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Why giving starts with being empty - the little boy

By Charlie Osewalt | 26 April 2013

In this brand new series, Charlie Osewalt explores the many stewards in the bible: the good, the bad and the ugly. Each week we'll bring you a new study in two parts; a shorter blog post and a longer downloadable PDF. This week Charlie looks at an example of a good steward - the little boy.

“Where are the boots?”

“Excuse me?”

“Where are the boots?”

As a department head in an inner city school, I wasn’t used to seeing a parent show up at 7am, let alone this particular mother, who had never even shown up at school before. But it was 7am and here she was, right in front of my desk.

“Where is Jasmine? Where are the boots?”

Slowly I got the story. Jasmine, her 16-year-old daughter, was living with her grandmother. Her mother told me that she no longer had custody but that, when it was Jasmine’s birthday the week before, she had visited, found out what she wanted, and bought her a pair of Ugg boots. It all sounded good to me, until the Mum got to the reason for her early arrival; she had changed her mind and wanted the boots back. Right now; off her daughter’s feet.

Looking at Jasmine’s mother, I thought of my own Mum.

In my family I grew up with some basic rules. One of them was this: no expectations. I grew up believing that a child should never expect an adult to follow through on their promises. I’d learned the hard way that if I wanted to avoid disappointments it was better to have no expectations.

The thing is, children are naturally full of expectation. They start life without worry about ‘how’ something will happen and they trust openly and completely, driven on by an instinctive impulse to rely on the goodness and care of others.

You can see this in John’s gospel, when the writer retells the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The little boy with the five small barley loaves and two small fish expects something to happen when Andrew calls him to Jesus with his basket. He trusts that this adult Jesus is special and he assumes that He really will make good on both His promise and His teaching. Our boy, surely between the ages of eight and ten, is thrilled that Jesus’s disciple picked him to come up front, in the spotlight, close to his Master and teacher. Can’t you just see his irrepressible smile and fidgety limbs as he hands over his bread and fish, as well as his trust, to Jesus?

The disciples, on the other hand, see disappointment coming. “But how far will they go among so many?” Andrew asks as he brings the boy forward (John 6:9). Earlier the twelve had even asked Jesus to send the crowd away early to find food themselves - such was their concern about how bad things could get (Mark 6:35).

Yet Jesus fills them all. Five thousand men, countless women and children, “all ate and are satisfied.”(Luke 9:1). In the multiple leftovers, twelve baskets of broken bread, there is the promise of more to come. How happy must that boy have felt?

Unusually, each of the four gospel writers relates this narrative, I think because it characterizes the essence of Jesus: His compassion, His kingdom, His power to transform and multiply that which we see as fixed and unchangeable (Matthew 14:14). Only John mentions the boy. The other writers focus on the miraculous feeding, but John, probably the youngest of the disciples, sees another miracle: a child emptying all he has while being filled with Gospel expectations.

I want to be like that little boy. I want to be like a child who can empty all they have into the hands of someone who understands. ‘No expectations’ is such a foolish way to live, whether you’re a child or an adult.

All this was in my mind as I looked at Jasmine’s Mum. I thought about the fact that, only last week she had given just about everything she had to buy her daughter an extravagant gift in an effort to show her love. She had emptied herself, laid it all out for Jasmine. But my guess was that the emptiness, that vulnerability, felt awkward and uncomfortable. In its place came anxiety, which filled her. And so here she was, wanting the boots back, wanting the emptiness to go away.

I told her that Jasmine always got to school late. She certainly wouldn’t be in by 9, maybe 10? Would Mum like to wait?

She started to say that she would, but then something changed her mind.

“Can you talk to Jasmine about the boots?”

I said I would, but I knew that I wouldn’t say what she wanted. As she was leaving, she gave me a picture of Jasmine wearing the new boots.

“This is what they look like. Get them for me.”

I repeated that I would talk to Jasmine when she got in.

I never saw Mum again. Jasmine kept the boots. It was only right that she could expect to keep a gift like that.

Want to go deeper? You can download the PDF below for more:

Posted by Charlie Osewalt

Charles Osewalt is a husband, father of four children and former elder at Redeemer Church NYC. He has worked in schools for the last twenty years as principal in the Morrisanna section of the Bronx. He formerly worked as a content and curriculum specialist for Stewardship. He tweets at @charlesosewalt


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