This is part of a mini-series on hospitality. Click on the ‘Hospitality’ tab at the top of the page to read the other posts. If you’re encouraged or challenged by it, please consider sharing it with someone you think would appreciate it too. Thank you!
There are two choices.
He knows which path he’d rather take – he’s starving, and it feels like years since his last meal, although he realises it’s only been hours. His body is aching for food, for energy to fuel the changes going on inside his body, changes which he isn’t yet aware of.
His mother, however, is only too aware of how much her boy is growing up – the amount of food he’s getting through gives it away. Snacks are never enough; meals always end with a request for seconds. He may be gone for hours today, and she knows he won’t last without sustenance, so she’s packed a hefty meal for him, rich in carbs and protein, to keep him going.
And he’s desperate for it. Desperate. But no one else seems to have anticipated the length of the talk, so there’s no food apart from his, and he recognises the look of pain and envy of the other boys his age, not to mention the younger ones, who are starting to cry and thrash their little bodies around in a hopeless hunger they can’t articulate. He knows that if he did start to eat, they’d be on his food like pigeons.
There seems no option: the message is communicated, the food shared. Of course it won’t go round everyone, but perhaps it will be a little snack for those who need it most: the kids, the old people, the pregnant mammas. And then the cheek-pinching moment: the food is coming back to him – not just the five loaves and two fish his mum had packed (doesn’t she realise he could eat at least four?) – but baskets and baskets of bread and fish: as much as he can eat, and then some more. And everyone around him seems to be getting their fair share too. Who is this Jesus who appears to be multiplying food?
I love that this boy ends up with more than he had originally. He starts off with one basket containing five loaves and two fishes. Everyone has enough to eat - and then the leftovers consist of twelve baskets. We don’t know what his appetite was like on that particular day (although we could make a reasonable guess, seeing as he was a Boy, and we’re talking about Food), but we do know that the potential was there for him to eat more than he would have done, had he not shared. The boy’s generosity in giving away all his food resulted in far more for everyone – including himself.
Jesus, being God, could have multiplied the five loaves and two fishes exactly, to meet the appetites of those who were there. But I think the fact that there was a surplus brings us a clear message about the abundant, lavish generosity of our God – the God “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). The verse goes on: “…how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
If we want to see God’s overflowing provision, we need to be prepared to give all of what we have, just as the young boy gave all of his packed lunch. This is a common thought in evangelical circles (I’m giving you my all, You can have everything…) but we tend to practice it mainly in the abstract. How often do we consider that perhaps God wants us to give all of something literal, something physical? Our food, our wine, our homes, our toys? [Disclaimer, although probably unnecessary: God doesn't want us to go overdrawn in our attempt to be generous! But, like any Biblical teaching on giving, the emphasis is not so much on what we give, but on what we keep. God knows what we can afford, and what we can't. The young boy gave all he had for that particular meal - but presumably he would have had more food at home. Are we being as generous as we can afford to be?]
It may be helpful to consider the reasons why we withhold things we could be giving in hospitality. I can identify several factors in my own experience:
1) personal feelings – when I’ve laid out a ‘perfectly good’ meal and someone asks for something I haven’t offered, which I could easily bring out, I bristle. It seems like a personal insult. What’s wrong with what I’ve offered them? Why don’t they like this meal?
2) concern for the future – sometimes I try to scrimp because I’m unduly worried about what we’ll eat for the next few days. Will we have enough? Don’t we need to save that for tomorrow’s dinner? I was hoping to use that cake for … etc.
3) laziness – sometimes I withhold kindness or favours simply because I can’t be bothered. It’s too much effort. It’s not really needed.
Hospitality is not easy. There will be times when our feelings get trampled, when we wonder whether we can really afford to be generous, and when we’re tired and lacking in energy. I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve given hospitality with gritted teeth. But the model shown to us by the boy who shared his packed lunch reminds us that it is God who does the miracle, not us. We are not expected to be anything other than broken human beings, opening our broken homes to other broken people. But we are expected to draw on God’s strength to forgive hurtful comments, trust in His provision for our families, and tap into His resources when we’re at the end of our own.
I’m often resentful if someone asks me for more. Fortunately, God doesn’t have this same attitude when we ask Him for things – quite the opposite: He loves to be given the opportunity to give us more! Not that He needs the opportunity, of course, but that He loves it when we ask. Do I ask Him to make me more generous?
To grow in our practice of hospitality, we must also grow in our practice of generosity. Both reflect the character of God, and only God can grow these traits in our lives. The result of the boy’s generosity was that everyone got fed. The result of Jesus’ generosity is that everyone can have a relationship with God. He “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).
Whatever the cost, are we prepared to serve those who enter our home generously – knowing that, by doing so, we are introducing our generous God to an impoverished society?