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05 April 2013

What is enough?

What is enough?

Iain Duncan Smith says he could live on £53 a week if he had to. Whatever you think of his policies and his claims, it seems useful to ask - could I?

You may, of course, be on Job Seeker's Allowance at present. I, currently, am not. But I've been wondering, is this what I should be doing if I follow Jesus, who constantly identified himself with those labelled 'the poor' whilst on this earth? Could I live on £53 a week and give away the rest of my money? 

We have a radically generous God. A God of abundance and abundant life. A God of life to the full. And we have a God of surrender. Of lay it all down. Of lose your life to gain it. Of die every day to self. Following Jesus in inner-city poverty has given me access to some profound experienced theological gems: the path to abundance is in surrender. In giving away, I gain. In dying, I come to life. It hurts but it's true. It's just been Easter. Jesus does pop up in the most hellish places, rescuing, transforming, bringing new life. Telling us to put it all down each day, so we can pick up the life-giving stuff.

In this welfare climate, what does it mean to put it all down? To think about Jesus's call to 'lay down my life' for others? This is the problem with knowing that since Acts 2, Jesus lives in us and this means we are asked to do his work in the right here, right now. Dare I even glance over the Good Samaritan story until we have full economic recovery?

Jesus calls us to surrender all. All. This means that it all belongs to God: our neuroses, our pain, our gifts, our resources, our money. All. Not just our excess-earnings over £53. All. The call is death to self. The call is radical. The call is generous. The call puts God and others first. The call is terrifying and total, yet liberating and life-giving. The call includes our money. Especially our money. This is true whether you have escalating debt or are a millionaire.

The call involves recognition that our money and other blessings, are not our own. Money, houses, cars, food – are not our own. They come from God and in His grace, we're looking after them for Him. Stewardship, not ownership. So each holiday, each pair of jeans, each glass of wine, each special dinner is a gift of grace. If you earned your money, it's because God gave you innate talents and gifts and then God has given you jobs along the way that have used those gifts to earn money. So, even if you earned it, you did so by the grace of God. So, give it up and give it back, it was never yours anyway, you were only looking after it for the Lord. Everyone can live like the parable of the talents is real. If you only have £1 – share it, use it, invest it, give it away, don't sit on it – God has given you responsibility for that money, that gift, that resource – use it to bless someone else and for God's glory. Being generous extends beyond your immediate family. Let's be brave and read the parable of the Good Samaritan again.

In a time of economic difficulty, let's be marked out by our generosity. And let's follow Micah's exhortation to do it well: let's act justly, LOVE mercy and walk humbly. Let's not be holier-than-thou in our generosity. God identifies with us in our sinful mess. We are called to identify with others in sinful messes. So, although his actions were clearly wrong, our call is to identify with the Mick Philpotts of this world, not to stand at a distance pretending we are sinless while vilifying. It is to respond with justice, mercy and humility, generosity even – because that is what the cross did for each of us - an undeserved act of generosity.

May we reflect Jesus's words in both our generosity and in how we judge others. "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6: 38)

May this time of hardship and austerity renew in us a fire of generosity that cannot be quenched by a tough economic forecast or our propensity to put our needs before those of others. May we give it all up, know that we are only stewards and usher in the kingdom where moth and rust cannot destroy.

Sara Kewly Hyde, theatre maker, thinker, blogger and activist who works with women in the Criminal Justice System.