My grandmother’s generation of women was raised to expect that families would depend financially on the husband’s income.
My grandmother was lively and creative, and as a child she wanted to be a doctor — but women just didn’t do that. When her husband died, her creativity and energy were channeled into supporting 11 children on the small income from dressmaking, a job initially intended to supplement the family’s welfare. She did her best, but it was impossible to hide how worried she was about money.
I’ve heard stories about how my aunts, uncles and my mother were in constant yet friendly competition for meager resources, heightened by their sense that there was only so much, not nearly enough, and that what one got another would lack.
The cultures in which the church was born held a similar belief and orientation, what anthropologists call “limited good” cultures. Every good — not just tangible resources but anything of value — was perceived as being limited in quantity. These were also “agonistic” cultures (from the Greek word agon, for a competition, like a wrestling match).
There was no such thing as a middle class in the ancient Mediterranean. The work of a fisherman in the first century wasn’t a tranquil vacation of enjoying simple pleasures of sun and sea as it does for some of us; the fishing life was one of constant anxiety, of wondering whether today’s catch would be enough to provide for all of the tariffs and fees owed to the richer and more powerful classes just for the chance to make a living.
Fishermen who have lived in such anxiety know how it can make everything in life come down to a single question: Will there be enough fish today?
In his third post-resurrection appearance to his disciples, Jesus, from the beach, asked the seven disciples who were still out fishing, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” and they answered him, “No.” (John 21:5)
This was a crucial question, not just to state the obvious, but it helped them, and us, to acknowledge their need and state of lack.
Similarly crucial questions could extend to many areas of life, but let’s just consider the questions that haunt our personal lives. Questions like: Will there be enough money for me to retire on? Will there be enough of my health left to enjoy my grandkids? Will there be enough people and money for our church to survive?
Then Jesus said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some (fish).” And when they trusted him and did what he told them, “… they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish” (v. 6)
God is more than enough for all our needs. The real question, for those of us who believe this, is: How can we, in good times and challenging times, learn to live, love and trust unequivocally in God and in the abundance that God can and does supply?