by Dan Matthews
Gospel: St. Matthew 14: 14-23
For more than 20 years I have lived in New York City. For the person who enjoys shopping, New York is a paradise, except for those people who love to shop at Wal-Mart. It just so happens there is not one Wal-Mart in the whole of New York. Someone told me recently it is about 35 miles from Manhattan to the nearest Wal-Mart.
Some months ago I was visiting my wife down in western North Carolina in the mountains and found that I needed a small battery for my camera. I realized that the only place I could find that unique battery was at Wal-Mart. I waved a goodbye to my wife as I borrowed her car and drove the fourteen miles down into town. When I walked into Wal-Mart, I headed straight to the camera department, which is in the back of the store. On the way back there, I stopped and spotted cases of Coca Cola stacked up for a price that was utterly unbelievable for my New York mentality. So I got one of those big carts, and on that bottom rack I put three or four cases of Coca Cola at a price so low I felt they were being given away.
Well, I had not gotten very far before I discovered paper towels, and compared with New York City, they were also at a ridiculously low price, so I piled them into the cart as well. After getting my battery, I headed out and saw some more bargains and by the time I checked out I had enough stuff to practically fill my wife's small Subaru station wagon. When I got home she came out to greet me. She saw the car filled up. Then slowly she wandered around it without saying a word. After looking into all the windows she remarked, "And we don't need any of it."
Ever done that? For those of us old enough to remember the depression era, the abundance of goods in our present world is staggering.
The Wall Street Journal ran an article some months ago describing the fastest growing business in America today: the development and the construction of mini warehouses, these small storage facilities that you see in every town and in every city. We first fill the closets and the attic and the basement and the garage and then we go across town and rent some space to store our stuff. The reality is that in the midst of all this abundance of stuff, we have a mentality of scarcity. We think we need a little more. We are yearning to buy, if the price is right. In short, we can't get enough of what we don't need. Imagine our present day culture in any historical perspective. We have more possessions than any culture in the history of the world. We think of ourselves and our own personal value in terms of how much stuff we have. And our basic way of seeing the world is by virtue of scarcity. And if we are honest, almost no one of us is free of that yearning to have a little bit more. Oh, we don't want to be accused of being greedy. We simply don't quite have enough. "Maybe other people do," we say to ourselves, “but I don't. I need just a little bit more.”
John D. Rockefeller was asked at the height of his career by a reporter, "Mr. Rockefeller, how much is enough?" And he responded, "Just a little more than I have."
It is hard to be grateful when our primary motivating factor is a sense of scarcity. We think to ourselves, I need more: more things, more money, more space, more of almost everything. And we never even stop to challenge that way of thinking. A genuine sense of prayerful gratitude for our abundance has lost its base in our ceaseless passion to perpetuate our myth of scarcity.
Jesus exuded a sense of gratitude. When we look at the story of the feeding of the five thousand in the New Testament, we find disciples anxious about the scarcity of food. They nervously asked Jesus, "What are we going to do with so many people? There is a scarcity of food." And Jesus said, “How much do we have?" You remember the story about the young lad with the loaves and the fishes. Jesus gave thanks for the little bit they had and, in that moment of gratitude, there was enough for everyone. Gratitude is the central theme of the feeding of the five thousand and that exciting story and miracle appears in all the four Gospels.
Or the story of the woman who came into the dinner party where Jesus was reclining with others. She stood at Jesus feet and poured expensive ointment on his feet, and as she poured the ointment on his feet, the other guests wondered why would he allow this woman of the streets to waste this expensive ointment on his feet. "It could be given to the poor," they thought, but Jesus saw this act in a radically different way. He saw himself as being grateful for the gift this woman was giving. He honored her with deep gratification for what she was feeling and expressing in the pouring out of that ointment.
You remember the incident when ten lepers came to Jesus? They wanted to be healed and only one of them returned to give thanks and express gratitude. Maybe that is a pretty good average. One out of ten. "Where were the nine others who were healed?" he asked.
We grow up in families where mothers or fathers or grandparents insist we say, "Thank you." We are trained by good etiquette; if for nothing else, just to repeat those words, "Thank you." We are trained to keep that expression central in our relationships with others. And yet, those common sense words from our family training are swallowed up by an enormous market-driven world in which we live, where advertising and the consumer culture is central in every day of our lives. It takes much more than our etiquette or our common sense of polite manners to challenge the onslaught of consumer advertising wherever it might appear. Hundreds of times a day to every one of us, it beckons us to want more. It reminds us that the world is a place of scarcity, not abundance. It sabotages gratitude so we can rarely stop to rejoice in God's abundance but rather presses on with the myth of scarcity.
We have made our virtues with endless dreams of perpetual acquisitions and have become oblivious to their unintended consequences. Gratitude is the victim. I have often heard a businessman say to another businessman words to the effect, “Don't forget, cash is king." Well, if we had to use that same sort of over arching sentiment in relationship to Scripture, we well might say that in the New Testament, "gratitude is king."
Oh, by the way, remember that little battery I bought at the Wal-Mart in the North Carolina mountains? Well, when I went to the closet to get the camera, I realized I had two other cameras. I really did not need that battery at all. Amen.
Source: 30 Good Minutes, Chicago Sunday Evening Club
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