Breakfast Club: The Scarcity Mentality

What is our deepest need? What is our deepest need? Is our deepest need met in the basic goods of life: food, water, sleep, sex, shelter, clothes? Is our deepest need met through friendship, companionship, romantic love; in short, through relationships? Is our deepest need met in freedom from human oppression and injustice and authoritarian control?

For example, let’s imagine that having plenty of money is our deepest need. If you were given one billion dollars at the moment of your birth and kept that load of cash in your basement, drawing no interest at all, and then went about spending $1,000 dollars an hour, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every year of your life you would spend $24,000 a day; $168,000 a week, $8,736,000 a year; and if you were blessed to live to be 100 you would still be able to leave over 120 million dollars to your children! Would the deepest need of our heart be met if all of our financial needs were met?

What is our deepest need? And how would we live if we knew – functionally knew – that our deepest need was eternally and infinitely met? These are precisely the questions that are addressed in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the famous story of the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus and our deepest need

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter six, we see the Jesus Movement growing in popularity; people are flocking to Christ for his teaching and healing power. Jesus and his disciples. board a boat to go to a solitary place where they can get some rest; but they are followed by a great host of people. We know from the gospel of John that Messianic fervor is in the air surrounding Jesus; in John’s account, after Jesus feeds the 5,000 the crowd intends “to make him [Jesus] King by force.” (John 6:14). They, of course, long for a Messianic Deliverer who will rescue them from the oppressive rule of the Romans and set them free as a sovereign nation under God. For many Jews in Jesus’ time, freedom from Roman oppression and a sovereign Israel in Promised Land was the greatest good they could imagine.

But Jesus “deflects” them from this need. He refuses to be a Messianic deliverer. Instead, “”when he saw the large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34).

 After Christ had taught the crowds all day, and evening was closing in, and they were in a remote place, the disciples – very pragmatically – advised Jesus that he should send the people away “so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (6:36). Again, Jesus deflects from addressing what, to the disciples, appears to be the basic need: the need the crowd has for food.

Jesus commands his disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

And, of course, very understandably, very practically, very rationally, very much like each one of us would answer, they say: “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (6:37)

We can understand the disciple’s “scarcity mentality”. Night is coming. They are in a remote place. They do not have the resources to buy food for the crowd.

Likewise, it is easy for us mere humans to slip into the scarcity mentality.

And yet, Jesus is constantly challenging the scarcity mentality of his disciples; in fact, the entire Bible is a sustained attack on our scarcity mentality! First, Jesus (and the entire Bible!) challenges the very foundation of the irreligious, secular perspective on what our deepest, most basic need is. Second, Jesus (and the entire Bible!) challenges the functional “scarcity mentality” that most Christians so often live by.

Jesus challenges the irreligious perspective

The irreligious, secular perspective is that our deepest needs are met by the people, the goods, the material “stuff” of this world. But, if material goods (including the relation goods of the love of friendship and romance and family) are all that we have to meet our deepest need, than life is utterly and irrevocably unjust and unfair.

For example, earlier this week I dropped my daughter off at one of the public schools in our city where she attends. After kissing her goodbye, I was walking out the door and noticed two young boys coming in. One was crying with his head against the wall. I stopped and asked if I could take him to his room. He said yes. So we walked together to his 1st grade classroom. I brought him to his teacher. She put her arms around him and asked what was wrong. In between sobs he said that his father had passed away that night (it turned out to be exactly one year ago, that day) by a gunshot wound. His teacher said that he should go see the school counselor; and I said that I would take him. I put my hand on his shoulder; rubbed his shoulder; told him that this was one of the hardest things in the world – to lose his dad this way; I told him that he was being very brave. I brought him to the counselor and told her what was going on. Before I left I told the little boy that my name was Mr. Dorsey and that I would be happy on any Monday to come by and talk with him; that I wanted to be there for him.

Then I walked out, got in my car and began cursing and crying out to God – why does this have to happen? How is a little boy like this who is grieving the loss of his father, the absence of his father, expected to walk inside and learn and study with the overwhelming sorrow of having lost a father?

 Now, if our deepest need is met by the goods and things and relationships of this world, than this young man faces an utterly and irrevocably unjust and unfair life. Humanely speaking, having lost a father in this way, there is no way that anything in this world can begin to fill the ache and void and injustice of that loss.

But, if there is a deeper need than even a long and healthy relationship with one’s father, than there is the possibility of good news for this little boy! There is the possibility of hope and a future for this little boy!

It is “good news” of God’s provision for our deepest need that Jesus came to proclaim.

According to Jesus, according to the Bible, our deepest need is not food and drink or sex; it is not human friendships or even love. It is certainly not money. And it is not even personal or political freedom from oppression and injustice. No! Rather, it is that we are designed for a personal and intimate relationship with God, but our sin has alienated us from God; therefore, our deepest need is the restoration of our relationship with God, it is intimacy and union and reconciliation to God. Just like our bodies need food and water and clothing and shelter to survive, so our souls need intimacy and union with God!

But Jesus does not only challenge the irreligious and secular perspective on our deepest need, he also challenges – and, if we hear him – revolutionizes what I am calling our “scarcity mentality”.

Jesus challenges the disciple’s scarcity mentality

Who can fault the disciples? They too are tired and hungry and worn out. They’ve just returned from an exhausting preaching and spiritual deliverance mission, and Christ has promised them a retreat from the suffocating crowds. But, instead of retreat, they are forced to bear with the crowds for one more day, even to nightfall, because of Jesus’ “compassion.” So we can empathize with the disciples when they counsel Jesus to send the crowd away.

In our life, the “scarcity mentality” takes these forms: hoarding our goods, protecting our time from the invasion of others, making sure we are not too worn out by the demands of others problems and sufferings, giving only up to the point of pain and sacrifice and then pulling back, feeling like we can’t be a “shepherd to others” until we have someone who is “shepherding us”. The scarcity mentality feels like irritation at being interrupted. It feels like comparing what you are doing to what others are doing (“are they holding up their end of the bargain”?). The scarcity mentality feels like your bank account isn’t big enough, or your house isn’t spacious enough, or your calendar isn’t open enough or your not old enough to care for others in their need.

Into the “scarcity mentality” of the disciples (their rationality, the pragmatism, their wisdom), Christ steps, boldly, confidently, as one who - though tired, though weary, though hungry, though longing for rest and retreat with his friends – lives out of the reality of having his deepest need met, or, rather, the one who has come to provide for our deepest need.

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asks. The disciples investigate and report: “Five – and two fishes.”

“Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass…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 set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.” (6:39-44)

Commentators remark how similar this scene is to the breaking of bread in the upper room just hours before Christ’s crucifixion on the cross. The same verbs are used there – taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking the bread.

And, in that moment, we see the utter seriousness with which Christ has come into the world. He will not swerve from his call to meet the world’s deepest need – our soul’s union with God! He has set his face for Jerusalem. He has come to provide for our greatest need! In the gospel of John, speaking of himself he says, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51).

Christian, my challenge for you is this: your deepest need, your soul need, has been met. You have an eternal and irrevocable relationship with your Heavenly Father. Now He calls you to go and freely, generously, spontaneously, willingly, cheerfully, meet the world’s deep need with His own infinite, satisfying, and abundant provision: Jesus Christ.