Have you ever heard of the scarcity principle? It’s a marketing expression. The scarcity principle tells us that if an item is only available in limited quantities, or for a limited time and you let people know that, its value goes up. If people are afraid that there isn’t going to be enough of something, then they’ll grab whatever they can. It’s why people run to the grocery story and buy all the milk and toilet paper off the shelves if they think there’s going to be bad weather.
It’s funny the way the scarcity principle works because if people think there’s not going to be enough of something they’ll actually do more than just pick up what they need to get by. They’ll actually accumulate more than they need. Whenever you see people who have an over-abundance of something in their lives, more than enough of what they actually need, it’s a sure-fire sign that they’re afraid. The scarcity principle plays on people’s fears. During this time of economic scarcity so many of us are experiencing right now, there's more than enough fear to go around.
Imagine being with thousands of people who have nothing to eat and daring to offer up your little lunch to feed them. Perhaps only a child who hasn’t yet learned to be afraid of not having enough for himself could do such a thing. In John's version of the gospel, that's where Jesus gets the food he uses to feed over 5,000 people. It's the offering of a little boy, who in his innocence doesn't realize that he should be afraid of not having enough for himself if he shares what he has.
The one thing that I notice being sold more than anything else in our culture is happiness. We have been convinced by advertising that we don’t have enough happiness, but that could all change if we’d just get some more of whatever it is they want to sell us. We are sold the desire for happiness. We hear the message all around us: Until and unless you buy what we’re selling, you will never be happy. Don’t the people in the advertisements we see look happy? They’re wearing fabulous clothes and drinking the best coffee in the world, and sitting on the most comfortable furniture. When we look at them we realize that we’re not as happy as they are and want what they have.
A thousand times a day, in a million forms, calling to us from billboards, magazines, television, radio, newspapers, web sites, and telemarketers, every single message without exception is this: you are not enough. You do not have enough. You are not happy. You have not achieved the American Dream. Not “You are the light of the world.” Not “Together we can make the world a better place.” Not “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But rather, the message is “You are not happy.”
The lie is this: While they’re promising happiness, what they’re really selling is dissatisfaction. Our entire economy is based upon dissatisfaction. If we are satisfied, we don’t need more than we already have. Once we have eaten our fill, we don’t ask for another helping. If we’re happy in our marriage, we’re not desperate to have an affair. If we’re satisfied with our home and community, we feel no desire to move. When we’re happy, we aren’t driven to grasp for more than we have.
I was born in the 50s and I’m very much aware of how much more we have of everything than we had when I was a little girl. I grew up in a house where 6 people were living at one time. And we had one small bathroom. I wonder how this was even possible. Now I live alone with three bathrooms all to myself. One of my friends lives alone and he has nine bathrooms all to himself. We expect more of everything now. Our cars are faster, our telephones reach farther, our computers are everywhere, our dishwashers are more efficient, our armies better equipped, our police have more weaponry, our medicines are more powerful, our interstate highways are bigger and take us more places, our buildings are safer, more modern, and temperature controlled. But here’s the thing… Although we purchase twice what we did in the 1950s, can we honestly say we are happier for it?
The miracle of a little boy giving his lunch away reminds us that we’ve got it all wrong. What brings us that elusive happiness is not seeking more of whatever the world convinces us we just have to have. It’s nothing out there. What we seek is the kingdom of God. And we find it, not out there, but inside ourselves. Mother Teresa has said it so well, “Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”
There are many native cultures where wealth isn’t measured by what one possesses, but by what one feels able to give away. In those cultures they celebrate the great giveaway, when gifts are freely given to others in the community. These aren't leftovers or castoffs, like we’ll dump off at the Goodwill. They’re the best of what they own, their very finest. The rationale for giving this stuff away is that “If I can afford to give away my best – if I can give away what I love the most – then I must be very wealthy, indeed.”
Can I challenge you to learn from the miracle of the boy who gave his lunch away? No, I’m not going to challenge you to give away whatever is most precious to you in your life. That may be too much too fast. But I want to challenge you to let go of something that’s become a part of your life and is more than you need. Something that is more than enough for you. Maybe it’s a coat you no longer wear. Or a book that you’ve finished reading. A project you feel responsible for that brings joy to no one, especially you. Pick one thing that has become unnecessary in your life and let it go. Pick one thing this week, and another next week.
When the boy let go of his lunch, Jesus blessed his offering and multiplied it so that all were fed. When we let go of our fear, we learn that our God is the source of true abundance and we have been given more than enough.