I was at the grocery store, minding my own business, looking for pie crusts in the frozen food section. Harmless, right? Before I found crusts, though, I accidentally stumbled upon the most darling little package of ice cream.
Apparently, Ben & Jerry’s sells a teeny 3.6 oz. container of ice cream. Knowing how impulsive ice cream buyers like to eat in our cars, it even comes with a small plastic spoon right under the lid! Not unlike model airplanes or cutie dollhouse furniture, the little package looks just like a miniature version of Ben & Jerry’s classic pint-size model. People, it is adorable.
In order to purchase three servings, at a dollar a pop, I kind of needed to not think about the wasted packaging material that goes into these single serving portions, let alone ones that come with disposable utensils. I also didn’t want to calculate how much generic ice cream I could bring home, and share with my neighbors, for three bucks. And, by all means, I couldn’t think about children in developing countries whose family income is just two dollars a day if a parent is fortunate enough to have work. So I put all that stuff out of my mind.
Once the thrill of the frozen find wore off, the reality of what I’d done began to sink in: With the resources that had been entrusted to me, I’d bought pricy cute convenience food.
As horrified as I am purporting to be—as if I’ve never done anything like this before—this actually happens all the time. In fact, spending money on what I don’t need, and consuming more food than I need, and tossing away more packaging than I need is sort of a pattern. Regularly burning through way more than my fair share of resources, I’ve been unwilling to stop at enough.
Enough Really is Enough
Because we’re bombarded by advertisements insisting that we deserve more and more and more, enough can be a little bit wily for North Americans, like me, to grasp. Occasionally, though, we get it.
We embrace enough when we decide, for a moment or a season, to not reach for gas station quickie mart sodas or Gatorade or vitamin water or chocolate milks for $1.69 a piece because we already have access to clean drinkable tap water, at home and even in the gross gas station restroom.
When my husband bravely decides that our TV is adequate, even though it’s a bulky “tube television, ” and not a flat screen, he settles for enough.
When a couple designing a new home, who can easily afford granite counters, chooses for linoleum because it will serve their purposes, they decide for enough.
When the same couple takes a long hard look at what they actually need, and choose to stay in the home they already have, they vote for enough.
As we live into the pattern of Jesus, trusting in God’s good provision, we begin to say “No thanks” to that which we do not need. Though it’s not nearly as much fun as saying “Just one won’t hurt” or “Supersize me” or “I’ll take one in every color”, it’s one way that we walk—really walk—with Jesus.
Jesus, Chutes of Despair and Louis Vitton Bags
While “enough” wasn’t, literally, one of Jesus’ big buzz words during his ministry, the twin theological concept—the big idea about receiving our “daily bread” from God’s hands—permeates much of what Jesus was about. Daily bread is simply the theologically fancy way of saying enough.
In fact, enough is what helps me to understand one of the most confounding things that Jesus did constantly harp on. I’m talking about Jesus’ somewhat tiring insistence that the ones who are lowly, poor and hungry right now are fixin’ to move on up the ladder of prosperity and the ones who are high, rich and fat right now might as well pack their Louis Vitton bags and prepare to slide back down the chute of despair.
It’s not just Jesus who’s jazzed about this horrible situation. Before she’d even been brainwashed by her son, Jesus’ own mother, Mary, already knew that this surprising reversal was near and to the heart of God.
“[The Lord] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:53, NRSV)
Psalmists knew about it. John the Baptist knew. Jesus’ brother James knew. Others learned it firsthand, like wealthy Zacchaeus and blind Bartimaeus.
Does this “reversal of fortune” theme sound at all familiar? Is it ringing a bell? All four gospel writers heard Jesus saying pretty much the same thing: The one who loves his life will lose it and the one who hates his life will keep it. (John 12:25) Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12) The first will be last and the last will be first. (Mark 9:35) The greatest should be like the youngest and the ruler like the one who serves (Luke 22:26).
Upside down, right? But what good does the radical inversion even do if the oppressed poor are just going to become the rich ones who keep down the nouveau poor that used to be wealthy? Pointless, right?
Stay with me while I unpack the dizzying logic.
If the dramatic reversal of fortune only means that a different subset of people will be paying too much money to store all their stuff in crowded attics and basements and rented storage units, there’s really no point. If it just means that new people will be lack access to gainful employment, education and medical care, it’s pretty much all a wash. It’s just hard to imagine that’s what Jesus, Mary and the gang had in mind.
But if the real blessing of the new kingdom means that everyone has enough, that’s a completely different beast. What that looks like for the poor is that they, finally, breathe a deep sigh of relief that they no longer have to scramble after thin garbage scraps to feed their children because, at last, there is enough. What it looks like for people who can afford designer ice-cream is that we, finally, breathe a deep sigh of relief that we no longer have to carry around the crushing weight of all the stuff that was supposed to make us so happy because, at last, we can drop it, and stop gathering more, because we have enough.
The gospel that’s good news for the poor is now good news for the rich. Thanks be to God.
Margot Starbuck is a communicator who writes and speaks about kingdom living, God’s heart for the poor, body image, edgy love & other fresh ideas. She’s convinced that because God is with us and for us in Jesus Christ, Christians are set free to live love that is for others, especially those who live on the world’s margins. This is kind of Margot’s big thing. Margot lives in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, NC, with her husband, Peter, and their three kids by birth and adoption. At Reality Ministries, she shares life among friends with and without disabilities. A graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Seminary, Margot is ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA.