Sometime this summer, my partner and I decided we were feeling pretty good in some areas and we should eat better, we had a few days/weeks of not eating well. So, based on all the best research I did on Facebook, we started a Keto diet. And, honestly, it doesn’t really matter what we could or couldn’t eat. What matters is that it took planning every single meal and snack at the beginning of the week and measuring it out. It meant that we cleaned food out of our pantry and gave it away. It meant we couldn’t go out to eat, which, I guess doesn’t really mean much these days. It meant, at the end of the day, we’d have to eat more to fill our microbe numbers. It’s absurd, no offense if this is how you are living your best life but it was not ours. We grumbled, and complained, and cheated, and have since given up to try other things. Sometimes, the cost of the goal is too much and we go back.
And we are people of the quarantine. [I miss your faces this morning]. In the earliest days, 10 years ago, or yesterday, who can really tell, there were those who gathered, marched, protested, because for them, the cost was too great to stay home, to close business. The goal of safety and health and curve flattening was too obscure and unobtainable for the costs. So, here we still are.
Grumbling connects our summer, grumbling connects our bible stories today.
Jesus tells a parable “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” and I think Jesus told stories because it made hearing the hard truths a bit more palatable. The storied turn what they knew about the world upside down but it’s told in a story so… fun.
From our story today we get the question: Is God fair?
Is it fair that the person who only worked an hour gets paid the same amount as the one who worked all day? Is it fair that they didn’t labor in the heat of the day? Is it fair that they’re leaving their shift and their hands aren’t covered in grape juices and cracking from drying out in the sun?
We know “is it fair”. Is it fair when the cake slices are slights uneven, when allowances change, when the youngest child gets away with things the oldest never would. Is it fair where my taxes go? Who they support? It’s not fair when someone else gets the promotion, raise, succeeds in ways you haven’t been able to, or gets the acclamation that we’re due.
When we are not the winners of “fair,” when we are the laborer who got what he was told he would get, but not what he thought he earned, it’s not fair.
The laborer understood the world in such ways, in ways of struggle and earning and ownership and owed-ship. And we know it’s not unlike that today.
This past year, on the Democratic presidential debate stage, the topic inevitably turned money. In the midst of this, Chuck Todd asks billionaire Michael Bloomberg Is it too much? Have you earned too much money? Has it been an obscene amount of money? Should you have earned that much money? And BLOOMBERG: says “Yes. I worked very hard for it.” And I’m sure he did work but, I was listening to the Podcast the Confessional this week and the guest Amber J Phillips said that if working hard is how you earn billions, black people shouldn’t have to work ever again. She said, “I knew for sure my mom was hard working, and I knew for sure we didn’t have everything we needed.”
This is the way of the world. This is the world the parable was told in, where we tell ourselves the lie wealth is accumulated by the wealthy and the poor remain poor because they don’t work for it. We should ask the question that isn’t in the story: Why are those workers still there at 5pm? Why hasn’t anyone hired them yet? They are there, waiting to be hired so it isn’t because they are lazy. Human laborers were a commodity: if they did not work, someone believed they did not have value. Maybe it’s because they are the kinds of people who are always picked last: the weak, the frail, the old, the disabled, the ones deemed less worthy, less valuable, less useful, the ones we might generally ignore.
So maybe the question isn’t Is God unfair? But rather: are we?
Are we unfair when we ignore others in need? Are we unfair when we treat God’s good creation, human, animal, plant, land, air, as a commodity? When we put a value on what the earth can do for us, how the creatures can serve us, how people can be useful.
If we stay close to the parable, the increase in wealth inequality, that assumes Bloomberg’s 8ish hour work days are more valuable than, yours or mine, or the person at the grocery store, or the one cleans homes or hotels, that commodifies people, places a value on them, keeps them thinking that if they work harder they will succeed. And while that is the system we believe in, it’s not the way it actually works. Like Amber J Phillips said, the poor are some of the hardest working people and yet, there continues to be a growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else, and this increased disparity has an effect just about everyone’s physical and mental health, safety, and yes even the economy.
And, it turns out Greed is the primary destructive force on the planet, and of the planet.
Last week, NPR’s Planet Money did a deep dive on plastic recycling. Turns out, we were had. They, the people in charge of plastic and crude oil, knew that it isn’t cost efficient and reasonable to recycle plastic. They knew, even as they told us to recycle, even as they put the triangles of our best intentions on all plastic, even as we thought we were doing the right thing, they knew they weren’t going to do anything with it. And so, most of the packaging we have washed and recycled has found its way into our landfills anyway. Bottom line? Making new plastic would make money for the oil producers and plastic industries, it was good for their bottom line. While recycling was not. So they didn’t, and 30 years of our believing we were doing the right thing has amounted to little. It isn’t the greed of you and I, it is systemic, it is industrial, it is societal. It is the greed of the bottom line and the higher profits at the expense of EVERYTHING else that is damaging our earth. For us, the cost in convenience. Are we willing to pay a little more, use less plastic, raise our voices, demand something better, are we willing to be inconvenience if it means that there can be healing to the earth, if the earth can get what she needs, when we have enough?
It is greed that continues to rape the earth of natural resources for energy instead of developing and advancing the means that could be sustainable. It is greed that clear-cuts, over plants and over grazes, over fertilized when the land can’t keep up, and has allowed for runoff into waterways, warming the oceans, killing the plants and creatures. We could bring healing to the oceans and the air we breathe if someone could farm seaweed into the oceans, it would support the creatures but importantly the coral that hold CO2. But there’s no economic incentive to do so… so no one has. Are we willing to give a little more to the earth of what she needs, when we have enough?
Mahatma Ghandi said: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” and this theological and ethical statement is actually true by economics too. There is enough. There is enough when we, like the Hebrews when the manna and the quail showed up around them, we ought just take what we need, and trust the earth, and trust God to give us our daily bread. There is truth in that story, that if they took more than they needed, it would spoil, and who of us hasn’t collected too much food from the grocery store and only to pull it out rotten because we didn’t know if we’d have enough? Or because we have earned it, because we can?
The truth to the question is, no, God isn’t fair, not by the standards of the world we live in, not by any standard we would set for our children as we teach them about the world. The Kin-dom of Heaven isn’t fair. But it is just. It notices those who get passed over. No one gets left behind, no one lives without their needs, none of creation is forgotten. In the Kin-dom of Heaven, God loves abundantly. It honors the person because they are, not because of what they can do. It values creation because it is God’s own, filled with the divine spark, not because it is useful. God’s love and God’s caring and God’s love and God’s generosity is abundant, unending, and just. God cares for the sparrow, clothes the lily in splendor, God cared for the Hebrews as they journeyed and God gives to those who labor what they need. The Kin-dom of Heaven knows the need, gives to the need, assures we have what we need. And church, we are called to be Kin-dom builders. Which means that we are to be supporting the needs of all of creation, human and animal, plant and air, water and soil, which means we must only take enough for what we need so that others might have enough, too.
It not about fairness, it’s about justice.
Are we willing to let things be “unfair” by the way the world works, if it means there is justice for those neglected, ignored, denied, abused, used? Are we willing to let what we be enough so that others can have what they need? Are we willing to say no so someone else can have a yes? Are we willing to earn less so that others can earn what they need? Are we willing to give more so the earth can be healed? Are we willing to speak up, advocate, vote in a way that might be uncomfortable so the earth live in Jubilee? Are we willing to say Enough?