vsPhilippians 4 10
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.(NRSV)
These words were written by the Apostle Paul during one of his imprisonments. Most believe it was during his last incarceration: in Rome.
I remember reading this as a child wondering how anyone could be content in any circumstance. But as a 40-year-old I can now say with Paul , I know what it is like to have little and I know what it is like to have plenty. Thankfully I've never been in prison as a prisoner, only to visit. And it is horrible place. If you have never visited someone in prison, you should.
If Paul was in Rome, he was under 'house arrest,' probably not so bad as when he rotted in a prison in Ephesus, chained to the wall, his back having been flogged. But even then he would have said the same: I know what it is like to have little.
I know what it is like to have little. I have never been homeless. But as a child my family lived without a phone, or car, many times. We had barely enough; often there was one choice for food; beans or macaroni or potatoes. I know what it is like to dig down the couch hoping for a enough change to buy a box of macaroni and cheese. I know what it is like to be ridiculed for poverty.
I know what it is like to have little. One Christmas my dad was out of work. My brother and I were 6 and 7. We had just returned to church after years of being away. Our church family heard we were in need and multiple times we opened the door and found food on the porch; left by a nameless Good Samaritan.
I know what it is like to have little.
Paul knew what it was like to have plenty. He was a Pharisee; he was a Roman Citizen. He had privileges and he had used them to persecute people; as one of power. But since meeting Jesus he had used the power to preach; before being booted from the synagogues he showed up in his Pharisaical robes and was asked to speak. He used every chance he could to tell of this Risen One he had encountered on that Damascus Road.
I know what it is like to have plenty. I sit in a comfortable recliner in soft clothing inside a snug house with a warm puppy curled at my feet. I have multiple choices of food in my fridge; I just downed an orange juice and a grilled cheese. There are wrapped gifts under my tree. I have a car; I have a smart phone; I am typing on my own laptop.
But do I know what is like to be content? Contentment is not as easy as 'little' and 'plenty.' Contentment is a choice. If I have little, as a healthy American I can work for plenty (yeah I know the economy is going you know where in a you know what but you get my drift). Contentment is something that I must choose. And there is always more out there.
MY CULTURE DOES NOT WANT ME TO BE CONTENT. To be content would mean not consuming; and of course, our economy depends upon my consuming what I do not need.
Luke 3 10And the crowds asked him [John the Baptist], “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”
What kind of a tax collector would do that?
14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Satisfied? Is that the same as Content? What do you think?