The famous comedian George Carlin used to do a routine called “stuff” — referring to all the possessions we accumulate and cling to so dearly. Here are some things he said about “stuff”:
“The whole meaning of life is trying to find a place for our stuff. That’s what your house is — a place to put all your stuff. Your house is really just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. It’s a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. You then have to buy a bigger house because you’ve run out of room for all your stuff, and you have to have more space for more stuff.”
He pointed out how addicted we can become to our possessions, leading to the simple yet profound question: “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?”
In contrast to all this fascination with “stuff,” today’s Gospel of John ends with these striking, hope-filled words: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” But what does Jesus mean by the word “abundantly”? Is he referring to the acquisition of more stuff, more possessions, more things, more gadgets?
Quite the contrary. What Jesus is really talking about is our openness to receiving a gift, a grace. It is the grace we find when we believe that only God can fill the hole in our soul. And, it comes precisely when we abandon the incessant acquisition of more and more stuff.
Jesus is talking today about that down-deep emptiness in our lives — an emptiness that all the “stuff” in the world just doesn’t seem to fill up. He’s talking about our most fundamental need to feel that our lives are ultimately about something far richer and deeper than the stuff we so crave.
Ultimately, Jesus is talking about developing an “abundance mentality,” a way of thinking and acting that says: “There is enough for everyone, more than enough food, love … everything!” When we live with this mind-set, we begin to see the miracle of what we give away multiplying to the point of having plenty left over.
“Abundance mentality” is the opposite of a “scarcity mentality” that wants to hold back, refuse to share, and keep only for ourselves.
Almost one in six people in the United States live in poverty. Experts say that social service agencies, such as food banks and organizations that assist with housing, utilities and transportation costs, report an increasing need for assistance from people who made donations in the past but now come seeking aid for themselves!
Globally, the numbers are even more alarming: Nearly half of all children live in poverty and far too many die of easily preventable diseases. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all people on the planet live on less than ten dollars a day; even worse, many work in abysmal conditions for almost no pay. Abundance is a word most people throughout the world wouldn’t even understand or comprehend. Yet, we do — because material abundance is all around us.
The problem for many of us, is that too often we think it refers only to the garnering of more stuff. Jesus is trying to help us understand in today’s Gospel, and throughout his whole ministry, that true abundance comes not from what we possess, but from how deeply we love, and how generously we share.
Jesus sends each of us an invitation: Spend less time acquiring more stuff and more time developing a mind-set of abundance, an abundance mentality.
“I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”