Rev. Izzy Harbin
Abundance vs. Scarcity - A Different Way to Look at Poverty
21 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you; this poor widow has put in more than all of them, 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
Poverty seems to be a hot-button topic for Jesus. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus calling attention to the disparity in income between the wealthy and the poor, and in particular, the lack of care for orphans and widows.
In Jesus’ world, the Priests who managed all activities in the Temple were to also provide sustenance for widows and orphans. Instead, many were uncared for and often became a burden on society. The model of the church taking care of the people is prevalent throughout church history. As we approach the period of the Reformation, this is one of Luther’s complaints regarding the church’s structure—taking money from those who did not have it to give with the promise that their loved ones would be extracted from purgatory sooner. The paying of indulgences to pardoners was one of the many abuses in the church during the late Middle Ages.
The issue of poverty is not new. Throughout history, people have struggled to have enough. If we return to our understanding of the development of the human migration story, we can see that people began to gather in clusters as a way to support one another. In these earliest settlements, it is assumed that the people lived an egalitarian existence. Without written documentation of such a feat, there is no way to know how their societies were structured.
By the time towns and cities come into existence, however, we do see a division among the people. As leaders rose to govern the people, they also began to take advantage of their positions. The work contributed to society has never been fairly compensated from the perspective of the worker. Even today, we see laborers who receive only a fraction of the money they earn for the company for whom they work, with the CEOs of these companies reaping the lion share of revenue.
The story of the widow giving money to the church provides us with a story of poverty from the Bible where Jesus is the observer and the commentator on this act of giving. This is one of the few passages in scripture where Jesus points out an injustice but doesn’t do anything to change it or fix it. He is making a point to his disciples that they understand viscerally—most of them were also poor—but that they may not get spiritually. This passage, at first glance, seems to point to the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, but I think it goes further than that.
At the heart of this passage, Jesus is asking us to understand where our abundance comes from.
Abundance is a mindset. We are either living from a place of abundance or living from a place of scarcity. Looking at our passage again, the question we should be asking is, “Why did the widow give all she had?” From an economic perspective, it may not be a prudent investment. However, from a mental or even spiritual perspective, it makes perfect sense. This widow, it would seem, lived from a greater place of abundance than the wealthy who had an abundance to give.
So, what does it mean exactly to have an abundance mindset vs. a scarcity mindset. Let’s start with scarcity. When we have a scarcity mindset, we see the world from a place of lack. We never have enough. We never feel fulfilled in anything we do. There is always something missing in our lives, whether tangible or intangible. People who struggle with a scarcity mindset feel trapped in their circumstances. They no longer see the possibilities on that which is impossible. Life is met with a lot of fear, and it feels like the little that you do have can be snatched away at any moment.
On the other hand, when you live from a place of abundance, you see the world as filled with possibility and opportunity. There is always more to see, feel, and experience in a world of abundance. Those who have an abundance mindset don’t live in fear of everything being taken away; instead, they are more likely to give what they have. There is always enough because there is always this idea of generosity and gratitude that grounds the individual in the reality of their circumstances. They may not have much financially, but they are blessed in their spirits – usually because of relationships, family, and a spiritual life that fills them with joy.
These two different mindsets have the ability to change the world. The scarcity mindset gives us more of what we see every day, people struggling to make ends meet, hustling to try and put food on the table, striving to find a better job that pays just a little more. I point to these things because this is often how we frame scarcity – a general lack of material wealth. But I look at scarcity as much bigger than a job, or food on the table. Wealthy people actually seem to operate from a place of scarcity more than those who we label poor. The more you have to lose, the greater the fear that you will lose it.
Those, however, with a mindset of abundance always find a way to give; give of their time, their limited resources, their love, and more. Even wealthy people that live from a place of abundance give away a large portion of their wealth.
As we tackle the social issues of Jesus’ day, it is my hope and prayer that we can discover more about how we need to live in our own time. May your world be filled with abundance.