SAN ANTONIO (ABP) — People of faith are in a food fight — a conflict between two narratives about food, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann said.
Brueggemann labeled one narrative “aggressive accumulation” and the other “shared, grateful abundance.” The conflict centers on three key questions about food: Who gets it? How much do they get? Who decides?
The two narratives do not break down along Catholic-Protestant lines or conservative-liberal lines, he said. They are at war in the lives of individual Christians who struggle to sort them out.
Brueggemann laid out this struggle during a recent conference titled, “Our Abundant Communities: Neighborly Nourishment in the Wilderness,” at Trinity University in San Antonio.
The metaphor for aggressive accumulation is found in the story of Pharaoh during the time of Joseph, and it is based on a fear of scarcity, he asserted. Egypt’s ruler dreamed about cows and wheat, and Joseph told him it was a dream about scarcity, Brueggemann said.
With a scarcity mindset, the more you have, the more you worry about running out, he explained. Pharaoh dreamed scarcity out of his anxiety. Therefore, Pharaoh had the need to accumulate food.
Pharaoh’s anxiety over scarcity led to accumulation, which eventually led to a monopoly of the food supply. That monopoly by Pharaoh provided food for the people during the famine, but it also led to enslavement of the Israelites and violence.
Later, Solomon became the king of ancient Israel, and like Pharaoh, Solomon was an accumulator — not just of food, but also of weapons, wives and wisdom sayings, Brueggemann said. Solomon had productive peasants; so, the transfer of wealth was to urban elites.
The scarcity narrative dominates modern culture, Brueggemann said. It never will permit healthy, safe community because it’s designed to keep people insecure. But biblical faith imagines a second alternative narrative — shared, grateful abundance.
He outlined three preconditions for abundance:
• Creation. Abundance narratives demand a firm grounding in a conviction about the reliability of God’s generous creation. The earth is blessed. God intended the world to produce abundance. The opposite of creation faith is to imagine one can be self-sufficient. Creation faith points beyond oneself.
• Doxology. The total sense of self-abandonment leads back to the goodness of God and to praise. The more we accumulate, the less we have freedom to abandon it to God. People can’t let go in a scarcity system. But the desire to accumulate evaporates in wonder and awe before God.
• Sabbath. In Exodus 31, God tells Moses to keep the Sabbath. He said to keep the Sabbath as God kept the Sabbath and was refreshed. The text really means God was “re-souled,” Brueggemann explained. Sabbath is a cessation from production and consumption in order to get depleted life back. Doing productive work 24/7 is a requirement of the scarcity system. The scarcity system wants exhausted people. Exhausted people do not change systems.
These three are profound acts of resistance against the scarcity narrative, Brueggemann said.
The exodus from Egypt was a departure from Pharaoh’s system. In Exodus 16, the Israelites said, “Let’s go back.” It takes enormous intentionality to step outside that narrative. But the coming of manna in the wilderness introduces the narrative of abundance. In the deepest wilderness, the creative God provides sustenance for the day.
Jesus embraced the narrative of shared abundance, Brueggemann emphasized.
In Mark 6, there is a hungry crowd in the wilderness. Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave. Jesus fed 5,000 people, and there were leftovers. In Mark 8, He again took, thanked, broke and gave, and he fed 4,000 with leftovers.
In Mark 8:14, Brueggemann explained, Jesus says, in effect, “Do you not yet understand that the scarcity system has been defeated?”
In Mark 6:52, the disciples did not understand about the bread because their hearts were hard—a situation reminiscent of Pharaoh. This is not an accident, Brueggemann insisted. The disciples couldn’t get abundance because they were situated in Pharaoh’s narrative of scarcity.
Ferrell Foster writes for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.