Sunday, July 26, 2009

Information versus knowledge

"Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish"
Creative Commons attribution

This morning's gospel reading is, of course, about the feeding of the five thousand. Here's part of a sermon by The Rev. Kate Huey that explores some of its implications:
The disciples of Jesus were overwhelmed by the need before them. If they didn't feel a responsibility to meet that need, Jesus certainly raised their consciousness. They tried to assess the situation, measure their resources, and figure out a solution, but they seemed to feel powerless in the face of so many hungry people. Cheryl Bridges Johns draws a contrast between the power of God that was about to burst forth and the power that we think we have today: the power of knowledge. However, the better word she uses for today's knowledge is "information," and perhaps information disempowers us by discouraging us with the "objective reality" of what lies before us, the statistics and hard cold facts (is it any wonder they're called hard and cold?).

On the other hand, John's Gospel is "all about knowledge as power," not the knowledge-as-information that inundates us but "love's knowledge" which "multiplies the meager resources and makes a way forward when knowledge comes to its end….in the hands of Jesus, little can become much, the few can become the many, and the weak can become strong." Imagine, Johns suggests, God responding to our prayers for the world's needs with the question, "What do you have?"

I found Johns' commentary quite thought-provoking, because I often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of problems and need of the world. And yet, what would happen if we trusted in the power of God to multiply in amazing ways the resources we have, and what would happen if we saw this as a communal question, not simply a personal one? What if we looked around and saw the extravagant generosity with which God has provided an abundance for us all, and marveled at this great wonder? Would we be moved to be part of a dazzling work of God to re-create our shared life in justice and compassion?
I am intrigued by the distinction made here between knowledge and information and the idea that mere information can, in fact, be disempowering. I'm also very, very moved by the question "What do you have?" in this context.

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