Pentecost 11, Proper 13C, Lectionary 18
We Want More
Who doesn’t love that AT&T commercial?! You know, that one with the deadpan goofy guy, Beck Bennett, talking with the cutest most adorable kids, as they sit in a circle together on a classroom floor? My favorite is still the one where Beck starts by asking, “Who thinks more is better than less?” And when every kid raises their hand, Beck calls on the girl who raised hers first, and she spits out an astonishing reply, “More is better than less, because if stuff is not less... if there's more less stuff, then you might, you might want to have some more and your parents just don't let you because there's only a little.” Beck calmly feigns agreement: “Right.”
But the Girl continues: “We want more. We want more. Like, you really like it. You want more.” Beck furrows his eyebrows: “I follow you.” It makes me laugh every time! They’re so adorable! Finally, the voice-over says: “It's not complicated. More is better…”
And you figure, it’s gotta be real, at least it sure looks like it – like somebody just turned the camera on, and Beck asks a couple innocent questions. I mean, you couldn’t script answers like that with kids that age, could you? Those broken, garbled utterances, straining for articulation, on the verge of being intelligible, and then suddenly, the clarity of that punch line which hits you right between the eyes: “we want more!”
It’s so innocent, yet profound. I mean, “out of the mouths of babes!” But it’s also sort of frightening, too! How did she come up with that? Is this handful of kids, all raising their hands to, “more is better!” representative of America? Is this feeling innate? Or is it something we learn?
Jesus, in our gospel reading today, is on a real tear about, “more,” and greed of all kinds. Not just in this story, really, but for the past couple of chapters of Luke, he’s been on a negative, judgmental-jag. This time, he takes a breath to tell the parable of, “the rich fool,” the one who builds up bigger and bigger barns, so he can store up “more and more” of his abundantly bountiful harvest. But unlike the girl in the commercial, he’s not cute or innocent, he doesn’t even use the plural pronoun, “we,” but says, “I” will build more. “I” have ample goods. And he holds an internal dialog with only himself: “Self, you have done so well, you might as well retire already, and eat, drink, and be merry!” “I,” want more!”
Here in Chicago this past week, and in major cities across the country, Fast Food workers staged walk-offs from their jobs. Their demand? Bump their pay up to a living wage! To walk off, was risky. But the payoff is that they made a pretty big splash, and their demand for justice is starting to catch on. These aren’t just teenagers looking for a little pocket change, these are 20 and 30 something’s. These are 65 and 70 year old seniors. Many work more than one job, because minimum wage isn’t even close to a living wage. Some are on public assistance and social security, as well as working at McDonald’s, or KFC, or Walmart, or Macy’s, or Burger King.
They too want more, but it’s a different kind of “more.’ It’s not a greedy “more.” A “greedy more,” might look more like the Fast Food CEO’s average salary – a whopping $25,000, a day! $25,000, a day – that’s more than twice as much than what the average fast food worker makes, in a year!
And so, “the economy” has been on trial in recent years, as it limps along. And the thought, the hope, is that it will to return to its former glory. Some economists have been hinting that, that just ain’t gunna happen! Which begs the question, how do we reform the economy in a creative way, to make it work better for all?
The term “economy,” by the way, has its roots, in the Greek language – “oikonomos,” which means, “manager of a household.” Not only does this imply that “economy” has something important to do with us at the level of our home life, but that our collective household requires a manager, one who will insure that the it runs, “economically.” Today, ironically, the economy is conceived of as something that happens completely outside of our households, something that is so big, that it has a life of its own. Something that’s too technical for us, and must be run by professionals, and if anyone raises pointed questions about its inequity, they are told then the opposite, that if we all just leave it alone it will work best, this miraculous laissez-faire economy! And so all we’re left to do is watch the news and see what the economy has done to us this time! As if we have no control, or deserve no say, in this fickle monster. Is the stock market up or down? Are interest rates steady or inflationary? Where can we cut taxes next at the expense of services and added fees? How far in the hole is our national debt? We are more like hostages than participants.
The biblical Palestinian economy is based, not on money and markets, but on the land. God gave the land to Israel as a gift, and they were to be care takers of the land, to till and keep it, and like a trustworthy friend, it would give back to them. It was the land “flowing with milk and honey!” And as a way of saying Thank You, they offered a tithe of their first fruits to the Temple economy.
At the end of the 40 year Exodus journey, when Joshua and leaders of the 12 tribes were sent in secret to scout out the land they were about to enter, they returned from their mission to the jaw-dropping delight of all the people, bearing gifts of “grapes, pomegranates, and figs.” It was a sign of the good gift God was giving to them. They were given the land, not to possess, but in effect, to rent. God owns this land, and Israel is a tenant. It was not “private property” but what was called, a “loose ownership,” to be cared for until the Jubilee Year when any cheating or mismanagement would be redistributed equally again. And so, originally it was called the “holy land,” because it belongs to God.
While I was waiting for Kim to meet me at our local Revolution restaurant and Brew Pub the other day, the guy next to me offer to buy me a drink. He was back from his tour of duty in Georgia – not the Peach State – but the former Soviet Republic. ‘It’s been six years,’ he said, ‘and it seems like my Chicago has changed. My friends don’t want to go out and party with me. The hipsters have taken over and everybody’s vegan and rides bikes. I just want to eat burgers and have a good time. This is the land of plenty, isn’t it? We can have whatever we want, right?’ He wanted more! He was used to bigger barns and enough stored up for a life-time. The economy he expected was a land of plenty he could claim as his own “private property.”
What is the economy that God is calling us to? When some are hoarding more than they need, are they taking away from those who don’t have enough?
God asks us to be rich toward the realm and community of God, says Jesus in the parable of the rich fool. This demands an economy of reverent spirituality, respecting the land and earth we inhabit, and learning how to share it. Jesus worked creatively at building a new community where we can be rich toward God: one where blood-relatives are based on the faith of Jesus, and his example of servant-hood, loving your neighbor as yourself, and even loving your enemies. On an economy, or community of healing the sick, but shaking the dust off your feet in the face of rejection and hypocrisy. And Jesus gathered community in open celebration meals of bread and wine, with those who desired “living rich toward God.” That’s what we want “more” of.
The economy is not something that should be used against us, but, as something we all live within, it should arise from honest managers that care about every household, regardless of where you come from. As Paul said, it’s a matter of redefining the community on the example of Jesus, for “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free.” We are all made one.
Sure, there is probably an innate part in all of us that “wants more.” But much of our understanding of economy is learned behavior, too. And so we are invited to learn from the realm and kingdom of God, which is really what Jesus calls a, “living rich toward God.” We learn as we come to the font to be baptized, that we may drown ourselves to the ways of “more,” and coming out of the muddy waters, we rise up to share in the feast and celebration of the meal where all are welcomed as equals, and there is always enough – an abundantly bountiful harvest. Sharing in this economy, is a “living rich toward God.” Of this – “we want more!”