So a few years ago I read a book for a grad class on the differences between the Mexican and American worldview. It was a fascinating book that has had a lot of influence on how I think about the world, and specifically our neighbors to the south. But one of the most interesting parts of the book was where the author talked about how both the American and Mexican cultures tend to view their stuff.
We see it as limited.
The term the author actually used was “a Limited Good.” The fundamental concept is that there there is only so much to go around. And while the way each culture reacted to this perception was different, they both agreed on the assumption.
I heard Walter Brueggemann say once that the book of Exodus is about defusing the “Lie of Scarcity”. And I think he’s on to something. The book of Exodus starts off by introducing us to Pharaoh’s economy, one that operates off of anxiety. Think about it. If you meet your brick quota in Egypt, you get rewarded by a larger quota. The treadmill just keeps going.
But then the people of Israel meet the LORD. And God knows that they have this slave mentality in their DNA. And so what He does next is the last thing they would expect. He provides food from Heaven for them. They don’t have to do anything to earn it, it’s God’s free and good gift…and it’s weird.
We’re so used to this story because we grew up reading it in Bible school. But think about it, this is a really weird story. When was the last time you were walking to work and got hit in the head with a piece of bacon?
But God knows exactly what He’s doing.
Because the only antidote for anxiety is trust. They have to get rid of this hoarding mentality and learn to trust that God is good and is capable of providing. So God restricts them from getting tomorrow’s provision today.
So this last week I was living in John 2. At first glance it seems like a very strange story of Jesus at a wedding in Cana. They run out of wine, and Jesus makes more of it.
Now at first glance this seems like Jesus is just preventing a small catering disaster. But John has let us know that this is important, that this is Jesus’ first sign (and he’s only going to tell us about seven) so something larger has got to be going on here.
Now there are a lot of levels to this story. But at least part of the point I think John is trying to make, has to do with this. He’s writing to a culture where to be a Jewish Christian means you are living under the threat of being kicked out of the synagogue. Which was the place where all life and culture happened in the Jewish world. Your family, your friends, your livelihood could be taken away for following Jesus.
And John opens his gospel with this story to those people.
It doesn’t take a cultural genius to realize the myth of scarcity is going strong. Listen to language we use in our political discourse, in our talk shows and sitcoms, our lunch conversations and even our prayers. But, and here’s where things get dicey, It’s a lie. At least if you believe the story that Scripture is telling. Think about these words from Jesus:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Chances are, we’ve heard this before. Maybe even so many times that we’ve forgotten how much dissonance there is between these words and the reality we’re presented with everyday. But the truth that Jesus is getting at is so backward, so upside down, that we’d be well served to read it just a few more times. A lot of times in life, I fail to be generous to people who have less because I am concerned about what will happen tomorrow. This is “common sense,” nobody wants to be unprepared for retirement, or the unexpected disaster. And while there is nothing wrong with being prudent and saving. The Scriptures have a lot to say about hoarding.
Not because God wants you to have a miserable life. But because he knows the mentality that is behind this behavior. It’s not prudence, it’s anxiety. And it’s unnecessary.
Because what Jesus is saying here, is summing up a huge part of the story both the Old and New Testaments are telling. It’s the story God told implicitly at the Cana Wedding, and explicitly to the Israelites in the desert. It’s a story that every part of our culture will be at odd’s with. One that will inform how we give and how we live.
It’s just this.
That with God, there’s always enough.