People in the United States are learning painfully how to accommodate to what ABC News has called “the new normal.” This news service has put together an Economic Stress Index Map, where people can check out unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies in their own counties around the nation.
Times are tough. Nobody denies that any more. When times are tough, our actions become more meaningful than ever. Society is telling us than in tough times we need to make “cocooning,” that is, performing the majority of our social and cultural interactions – like working, entertaining, relaxing and so on – from home, rather than by regular interaction with other people in the marketplace.
While it is true that in tough times it is wise to scale down to essentials, it is paramount that we consider carefully what those essentials are, unless we lose our own life in the attempt.
Cocooning and scaling down are not part of the jargon we read in the Bible. On the contrary, what the Bible teaches us as an antidote for harsh times is sharing.
Think of the poor widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9-28). When Elijah came to her home, the famine was so strong that she was getting ready to prepare the last cake for her son and herself “that we may eat it – and die.”
The prophet told her otherwise: “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land” (1 Kings 17:13-14). We know the rest of the story.
It is difficult to be ready to share when things are scarce. It seems easier to share when things are plenty. However, sharing begins with an attitude of the heart. Either we are generous and sharing, or we are stingy and selfish. Nothing in between. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” said Jesus, “so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23).
In good times, but especially in tough times, the Christian way is the way of sharing. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Consider the advice of John the Baptist to the people when they asked what to do in the wake of the Messiah’s coming: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
This is what we need in tough times: Sharing. As Joseph shared the abundance that his wisdom had brought to Egypt, forgetting the stinginess and lack of respect of his brothers when they sold him years before, in the same way all of us need to forget about our own selves and begin sharing.
When we share, as the boy shared with Jesus his two fish and five loaves of bread, then the miracle of abundance is produced by the only one who creates all things and for whom all things are possible.
The Macedonians are perhaps the most striking example of sharing in the New Testament. According to the writings of Paul to the Corinthians, “during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:2-4).
The “ministry to the saints” was an offering that Paul was gathering among the churches to help the sisters and brothers in Jerusalem during a time of hunger.
Do we get it? Do we see what is needed in these times? When times are tough, it is time to scale back to essentials: it is time to learn how to share.
Daniel Carro, originally from Argentina, is professor of divinity at The John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va. He is also Latino Kingdom Advance Ambassador with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.