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The Catholic Moment: God’s abundance in our scarcity

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

By Sister Carol Gaeke, O.P.

A Southern politician was ranting about the need to inscribe the Ten Commandments on a municipal building when a reporter tentatively asked him “Sir, what are these Ten Commandments?”

The politician hesitated, scratched his head and muttered: “Well, I am not sure, but I think one of them is about adultery.”

For some people the Ten Commandments are a slogan line for firing up people that may create a lot of heat but provide very little light. But for the believer they are revelatory of two main realities: how we can see God’s great care and abundance in the midst of scarcity and how we are to live in community.

God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites in their wanderings in the desert. Having left the slavery of Egypt they forgot about its harshness and only looked back at the food they had in slavery. Egypt had been a land of abundance for the Pharaoh but slavery and pain for the masses. So in leaving that life they expected more from Yahweh. Only when they were most hungry and most vulnerable did they come to recognize their total dependence on God and God’s abundance. And God met their need with water from the rock and manna from the skies. God’s abundance could only be recognized in scarcity.

In Egypt the Pharaoh had the most of anyone and yet demanded “more bricks” from the slaves. He had abundance and yet lived as if he suffered from scarcity. He always wanted more. The masses on the bottom just wanted enough — enough food, enough freedom, enough community. They wanted to be free of the false abundance of Pharaoh and to trust to the true abundance of God.

This story rings so true today with the current economic crisis. Those who have the most want more. Those who demanded “more bricks” with less remuneration for the workers seem to be the ones who have caused our global economic mess. The Bernie Madoffs and over-paid CEOs of the world never had enough and in their greed have bankrupted thousands. Whole housing subdivisions are being abandoned as homelessness soars. Food scarcity is not all that uncommon in America today as attested to by any food bank.

God’s covenant with the Israelites said that scarcity was a myth. There is abundance, but not in the places we look for it. It comes with God and it comes in community. The Ten Commandments are the ultimate blueprint for living in community. The first three tell us how to keep our lives in balance by keeping our relationship with God straight. The rest are about keeping life in the community, in the neighborhood in balance. None of the commandments are just about my personal relationship with God but about our relationship with God and with each other. Honoring our aged parents (our elders), respecting the lives of our neighbors and our marriages, respecting property and verbal integrity and not choosing to do our neighbor’s property or marriage in to get what we want. (Again, think Madoff.)

The Ten Commandments are God’s gift to us to set the world right, to put order in the neighborhood. God’s abundance of manna is also seen in Jesus’ abundance of loaves and fishes. When we believe there is enough for all, if we live the narrative of God’s abundance instead of the narrative of Pharaoh’s scarcity, then we truly live a covenant life.

The vision is about a lot more than not committing adultery.

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