While reading a blog, this phrase jumped out at me. “Much can be done with little.” The writer made reference to Jesus feeding the many, with the meagre lunch offerings of one young boy – simply some bread and fish – but in God’s hands that small lunch was used to meet the hunger of thousands.
It’s easy to despair, when we are confronted with the volume of need that comes into our inbox and across our screens. It may be the needs of the starving, the displaced, the trafficked, the persecuted, the bereaved – and compounded by the plight of our planet, with the ever-increasing effects of climate change; rising oceans, floods and cyclones, burning forests, and heat waves. It can be utterly overwhelming.
How can we use our ‘little’ resources?
I’m reminded of another Bible story, one that Jesus told. It’s the story of one man, who out of the blue was beaten up by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road. Who helped him? Not the religious, upright citizens scurrying by to meet their appointments, but a man from an alien culture who happened by. Not only did he patch up his wounds, but he took him to the nearest hostelry, and paid for his care.
Jesus told this story to answer the question, “Who is my neighbour?” The neighbour in this instance is the one we encounter, who is in need, regardless of whatever cultural or ethnic background they come. Today we may be more aware[LH1] of the needs of many around the world, but may not even know the names of the people living nearby. Our neighbours are more likely to be in other so-called ‘communities’; online, in specific work or sport or cultural settings.
Jesus did not define our neighbour as people we live near, work with, or recreate with. Instead, our neighbour is the one who is in need, that we are in a position to respond to. That’s where we direct our resources.
These stories show us:
1. Our neighbour is simply who we encounter, whether physically or through some other means, who is in need.
2. We ask Jesus to show us how and what and where to give. The boy with the lunch was aware of the need in front of him. He was no doubt hungry himself, but was aware of the hunger of others. He was prepared to share.
‘The Good Samaritan’, as we know him, had never met the guy who was beaten up. It’s likely he never met him again. But he gave what he could, little as it was, and provided out of his meagre means. It’s possible the man’s life was saved. He was savvy in his response too, by passing on the man’s care to someone else, after he had done what he could. The Good Samaritan didn’t have to do it all. Doing a first aid course helped me to understand the role of a first responder, and its limits – and that was precisely what the Good Samaritan was doing.
The boy’s lunch was also very meagre. It seems a rather quixotic, well-meaning gesture to offer so little to Jesus. The boy had no idea how it could help, and on the surface, the gesture seems somewhat pointless. We also can think we have so little to give, whether it be time, skills or our resources. How can our meagre contribution help? Who knows, in God’s hands?!
A little can go a long way
I rarely watch TV advertisements, but there is one that takes my eye. It’s the one where the young boy on the bus offers some of his chocolate bar to the upset girl sitting along from him. Not a word is said, but the offer and the response, brings a faint smile. It’s universally human.
We may have little – not even a chocolate bar, but even a smile can achieve much, when we encounter someone. (A young person surprised me yesterday – by smiling at me, a little old lady (apparently) with white hair – as we passed each other on the footpath. Even a smile can brighten a day.)
Being savvy in our response
How we respond needs to be done in a savvy way. Sometimes people have perpetuated a problem by responding to a presenting need, eg when a beggar on the street (in NZ) asks for money. It is better to give money to the local city mission, rather than to the beggar in front of them – as research has shown that such beggars are usually there to make money for other purposes.
When I lived in a church house, we arranged with the local garage to provide petrol to anyone we sent to them, who had arrived on our doorstep asking for money for fuel. Usually, they wanted fuel to get to a funeral or to see a sick relative, etc. When someone door-knocked with such a story, we would direct them to the garage, and then call the garage to ask them to provide the fuel. Not one person took us up on the offer of free fuel. Usually such door-knockers were wanting money to feed their addictions. (Supporting such programmes that attempt to help people deal with their addictions is a better use of our resources.)
The evils of apathy and cynicism
Despite, the mis-use of people’s generosity, and the deception involved by people who are presenting as being in need, the worst thing we can do is to turn aside, to hurry on with our own pre-occupied lives, and to fail to notice, or even worse, ignore the person in need that we encounter. It was the servants who failed to use the talents they’d been given who were reprimanded and condemned by the master, in another story that Jesus told.
It’s also easy to become cynical, or even accustomed to the level of need we see. However, becoming self-absorbed, or even preoccupied with our work ‘for’ God, is ultimately to fail. As we’re reminded in the story of the sheep and the goats, when people respond to God –Jesus said, “Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did also to me.”
What about ‘compassion fatigue’?
We may not become cynical or uncaring, but instead may be overwhelmed by the extent of the need that is all around us. Does God suffer from ‘compassion-fatigue’? We may, but it is important to remember that God knows the extent of suffering that each person is dealing with. God’s mercy is always there, and always available – and is usually found through the response of God’s people.
Walking with God enables us to help meet the needs of our ‘neighbours’, in appropriate and sensitive ways, wherever and whenever we encounter them. God also knows the extent of our resources - and what our ‘little’ amounts to. We’re not condemned or put-down because we may not have much, instead our ‘little’ can be multiplied many times over.
Much can indeed be done by God with little – if we are prepared to give what little we think we may have to God. And in whatever way we serve, we are serving Jesus himself.
Liz Hay is appalled by the amount of vitriol that is now being slung at any Christian who dares to comment on an issue raised in the media. Christianity is not only seen as an aberration, but is being increasingly regarded by some as a scourge to be removed from society. With the growing malevolence being expressed towards the church, it is no wonder that even going on to church property can be a daunting experience.
The balm of the natural world, and friendship with genuine and real people, that Liz experiences in her small village in the mountains is a wonderful antidote to anti-Christian comments.