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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Abundance in scarcity

We live in a time of austerity where our government is implementing a series of sustained reductions in public spending, intended to reduce the budget deficit. Initiated in 2010 the austerity programme is currently expected to extend to at least 2018.

As a result, we live in a time of relative scarcity compared with the preceding years of a booming economy. There are important questions to be asked, particularly in the light of the coming General Election, about the fairness of where the cuts have fallen.

The reality of living in a time of scarcity has parallels to the feeding of the five thousand where Jesus and those with him are in the wilderness with no food except for the five small barley loaves and two small fish offered by a boy in the crowd. Jesus’ disciples essentially despair in the light of their situation as there is nowhere to go to buy food, they have insufficient money for the numbers involved and the boy’s lunch is too small to share with any but a few.

Jesus, however, brings abundance in the place of scarcity. He prepares the crowd to eat, gives thanks to God and begins to share the little that they have. As the sharing commences, the food is found to be sufficient for everyone’s needs with 12 baskets of leftover bread gathered together at the end of the meal.

How did this happen? We don’t know. It was a miracle certainly, but whether the miracle was a supernatural multiplication of food or whether the miracle was that the sharing of the boy’s lunch enabled others to also share food that they had but were keeping to themselves, we simply don’t know for sure. The result, however, was one that we need to find ways of experiencing in times of austerity; abundance in the face of scarcity.

In my previous parish we formed a Sophia Hub. This is essentially a support service for those wanting to benefit the local community by starting a social enterprise. Within the package of support provided, we included a Timebank. This is a form of volunteering in which the time people give is banked and exchanged. The members of the Timebank offer their skills to other members and make requests of help or input that they would like. Every hour that members spend in helping another member in some way is banked and can be spent by receiving help from others in the Timebank. No money changes hands but the 60+ members have now exchanged more than 340 hours since the Timebank was set up.

At a recent Timebank skills swap event that following offers were made: training on selling through Ebay, help with using social media, crotcheting with plastic bags, basic maths help, meditation, massage or Reiki sessions, legal consumer advice, bread making, creative writing, marketing advice, mobile website building, English as a foreign language, French conversation, making toiletries from natural products and a stress management workshop. By exchanging their time and skills, these are people who are experiencing abundance in a time of scarcity.

St Paul quotes Jesus as teaching that it is more blessed to give than to receive and Christ sets us an example of one who gives all that he had without counting the cost or asking anything in return. Yet, the reality is that when we give, we do receive although often not in the same way that we have given. Jesus spoke about this reality when said, ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’

This is a promise about abundance in scarcity which is demonstrated by the feeding of the five thousand. But it is predicated on our willingness to give, to share, as members of the Timebank do in Seven Kings and, perhaps, as those in the crowd on the mountain in Galilee also learned to do on the day of this miracle.


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