God’s Economy of ‘Enough for All’ by Anne Morris
Anne Morris is a long-time activist in education and advocacy for peace, social justice, and climate justice. Originally from Montreal, she lived for 33 years in Lethbridge, Alberta where she was active in a number of committees, including the Anglican Diocese of Calgary Peace and Justice Committee. She now lives in Salmon Arm, BC, and is a member of the local KAIROS Committee.
In the Book of Genesis, we read how God created the Earth and everything in it. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
The Earth is a sacred gift from God, who created it so that everything was in balance and harmony. There were abundant resources to meet the needs of all people. No one had too little; no one had too much. Everyone had just ‘Enough’. The Earth, as God made it, is the expression of God’s economy of ‘Enough for All’.
But history shows that over a period of time, humankind’s sinful nature gives rise to inequities in societies. Wealth and land become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. A few have more than they need, while many others do not have enough.
The ancient Hebrews recognized this and developed the concept of the Jubilee Year, set forth in the book of Leviticus as one of the rules that the Israelites were to live by when they reached the Promised Land after escaping from Egypt.
God instructed Moses that after every 49 years, the 50th year was to be declared a Jubilee Year. Jubilee embodies two principles: 1) Everything in creation – especially land and wealth – ultimately belongs to God; and 2) God’s creation is abundant – there is enough for everyone’s needs if the Earth’s resources are distributed equitably.
Jubilee is a call for restoring right relations with God, right relations among the people of the Earth, and right relations between humankind and Creation.
During Jubilee year, debts were to be cancelled, those who had become indentured servants or ‘slaves’ were to be given their freedom, land was to be returned to its original owners who had lost it because they had fallen into debt, and all of the land was to be given rest, i.e., no crops were to be planted that year in order for the land to regain fertility.
But that was not all: the indentured servants or slaves who had been set free were to be given resources, i.e., wealth, so that they could make a new beginning. Redistribution of wealth and renewal of the Earth’s fertility were seen as necessary in order to restore the sacred balance within Creation, and to reestablish God’s Economy of Enough for All.
The concept of ‘Enough’ is embodied in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. We ask God for food only for today. This concept is also embodied in God’s injunction against hoarding. When the Israelites were journeying from Egypt to the Promised Land, they were told to gather enough manna only for the day. Those who tried to hoard more than they could use in a day discovered on the following day that the hoarded manna was full of maggots and thus inedible.
In our time, God’s creation is crying out for Jubilee. The gap between the world’s rich and poor continues to widen. Consider: The richest 1 percent in the world owns 46 percent of the world’s assets; the 85 richest people in the world own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest.
In the decade after the end of the Cold War, progress toward peace and the restoration of God’s economy of ‘Enough for All’ was made on several fronts. World-wide military spending was reduced and more money became available for strengthening public programs and meeting human needs.
In 2000, the governments of the eight wealthiest nations in the world said that they were going to do something about world poverty. In what was seen as a breakthrough, they agreed to a set of eight targeted goals called the Millennium Development Goals, which were to be achieved by 2015.
One year later, on September 11th 200l, the Twin Towers in New York were attacked. The war in Afghanistan began, then the war in Iraq, and the so called global “war on terror”. World military spending spiraled. It now stands at US$1.75 trillion, which amounts to $4.6 billion a day. Annual spending on nuclear weapons alone over a similar period is estimated at US$105 billion, or $300 million a day. Yet 790 million people in the world go to bed hungry every night, and 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
Extreme poverty is not only a deprivation of economic or material resources, but also a violation of human dignity and human rights. Without resources of wealth or land, the poor lack the means to fully enjoy and live out their God-given humanity, to achieve their full potential as human beings made in the image of God. Poverty is a form of violence and oppression. The 1.1 billion people in the world who continue to live in extreme poverty are today’s oppressed people.
Climate change is making the situation worse because it hits those in the poorest parts of the world the hardest. A pattern of more frequent, more erratic, and more extreme weather events is already affecting millions. The result is more hunger and misery for the millions who live on the margins of global society. It could get a lot worse:
Recently, the World Bank released a report warning that if climate change proceeds unchecked, it will be impossible to avert catastrophic uncontrollable climate change. Our world will become unrecognizable, with unprecedented heat waves and increased human suffering, especially in the poorest countries of the world. Strong and decisive action by governments is needed now in order to create a realistic path back to a safe-climate world.
Respect for the Earth and its ecosystem is a principle common to all religions. Yet much of our public policy reflects the idea that the Earth is an unlimited resource that we can continually exploit for material growth and profit. We tend to see ourselves as outside the web of nature, able to manipulate it to our own ends.
For example, our federal government tells us that Canada cannot take strong action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions because this would hurt the economy. But economy and environment are integral parts of God’s creation and cannot be separated. All humankind depends on the well-being of the whole, and thus we are interdependent. Chief Seattle, Indigenous Duwamish leader in what is now Washington State, expressed this well in the 19th C when he said:
“All things are connected….
Whatever befalls the earth
Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth,
We did not weave the web of life;
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web,
We do to ourselves….”
As faithful Christians, what should be our response to the crisis that confronts our world today?
Traditionally, Christian churches have addressed poverty through acts of charity. Charity born of compassion and kindness is vital, but it doesn’t address the question of why a billion people in the world live in extreme poverty, or why climate change is disproportionately impacting the poorest countries in the world although they have done little to cause it. To address these broader issues, we need to engage in the social form of compassion, which is justice.
To seek Justice is to challenge the systems, policies and beliefs that keep people trapped in bitter, unrelenting poverty: – a glaringly unjust global trade system that benefits corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us, as well as insufficient and ineffective aid money from developed countries like Canada.
To seek justice is to challenge the thinking of our government leaders who say they can’t take strong action on climate change because this will hurt the economy. To seek justice is to challenge the thinking of government leaders who tell us we can’t afford to increase our foreign aid to the United Nations target of 0.7 percent of Canada’s GDP.
To take up these challenges and seek justice means working through the democratic process to change government thinking and help to shape new systems and new policies. And this means being political.
But, some people will say, we shouldn’t mix religion with politics. Archbishop Desmond Tutu responds by saying: “I’m puzzled about which Bible people are reading when they say religion and politics don’t mix.”
In fact, the Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and Amos not only railed against the injustice of the times, but they insisted that for worship to be acceptable in God’s eyes, it must be accompanied by action for justice. In fact, there was an ancient prophetic tradition in which God insisted not merely on justice and worship, but on justice over worship. God had repeatedly said, “I reject your worship because of your lack of justice,” but never ever did God say, “I reject your justice because of your lack of worship.” Consider this passage from Amos, who clearly understood God to have said:
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The Old Testament imperatives for justice are clear, but in the New Testament, the mandate for seeking justice is even stronger.
St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus announced his ministry by reading from the prophecy of Isaiah, saying: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then, rolling up the scroll, Jesus sat down. With the eyes of everyone in the synagogue on him, he said: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
‘Good news to the poor,’ ‘freedom for prisoners’, ‘release of the oppressed’, ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’: Jesus was announcing an era of Jubilee, in which the distortions and inequities that had crept into society were to be eliminated and God’s economy of ‘Enough for All’ reestablished. But he was saying much more than that when he announced: “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. With these words, Jesus proclaims that he is ushering in the beginning of God’s Kingdom here on Earth, a Kingdom characterized by peace, and justice, where there is Enough for All.
How did Jesus go about this? We know that he associated mostly with the poor and performed many acts of healing born of compassion for the sick and the grieving. But he also challenged rules and customs that emphasized ritual purity over compassion and human well-being. He challenged the patriarchy that denied women their right to participate meaningfully in society. He challenged Jewish discrimination against Gentiles by teaching that Jews and Gentiles were equal in God’s love. Most importantly, Jesus challenged and resisted the violent domination system of the Roman Empire in which the Jewish king, and the chief priests, scribes and elders of the Temple in Jerusalem were active participants.
Let me explain. In Jesus’ time, the Jewish king and the chief priests of the Temple were appointed by the Roman governor. The Temple was responsible for collecting the annual taxes that were due to imperial Rome, as well as an array of local taxes. One of the “perks” (perquisites) of tax-collecting was to collect more than was necessary; and to confiscate the land of people who had fallen into debt and couldn’t pay. The Temple authorities were thus amassing great wealth by exploiting the poor. But in return for being given license to indulge their greed, Rome charged them with the responsibility of keeping the Jewish people quiet and submissive. Anything that stirred up the people and threatened the peace was a threat to the system from which the Jewish authorities were benefiting.
Growing numbers of people were flocking to hear Jesus teach and they were delighted at his skill in avoiding the temple authorities’ repeated efforts to entrap him, and his ability to use these opportunities to expose and challenge the complicity of the Temple authorities in the oppressive domination system of the Roman Empire. So great was Jesus’ popularity with the crowds that the authorities feared an uprising.
Jesus’ culminating act of nonviolent resistance to imperial Roman oppression and local Jewish collaboration took place on the Monday before his crucifixion. Entering the outer courtyard of the Temple, he drove out the buyers and sellers of animals, overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dove sellers, and said: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Jesus meant that God’s Temple had been turned into a refuge or “den” for the high priests, scribes, and elders who were collaborating in Rome’s violent and oppressive domination system and using the Jewish religion to legitimize it. In so doing, they had turned the Temple into a place where worship substituted for justice (see Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, pp. 48-9).
Jesus was prepared to accept the consequences of his action, and for him, the consequences were crucifixion and death. Jesus did not seek suffering and death, but he accepted it as the inevitable consequence of living an all-encompassing love that challenged oppressive power systems and the injustice that resulted from them.
We are called to follow Jesus in walking the path of radical love that challenges today’s oppressive power structures and the injustice and environmental collapse that they are causing. As individuals and as communities we engage in charitable action to alleviate human need and we take steps to reduce our carbon footprint.
But the sum of these individual efforts will not be sufficient to lift the poor out of poverty, or to create a realistic path back to a safe-climate world – unless there is concerted action by the world’s governments and international bodies. And they are unlikely to act unless we, the citizens, become actively involved in the democratic process to persuade them to act.
For Canadians, seeking justice in the face of this human tragedy is to work through the democratic process to persuade the Canadian government to: reduce military spending, increase foreign aid to the UN target of 0.7% of GDP, to negotiate fair trade agreements, and work for a strong international treaty on climate change that would avert catastrophic unstoppable climate change and promote a safe-climate world for our children and grandchildren.
Working for justice, including climate justice, is at the core of who we are as Christians. It is challenging work, but it’s essential if we are to ensure that the Earth can sustain humankind and provide enough for all both now and for generations to come. But we are not alone. We are part of a community of people, accompanied by God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
The prophet Micah gives us a vision of the goal we strive for (ch. 4: 3-4): “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine, and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”
Micah is saying that peace is not just the absence of war. It’s not just a matter of converting the weapons of war to farming implements. No, Micah also speaks of vines and fig trees, a world of abundance where justice prevails, where everyone has enough, and no one need worry about where their next meal is coming from, or whether they can find affordable housing. It is a vision of the Kingdom of God, where God reigns, God’s economy of ‘Enough for All’ has been re-established, and there is justice and peace.
Jesus, through his passionate, non-violent challenge to the violent and unjust domination system of his time, began the process of establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth. I believe that God is calling us to take action to help bring it to completion.