Continuing the essay on work...
Jesus' teaching and practice of working (and giving) without asking anything in return has significant implications. For instance, it makes our work and the things we produce more available to the needy. If we are not working for repayment, then our services are not limited to those who can afford our fees. Then need, rather than ability to pay, becomes the decisive factor and the poor and vulnerable are favored rather than the rich. We begin to respond to the needy as God does.
This is further emphasized when we recall that Jesus recommended the same free giving of our possessions as well. Jesus' ideal was stated clearly to the rich young man: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Mt 19.21) And in other places, the same radical giving is preached more broadly to his followers:
"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys." (Lk 12.32-33)So, in addition to making our services equally available (or even more available to the needy), Jesus' free giving also makes resources available to all. Instead of savings and investments and property lines that keep resources in the hands of the wealthy and powerful, Jesus' free giving puts resources into the hands of the poor.
This has a leveling effect, reducing the painful separation between the rich and poor, making both resources and services available to the most needy. This is loving and just. But, as was seen in Jesus' life, this effect is not accomplished by somehow making everyone rich. Instead, we see the expected result of such generous giving: Jesus and his disciples become poor with the poor. As he warned a prospective follower, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." (Mt 8.20) In this we see Jesus responding to the needs of the most vulnerable, and in doing so becoming equally vulnerable himself.
The result of this is a mutual giving and receiving of gifts. Jesus preached and practiced a radical giving of resources and work freely to those in need, which resulted in his own neediness. Yet Jesus embraced this neediness, trusting God. And happily accepted the gifts of those who choose to follow his example and give freely to him and his disciples. There are many stories of him eating at the tables of others and staying at their houses, and when he sent out his disciples he specifically instructed them to accept gifts (for their needs) in the same way. Needs were met by free giving and receiving, not demanded by deals or contracts or legal rights but motivated by mutual love.
If we follow Jesus in this, we find ourselves in a revolutionary situation, a true "gift economy." All the work we do and everything we create is done in love as a gift for someone. And everything we receive comes as a gift of love from someone. It is not just an exchange of goods. Every "economic" interaction is now an act of love, with immense spiritual value.
Through Jesus' radical giving, work and resources become a way to draw people together rather than a source of contention. Those who follow him are drawn together in love and mutual vulnerability, in childlike dependence that looks to God in faith and is content to give all and remain poor. Poor, but richly provided for by the Father who loves us.
When I have described this to Christians, many have said, "That's how we will live in heaven, but down here in this fallen world...." I believe they are right about heaven. This is quite clearly the way of the kingdom of God. But Jesus offered the life of the kingdom of God to us now, if we will only believe and follow him. It may seem impossible, but with God nothing is impossible, and the life of Jesus and his disciples (and the lives of many of his followers throughout history) show us that God can make it a reality for us now.
In Psalm 95, recalling the Exodus, we hear about the people of Israel when God was trying to deliver them from slavery into freedom, and they did not trust the promises of God to provide for them. God speaks through the psalmist:
Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah,And they wandered for the rest of their lives, trudging through the desert. Now, in our own desert (of "this fallen world"), we hear Jesus' words:
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers tested me,
they tried me, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I was wearied of that generation
and said, "Their hearts are astray,
these people do not know my ways."
Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt 11.28-30)This invitation is offered to each of us.
So which way will we choose?
(The full essay is available for download as a RTF file here.)
Jesus knew the vulnerability of human life, the daily need for food and shelter to survive. And he knew the anxiety that can overwhelm us in this need. Yet he did not respond in the usual way, by working hard (and harder and harder) to gather up for ourselves what we need and storing as much as we can for the future. Instead, Jesus responded with faith.
Faith is giving up our own will, our own purposes, to God and depending on him completely for our good. And this is exactly what we see when Jesus talks about our daily needs:
“I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.Jesus taught that we should set aside concerns for our own physical needs (O we of little faith!) and trust God to supply them, because “your Father knows that you need them.” And not only did he assure us that we would have what we needed, but he also described the life of faith as beautiful, like that of the birds that are fed without storehouses and the lilies that are beautifully dressed without toil. Strikingly similar to the happy life of children well cared for.
"Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
"…Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith!” (Lk 12.22-24)
Jesus also demonstrated such a life of faith. In what we know of his public life, his needs—as well as the needs of his disciples—were met without laboring for their own daily bread. And when Jesus sent out his disciples, he very specifically instructed them not to take provisions but to trust God to provide through those they met. Later, near the end of his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They answered, “Nothing.” (Lk 22.35)
Jesus seemed to embrace the vulnerability of daily physical needs. Rather than seeing it as a source of anxiety or the driving force for endless work and hoarding, he seemed to see it as an opportunity for faith. Our vulnerability, like that of the birds and lilies, is part of God´s creation. And for us it provides the opportunity to freely and joyfully rely on God´s provision rather than struggling to provide for ourselves and fighting to keep what we have gathered. This is the ongoing act of faith. Which God responds to not only by providing for our physical needs, but more importantly by drawing us closer to him, where we experience the fulfillment and joy of total love. Thus our humble physical vulnerability becomes the opportunity to address our deeper problem of separation from God, and experience deeper union with God through our response to the daily needs that arise.
Also, as we see in Jesus' life, our needs provide an opportunity to encourage others to respond in faith also. Our faith (and God´s provision) shows the way to faith for others. That those struggling around us might also know God´s care and presence.
But this doesn´t mean Jesus didn´t work, or taught others to avoid work. What he did was offer us freedom from anxiety so we could be free do the work God calls us to, rather than working for money, or to provide for our own needs. After describing the life of the birds and lilies, Jesus continued:
"Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.Elsewhere he said, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you..." (Jn 6.27) We were being invited into the life of God's kingdom, where we would be free to work for others, guided by God's love and God's purposes, rather than working for ourselves.
"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom..." (Lk 12.29-32)
And the work of the kingdom was to be given as a gift to people. Instead of work being a slavery, the part of our lives we must sell to “pay our own way,” the work Jesus encouraged was to be a free gift of love. Perhaps the best summary of this appeared when Jesus sent out his disciples to preach and heal, telling them, “You received without paying, give without pay.” (Mt 10.8) Their needs were going to be met by God (through others) as a gift, God´s love responding to their vulnerability. And all their talents and abilities and wisdom were also gifts from God, along with the energy they had and the motivation of love to use those abilities for the good of others. All gifts. So they were told to offer their work as a gift to others, without pay.
Not just their "volunteer" work, either, their work in their spare time (after the "work day" is over). But all their work. They were to make their whole lives a gift.
This was how Jesus himself worked. He used the abilities God had given him to serve those around him, and he asked nothing in return. (He did, though, accept the gifts that others freely chose to give to him). And he taught his followers to do the same, such as in these passages:
He said to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Lk 14.12-14)Together with “give without pay” and Jesus' own example, these provide a consistent model for our work. God´s provision for us allows us to give our service freely to others without asking for payment. Instead of working to provide our own "living," we are offered life—as a gift—so we can offer our lives to others as a gift. And this frees our work. No longer do we need to be driven by our own needs or have to do the kind of work “that sells”; no longer do we need to serve first those who have the money to pay. We are freed to do the kind of work that God has created us for, the work God calls us to, motivated only by love for those we are serving.
“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great…” (Lk 6.33-35)
"Come to me, all ye who labor for a living, and I will give you rest"—and freedom.
I just sent this article (the first of three) to Jesus Manifesto. The series will be about work and giving freely, a topic I've written about much before, though not much lately. Recent conversations have encouraged me to start talking about this again:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt 11.28-30)
These words of Jesus resonate powerfully with those of us who feel burdened by labor. For those driven by our needs and hungers and vulnerability to work long hours under heavy strain to provide food and shelter and medical care. And now, as our economy struggles, the weight seems so much heavier for so many. In times like these, Jesus' words sound good, so very good. Even too good to be true.
Which is perhaps the reason they are usually dismissed as an ideal, or spiritualized in a way that offers no real rest to the physically weary. But this is not as it should be.
Jesus' words here, along with his other teachings related to work and money, offer us true rest for soul and body. Jesus offers us a restoration of work, as it was meant to be when God formed human beings, work as a satisfying fulfillment of our creation. Work that we want to do, that we do for joy, in obedience to our unique nature given by God. Work that is not a burden, but a relief, a rest for our souls.
In offering this, however, Jesus also radically challenges the way we currently work in our world. He offers us rest and the true meaning and satisfaction of work, but in order to receive this we must follow his example, leaving behind the means and purposes and rewards of labor in our society. We must lay down the yoke we have fit ourselves to, lay it down, and take his yoke, learning from him. It is a lowly yoke, one that perhaps seems flimsy to us. But it is much, much lighter.
Our understanding of work in our world is so much tied to money that the word "work" has become synonymous with "a job." Which is to say, work for us primarily means labor that we are paid to do. We make this connection automatically, yet of course work, in the truest and best sense of the word, does not mean "what we do to make money." It means exerting physical or mental effort to build something useful, or create something beautiful, or serve someone in need. Money, or personal profit of any kind, need not have any part of it. When we think of work primarily as "for money" we show how deeply we have been conditioned by our society, how ready we have been made to sell ourselves.
We also automatically connect work with "providing for ourselves." Everyone has needs and everyone is expected to labor to acquire the goods necessary to meet our own needs and the needs of our own families. For this reason, "hard workers" are admired and honored by all. And, to the extent that our work is productive and useful to others, we can usually expect to be rewarded with material wealth, seen as the source of physical security for the future. We are taught that hard work is the answer to our vulnerability and need, and that hard work will be richly rewarded.
But these lessons, deeply woven into the fabric of our society, also lead us into lives burdened with continual mental stress and physical exhaustion. We measure the worth of our work by its (ever changing) price tag. We struggle to continually satisfy the boss or the customer, the person with the money always being the one we must please. We feel driven by our uncertain needs (and our uncertain economy) to work harder and harder and harder. And, if we are successful and gather some measure of wealth to provide for our future, we become targets. Targets for merchants or servants who charge us excessively for needed services we haven´t the time or the skills to do for ourselves, targets for politicians who tax us heavily, targets for thieves who see what we have and want it for themselves. And with the natural erosion of our property (and sometimes the unnatural erosion of the economic markets), we watch as our hard-earned money continues to turn to dust, requiring us to work harder and longer.
To us, facing these challenges, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
But he also says:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Mt 6.19-21)We cannot receive the rest Jesus offers without coming to him, following him, which includes following his harder teachings like these. But how can we do it, in the society we live in? With the many needs we have, and all the people around us—the people we depend on for help—always demanding pay, pay, pay?
"And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek God´s kingdom and these things shall be yours as well." (Lk 12.27-31)
"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you…" (Jn 6.27)
How can we lay down the yoke that has been strapped securely on us—how can we possibly afford to?
The Unknown Citizen
(To JS/07/M/378 This Marble Monument Is Erected by the State)
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors, Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declares
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And he had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation,
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
In a discussion today on Jesus Manifesto, I referred to an old journal entry from my time at the Catholic Worker: "not a one-man soup kitchen" It was good to go back and read that; it was a significant turning point in my path, opening up something unexpected and very good.
Here it is:
"Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone—the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven."That's Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor talking to Jesus (that I quoted a couple weeks ago). And I think the story in John 6 says something similar. It begins:
There was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.Jesus is bothered that they just come back for the food. He cared about their hunger, and he provided for their need very generously, but he does not want to become a one-man soup kitchen. He meant the food as a sign, not just another meal. And he's not willing to provide more food for those who are just seeking that. He rejects the "one infallible banner" of bread, for which the people will gladly come again and again. And here again, as with the devil, his response is that "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God":
...On the next day boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?"
Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you..."
They said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world."
They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. ...This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" ...After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
I'm not sure what this says about the work here (a work people readily understand and honor and support). But it does seem to fit with my growing dissatisfaction with the pressures and demands to "provide services." The constant flow of people just wanting food or shelter or money. And coming here because it's a soup kitchen and shelter, which are not about inspiring faith (or requiring faith of those who come, as Jesus did) but about putting food on the table.
Are we taking up the "infallible banner" that Jesus rejected?
I do still think it's possible to love people here in a Christlike way, provide "signs" of God's love, and I plan to continue to try to do that (and learn to do it better). But I also think the soup kitchen model is lacking, and I feel the need to look beyond it.
Still having posting issues, but I think I figured a way to do everything I want via e-mail. I found out you can compose any html message with pictures, etc, in a WYSIWYG editor and paste it into an e-mail (even if the e-mail, like Yahoo, doesn't allow html editing).
Anyway, here's the farm newsletter I just finished and am getting ready to mail. The first article is by our friend Tatiana. Click here to download the newsletter as a pdf file.
Still can't post (in the normal way). So I'm trying something else today, something appropriate for our current tough economy...
I've been having trouble posting. Let's see if this gets through...
Dear friends, God can help through just a few people and through our hope, which is the Spirit. The Spirit is greater than the whole world. The children of God depend upon the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit enters them and makes of them a dwelling of God so that from just one sighing child of God the entire glory of God can radiate. God does not need to count and say, "Yes, by all means I must have a hundred thousand in the world; otherwise nothing will succeed; if there are only a thousand, then all is lost." Such calculation is not necessary for God. If he has only several—indeed, at present, hardly any—yet through one person he can let such glory radiate that the hope gleams through the whole world.
She wondered why her wheelchair wouldn't move back from the table, then she looked down and saw the wheels were locked. The table was bright with colors and candles, turkey and cranberries, but she'd had enough. Too much noise. She liked to watch the little girl making faces and hear her laughter. But the man was still talking about football with the older boy, so loudly that she couldn't ignore them. "…into overtime. Hey, any more stuffing, Mary?"
"Yes, just a minute." The woman turned to her, and spoke louder. "I cooked the turkey upside down to keep the white meat juicy, just like you taught me, Mom. Remember that?"
She turned and nodded and smiled, but she didn't remember cooking a turkey that way.
"And I made the sweet potatoes the way you always did, too. With brown sugar and pecans, not marshmallows. That's become a family tradition, Mom."
Pecans? What was she talking about?
The tradition I remember, Isabel, is that you would always come over if I didn't make it to church. If I was sick, or the sidewalks were too icy, you would always show up smiling. You would read the passages they read in church, and then we would talk about them. And have some tea maybe...
"And of course everyone goes shopping tomorrow. Remember how you always used to take me? Would you like to go to the mall tomorrow, Mom? I don't want to miss the sales, and I could help you buy things for Christmas. The kids gave me plenty of ideas..." The woman looked at the children and the girl giggled.
Of course I was a little shocked when you started inviting those neighborhood boys into your apartment, Isabel. They weren't big, but they were so raggedy-looking. And rough―and you were just a young woman. And you kept it up, even when they stole from you. That worried me quite a bit. I wasn't surprised when the other tenants started talking about you, Isabel, and not in a nice way. What surprised me was that you kept doing it, even after I warned you. But I didn't go along with them when they were trying to kick you out. That went too far. That's when I came over and had lunch with some of the boys at your place. They weren't such bad boys. They didn't know how to sit still, or mind their language when a lady was present, but they seemed softer when they were at your table, Isabel. It even made me think that was the kind of place where Jesus would be. I was so sorry when they made you move. But really more sorry for those boys, and me...
"I heard John quit his job and is going back to school, Mom. Your nephew John, who lives in Colorado, you remember. Ann's son. Your sister, Ann?" She nodded, but... "Oh, and have you heard Helen's big news?"
I didn't hear right away that you'd been killed, Isabel. When you didn't show up that snowy day after I missed church, I wondered, but I never imagined it was that. I guess I just thought God would always keep you safe, even if you did keep inviting in people like that, sticking your neck out that way. Because you were just such a good girl, Isabel. God had to be watching you close. When I heard, I couldn't believe it. Murdered. I cried for a long time, cried and prayed harder than I ever did before...
"The Detroit game's coming on―is everyone as stuffed as I am? So who you bettin' on, Billy-boy?"
"Maybe we should just go to Marshall-Field's, Mom, so we don't have to walk around so much. How does that sound?"
Who are these people, Isabel? I don't think I belong here. And I'm tired, Isabel... so tired...
"Momma, Gramma's got her eyes closed... Mom!"
"Shh, honey, let your grandma rest."
"That's the tryptophan kickin' in! Heh heh..."
"But Momma, I tapped her arm and she didn't wake up."
"That's OK, I think she's done. Here, take this into the kitchen."
No, not yet, Isabel. We have to wait a little longer...
"Gramma's awake!" Then softer, closer, "Gramma? You said Isabel. Who's Isabel?"
She looked at the little girl thoughtfully. "Isabel..." she began, then cleared her throat and smiled. "Isabel was like a daughter to me... and a mother.... When I first met her, she...
(Download this story as RTF file)
The room was completely dark and he was terrified. And alone―though there were others in the room with him. The man and the woman were whispering in the blackness. The deep male voice said not to worry, they'd get out of this, as long as neither of them panicked. The female voice wasn't so sure. The deep voice said the people who kidnapped them must want something, which meant they needed them alive. "They need you alive, maybe," the higher voice cried, "not me―why did they take me?" The woman's voice broke into a sob. Neither of them had said a word to him. Fear and utter darkness isolated him from them. But he shared the woman's question: Why did they take me?
Those two had been together; he wasn't with them. They looked like lawyers or something; he looked like what he was: a homeless bum. He just happened to be standing there when it happened. Again he saw the long, black limo pull up to the curb, the door flying open, and the men in suits grabbing the man and woman. He froze. It all happened so fast there was nothing he could do―except watch. But then they saw that he saw. He heard "Grab him too," but couldn't move, then they had him in the limo too and it was moving again. The man tried to protest, he seemed to be some kind of executive or rich guy who's used to being in charge. But all the suits said was, "Daddy wants to see you."
Now the female voice was crying openly. The man's voice said, "We'll get out of this, it'll be OK," then, a moment later, with less patience, "we just need to be calm and think." Another sob. "Or at least shut up and let me think," the deep voice growled.
"No!" the high voice shouted back, "I'll cry if I want! This is a horrible, insane situation and I shouldn't even be here. Whoever Daddy is, I'm sure he doesn't want to see me. This isn't my fault and I shouldn't be here!"
The shock of the light coming on was enough, but at the same moment the door squealed open. The suits entered and the door slammed. The man and the woman were frozen where they stood. And with them, from his place on the floor in the corner, with his knees pulled up under his chin, he stared at their captors in terror.
Both of the black-suited men were very large, muscled, and handsome, but one had thick curly hair and long sideburns. The other was completely bald. Each had an ear plug in one ear, with a wire running down into their collar. The hairless one pointed at the executive, commanding him to "Stand here," and indicating a spot on the floor directly in front of a video camera in the upper corner of the room. The executive hesitated, but obeyed. Then the bald man spoke.
"You've had quite a successful life, Walter. A comfortable life. But you haven't made Daddy very happy. You've made a lot of money at Daddy's expense, haven't you?"
"What do you mean? I have no idea what you're talking about." But the rich man was sweating through his expensive jacket.
"Yes you do, Walter. You know exactly what we mean. And now it's time to pay. So, how much do you think your life is worth?" The man with the curly hair pulled out a heavy, black pistol.
"Ransom? Is that what this is about?" The executive almost looked relieved. Then he started talking about money and seemed to relax, like he was back in his natural environment. But Daddy wasn't satisfied with a million. Or two million. Even when the executive worked his way up to 7.7 million, it wasn't enough, though the man swore to God it was all he had.
"You think that's all you're worth, Walter?" said the hairless man. "Daddy thinks you're worth a lot more." The man with curly hair raised the pistol and aimed.
"I'd have more but a lot is tied up in my charity. I could turn that over to you―it'll do wonders for your public image. Or you could take control of my whole company!" The rich man was starting to sound frantic.
"Your company, Walter?"
"All my companies! And I have influence, I have friends in high places who can make things happen for you. Isn't that worth something?"
The bald man shook his head. "Not to Daddy."
"I can work for him! I'm good at what I do―and I've got the money and power to get things done." The executive implored the camera now. "I'll work for you for the rest of my life!"
"Your life is over, Walter." Then a shot. The curly-haired man had finally spoken.
The rich man's body was dragged out, and the two men returned. Then the bald man pointed at the woman. As she stepped in front of the camera, she was weeping, but without making a sound. He noticed he was shaking where he sat, but he couldn't stop himself. And he couldn't look at either of the large men.
He just stared at the woman, even when the bald man spoke. "So, Susan, how much do you think your life is worth?"
She sobbed violently. "No," she whispered, "this can't be happening. I don't know anything about this."
"But Daddy knows about you, Susan."
"Who's Daddy?" she shrieked. "I don't know anything. I'm not in on it! I'm just a secretary! I worked for him, that's all."
"This isn't about him. This is about you, Susan, as you know perfectly well. Daddy is disappointed with you."
She stared at the bald man, speechless.
"You've had quite a comfortable life of your own, Susan. You did what you were told, you were a responsible citizen, and so you were well taken care of, weren't you? Some might even say you got more than your fair share..."
"Just a secretary," she sobbed.
"Yes, Susan, just a secretary. So how much? How much for your 'secretary' life?"
When she finally answered, he heard despair in her voice. "I don't know. We have some savings. My husband would give anything. Oh God, this is insane. Insane. This can't be happening. I didn't do anything wrong... just what I was told." She was losing it; rambling. "I shouldn't be here... didn't do anything... oh God. My life isn't worth anything to you! Can't you just let me go? Please..." Her voice fell to a whimper. "Let me go..."
"Yes, you may go." He jerked at the sound of the shot, and saw her fall.
He must have passed out then, because the next thing he knew the curly-haired man was lifting him to his feet. For a minute he was shaky and disoriented. Then he was standing alone in front of the camera.
"I wasn't with them," he croaked.
"We know," said the bald man. "Daddy wanted to see you as well. You have not gone unnoticed."
"But I'm just a bum! I just happened to be standing there!"
"You weren't always a bum, were you?" the bald man asked. "So take your pick. You can tell us what you think your life was worth then―or now."
How? How could they possibly know? Nothing about this made sense. The room swayed; he thought he was going to pass out again.
Then, like a slap, the bald man's voice brought him back. "How much?"
He faltered. "I have nothing. I... I had a life, a wife, children... But not any more. I loved them but... I couldn't help myself. I lost it all. No... wasted it―took what should have been theirs and wasted it all. Then ran. That was the best I could do for them."
"That's very disappointing."
"It was worse for me than them, I'm sure. They were better off without me―and my life ended on that day. But I was dying for years after that. Dying day after day after day, until... But I guess it's all over now."
"We asked you how much."
He looked at the bald man, then at the camera, then at the floor. He wanted to cry, but he couldn't. Finally, he said softly, "Now... to me... it's not worth anything."
He heard the curly-haired man raising the gun. Suddenly he fell to his knees and looked up at the camera. "But please let me live."
The gun remained raised, and the man who held it spoke. "Daddy wants you to tell him why."
Now the tears came. He pressed his hands to his face and the tears ran through his fingers and streamed down his arms. They splashed and gathered on the floor in front of him. Then, slowly, he bowed his head. Lower and lower. Until his forehead touched the puddle of tears. Then he answered. The words bubbled though his lips and were muffled by his hands, but he only had to say them once. "I'm sorry. For all of it. But... somewhere in my dying... in my dying―I changed. Now I just want life. That's all. Just another chance at life."
Then he was being lifted. His vision was bleary and he felt terribly weak, but he was upright. Then the door flew open. And there was light, incredible light. So bright he could feel it. But he didn't cringe or turn away. The light seemed to be calling him, and he stepped toward it. And all at once he understood that the light was life, and that he was no longer alone.
And he knew that the one who was calling him was Daddy. His Daddy. He stepped through the door.
(Download this story as RTF file)
Yesterday Heather and I led worship here and used this Taizé song, which we sang as a round. It means "make a joyful noise to God" (from Psalm 100). We used the gospel from the lectionary and focused on being fruitful.
It seemed like our visits last week were pretty fruitful, though it has been a while coming. I have been talking with different people from Good News Partners, a transitional housing charity, for almost a year now. Not really finding the right person to work with us. But our recent meeting with Nora, their chaplain, seemed like it might bear something real and good.
And we also visited the Marquard Center, a Franciscan soup kitchen and transitional housing ministry. I got connected with them in an unusual way, but then couldn't get anyone out here for months and months. Now, having visited them, they seem excited about sending groups here for retreats.
So we've arrived home, a little worn out from the meetings and excitement, but making a very joyful noise to the Lord.
I just sent this in to Jesus Manifesto. Came across it years ago on one of my walks.
One night I had a wondrous dream.
A set of prints on the sand was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
Yet mine were not along the shore.
But then a stranger print appeared.
I asked the Lord, "What have we here?
This print is large and round and neat,
But Lord it's just too big for feet."
"My child," He said in somber tones,
"For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to seek My face,
Take up your cross and walk in grace.
"You disobeyed. You would not grow.
You would not stand against the flow.
Your neck was stiff, your ears were shut,
So there I dropped you on your butt.
"Because in life there comes a time,
When one must fight, when one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave one's butt-print in the sand."
Many who did not leave everything and follow Jesus were inspired to at least begin to give by supporting him and his followers. This offered them the experience of giving, and also brought them closer to Jesus, to know him better. To these, Jesus was thankful and accepted what they chose to give. But he did not direct them to remain as benefactors, to continue to gather wealth so they could share a portion with others, even if it was to his benefit. To all, Jesus said, “Follow me.” Whatever people chose to give was good, a beginning perhaps, that brought them into contact with Jesus’ way of life. But (whatever their particular gifts) everyone was called to be like Jesus in radical giving, in embracing vulnerability, and in complete dependence on God.
From this we can see how others can be drawn in to Jesus’ way. People first see something in the faith of Jesus’ followers and also see their vulnerability and need. So they are inspired to offer some help. This gives them the experience of God’s love, God working through them to support his own children, and also exposes them to Jesus’ way of life. If they then open themselves to this life, they will progressively give more, becoming more vulnerable and dependent themselves. And so they too will become inspirations to encourage giving, both by their example and their need. As people grow in this way, their gifts change. They have less material possessions to share, but their lives become a more valuable gift, both as an inspiration calling others to enter into God’s love and help care for his children and as a model for faith by which we become (and live as) God’s children.
This progression is like a cycle of life which continues to draw others into Jesus’ way.
We arrived in Evanston and are staying in the apartment of our friend Kaye, who we met when we lived here years ago. She's a dog trainer, dogsitting for someone else this week, so she offered her place to us for our visit here. A great anniversary gift. We'll be visiting other friends this week, too.
Outside Kaye's building, Heather noticed a wildflower garden, with many flowers that we see growing in the woods behind our place. I recognized the trilliums. There are lots of those blooming behind the cabin, too, where we spent our honeymoon. Every year they remind us of our wedding.
We're leaving for Evanston tomorrow, for the rest of the week. A good break, a chance to visit friends and family, and we have several meetings set up with folks that might want to send people for our retreats.
Our anniversary is tomorrow, too. It reminded me of this combination of Psalms 34 and 84 that Heather and I put together to read at our wedding two years ago:
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
The sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young—
a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
For lunch we had asparagus with poached eggs and burnt butter, a recipe we discovered while staying with my parent's last fall. This time we put it over toasted oatmeal bread I made in the bakery here. And we have eggs from the chickens of a friend who lives just the other side of town. Very, very good.