When was the last time that you could have chosen to get “more” (more features on your new purchase, more food in your value meal, more discounts when you buy a second item) – but you chose to get “less” instead? Why would anybody settle for “less” when you could have “more”?
In the Old Testament lesson from today’s Daily Office, we come across a potentially valuable reminder of what really matters. The story comes from the first chapter of Daniel. Jerusalem is captured by the king of Babylon, and Daniel (along with three of his friends) is shipped off to Babylon, where they are enrolled in an “up and coming leaders program” for recently subjugated peoples. As part of the program, they are to receive a daily allotment of food and wine from the king’s table, which is “more” and “better” than they ever could have hoped for (especially under the circumstances). But Daniel and his friends are not inclined to “defile” themselves with this rich food; so they choose to have “less” (in this case, vegetables and water) instead. As it turns out, Daniel and his companions fare better with their simple menu than do those who feast on royal meals; and they are granted the freedom to continue with the diet of their choice.
In its context, scholars suggest that the story speaks to the importance of maintaining Jewish identity in the midst of exile by remaining true to Old Testament dietary laws. Of course, “eating kosher” might not be an issue for us;. But don’t we, too, face a challenge of identity? We are constantly encouraged to be “conformed to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:1-2), and one of the most powerful temptations in the worldly arsenal is the lure of “more” — the idea that life would be better if only we had a little more (more money, more authority, more stuff) than we have now.
But as Jesus cautioned,”Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) There is nothing wrong with working hard and being successful and “acquiring blessings” as a result (provided that we remember, of course, that we’re blessed in order to be a blessing). But it is a perilously small step to go from “receiving more” to “wanting more” and finding that we’ve lost our hearts along the way.
Perhaps this prayer from the Book of Proverbs offers a helpful perspective:
“Give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)
What will we choose as this week unfolds? May God give us the wisdom to choose less of the stuff that can never satisfy us anyway, so that we can choose more of the Spirit who offers us to abundant life.