Death By Comparison

“We are all just walking each other home” -Rumi

The Bible was largely not written by, or for, people who had any real economic security. And it shows.

I humbly submit the Lectionary readings from this last Sunday, September 24, 2023, as Exhibit A. The Old Testament reading is the passage from Exodus (16:2-15) about God providing manna in the wilderness, as if to pre-figure Jesus’ prayer to “give us this day our daily bread.” There were no rich, and no poor. There were no savings accounts, no loans and no debts. Everyone had one they needed, just for that day. The only time one was allowed to plan ahead was on the sixth day, to prepare for the Sabbath, a day with no manna. Some people were thrilled with this arrangement. Others insisted on comparing themselves to each other, and trying to get ahead. But as we read, it didn’t work. Because there is no life in comparison, only death.

Compare this to Jesus’ parable in Matthew (20:1-16) about the Vineyard Owner and the Day Laborers. Like the Israelites in the Wilderness, these workers were counting on something to come their way that day. And then for the same thing to happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. And the Vineyard Owner was fully aware of this. So when he saw workers still standing around at the 11th hour, waiting to get hired, he showed them mercy and provided a full days’ wage for only one hour of work from them. Otherwise, he knew they were about to go home and tell their hungry families that they would have to be hungry a little longer. But the early workers weren’t happy about this. In their insistence on comparing themselves to each other, they believed they deserved more. But, again, there is no life in comparison, only death.

How many of us know that feeling? I will admit that I don’t. My family has been well-off at times, and financially distressed at others, but I have never gone to sleep hungry, or feared that I might starve. In other words, I don’t know what it means to live day-to-day. I can pray the Lord’s Prayer along with the rest of the world, asking God to “give us today our daily bread,” but I don’t know what that really means, on a personal level.

But the writers of the Bible knew. And most of the characters in it knew as well. The stories are largely driven by this dependence, this trust. Rain is a good example here. The Promised Land may indeed have been a land “flowing with milk and honey” but it was not overflowing with water. The Land depended on regular rainfall, at predictable times, in order to prosper and produce crops for that season. And so, the people needed rain, if they wanted to eat. This is why so much of the religious calendar and the cycle of feasts and fasts, and the tone of the prayers in the Hebrew Scriptures is based on rain. The Former Rains (autumn) and the Latter Rains (spring) took on enormous spiritual significance.

We can understand these ideas academically, but can we really feel them in our gut? Do we know what it means to trust God for our existence, when we spend all our energy trusting ourselves (or our employers, or our politicians, or our insurance companies?)

The closest most of us can get to the perspective of those in Scripture, is to look at our children. Notice the way they trust their parents (or want to). In a reasonably healthy childhood, a child never worries about food, or shelter, or clothing. Even if these things are hard to come by, the child doesn’t try to ration, or save up, or plan ahead. They know their mother and/or father are good and loving, and will do what it takes to provide for them.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said that we had to “change and become like little children” in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps this is not an cost of admission, as it may sound. Perhaps it is exactly when we start to trust God for our daily existence, that we will look around and find ourselves living “in the Kingdom”, or as some refer to it, “Beloved Community.”

Much has been said, and can still be said, about what it means to live in the Kingdom, or the Beloved Community. But one thing is for certain, we will know it as a place devoid of Comparison and Death, but rather filled with Trust and Life.

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