Thursday, April 09, 2009

enough, sufficient

Blog pal, Facebook friend and sister in Christ Theresa Coleman tagged me; this is one many people and probably most Christians constantly need to consider.

NASB text of Matthew 25:31-46; I especially appreciate the cross-references (check out the Bible Gateway page). Here's the NRSV passage Theresa posted:
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Theresa began by talking about her 22 year old fridge and contrasting replacement options priced at $2200 and $1200. She wonders, "Why do we always want more than enough? And what exactly is "enough"? There is a book [that] states that enough is when all your basic needs are met. One dollar more than that becomes 'wealth.'"

The contemporary English word wealth derives from the Old English "weal" or well-being. Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky of the United States of America are commonwealths, originally carrying a connotation of political governance for the common good, for the well-being of The People rather than the benefit of a particular owner class. (We know all about landed gentry and property rights in the Constitution!)

Theresa ponders, "Well then, what are 'basic needs'? According to another book...there are 5 basic needs: Food; Shelter; Clothing; Medical; Education..." In addition, she is considering a "permanent" place of residence (also one of hospitality and possibly refuge?) for formal retirement and as a place from which to itinerate (she's a true circuit-riding United Methodist) and asks, "Is this sufficient? Is this enough? My impulse is to junk the trailer and build fresh, but there are so many who would be grateful for this. What is enough?"

It's interesting that the Matthew passage became part of chapter 25 and we find the Jubilee text in Leviticus 25. The jubilee mandate is not only about sufficiency and enough-ness; it's especially about active justice that redistributes and restores resources that for whatever reason have left society lop-sided, with a few folks having just right amounts and other having far more than they need and others not nearly enough.

I often reference a taxonomy I found somewhere; it accurately says our Body Image is where: body, mind, psyche, spirit and culture converge, and further explains its impact reverberates in all areas of life: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. That's a short description of the way culture becomes embedded, grounded and deeply rooted within our very beings.

life stuff buttonThe concept of "shalom" in the Hebrew Bible means not simple peace in an absence of active conflict sense, but about sufficient essentials for everyone, a fullness of "enough." Considering this blog topic (thanks, Theresa!), we cannot escape that always there element of culture. For a pair of examples from my own life, about two years back I'd arranged to be pianist for the wedding of a couple raised in another country and culture but when I arrived at the church the pastor told me they'd changed their mind and asked someone else to play. In that case I needed to be professional and explain they'd contracted with me, I'd reserved that hour plus of time (it hadn't involved a separate rehearsal) and I needed to be compensated; without a doubt, that type of conventional USA middle-class practice can be assimilated and followed. In a related case, I told a wedding couple I was a professional (and yes, a friend of their ethnic UMC that had welcomed and included me with immense grace), but clearly they valued having 50 roast suckling pigs for their reception and were willing to pay whatever those cost, and no, I would not play pro bono.

Culture-bound as we are, can most of us learn to live comfortably in fewer square feet? Probably. Setting our dinner tables with food locally produced in less labor- and resource-intensive ways? Without a doubt! It may take extra effort and at times it may cost more in $$$, but just as frequently the $$$ cost to the consumer will be less, the benefits to everyone greater.

Matthew the gospeler at least paraphrases Jesus, who went about doing good and being good, Jesus the guy who informed people in order to be saved they needed to "keep the commandments," the guidelines for loving self, neighbor and God that are all about living well in community by looking out for each other. If I look out for you and my other neighbors, presumably you and they will watch out for my needs, at least if they're faithful. According to this text those who did not feed, clothe, visit, the least of these will go away into eternal punishment and the righteous into eternal life. Those who didn't do don't get a label like wicked or evil or bad, but the doers get called "righteous." In theology we refer to works-righteousness, the concept that a person can earn goodness, actually become good by doing good, which both Old and New Covenant scriptures hint at almost as much as they tell us only trusting God and Divine provision get us into the Presence. In very brief, the prophets clearly let us know the religious fast God chooses is to *do* justice and righteousness, to know God is to plead the cause of the poor and the needy, God measures and assesses length and height and depth of a person, of a society with how they do in the justice and righteousness - and mercy - departments.

However, I'm asking what is enough for me, not considering the tension and/or complimentarity between faith and works. Does God's economy allow me to purchase or otherwise acquire more than minimum basics? Do I need to give away anything that exceeds bare sustenance? How about concepts like food storage, like saving for a rainy day, for my own future need so I don't burden society and the public fisc or private charities? Or can I hold on tight until I actually observe or accidentally encounter a least of these in need? After all, I do want to be "righteous," as I sing "clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone, spotless to stand before the throne." On a slightly different accent, I know I have needed beautiful color, pattern, line and design in my immediate environment as long as I can remember, but for sure I don't need to spend big bucks and buy textiles, tiles and trinkets, because I have the gifts and experience to design my own beauty for my own surroundings to a great degree. Possibly even as hunter-gatherers, people did what they could to surround themselves with pleasing visual artifacts, and music also was an early, "primal" discovery. So what now? I'm going to post this blog, that's what now.


  1. This is powerful, convicting, and I don't know what I will do with it....Thank you for preaching it.

  2. Thanks, Sophia! I'm proud of myself that I decided to post it without wrapping it up tightly. In many ways this kind of blog *should* be a trial balloon, though in some cases, such as prayers, I usually wait until I have something ready for the public, for an audience. Blessed Feast of the Resurrection to you!

    PS I'm posting under my new gmail-blogger login, since I didn't want to sign out and in again.

  3. Thanks for this. There is honesty to be found in the struggle. I often wonder if it's part of the Creator God's Spirit to desire things of beauty. (Not that I want to divide God up -- this is just a phrase I like to use to describe that aspect of God.)

    I figure it cost just about the same for a can of pleasingly colored paint as it does for white, so why NOT surround ourselves with color and pattern? I wonder if it is the Spirit of God speaking within us, asking us to co-create beauty.

    The more I think about things, the more I realize that all things are related -- that money, economy, beauty, the inner life, the outer life -- that everything is connected.

    Thanks for this.


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