By Christina Capecchi
Baited by the prospect of $1 million, she turned down $172,000 and then wound up with $5.
“You know, Howie, money doesn’t make me happy,” the defeated contestant told the host of NBC’s “Deal or No Deal.” The audience cringed and clapped.
Whenever I catch a rerun of this retired reality show, I cannot flip the switch until the final briefcase is opened and the verdict revealed.
I am fascinated by the quick calculus of risk and reward. Does the chance of luxury override the certainty of comfort? Does the possibility of a mansion trump the elimination of a mortgage? For many contestants, yes.
They are prodded by the deafening chorus, “No deal!” Even the parents and spouses — the ones you expect to inject a little common sense, the ones who actually will be affected by the outcome — join the mob.
“I’m the most conservative person when it comes to this game,” a husband donned in khakis and an argyle sweater tells his pregnant wife, given the final offer of $561,000. “But I have to agree with your mom on this rare occasion and say ‘no deal.’”
When the queasy contestant cooperates, the audience voices its approval, cheering on the audacity and the lunacy.
Money has a way of making us all a little crazy. Our money, our neighbor’s, a stranger’s. The gain, the loss, the sheer idea of it. We imagine the power it would wield, the delights it would invite and the problems it would solve.
“Money doesn’t buy you happiness,” Johnny Depp recently told Vanity Fair. “But it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.”
I caught that quote on Twitter, and it made me think of my penny-pinching, job-hunting friends, trying to keep their heads up in a down economy. Here we are, 20-something and saddled in debt, toting master’s degrees our alma maters called valuable in a market that doesn’t seem to care.
The headlines make us dizzy and doubtful. As we negotiate risk and reward, we can hear the public chanting, “No deal!”
It’s easy to relate to this month’s readings from St. Paul. Early in his ministry, he is feeling discouraged, comparing himself with other “superapostles” — such a modern term and temptation!
“Three times I begged the Lord,” St. Paul writes, “but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We, too, are early in our ministries and feeling a bit uneasy, which is OK — good, even, if it helps us recognize the sufficiency of God’s grace.
This recession can be a refiner, an overdue prompt to readjust our priorities, to launch careers for love, not money, and to seek simple pleasures: Redbox movies, root beer floats, Catchphrase. We can help each other find the hilarity and the hope. We can discover that profound paradox: weakness clearing space for power, humbling and honing us to better serve Christ.
The early apostles also made tough calculations, sizing up the crowd of 5,000 and their sparse resources. “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” Philip says.
Then Jesus perfects power in weakness, and everyone is fed.
So are we.