Thanksgiving was two days ago. “Black Friday” was yesterday. Thursday many of us probably consumed too much food, and Friday we consumed too much stuff. While I am deeply grateful for family and friends and thankful for work and money to buy food, clothing, shelter and things I need, I’m also overwhelmed with the level of surplus, over abundance and hyper-materialism valued by many in the U.S. I am also guilty of over-consumption. Traveling to developing countries over the years has made me more aware of global disparities. It’s one thing to read or hear stories about world poverty via news sources, it’s quite another thing to see extreme poverty up close. The day I had to literally step over an adolescent boy sleeping on a dirty foam mattress in the middle of a busy sidewalk in Rio was too much. His long boney brown legs hanging off the foam mattress where he lay wearing only a pair of too small red shorts. It was late morning and there he slept seemingly unbothered by the intense sun and the morning travelers stepping over him. I also recall sunsets. When night fell and stores and restaurants closed, street kids and whole families began their scrimmage through restaurant trash bins on sidewalks looking for food scraps in hopes of filling their bellies before laying down to rest. Emerging from the subway station around midnight one evening I remember the little girl of about ten who was alone and ripping through plastic trash bags pulling out bones and sucking them. She appeared so fragile and vulnerable there all by herself. I had to stop myself from staring. I wanted to rescue her, take her home and cook a meal for her.
I am an African descended woman, the progeny of U.S. slaves and working class free blacks whose parents, grandparents, great grands, etc. did not have an easy time in this country. However, each year at Thanksgiving and black Friday the images of poor kids I’ve met around the world fill my mind again, and I experience conflicting feelings of gratefulness because today that’s not me or any of my family members; and guilt because I have so much, perhaps too much.
Surely God had a plan to make sure all humanity got what they needed, but greedy humans foiled that program. Manna (food) fell from heaven and the wandering nomadic Israelites were instructed by God to go out each day and gather only enough for that day (Exodus16:4). If a family gathered more than they needed, the manna became full of maggots and began to smell. In God’s economy everyone has enough. There is no such thing as ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ because God has provided each family with what they need. God’s justice is manifested by his provision for all people to have equal access to God’s resources. There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.
Proverbs 30:8-9 states, …give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
Thank You Lord for your great provision. I pray we flawed humans can make it right.
For more on God’s economy see Mae Elise Cannon’s Social Justice Handbook: small steps to a better world (2009) IVP press.