“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.” Matthew 5:38-42 (The Message)
Some of Jesus’ words in this little speech have worked their way into our American vernacular. Turn the other cheek and go the extra mile are popular idioms ripped right from this paragraph. They are rallying cries for nonviolent movements and customer service departments.
Taken as a whole it can seem like Jesus is encouraging us to be pushovers, to let others always have their way. As if Jesus were encouraging us to be that lonely kid in the neighborhood who you only played with because he had the best toys.
But listen closely and there’s so much more going on here. This isn’t about letting others walk all over you or being a wilting flower. Jesus is inviting us to a completely different way to look at the world. One in which we don’t have to live with worry, but generosity.
In chapter 1 of her book, Dr. Brown discusses one of the topics that came up over and over in her research, one that is at the heart of our culture. She says that when asked to fill in the blank of the phrase “Never ___________ enough”, her respondents would respond immediately and overwhelmingly. People were very aware of what they were lacking — never good enough, never thin enough, never successful enough, never smart enough.
We live in a culture of scarcity.
She drives this home with a quote by Lynne Twist from her book The Soul of Money that felt so true when I read it that I almost fell out of my chair:
“For me, and for many of us, our first waking though of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think of the question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”
I am of the opinion that most people are basically good. We think of ourselves as good people. And yet we don’t always act accordingly. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we manipulate situations for our own benefit. I don’t think this is our default nature, so what leads us to misbehave in such ways?
We behave outside of our intentions when we believe that there’s not enough. Not enough love or not enough money or not enough safety or attention or resources. When we feel there is not enough, we work to make sure we are not left out — that we will have enough. As Twist points out, this is at the heart of our prejudices, jealousies and greed.
Scarcity is one of the greatest lies of our age.
What I hear in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 is to actively work against the lie of scarcity. To believe that God is a God of enough. To believe that when we reach the end of the day that we will be taken care of.
That to treat each other with love and respect is a generative act — it does not deplete the resources, but creates more.
It’s an act of faith to share what you have because it is grounded in the belief that there is enough for both of us. And if there is enough to go around, then we don’t have to fight one another or mistreat one another or manipulate the system.
Instead we can live generously.
Which is a shot right to the heart of never enough.