A Narrative of Abundance: Mark 6:30-42

Over half of my life I operated from a perspective of scarcity. During that time, according to my skewed perception, everyone was a competitor or a critic, always judging and potentially threatening, and nothing felt secure. It seemed just when I had something in hand, it would be whisked away, so everything had to be white-knuckled and guarded, whether relationships, status, ideas, or things. But then in 2005, everything changed. It was during an extraordinary season of wonder and transformation that transpired in a cabin perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific. During that painful, beautiful season of contemplation, my perspective shifted. While I’d spent my life clutching my half-empty glass lest someone try to take it from me, I came to see the glass as miraculously always filled, never empty, just the amount that I needed–and ever, reliably so. Where before my eyes had only seen scarcity, I came to see lavish, unexpected abundance. It was a shift in perspective that changed everything because finally I could rest and trust and breathe. I knew everything was going to be okay. It always had been.

Though the shift was dramatic, I continued to go into periods of scarcity thinking at times, and still do. I’m not sure we ever complete the sea-crossing to abundance; but instead, weave off course at times—sometimes living in scarcity one hour, in abundance the next. Nonetheless, the perspective shift did change me. These days I might veer into scarcity thinking while listening to the news, or entertaining worries about financial security. But I now know how to get out of it, like walking out of a creepy neighborhood or a bad movie. I have a reverse gear, a stop button. I know in those moments that I’ve gone off course.

So much hinges on whether or not we see the universe as benevolent, radiant with abundance, ever giving. As Albert Einstein said in his famous quote: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” I don’t need to spell out what happens when people look out at the world and see scarcity and hostility. We see the consequences of this all around us right now. Scarcity thinking run amok. But what does it look like to live out of a sense of abundance?

So much of Jesus’ teaching in the gospels touches on the theme of abundance. Yet I don’t think I recognized the ubiquity of the theme until reflecting this week on the feeding narrative in Mark 6:35-40—the symbolism of that story being one of contrast between the scarcity mindset of the disciples (and the rest of us) and the abundance of the meal that is provided to the crowd.

Like his parables, Jesus’ actions, including for example his healings, feedings, Temple protests, had deep symbolic nuance, and like almost everything he did, added contour to the overarching theme of his work: proclaiming and demonstrating the “kingdom of God.” In contrast to human kingdoms, the kingdom of God is not of this world, nor of some distant world to come (it is here; it is now). It is marked by an entirely different kind of consciousness, a new way of seeing, a different value system.{1} That new way of seeing could be summarized as a ‘perspective of abundance.’

It is hardly a coincidence that the story of the great feeding in Mark 6 comes after the narrative in Mark 6:14-29 about King Herod. The Herod anecdote is a brilliantly wrought narrative of contrast! Here it shows a man—though holding the keys of regional power—bedeviled by fear at the obscure holy men John the Baptist and Jesus (who he fears to be John the Baptist reincarnate). Herod is portrayed as feckless, manipulated by the women in his life, flummoxed by what to do with these spiritual teachers. Ultimately, his pride and brutality get the better of him. It is a picture of scarcity. We know the feeling.

Now cut to the disciples displaying the same all-too-human fear: Fear of the hungry crowds who have followed Jesus and the disciples’ lack of provisions to feed them.  Worry they will have to part with ‘half a year’s wages’ to buy enough food. Whereas Jesus sees things differently. He recognizes the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd” (ie people without a compassionate leader; think Herod.) And he sees from the perspective of abundance.

The life of faith is about living from this perspective of abundance. It is trusting that even when things feel and look impossible, “way opens,” to use a phrase of the Quakers. That doesn’t mean the opening will look the way we expect. Sometimes the loaves will not multiply, and perhaps way will open by some other mode or measure. Furthermore, we cannot strong-will ourselves into a perspective of abundance, or faith, unfortunately. When we do, we usually end up in denial of our true feelings while teetering on the brink of despair. The perspective shift is something done to us. It is a transformative process as we surrender to the work of Spirit and stop fighting so hard, stop striving. Often an experience of suffering, loss, failure, or humiliation of ego is necessary to bring us to this place of surrender. Or, as Richard Rohr points out, an experience of great love.

There is one image in my life that I think of as an “icon of abundance,” and I was reminded of it this week. When I was a young mother in my 20s, I would sketch small drawings of foxgloves—my favorite flowers. Nothing said “home” to me like a cluster of foxgloves, and I was hungry for home at that time, eager to find a sanctuary for all that I held close. I fantasized about a cottage with foxgloves. Almost fifteen years later, in 2007, I bought a slice of wooded land and built a 720 square foot cottage on it—my beloved abode to this day. As it turns out, something in the way the surrounds of the homesite were prepped for building was felicitous to the wild foxgloves that grow in my area. Much to my surprise, the year after I had moved in, I watched the hillside right behind my house become a veritable field of foxglove. There were hundreds, maybe a thousand foxgloves growing behind my house and right outside my windows, and I didn’t even have to plant them. Like I said, they were and are an icon. An image to remind me of provision and abundance—both during that summer and in my memory of it. Those flowers, a reminder of my “baskets of bread and fish” overflowing.


1 For an excellent treatment of Jesus’ ‘Kingdom of God’ wisdom teachings, see Cynthia Bourgeault’s Wisdom Jesus (Shambhala, 2008).

[Image: CC, by Jörg Hempel]

Past Posts