The Bible story of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes says Jesus fed four or five thousand people on five or seven barley loaves and a few fishes with leftovers to spare; the details differ in different versions. Some interpret this story as an uncomplicated miracle, that is, Jesus, being God, made something out of nothing, a feat He would be most capable of.
Unitarian Universalists, who don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, might say those people in the crowd who had a lot were led to share with those who had little and that’s why there was enough. Both of the above interpretations rest on the premise that it took something special to make sure there was enough.
At GA 2010, Ralph Ellison suggested another interpretation of the story: the disciples just thought there wasn’t enough. In other words, maybe the story means although it may not seem like it, there can be enough for all.
Our job as beings with brains is to use our ingenuity to provide enough for all rather than limit how many are at the table. Ten thousand years ago, everyone in the world was a hunter-gatherer. I can imagine some old cave sage saying, “We’ve driven the large mammals to extinction! Our lifestyle is not sustainable! We’re overpopulated!” (The hunter-gatherer world population was around five million, less than a tenth of a percent of today’s population of seven billion.**)
I hear a soft but determined voice reply, “Not so fast, old man! My sisters and I saved seed from last fall and planted it by the river. Now we can gather more grain in days than we used to be able to gather in weeks!” The invention of agriculture wasn’t the last time human ingenuity overcame perceived unsustainability.
Things continue to improve. During the 20th century alone, we captured the nitrogen for fertilizer from the air [Haber-Bosch process] and bred high yielding grain [Green Revolution]. In 1981, 52.2% of the world’s population lived on less than $1.25 a day; by 2008 only 22.4% did.*** From more than half poor to less than a quarter poor in twenty-seven years! Billionaire tech mogul Bill Gates predicts there will be no more poor countries by 2035.****
As the Loaves and Fishes parable says, our job as humans is to work with and trust the processes that will bring us all enough.
*http://www.uuworld.org/life/articles/170691.shtml Rep Keith Ellison on radical abundance at GA 2010.