30The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages[a]! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6: 30-44 – NIV)
We have read the tragic death of three sisters aged 8, 4, and 2 due to hunger and starvation on the 25th of July 2018 in Delhi, the capital of India. They died when their Father, a rickshaw puller, went out in search of a job. Post-mortem and autopsy reports revealed that the three sisters died of hunger and starvation. The report further showed that they had not eaten any food for more than 8 days. The autopsy reported further showed that their stomachs, bladder, and rectum were empty. There was hardly any fat. It’s pathetic, horrifying, and annoying that people die of starvation while India talks high of “Young India”, “Digital India”, “Smart city”, “Make in India”, “Bullet train” and whatnot. This shocking incident happened just 12 kilometres away from the Indian Parliament in Mandavali, Delhi, and the constituency of the AAP party, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi. It was a shocking, utter shame to all the Indians. This is not an isolated incident. Starvation, hunger, and deprivation are the ordeal of the day of many Indians. When Donald Trump visited India for 36 hours in February 2020, India spent 10 million to welcome him while children were dying of starvation. The following data provides the other face of Indian reality:
India has the largest number of undernourished population in the world.
19 crore people go hungry every day.
1 in 4 children in India is malnourished.
One-third of Indian children are stunted.
3000 children die every day.
21 percent under five is undernourished.
14.5 percent of our population is undernourished.
51 percent of women in the reproductive stage is anemic.
The Global Hunger Index report states that India is in the 100th position in the ranking out of 190 or so countries. The Government has failed in providing adequate food, shelter, and employment. Every four-second a person dies of starvation and hunger. The poor die of starvation not because of their laziness, foolishness, and sin, but due to unjust economic systems. The populist charity-oriented programs make the poor more dependent and vulnerable. The schemes and programs do not create jobs and livelihood opportunities, but rather implemented as vote banks. There is no long-term strategic plan for the alleviation of poverty. The political parties deliberately keep the weak and vulnerable as vote banks – objects of their doles and not subjects of their history.
Unjust Economic System and Starvation of the Poor
Food is the most important requirement for sustenance of life. Without adequate food, one cannot think of a healthy society. People die and suffer due to a lack of food. Do we have enough food for all? Yes, there will be TWELVE baskets full of left-over bread and fish, if we are willing to share our resources. Selfishness and greed for the accumulation of capital lead to hunger and starvation of many. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “there is enough for everybody’s needs but not for everyone’s greed”.
The defining reality of the present time is market capitalism by the regime of the global empire. As Julius Nyerere said that we are living in a market system where masses work, and a few people – who may not work labor at all – benefit from the work. The few will sit down to a banquet, and the masses will eat whatever is leftover. “Capitalism is very dynamic. It is a fighting system. Each capitalist survives by successfully fighting other capitalist enterprises.” The global market system operates at the expense of the poor and the earth’s resources. Today the global market empire and the greed of capital are making a tremendous impact on the geopolitics of the world; it is touching, destroying, and threatening all life, especially the poor and marginalized indigenous people. Suffering and cries of human persons and all other living beings throughout the world are on an increase due to exploitation.
Competition among different religions and markets is a serious concern all over the world. This competition has become the source of hatred; daily human conflicts and almost all killings are related to religion and market competition. People are trapped in a new kind of worship, the worship of pleasure and greed. The houses of worship are mega shopping malls, and such places of worship and competition have emerged everywhere.
Nexus between Market and Religion
Throughout history, we see that religion and the market have progressed along parallel lines. Since the time of Nicea’s Council (325 AD), we see clear evidence of how religion and empire (kingdom) worked together for their selfish ends. They supported each other for their selfish interest. While the state gave economic stability and political security to the church, the church gave its theological justification for the exploitation of the poor. For the sake of economic benefits and political domination, the church even justified and supported crusades against the Jewish and Muslim.
Today many conflicts are happening in Asia and Africa, and they are not just religious and ethnic origins; they are competing for the control of resources and are an integral part of the global market interest. The world powers demonize the other religious groups. In the name of religion and ethnicity, especially in the name of peace, the world economic and military powers control those strategic economic regions by perpetuating conflicts. Stability is a threat to their economic interest. Only when there is conflict, they can occupy the other sovereign countries in the name of protecting human rights. There is no balance between the rich and poor countries. While some richest persons in some countries have accumulated so many resources, the poor are thrown out into the street for begging. Millions of children thus die of hunger every day.
The Bible and Economic Crisis
The Gospel of Mark records the feeding of the five thousand. A large crowd followed Jesus and his disciples. Jesus began to teach them. When it was getting late, his disciples came to Jesus and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place.” “Send them away and let them go to the nearby farms and villages to buy themselves something to eat.” The disciples’ approach is that of a global capitalist. They believe that people are poor because of laziness, not realizing that people suffer due to wrong economic policies, capitalistic exploitation, and manipulation. People die of hunger due to injustice and selfishness.
Disciples’ Way of Solving the Crisis
There were more than five thousand men (women and children are not recorded) and they were facing a food crisis; the crowd was hungry. The location was remote from towns and there were no food sellers nearby. It was also getting dark and that added more problems to the disciples for getting sufficient food for such a large crowd. The food crisis was indeed serious and was something to be handled urgently. The easiest solution was to ask people to look for food and buy for themselves. This command is no different from the suggestion given by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) to the poor countries. These financial institutions exploit the poor countries and create a financial crisis in developing countries, but to overcome their economic crisis, the command of IMF and WB is to cut social subsidies, health, and education, and promote privatization and free market in social sectors like water, health, and education. Instead of mobilizing people’s potential and resources, the disciples depended on the capital to cover the needs of five thousand people. They also depended on the food supply in the market though it was getting dark and their location was far from the nearby village. Dependency on money and the food market would only cause competition in the market. The one who would get the profit from such a crisis would be the food owners/sellers in the market and the Roman Empire. The suggestion of the disciples of Jesus would bring more chaos among the people.
Jesus’ Way of Solving the Crisis:
To overcome the food crisis, Jesus refused to depend solely on money, and the market. Jesus knew that the suggestion of His disciples would cause more chaos and dependency. Jesus had a different plan. Jesus said, “You yourselves give them something to eat”. The command of Jesus made the disciples scared and they thought that it would be impossible and too extravagant. Being scared of Jesus’ command, the disciples made another proposal to Jesus that two hundred silver coins be used for buying bread even though it was not going to be sufficient for the crowd. Perhaps, they thought something is better than nothing. Jesus refused their suggestion again. Jesus refused any dependency on money or the market. Instead, Jesus put people’s resources and solidarity above money and the market.
Jesus asked His disciples to go and see what the people have and asked them to donate and share what they have. He did not mention how much they had to donate but urged them to give whatever they had. The significance of the feeding of five thousand people did not lie on the superhuman power to change the quantity of the bread, but it was the work of Jesus who had changed people’s mind and conscience. Jesus changed the crisis into kairos (opportune moment). Jesus changed their attitude from being scared, egocentric, and selfish to an attitude of sharing and caring, from a lust for profit to a sharing of benefit for all, from their dependency on the capital to their emphasis on their resources. The miracle of five loaves of bread and two fish would only happen when a leader believes in people’s power and the spirit of solidarity among people. The spirit of solidarity, caring, sharing, and self-reliance on our resources should replace the attitude of fear, selfishness, and the orientation on profit and revenue.
The Power of Sharing
Jesus refused absolute dependence on the market and money because it would kill people’s initiative. Even though they are important mechanisms for human life, money, and the market should not replace the value of sharing and caring. Jesus opted for the spirit of sharing and caring than the power of money and the market. The worship of money is the root of injustice. To proclaim God’s kingdom, we need to affirm the spirit of sharing and caring and mobilize resources among ourselves. Dependence kills creativity and hard work; dependence on the capital brings more politics in our institutions. The more we receive grants from the Government and mission agencies, the more politics the institutions will play. Trust and hard work get diminished. Dependency on money makes institutions strangers to people. The value system of the empire also comes along with money and that controls our life and ministry of the church. The story of the feeding of five thousand challenges us to rethink our relationship with people, with churches, and see whether our primary focus is on people or not. In such a turbulent time such as this, where economic and religious competition overwhelms our life, the role of leaders is to create a new value system, new attitude of sharing, caring, and solidarity among people and that will make our world different. If everybody shares what they have, then even after feeding all humanity, there will be twelve basketfuls of leftover loaves and fish. When money and the market fail to overcome crises, then trust in people’s power and solidarity are the options.