St. John St. James Church, Roxbury

September Study Group Discussion Topic: Loaves and Fishes Economics

Allan Crite Bulletin Cover

Selected readings:
Exodus 16:2-15
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Matthew 20:1-16
Article "Loaves and Fishes Economics":

The concept of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, in the feeding of the five thousand, is in contrast to the very limited thinking that lies behind many current issues and challenges. The concept of "abundance vs. limits" is found throughout the Bible, especially in this week's Lectionary readings.

The Lectionary readings for Sunday, Sept. 20th, focus on the idea of the abundance of what God provides for us.

This abundance is contrasted to the feelings of worry, resentment and competition that people often fall into. Many worries, resentments and conflicts come from the view that resources are so limited that if anyone else gains something people feel that they have lost something that should have been theirs.

In each story, God challenges us to go beyond this limited thinking.

The story from Jonah is both humorous and full of wisdom. Earlier in the book, in the very famous story of Jonah and the whale, God tells Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh, an enemy nation. Jonah doesn't want to preach to Nineveh, and so gets on a ship going in the other direction. A dangerous storm begins, and the ship's crew begins to ask if someone on the ship has offended God so much that God caused this storm. Jonah confesses that he knows it was him, because he has disobeyed God. The crew throws him overboard, and the storm ceases. Then, as we know, Jonah is saved by being swallowed and brought to safety by a whale.

This lectionary story takes place AFTER this adventure. As commanded by God, Jonah goes and preaches to the people of Nineveh, saying they should repent and turn to God, or else God will destroy the city. They listen, and turn to God, and so God doesn't destroy the city after all. In the lectionary story, Jonah is feeling resentful.... "angry enough to die" he tells God.... because God didn't destroy the Ninevites. God speaks to him in a very personal conversation, patiently explaining that He has enough love and concern for Jonah AND for the people of Nineveh. There is room for all.

See the same theme in the gospel story, which tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Jesus tells the story of a farmer who hires workers early in the morning to work on the harvest, then brings in more workers throughout the day, with some hired so late that they only worked the last hour of the day. At the end of the day, the farmer pays them all the same amount, a full day's pay. Those who worked all day are angry. But the farmer assures them that it is fair. No one was cheated, and those who worked the full day received the full day's pay. This parable parallels the well-known story of the prodigal son, in which a brother who has worked faithfully all his life is jealous of his brother, the prodigal son, who had abandoned the farm and who is welcomed home with a feast. While these parables highlight the initial frustration of the responsible brother and the initial anger of the first workers; the stories allow time for reflection so that those involved can develop a sense of wider mercy. Life should not be viewed as a contest with winners and losers, because there is enough for everyone to have what they need.

The lectionary also offers the story of the Israelites receiving manna in the desert, another story of abundance. As the story begins, the people are feeling resentful, understandably, because after escaping from Egypt, they are now facing hunger and fear in their journey in the desert. God provides them with manna and meat, answering their fears, and teaches them that there will be enough for all.

As you think about the themes of abundance vs. limits, multiplication vs. zero sum thinking, you can find this theme in many different biblical stories and parables and in many current situations.

Discussion Questions:

Read the Sept. 20th lectionary readings from Jonah, Exodus and Matthew: (see and the article "Loaves and Fishes Economics" at

[1.] Think of the many political and social conflicts that are stressing our nation in 2020. Do these ideas shed light on any of these conflicts?

[2.] Can you think of a time when you have felt resentful or unhappy, like Jonah, and God has helped you to think differently about a situation?

[3.] Some resources can multiply,.... like when seeds from a harvest are planted and produce another harvest..... while other resources really are limited. How can some of these Biblical principles help us to think about both types of situations?

[4.] Can you think of other stories, parables and miracles that illustrate any of these ideas?

September 19, 2020