The dining hall at the college where I teach offers students who are on a meal plan limitless food. Those not on a meal plan can pay a flat rate to enter the all-you-can-eat cafeteria. Recently, the College made a move to eliminate trays. Trays add to the amount of water needed to wash the dishes. Trays also allow hungry students and faculty to cruise the many areas of the cafeteria – the salad bar, the vegetarian section, a pasta bar, the daily specials, a build-your-own sandwich line, you get the picture. With trays, it was easy to pile on more and more food at each stop or station. Eyes that were bigger than stomachs led to overeating or wasting food. We’re finding that carrying a plate instead of a tray encourages taking just what we need instead of what we think we want.
The passage in Isaiah draws upon a food metaphor to speak of overconsumption. It challenges the desire to consume more than is needed. And yet, we are not asked to deny ourselves: “Eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2). This is not a message of self-denial or hardship. It simply raises the question of what is enough and what is more than enough.
Affluenza, a condition marked by a desire to acquire more (more wealth, more stuff) in constant pursuit of finding happiness is another way in which we face more than enough. These trends in overconsumption keep us from focusing on what is essential, on what is necessary to sustain us. The passage in Isaiah asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2). We should eat to sustain our bodies. We should acquire what we need, but be careful of overindulgence. “Seek the Lord while he is found” (Isaiah 55: 6). This advice to seek God offers us the answer to fulfillment. What keeps us from God? Do we lose sight of what is essential and necessary to our well being in pursuit of overabundance?
This time of Lent is a good time to strip away the excesses, and seek what is necessary to a life with God made possible by God’s “everlasting covenant.” What is the junk food in our lives that prevents us from sustaining a healthy body? Where can we choose less in order to have more? In this time of Lent, we can ask God for healing and mercy from the afflictions of overconsumption and affluenza.
God of mercy, all life comes from you and is sustained by you. Grant us strength and the will to seek you first among all else. Help us to live an abundant life, full of thanksgiving for all we have and awareness of those who have less than enough. Lead us to reach out to others in need so that we may share our abundance and that all may be sustained in body, mind, and spirit. Amen.