HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Exodus 16: 1 – 15, Psalm 111, Matthew 20: 1 – 16
September 22, 1996 by Tad Mitsui
There is no universal standard to determine, "how much is enough." For some people, what is enough is so little according to other people”s standards. On the other hand, for some other people there is no such thing as enough. According to the World Value Survey in 1995, only 8% of people in the Republic of Ireland said they were not happy. Americans, Canadians, Germans, and Japanese, in contrast, who are on the average twice as rich as the Irish, a full 20% of people said they were unhappy. It is clear that being rich is not a guarantee for happiness. The scripture lessons for today tell us that God provides enough. And it is up to us to be happy about it.
One morning when the Hebrews ran out of food in the desert, they found some edible fluffy and sweet stuff on the ground. Moses said that it was gifts from God called manna. We don”t know what it was. Whatever it was, it must have been very perishable. Those who collected more than they could eat in one day, found left-over completely spoiled next day. We know that some food stuff must be eaten very fresh like sushi. Many people think that it is revolting to eat raw fish. What they have to know, however, is that only very fresh fish, no older than a day, is good enough for decent sushi. And when it is fresh, it is very good. It is addictive. Ask Muriel. This is why in most of the Oriental fish stores, the fish is sold in aquariums like we do with lobsters.
Most food stuff are the best when they are fresh. And fresh food is good for health. There is a Japanese saying, "The way to good health is to eat the fruits of the season." I now can affirm this ancient wisdom as we enjoyed fresh produce from our garden this year.
"One day at a time." is one of the important articles of faith for the Alcoholic Anonymous. Things change unexpectedly. We will never know what exactly lies ahead of us. It is because God”s world is alive and dynamic. Yes, it is important to plan ahead. But also we should be humble enough to know that we can be quite wrong in our predictions. When we depend only on our ability to see future, we will never find peace of mind. This is why those brave people in the Alcoholic Anonymous who have guts enough to admit that they have problems have decided to look at themselves only one day at a time. They know that on the next day, something unexpected can happen and they may go back to bad old habits. All of us fail from time to time. So the day after they will try again. They trust that God knows best and is watching over them lovingly and patiently, like a mother who watches over a toddler learning to walk.
So how do we know when we have enough? It is when we are happy with what we have, and stop wanting more. Happiness and material things are two important components of knowing when we have "enough". They must come together. It is never enough when you have nothing. Everyone needs a certain amount of material things. This is why the Christians do not believe that there is such thing as purely spiritual happiness totally devoid of material things. So we believe that to work hard to eliminate poverty is an important Christian duty. However, at some point, we have to be satisfied with what we have. Otherwise we will never feel we have enough. Then we won”t know when to stop working. Simply accumulating things will never make us content, unless at one point we feel happy with what we acquired and stop. Some people never feel they have enough, even if they have the whole world at their disposal. It is because material things alone does not give you satisfaction without deep feeling of contentment. And it comes only from spiritual part of you.
We learn two lessons from today”s scriptures. First, we must believe that God provides enough for every creature. Secondly, we must know when it is enough and when to stop wanting more. Otherwise greed takes over, and there will be no stopping. Greed will stop only when everything is destroyed including the one who is greedy.
Each one of us has to do our share of God”s work as much as we can. However, God created this world where every creature could be sustained. As all farmers know, we can produce a lot more food. No one denys that agriculture can feed a lot more people than there are on this planet now. The world God created has an enormous capacity to sustain us. Then how come some people are malnourished and even starve to death. We know it is not because of shortage of food. It is because of the world does not have a good distribution system. So some people can not buy food, though food is there.
When I was assigned to the job of coordinating famine relief in Africa ten years ago, one of the projects I participated was to study the cause of starvation. In no time we discovered that the problem was not producing not enough food. We humans can produce a lot of food. Even Ethiopia, where about a million people died from starvation ten years ago, exported more food items, like coffee, sugar and beef, to Europe during the famine, for cash. They needed cash to buy armaments to fight a civil war. Many people who were outside of the government, military, or cash crop sector starved, because they had been given no credit to produce food thus had no money to buy food when crops failed. There is a lot of food available in the world. I am sure many of you want to produce a lot more food, if there are buyers. The problem is that there are not enough people who have money to buy food. So people continue to starve, while food is wasted.
So God does provide, so long as all of us do our share of work. Even those who were unlucky to find work at the last hour of the day can have share of world”s goodness to live. Problem is greed. If there is no greedy people in the world, it will be easier to create a system that distributes enough things to everybody. Greed does not like equality. The one who worked all day did not like what they saw when the one who worked less got the same pay. A seed of greed was germinated when envy entered his minds. Once greed has taken over, it will not allow you to stop. It is like going down hill on ski without knowing how to stop. You have to crash into something solid to stop. You may seriously injure yourself at best, you may even lose your life.
Ask a bunch of very rich people if they have enough. Few would say they have enough, I am sure. They need, I am told, on the average, 30 % more to be happy. Funny thing is that the people with median incomes also want the same 30 % more, also. Greed will never let you feel that you have enough. Also greed never allows you to be happy when you have as much as your neighbour. Greed thrives on inequality. So our society ends up with some people having too much and some too little. Today”s lessons tell us that is not the God”s way.
Have you ever stop to think sometimes that our affluence can be actually harmful? By 1967, the most of the western countries reached the level of affluence that provided all the basic necessities for our healthy life. Anything that has come after that are extra. We really do not need them, but it is nice to have them. We enjoy them, but some of those extras are actually harming our well being. For example, we all know that many of the top killer diseases are preventable if we consume less. Have I told you about my former anti-white student who became the Director of Botswana Meat Board? His job was to sell beef to Europe? With a cheeky smile, he said, "I am killing Europeans slowly."
So, let us remember and trust that God provides enough. And let us be happy and grateful for it. Many of us love our work, that”s O.K. Consequently many of us produce more than we need. That”s O.K., too, so long as you have time to enjoy it. The trick is not to get caught up in a rat race of accumulating surpluses we don”t need. We should know the time to say, "That”s enough." and stop to enjoy and to share. And don”t forget to say "thank you" to God who provides.