Nineteenth after Pentecost - Year A
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Let us pray: Loving God, may the words that I speak, or the silences between them, be ones which help us to know more of you and your way. Guide them all and use them. Amen.
It’s quite a bit easier looking back on a time of hardship or danger, knowing that you made it through, than it is to be in the middle of that time, with no certainty about whether it will work out or not. The Hebrew people might quite happily sing Dayenu - it would have been enough, extolling the way in which God looked after them in their wilderness sojourn, after the fact, but as we heard in the first reading this morning from Exodus - they weren’t at all sure that it was ever going to be enough.
I’m sure you noticed the double worry and promise that takes place in the story. Hard times are upon them - food is not abundant in this barren land. The joy of escaping hard times and hard labour in Egypt has been replaced by a real and primal concern about where their next meal would come from. It’s one thing to read about it after the fact - knowing that it worked out for them, but quite another to be there in the middle of the trouble. As we heard, a plea to Moses who in turn pleaded with God, resulted in the discovery that man-uh - which can be translated as “What is it” was edible and life sustaining and was added to with quail meat for the evening meal. That was the first promise - an end to the question “What is there to eat”. But it was an answer that lasted only one day. There were no warehouses or granaries. These were people on the move - with no facility to store up the bounty beyond a day. Their question “what is there to eat” was destined to be repeated every morning and evening until they could trust that the manna and quail would come. As if to remind them of this just enough food source - they would get a double quantity on the sabbath - a kind of exclamation mark reminding them that God was looking after them - intimately, and just in case they forgot - the sabbath day - a day when they would normally be reminded to think of the creator anyway - they would be reminded just that little bit more.
The Hebrew people were given just enough to sustain them - with a double dose on the sabbath. It was a life-sustaining gift from God, but also a test of their faith and a reminder that they were God’s people.
Just enough. It’s a difficult concept for North American society to accept.
We had another story this morning - another one of Jesus’ stories which help to draw a picture of what it is like to live as part of God’s community. God’s community is defined in ways that are different from ours. In our community - in simple terms labour is a commodity and if we offer more we get more. Of course that simple equation is impossibly complicated by such things as education, special skills and training, demand and supply etc. I’m not an economist, even though I did pretty well in the one macro economics course I ever took. To this day, more than thirty years later, with a fair amount of helpful life experience, and an inquisitive mind, I still hold to the only slightly tongue-in-cheek adage that you could lay a hundred economists end to end and they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion. Hopefully you see that as a sign of respect, not disdain. You could replace the word economist with theologian and have an equally true statement with regard to the reaching of a conclusion. The point is that the various signs and indicators, influences and adjustments guiding the working of the economy are complicated.
According to Jesus that’s not the way it is with God’s economic system. In God’s economy you get just enough. If a dollar is what you need to survive - you get a dollar, whether you work for a whole day or part of an hour. In God’s economy it’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you need.
In a week where some people were talking about the total collapse of the world financial system - saved only by a bail out said to be in the trillions of dollars - can we really fathom how much a trillion really is, what does it mean to think of the concept of “just enough”. According to everyone I’ve heard talking about what happened this past week - and perhaps this gives a lie to the quote about economists ever being able to reach a conclusion - for there does seem to be a consensus on this one and that is that the peril and chaos which buffeted the stock markets around the world this week was caused by greed - greed on the part of homeowners - primarily in the USA who could only see house prices going up and therefore were mortgaged beyond their meaConnie Maens and greed on the part of the mortgage lenders who were willing to offer a risky loan with the same faulty underlying logic.
I spent some time pondering what might have happened if the worst had come about and Freddie Mac, Fanny May, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG and all the others had actually all gone under. How would it have affected my life? Probably something to do with my pension - although everyone said Canada wasn’t nearly as much affected, despite what our stock markets were doing in reaction. I think there still would have been food on the shelves at the Co-op and Extra Foods and more than enough for a day’s worth of eating. But I did wonder if we were on the brink of finding out what it was like for the Hebrew people when they wondered what they were going to have for supper rather than what their nest egg would be worth at retirement. I also wondered what it would do to our economic system if we were paid what we need to survive rather than what we are worth on the job market.
Yes I wondered those things this week as I pondered what it means to have “just enough”. Just as in justice. Enough as in not too much.
There were lots of people thinking about scary possibilities and outcomes this week. I wonder how many of them were wondering what it means to have “just enough”. Given all the other possible apocalyptic scenarios - just enough sounds not bad. Once again, the words of Jesus - dealing with economic issues - as is so often the case - the words of Jesus turn our heads and help us to dream of a new order. Amen.