The Burdens of Wealth and the Reversal of Loaves and Fishes

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By Will Deatherage, Executive Director

When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” 
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do. 
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.” 
One of his disciples,
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?” 
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” 
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. 
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. 
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted. 
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.” 
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments 
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat. 
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” 

John 6:5-14

It is remarkable how Christ makes so much from so little, while we often make so little from so much. Or as St. Josemaria Escriva would say:

“He has most who needs least. Don’t create needs for yourself.”

–St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 630

Last week, a friend of mine and I were reflecting on how Americans have access to almost any material good at our fingertips. We are the richest, most powerful, and innovative country in the world, yet we are far from the happiest. In fact, our stress levels have only increased over time. Escriva’s words might offer us some explanation for this phenomenon, since while it often feels good to be king, our role as the dominant global economic power necessitates great responsibilities, which means great stresses on the workforce that keeps the world running. It also means that the more we materially accumulate because of our status, the emptier we will inevitably feel once we realize that money cannot buy happiness.

It is estimated that one third of lottery winners go broke. The other day I realized that, as a recent small business owner, my financial success correlated to the amount of money I spent, as if as the more money I earned, the more physical stuff I needed to make me happy. Reflecting on today’s Gospel passage, this tendency might represent a reversal of the loaves and fishes story. Rather than making more from less, I felt like I was making less from more, becoming increasingly stressed and pushing myself harder for a higher paycheck. But all I needed for happiness was more Christ, and I have come to better appreciate that those who rely on money for happiness will never be satisfied.

Having more money and resources does not take away our needs; it gives us more. And along with the responsibility that comes with power are the temptations to go against the obligations we are given. Consider how as children, the most innocent and vulnerable members of society, grow up, they become increasingly overwhelmed by the responsibilities they are entrusted with. By the time we reach adulthood, many of them turn to addictive habits and substances to sustain their happiness. Even the wealthiest people in society are often driven to drug abuse because of the constant pressure to pursue more money and material success. One might conclude that socioeconomic success is a drug; once the initial high of a thing or a hobby wears off, our bodies demand more of it.

A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God,
twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits,
and fresh grain in the ear. 
Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.” 
But his servant objected,
“How can I set this before a hundred people?” 
Elisha insisted, “Give it to the people to eat.” 
“For thus says the LORD,
‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’” 
And when they had eaten, there was some left over,
as the LORD had said.

2 Kgs 4:42-44

Twice in scripture, God (or His prophet) assured people who were concerned with material goods that He would provide for them. He promised to turn the little they into a bounty. The Apostles were skeptical, despite Christ’s reputation for miracle working, that anything could have been done with a couple pieces of bread. Contrast this with the greatest kings of the Bible, such as Solomon and David, whose trust in material wealth exceeded their adoration of God. They were ruined by the temptations brought about by the burdens of wealth. Today in America, we live more comfortably than any society in history has, yet we allow everything we have to stress us. We are frustrated when it takes more than five seconds to place a food order, we worry about how many followers we have on social media, and we obsess over the latest Netflix series and influencers. Rather than seeing things as signs of God’s goodness, we allow for them to become gods themselves. The more things we accumulate, the more potential idols we surround ourselves with, but by pursuing Christ-like lives we can be fulfilled with hardly anything.

2 Responses

  1. These come to mind. Contentment. “The poor in spirit…” from the Beatitudes. The example of St. Francis of Assisi and his brothers.

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