God’s Open Hand

Need a Hand? Image by Tyler Yeo via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Several weeks of Gospel texts this summer read John 6, beginning with the story of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes with five barley loaves and two fish. Many of the lectionary Psalms in July and August likewise praise God for the earth’s bounty. Psalm 85 describes the land yielding its increase. Psalm 23 portrays God both as a shepherd guiding sheep to pasture and hosting worshipers at a plenteous table. Psalm 34 commends tasting God’s goodness.

Of all these, Psalm 145 shines out. The nine verses of this 21-verse poem that are prescribed describe all creatures’ gratitude to the God who “gives them their food in due season.” “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” The Hebrew word kol, “all” or “every,” appears 17 times in this psalm, sometimes twice in one verse: “The LORD is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made.”

One commentator suggests that the entire psalm can be summarized as “God is great (verses 1-6); God is good (verses 7-20); let us thank God for our food (verse 21; see verses 15-16).” In fact, verses 15-16 are a traditional Jewish meal blessing, and were commended as a table grace by Martin Luther in his Small Catechism. He goes on to comment: “Delight means that all animals receive enough to eat to make them joyful and of good cheer, because worry and greed prevent such delight.”

Because both the psalm and the Gospel stories so straightforwardly present the divine gift of plenty, modern readers might assume that abundant food could be assumed in Bible times. Yet most of the Bible proceeds from centuries of foreign rule, beset by heavy taxes and periodic violence and war. To speak back then of God’s bounty was an act of faith.

It is still an act of faith. Food advocates today say enough food is produced every year to feed everyone in the world. The problem lies not lack in divine bounty nor in agricultural production, but in distribution. Sixteen percent of the world’s people live in dire poverty and food insecurity. According to the hunger action organization Bread for the World, this situation is actually improving in much of the world, where 23 percent of people were desperately hungry just a few years ago. At the same time, hunger is growing in the United States. Fully 15 percent of people, one in every six children, does not know where their next meal is coming from. Our wealthy nation has increased in income inequality and can now do no better by our children than the average of world nations both rich and poor. This is not because food isn’t available, but because of unrelieved poverty and a dearth of national compassion.

If we follow the lines of Jesus’ stories and of the psalms, and respond gratefully to God’s provision of our daily bread, we will hear God’s call to ensure that these processes continue unimpeded. Scripture will help us think more about what it means to invest ourselves in human flourishing in a flourishing world, upheld by a loving God.

July 1

  • Lamentations 3:22-33 exemplifies hope in God even in the midst of desperate circumstances.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 encourages financial generosity to relieve the suffering of others: “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need.”
  • Mark 5:21-43 describes Jesus healing a long-endured illness and raising a child from death.

July 8

  • Psalm 123 depicts worshipers responding in humility toward God, the source of mercy when the powerful scorn them.
  • Mark 6:1-13 describes the missionary journey on which Jesus sends his disciples, traveling light and depending on hospitality to pave their way.

July 15

  • Amos 7:7-15 critiques royal corruption: a country prophet condemning social inequalities is ironically banished from speaking truth in God’s temple, which is claimed as the king’s own.
  • Psalm 85:8-13 describes God’s glory dwelling where “faithfulness will spring up from the ground … and our land will yield its increase.”
  • Mark 6:14-29, like other passages from this month, offers commentary on corrupt power. Here John the Baptist dies for speaking against an unlawful royal marriage.

July 22

  • Jeremiah 23:1-6 condemns leaders (“shepherds”) who destroy the “sheep.” In contrast, God will raise up a king bringing justice and safety to the land.
  • Psalm 23 describes God as a shepherd who cares tenderly for each animal, and a host who feeds and protects his flock.
  • Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 describes Jesus’ compassion for people lacking leaders, offering healing and teaching to all.

July 29

  • 2 Kings 4:42-44 demonstrates God’s provision for the hungry.
  • Psalm 145:10-18 describes divine care for humans and animals alike, whose needs are satisfied by God’s open hand.
  • John 6:1-21 inaugurates five weeks of readings from John 6, all concerned with food and its provider. The multiplication of loaves and fish echoes the daily miracle of God’s provision of food from the earth.

August 5

  • Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 demonstrates abundant food in the wilderness as a daily gift from God.
  • Psalm 78:23-29 (alt.) describes manna as “grain of heaven” and “bread of angels.”
  • John 6:24-35 describes bread from God as that which gives life to the world.

August 12

  • 1 Kings 19:4-8 relates Elijah’s being fed by God in the wilderness.
  • Psalm 34:1-8 describes God’s goodness as spoken, heard, felt, seen, and even tasted.
  • John 6:35, 41-51 continues the theme of Jesus as the manna, emphasizing that what is of earthly origin is also a heavenly gift.

August 19

  • Proverbs 9:1-6 portrays Wisdom offering wise council as choice food and wine.
  • Psalm 34:9-14 suggests that God-seekers will lack nothing they need, including food.
  • John 6:51-58 shows Jesus once again calling himself the living bread.

August 26

  • Psalm 84 celebrates the temple’s hospitality even to young sparrows.
  • John 6:56-69 portrays Jesus concluding the speech about being the living bread.

Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.