What kind of math were they teaching when you went to school? Was it the old math or the new math? Perhaps you went through the system at a time when they were teaching both kinds, so that you use both of them without knowing the difference. Either works, of course–if you’re figuring out how much lumber to buy or whether you received the right change at the store.
Neither does an adequate job in matters of faith.
In a wilderness area Jesus once posed a mathematical question to His disciples. It was a word problem: There were thousands of hungry people in the desert; there was a limited supply of food; how would they all be fed? The need was numerically enormous and the resources were numerically scant. Making matters worse, by the end of the account there was a surplus that was greater than what they had to begin with.
How does that figure? More importantly, when similar situations arise in our life, how are we to calculate the answer?
Lesson One: Our Inability
Jesus knew what He was going to do that day, but He used the situation to give His disciples an important lesson. He purposely let them wrack their brains over the problem of feeding thousands, because He wanted them to learn about their own inability.
Quite frankly, that’s the toughest part of this system of mathematics. It is extremely difficult to remember that we should not rely on ourselves but on Him. Just a few days earlier Jesus had fed over 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. And yet, when the disciples put two and two together, they still had to ask, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”
Shouldn’t they have known better? Yes, they should have. God’s math is so easy. We make it complicated by our lack of faith.
Perhaps you find yourself backed into a financial corner from which there seems to be no way out. No matter how you crunch the numbers, the outlook is bleak. Maybe everything has been going smoothly in your career, but then one day there’s a pink slip with your name on it. Problems such as these are part of a mathematical lesson that we have trouble learning, because we rely too much on ourselves and too little on God.
Lesson Two: God’s Faithfulness
No matter how thinly you sliced them, seven loaves of bread and a few fish would not go far enough. But placed in the hands of Jesus, so little became so much.
When the crowds had been seated, the baskets hauled, the multitude fed, and the leftovers gathered, they were given the second half of their lesson: you can always trust the love and faithfulness of God.
Jesus had said, “I have compassion on the multitude . . . .” To see what that means, let’s leave the area of the Decapolis and journey south to the hill of Calvary. The greatest evidence of Jesus’ compassion was not His divine power, but the fact that He laid His divine power aside in order to redeem us. At the foot of the cross, Jesus leaves us with no doubts about His love and faithfulness toward us. Though He was surrounded by enemies, taunted by the crowds, cursed by God for our sins, we see the kind of compassion Jesus has for fallen mankind.
If God was willing to do that, then “how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
Feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fish will never make sense under old math or under new math, but it makes perfect sense for those who have learned to use God’s math. It’s a difficult system because it means that we “walk by faith and not by sight.”
As long as we live in this world, we need regular reminders of our own inabilities . . . and are given plentiful reminders of God’s faithfulness and love.
–Pastor James Albrecht