Almighty God, whose will it is to restore all things in Thy well-beloved Son, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the Earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under His most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
If you could choose one word that describes how you intend to live in 2015, what would it be?
My friend April (whose blog you should totally be following if you aren’t already) chose “present” as her word. Her post inspired me to choose a word of my own, and I’ve been wrestling with that choice ever since. After much prayer and consideration, I’ve decided on my “one word” for 2015:
What does “abundance” mean?
Abundance (n) a very large quantity of something; the state or condition of having a copious quantity of something; plentifulness of the good things of life; prosperity.
The noun abundance shares its Latin root (abundare, meaning “to overflow”) with the verb abound.
In the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd. Thieves, he says, come to kill and destroy, but he has come that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10, paraphrase)
The word Jesus uses there is περισσός (transliterated as perissos and pronounced pay-riss-oss). It means abundantly or copiously, and perhaps an even better translation is exceedingly, in the sense of exceeding or going beyond what is anticipated or expected. It’s related to the verb περισσεύω, which means to exceed, to overflow, or to go beyond. There is a connotation of excess.
I think it’s pretty easy for us to understand the concept of “abundant life” in terms of excess. The concept of “too much” is very familiar to most of us. How many of us can say that we probably eat too much? Drink too much alcohol? Work too much? Shop too much? Stare at Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest too much? How many of us have said the words, “I’ve got way too much to do this weekend” because we’ve overscheduled ourselves?
Of course, the natural corollary to “I’ve got too much to do” is “and not enough time to do it”. If I go a little crazy at the craft store (as I’ve been known to do) and spend too much on cross-stitching supplies, I run the risk of an emergency coming up later in the month and not having enough wiggle room in my budget to deal with it. If I invest too much energy into obsessing over my follower count on WordPress, there won’t be enough left to do more important things.
Money, time, effort– it’s a zero sum game. Wherever we put a “too much” somewhere, there’s a “not enough“ somewhere else. That’s a pretty fair description of how our economy works here on earth, I think. Our earthly system (or, as Old Testament theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann calls it, “Pharaoh’s economy”: capitalism and empire at their worst) is all about zero-sum games. If you have something, that means there’s less for me. If I have too much of something, there won’t be enough for you to have any. There has to be a winner and a loser, a have and a have-not. I think, if we’re being honest, that’s how we would define abundance a lot of the time: “I’m going to get as much as I possibly can, even if that means there’s not enough left over for anyone else.”
Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright once said, “The whole point of Jesus’s work was to bring heaven to earth and join them together forever, to bring God’s future into the present and make it stick there.” Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly– but not quite the way we might think of abundance.
Back to our Greek lesson. One should note that both περισσός (the word Jesus uses in John 10:10) and its close cousin περισσεύω are compound words, and they contain the preposition περι (pronounced like the name Perry), which is usually translated as “around” or “about”. περι is the root of the English words perimeter (the boundary going all the way around something), periphery (what’s around, rather than directly in front of, an object), and pericardium (the membrane that completely encloses the heart). “All around”, “all-encompassing”, or “on every side” does a fairly good job of getting at the meaning as well.
Think about that for a second: The word Jesus used to tell us the abundant life he means for us to have begins with a prefix that means “on every side” or “all around”.
The abundance Jesus came so that we could have isn’t Pharaoh’s economy– the kind of “abundance” we’re supposed to be working with God to set the world free from.
We’re not here to conform to Pharaoh’s economy– to continue to use Dr. Brueggemann’s illustration– where the worth of a human being is defined in terms of his or her ability to make bricks. We’re not here to live by the rules of Herod, whose power must be preserved even at the expense of human lives. We’re not here to accept oppression, injustice, and inequality as being “just the way things are”.
We’re here to proclaim the reign of God to a world that only knows the reign of Pharaoh. We’re here to raise up valleys and bring down hills, to straighten what’s crooked, and to create pathways to places where there haven’t been any before. We’re here to tell Pharaoh, and his unjust, oppressive system, to let all of God’s people go.
God’s abundance looks more like the manna in the wilderness: there was enough for everyone, but it came with rules. There was no hunger and no poverty, but the corollary to that was that there was also no hoarding and no greed.
Pharaoh’s economy says that it’s all about getting abundance for yourself. But that begs this question: Can I truly have abundance if my neighbor is hungry? Can I truly be joyful if my neighbor is cold or homeless? Can I be whole when my neighbor is broken?
If we’re talking about abundance in terms of the reign of God, the answer is a resounding no.
There can be no abundance for any of us until there is abundance for all of us.
That is the Gospel message distilled into one sentence.
Let me say that again: There can be no abundance for any of us until there is abundance for all of us.
Until none of us are hungry, none of us can be truly nourished. Until none of us are without a place to sleep at night, none of us can truly rest. Until none of us are sick, none of us are truly healthy. Until none of us are in bondage, none of us are free from bondage either. Until none of us lives in fear of war, none of us can truly have peace.
That’s what the word shalom means: peace. Yes, peace as in the absence of war, but more than that, too. I’m using it the way the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is fond of using it: Shalom– peace, the dream of God– means so much more than the absence of war. It means a world where nobody studies war anymore. It’s clean water, a place to sleep, safety, decent housing, healthcare, and enough food for everyone– and really, it means a whole lot more than just that, too. But it starts there.
When all are fed– and not just enough to survive, but plenty, an overflow, more than expected or anticipated or even imagined– then, and only then, can we have abundance.
May we have life in 2015, and have it more abundantly.