating how much he can give away without losing a scrap of that power. And so his generosity never comes from love or compassion, but rather it stems from a greed for power, and a desire to solidify or consolidate that power. In that way, the stingy man is never satisfied with his power because it is always in jeopardy of being lost. Likewise, the followers who eat out of his hand will never be full (because then food has no power with them!), nor will the food ever leave anything but an empty, bitter taste in their mouth (because few things are more bitter than knowing that you are viewed with contempt).

The world grasps for every crumb that falls from the table of their "masters." In fact, the root meaning of the English expression, to fawn, contains the imagery of a dog licking from his master's hand, or the pecking of a bird. Now, for dogs and birds, this may be satisfying, but for humans I can't see it as anything less than a dehumanizing, disgraceful pattern of behavior. God has made a better way. We weren't made to grovel, or to be made to grovel.

The Little Boy's Snack

We've all heard the story of the time Jesus fed the 5,000 (John 6: 1-13), and I've often heard that passage used as an illustration of God's power to provide for all our needs. But there is another, simpler message in that passage: God's model of generosity.

I used to think about that little boy in the crowd with the five loaves and two fishes. I could just hear his mother saying, "Now don't lose this! I went to all this trouble to pack you a lunch, so don't come back complaining that you're hungry. I'm a good mom, you know!" In fact, she was, since she managed to be the only woman in the place who had thought of everything!

Somehow, totally unexpectedly, that little boy had something everyone else wanted. He had power and popularity, and all because of his little snack. He could have been stingy, dealing out a tiny bit to the growling stomachs all around him, but keeping the lion's-share for himself. Instead, he forked over the entire lunch to Jesus and kept nothing for himself. This is what Jesus meant when He commented that kids understand the kingdom of God better than adults!

Now, suddenly the power had shifted into Jesus' hands. I'm sure He was just as hungry as everyone else, and He could have just said, "Thanks, kid!" and eaten it all Himself. After all, as God of the universe, everything is His due, to do with as He pleases.

But Jesus didn't keep all that power to Himself, either. He gave thanks over the food and distributed it to everyone miraculously, so that everyone got "as much as they wanted" (John 6: 11 NIV). In fact, He gave so much that there was enough left over to feed another good-sized crowd.   Here we see that Jesus' model of generosity demands that we give without consideration of the cost--that is, without considering the loss or gain of power in the choice--and that we give beyond what was expected of us. God doesn't count out breadcrumbs like pennies. Rather, He gives us so much that there is plenty left for the next person, so that no one has any reason to fight over the crumbs.

Another Bread Story

I wonder if the disciples thought about that day with the crowd of 5,000 when Jesus stood up at the last Passover dinner, "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me'" (Luke 22: 19 NIV).

Again, Jesus was modeling generosity. The bread Christ passed out to the crowd had long since vanished, but it had foreshadowed the greater miracle of Christ's resurrection. Just as it seemed impossible that a tiny meal, given freely by the humblest father's son in the crowd, could feed 5,000 people, with leftovers, it seems impossible that God's humble son could give His one life to save us all, with plenty left over for those who didn't come. But Christ did it! What's more, just as the little boy gave his whole meal, not expecting to take it back, Jesus gave His all with no desire to hold it back from anyone who asked for it!

Now, as Christians run from store to store, there is a simpler, more obvious gift we should be thinking about this time of year. We may have many material gifts to give this season, but we have something far more valuable to offer this stingy world: God's son! When we pass the bread rolls, I'm asking that we think about passing the good news to a hopeless, hungry world. When we tell our own stories, we ought to make sure that we tell the good news as well. Is there someone in your life who hasn't heard about Jesus?  Well, Christmas is the best time of year to finally broach the subject.  Why should anyone be left out in the cold when the stable door is open?


Shannon said...

Great message, and a sobering reminder of our duty to give out this treasure we hold.