“Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant
than pretend to be somebody and have no food.”
What is the kernel of truth in this little nugget? Is Solomon talking about our desire to be liked and look important or is he focusing on the decisions we make about investing the resources we have? It reminds me of a parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21:
16 “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
As an expatriate in Kenya, it was assumed that I as an Anglo had resources and would hire help for work that needed to be done. It would be selfish to do otherwise. We might think of having a “servant” as in this proverb was an act of flaunting our wealth and an act of power and prestige. In fact it can also be seen as a way of helping the poor.
So perhaps the pivotal word in the proverb is “pretend.” Are we pretending to be someone we are not to impress others and in the process forgetting that all we have comes from God or are we managing our resources to help others.
Perhaps this proverb challenges us to take a moment and reflect on whether there are ways that we pretend to be more than we are and forget to credit God and show appreciation to him? It is better to be a nobody who is using our gifts to help others than look like somebody with a bankrupt heart!