Two Paradigms

August 22, 2012 — Week of Proper 15

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)

Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) 128, 129, 130 (evening)

Judges 18:16-31

Acts 8:14-25

John 6:1-15

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Power and money. These are the idols of our age. I’ve said for a while that the biggest threat to our nation is the pattern of concentration of power and wealth into fewer and fewer hands. It’s has been happening under our radar for the past thirty years. Now unlimited anonymous super PACS can buy even more power and influence for those who already have it. How dare you imply that they pay more taxes or accept regulation for the common good? Meanwhile, income for the middle class and poor has been flat or declining for a decade. But if you whine, the rich and powerful will blame those who try to give voice to the needs of the vast majority. And I pay twice the percentage of taxes as a multi-millionaire presidential candidate. It’s a system fixed to favor power and money.

Power and money. These are the idols that establish the house of Dan in our story from Judges. They found the unsuspecting city of Laish, “living securely, …quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth.” (Judges 18:7) Along the way to war they came across the home of Micah and his household shrine attended by a Levite priest. The Danites stole the idol and vestments, they bribed the priest and set off. When Micah protested, they told him to shut up, “‘or else hot-tempered fellows will attack you, and you will lose your life and the lives of your household.’ Then the Danites went on their way. When Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.” (18:25-26) The Danites then proceeded to destroy the “quiet and unsuspecting city” of Laish, rebuilt it and named it Dan, and they set up the idol in the temple sanctuary of Dan.

A few years ago I heard the story of an Ozark craftsman who built an attractive birdhouse. It was picked up by a nearby major retailer. They asked for so many orders that he borrowed to expand his production and hired new workers. But after a couple of years the retailer had the product reverse-engineered in China, where they could supply it for much less, and the local craftsman was bankrupted, his workers left unemployed.

We have witnesses to another way. In the Acts of the Apostles we read how Peter and John and the other disciples gave themselves to service, healing and bringing coherence to those who were troubled. When “a certain man named Simon” saw their power, he was fascinated. He saw Peter and John lay hands upon people, “and they received the Holy Spirit.” Simon offered the disciples money, trying to buy their power. The disciples rebuked him strongly. “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God.” (8:20-21)

The gospel story offers a challenging and competing paradigm to the claims of power and money. We see Jesus preaching. There is a large crowd. They are hungry. The business assessors do their calculations. It’s impossible. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (6:7) Philip notes that there is a boy present who has five barley loaves and two fish. It doesn’t say whether Philip asked or the boy volunteered. But the boy generously gave them his food.

The little boy was the 1% in that crowd. He had the food. He could have kept what was his. It belonged to him. He might have decided it wasn’t in his self-interest to share or to give it away. But that depends on how you define self-interest, doesn’t it? The boy offers what he has for the common good.

Jesus has the people sit down. He give thanks. In that atmosphere of Jesus — always an atmosphere of love and compassion — generosity combined with thanksgiving makes all the difference. All are fed. All are satisfied. And there is abundance left over.

Two competing ways of being in the world:

Power and money.

Love and compassion expressed in thanksgiving and generosity.

How different might our nation be if we embraced the values of Jesus?

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