by Helene Milena
Today is the third Sunday of the season of Creationtide. The theme over the whole season is ‘Jubilee for the Earth’; the theme for today is ‘There is enough for our need, not our greed’.
In the Old Testament reading, we find the people of Israel facing the reality of their change of circumstances. They were harshly treated as slaves in Egypt; freedom seemed to offer so much. However, as they observe their new surroundings, they can’t help but remember that they had enough to eat in Egypt whereas they have no idea where their food will come from in the wilderness. It’s not too difficult to understand the fear of the people. They are in the midst of a huge transition and they don’t know how life works in this new world they are entering. Slavery might have been hard, but at least they understood what was expected of them.
A natural reaction is to grumble, and grumble they do! Poor Moses and Aaron, having to deal with all this. Fortunately, God is listening and has the best interests of his people at heart. In the evening, they are showered with quails and in the morning, they gather manna to act as bread. Reading a little further than the passage for today, it says: “Those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” (Exodus 16.18). Everyone was provided with what they needed and no more. No one went hungry, no one was left out of the generous provision of God.
In the Gospel reading, we meet another set of grumblers. Workers had gathered at the break of day in the hope of being hired. Over the course of the day, one landowner had taken on five cohorts of labourers to work in his vineyard. When it came to the evening, all got paid the daily rate, however many hours they had worked. Those who had worked longest complained because they received no more than those who had worked only an hour. The landowner, representing God, chose to be generous and give everyone what they needed to live on for the day. To those who grumbled, he rightly pointed out that they got what they expected and should take it and go.
The economy of our world seems to work on a fear of lack, so that those who are able grab as much as they can of the world’s provisions. These actions by the powerful minority in the world leave the weak unable to compete, therefore they sink into poverty and despair. There is also the fiction that we must have more to be happy, that economies must grow no matter what. This leads to addiction to possessions, which are cast aside when the next new thing is on offer. There is no room in such a story for contentment, for being happy with enough. In the process of taking what we want, we pollute the world with our waste, damaging the lives of everyone, not just those of us who benefit from the items that create the waste.
In contrast, God’s economy embraces everyone equally, ensuring all have what they need. God does not look on some idea of worthiness to receive. He doesn’t rank people in order, meaning those who are last in line get barely anything. That would be like in my father’s family, when the dad and any working sons ate first, then the children, then mother got whatever scraps were left over. Jesus turned this upside down: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. In God’s economy, no matter how many of his creatures he needs to provide for, there is always enough. There was enough manna for everyone every day. There would have been enough denarii to give everyone their day’s wages, no matter how many men were brought from the marketplace to the vineyard. Just think of the feeding of the five thousand where all ate their fill and there was even food left over. That’s God’s economy at work, an economy of abundance, generosity and love for all.
Now we find ourselves at a critical point as a planet. We have barely any time to change our way of living. Like the people of Israel, we may look over our shoulders and long for how things were in the past, but that wasn’t good really. Being slaves in Egypt or slaves to those commercial enterprises that hold us in thrall to the idea of owning more and more is not good. Like the Israelites, we may grumble as we face transition from one way of living to another. They were travelling to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. Our journey is to the Hoped-For Land, where the air is clean, we can live less stressfully, we can continue to enjoy abundant variety in the natural world, where no one suffers because of climate change.
Later we will pray the Lord’s Prayer where we ask God for our daily bread, for what we need for the day. As Christians, we should lead the world in living this way, wanting only enough, not more. There are 2.4 billion Christians in the world, 29% of the population. If every Christian lived by the economics of God’s kingdom, it would change the world. Let’s each follow Gandhi’s advice: ‘Live simply, that others may simply live.’