The Common Good

Sin and Simplicity -- Why Jesus Always Borrowed Stuff

Every family, including my own, has its “keepers” and “givers.” There are those who keep and hoard every tiny little trinket, every old letter, and every unneeded refrigerator magnet. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, there are others who give away every extraneous and unused thing, living in radical simplicity.

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Buy less, borrow more Lorelyn Medina/Shutterstock

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Over the past six years, I’ve attempted to be more the latter than the former. The simplicity movement has been growing for years and is challenging our assumption that more is better. Graham Hill, in a provocative little talk on the topic, has pointed out what our big houses, our lots of things, our endless splurging has done.

Today, the average American has three times as much space as 50 years ago. Our insatiable lust for things has birthed a virtual cottage industry of storage space facilities. The modern storage industrial complex brings in some $22 billion a year. We must learn, Hill argues, to edit our possessions down to what matters and what we actually use. Let the rest go. Clear the artery of our clogged lives.

This says nothing of the personal cost. Our lust for more has led to debt, poverty, and a life of happiness based on things. We are the least happy people in history; yet, we have more stuff than anyone in history. Hill asserts that we should live by this statement: Less is more: < = >

What is it that makes us want more than we should have?

Mark Twain once reflected upon the nature of sin in the human personhood. He identified sins not primarily as desire for a thing in itself, but as a lustful yearning for that in our world that is specifically not own to have. In other words, Adam didn’t want a bite from that silly little fruit. Rather, Adam desired the fruit because it was forbidden by God to eat. The orientation of all of humanity, if Twain is right, is always toward the forbidden fruit of life, not fruit. Surely this touches a nerve for all of us because it isall of us. Adam still lives within us.

Humanity’s pathology is closely tied to a desire for the forbidden in life.

Our stir-crazy living finds it culprit in this lust for what is not ours. Of great necessity, then, for Christian discipleship, is the simple act of paying close attention to our desires. If our hearts long for that which isn’t ours, then we must give attention to what it is we desire and reorient our hearts toward the things God desires for us. A world living within its boundaries, as such, is a world in shalom.

Shalom is living at peace with what isand what is not. I’ve always appreciated that Cornelius Plantiga has defined sin as the “culpable disturbance of shalom.” Sin, as such, is anything that breaks down the peace and goodness of the created realm. It is to systematically rearrange almost every detail about the way we were supposed to exist.

I’m almost certain this is what Augustine meant when he said, “emulate the ant.” Go small and simple. Live on your own hill and be okay with everyone else’s.

Our desire for more stuff than we should have doesn’t come from a desire for the stuff but from a desire for stuff that we know we should not have. It is a lust.

Because Jesus was homeless savior, he had to always borrow from his disciples. He is constantly borrowing people’s donkeys (Luke 19), his disciple’s boats (Luke 5), and inviting himself over for dinner (Mark 2). And because of his willingness to embrace the ministry of borrowing, Jesus was able to enter into people’s lives and worlds unsuspectingly. Because we have everything we’ve ever needed, we no longer need to perpetuate this ministry. We have become self-sustaining and self-providing. We don’t need and thus don’t need anyone.

As an experiment, give something away every day. Just one thing. Unclog one tiny artery of your life. See what happens.

The more we do this, I think, the less we’ll even want the fruits in life that aren’t ours in the first place and grow to be thankful for the one’s that are.

Simplicity is an appetizer of the bounties of heaven.

A.J. Swoboda is a pastor, writer, and professor in Portland, Ore.

Photo: Lorelyn Medina/Shutterstock

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