There are a lot of faithful ways for us to live this life, to live responsibly and even more so to live gratefully with the abundance of gifts we’ve been given. When a member of your congregation asks you the question, “How much is enough?” how do you respond? Consider these scriptures as you reflect on your response:
Living in the Wilderness
When the Hebrew people crossed the Red Sea out of slavery and found themselves in the wilderness, they had to figure out what it meant to live as free people of God. For generations, for as long as they could remember, they had been enslaved in Pharaoh’s economy of scarcity. They had been living in a system that convinced them that the goal was more work, more production, more everything. There was never enough! Don’t you imagine they dreamed what it would be like to be free and have enough? And yet, they find themselves in the wilderness wondering if they made a big mistake.
Listen to what it says in Exodus: “The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for the day.” Enough for the day – no more, no less, but enough. We know how the story turned out; they weren’t any better at gathering enough manna than they were at living as slaves of Pharaoh.
Loaves and Fishes
Centuries later, Jesus gave his disciples a lesson in God’s enough. They look at the crowds on the hillside, all those thousands of people who have come to hear Jesus, and they can’t imagine how they will all be fed. There will never be enough. But, of course, there is. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.” Life with God is not a zero-sum game. More for you doesn’t mean less for me. Five baskets of food fed five thousand and generated twelve baskets of leftovers. Regular math does not apply, does it? There was enough and plenty leftover. It is hard to comprehend isn’t it?
One of the interesting things about a conversation on how much is enough usually takes us into a conversation about money. Money plays such a central role in our lives. It’s hard to avoid talking about money, and yet we do especially in the church. There are lots of scriptures that help us to know what Jesus taught about money and wealth.
The Rich Young Ruler
A young man comes to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit eternal life. He’s heard about Jesus and wants to get in on the action. He assures Jesus that he’s a good, upstanding citizen, a rule-follower who has obeyed all the commandments since he was a kid. He’s done everything right, but still, he’s in search of something. Jesus says to him, “Just this one more thing. There’s the matter of all your stuff. Sell it and give the money to the poor.” The rich man certainly doesn’t like this idea one bit, because he has a lot of stuff; parting with it would be a monumental, life-changing task. Which, of course, is exactly what Jesus intends – but the man can’t do it. He goes away sad and discouraged, still trapped by his possession, unable to imagine a life that’s not built around his riches.
Then just a few verses later, Luke tells us about another rich man named Zacchaeus, who climbs up into a sycamore tree and gives us a different view. Zacchaeus was also a rich man, maybe not as rich as the young man in the earlier story, but rich, nonetheless. He was a tax collector, which meant he was a member of the elite class, had a good job, and used his position to exploit people and make his own riches even greater. Zacchaeus was interested in knowing what Jesus has to say about his life. You know how the story goes. Jesus sees him up in the tree and calls up and invites himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’ home. So, here’s where the story is different than that of the rich young ruler. After dinner, Zacchaeus gives away half of what he has, and he promises to make things right with anybody he has cheated. He finds salvation, and his life is changed.
Zacchaeus gives us a model for how to live faithfully with what we have. He gives away half. Not all, but a significant percentage. He still has enough to live on comfortably, enough to enjoy life. But he gave generously. He makes things right with anybody he cheated. He vows to stop doing business the way he has been doing it. And you know the most important thing about this story – his life is changed and his perspective on his riches has also changed.
What a great model to life by and to provide for our congregations when they want to know, “How much is enough?”
- Give generously
- Make amends
- Do as little harm as possible
POJ Associate for Stewardship