My Uncle Don always ate too much at picnics because he was afraid that there would not be enough. Scarcity is terrifying and fear of “not enough” is crippling. A church that fears a future cannot see the opportunities of today. Yet, when we think about declining attendance, shifting demographics, rising costs, diminished giving, and shrinking budgets, how are we not to fear scarcity? As I look back over thirty years of boardroom experience, I have never seen a business grow whose leaders were afraid of shrinking. Scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophesy, as we become what we fear.
Some years ago I was at a large industry trade show. The hall was vast, and the booths abundant. They spilled into hallways, into corridors, onto staircases. At the centre of the hall were the booths of the four largest companies. Their colours of red, yellow, green and blue, eye catching as they each competed for attention and prominence. What struck me so vividly was that the real action was in the stairways where the upstarts were clamouring for any attention at all. At the time, the industry was undergoing massive transition. A decade later, the four colours were gone, faded to insignificance as the innovation from the hallway booths flooded the main floor.
On my farm, which until its recent sale allowed me the pleasure of a ramble across the fields, the real action in the landscape does not happen in the hay fields or the adjacent woods—lush as both were—but at the edge, where fields meet woods, where it was messy, disordered, wild. Here, there are more species of plants, insects, and animals than elsewhere on the farm. Here, on the edge, is abundance, vibrancy, fullness of life—grasses, shrubs, and every kind of young tree. Rodents burrow, small birds nest, pools of water gather. At the edge of the farm, abundance is everywhere. Ecologists have a name for it: edge effect. Jesus had a name for it as well—the poor in Spirit. It is where he spent most of His time, at the edges, the margins, among the outcasts.
In the parable of the Sower and the seed, Jesus appears to have lost any sense of scarcity. He seems to be suggesting extravagance of a most dangerous sort. “Come sit with me and watch the Sower as he walks through the field with his precious, expensive, hard-to-come-by, hand-cleaned, carefully stowed, seed. He’s scattering it everywhere! It’s landing on paths, rocky places, among thorns. Mercifully, the odd seed lands on good soil where it multiplies up to 100 times. As we watch him, he’s probably gone through more than five years supply of seed by not paying attention to where it fell. How very wasteful!! How imprudent. Does he not know that seed is precious?’ Jesus goes on “whoever has been given more, they will have an abundance.” What kind of economy is this?
Where is the antidote to scarcity to be found? It is at the margins, among those that have the least, where our compassion is needed most, where Jesus scatters abundant seed. In the strange economy of God’s Kingdom, the solution to scarcity is generosity.