Sunday, April 14, 2013

More or Less

      You have probably seen the series of commercials for a wireless carrier in which a man asks a group of kids different questions.  “Which is better, faster or slower?”  “Which is better, bigger or smaller?”  “Is saving money better than not saving money?”  And then the kids give funny responses.  One of the commercials has the man asking the kids, “Which is better, more or less?”  And a little girl goes on to explain, somewhat confusingly, that more is better than less.  (That’s not the best of the commercials, just the one that helps me make a point.  The best is the “Hold on, I’m watching this,” one.  I think he is just waiting to see if the kid is going to pass out or maybe vomit from waving his head and his hand around so much.  But anyway.)  More is always better than less, isn’t it?  That is obvious, and the logical extension is that having everything is better than having less than everything.  Of course, that sounds greedy so no one ever admits to that, but there is no end to “more” until you get to everything, so whether we are conscious of it or not, accepting that more is better than less means that we are each seeking everything.  We want it all.  We may be satisfied with less, but we want it all.
That’s embodied in the archetypal story of Adam and Eve.  God gave them everything, save one thing: they couldn’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They could look at it, sit under it, even climb it if so inclined, but they weren’t supposed to eat its fruit.
So they had less.  Sure, that’s the half-empty way of saying it, but that’s how we tend to look at less.  They had less, so they wanted more.  They wanted everything, but found that the cost of having everything is losing the one thing that really matters—their community of three, God, Man, Woman, all in perfect peace.  And so they turned on each other.  “The Woman you gave to be with me, she gave it to me, and I ate.”
What good is it to have everything if you lose the one thing?  If you have everything but the one thing, you have nothing.  Ironic, isn’t it?
Thomas Aquinas said that every choice is also a renunciation.  If I marry one person, I cannot marry anyone else; if I live in one place, I cannot live anywhere else; if I choose a certain career, that excludes many other careers; if I have this, then I cannot have that. The list could go on indefinitely. To choose one thing is to renounce others. That's the nature of choice.
Every choice is also a renunciation, and that includes the choice to be a follower of Jesus.  To be a follower of Jesus means that you have to renounce lots of other things—not just sinful, destructive things, but a lot of good things as well.  And we don’t really like that.  We look to Jesus’ promise to give us abundant lives and we think that means that we’ll be saved from all the bad, destructive things in our lives so that we can enjoy all the good things in life as well.  What else could “abundant” mean?
Jesus gives us a different kind of answer.  He once told a parable about a pearl merchant who found the most precious pearl of all, and went and sold everything in order to purchase it.  He sold everything in order to have one thing.
Last time I looked, “one” is less than “everything.”
When is less better than more?  When it is the One Thing.  The One Thing is better than Everything.
And that is Jesus’ definition of abundance.  Not, as we define it, having a lot of things, but having the only thing that matters.  The One Thing.
What is that Pearl of Great Price, that One Thing?  Jesus said it is the Kingdom of God.  You can have everything, but if you aren’t in the community of God’s eternal kingdom, you don’t have anything.
And if you have the One Thing, you don't need Anything else.

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