God’s Economy – The Rev. Michelle Meech
June 27, 2021
Much like last week’s story from Mark, where Jesus stilled the storm as the disciples were crossing the water, we see Jesus in the role of healer in today’s Gospel. Offering compassion in response to suffering. And teaching us how to walk the way of love.
We have two healings in this reading – the healing of a hemorrhaging woman and the healing of Jairus’ daughter. The juxtaposition of these two is interesting: The daughter is young and part of a wealthy family who can advocate for her. The woman is older and on her own, needing to advocate for herself and having spent all her money on treatments that haven’t helped her.
And Jesus heals both people. Because all are in need of healing from time to time. All are deserving of compassion. And all are children of God. All are welcome at God’s Table.
This passage about healing also demonstrates how God’s economy works. We typically think of the economy as something that describes the exchange of money. For example, when we say that the US economy is doing well, we mean that people are spending money and profits are strong.
But God’s economy is different because it’s not about exchange. God gives endlessly, asking for nothing in return. This is personified in the person of Jesus the Christ who gave of himself to his last breath. God’s economy, therefore, is not defined by the world’s standards that asks, “What do I get out of it?” or “Prove to me that you are worth my help.”
God’s economy is defined by abundance that gives of itself simply because a need arises. It’s an economy of mercy that extends to all people, especially to outsiders and people on the margins. It’s an economy that undermines our typical understanding of who is deserving of what by obliterating our preconceptions of God’s favor.
Writer and theologian Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove talks about God’s economy this way: God’s abundant life is not success as the world defines it. It doesn’t mean God wants you to live in a mansion on the hill. Such extravagance is far less than what God desires for every person – a restored relationship with [God] and the family that gathers around [God’s] welcome table. The abundant life Jesus offers is freedom from the poverty that says some people are worthless and freedom from the wealth that tempts others to forget God. Beneath the illusions of the power called money, this is our deepest hunger: to know we are loved unconditionally and to know our neighbors in light of that love. (God’s Economy pg 50-51)
This is not a modern understanding of the Gospel. In 1862, Victor Hugo published a novel called Les Miserables. Most people have heard of it because it has become a stage play, a musical, and a movie.
The story begins with a priest, a bishop really, named Monseigneur Bienvenu (French for “welcome”). One night a person named Jean Valjean shows up at his door begging for some place to stay the night. Bienvenu, opens his door to him – feeding him and giving him a bed for the night. Valjean is, however, a desperate man. He absconds with most of Bienvenu’s silver in the middle of the night. The police catch him and bring him back to Bienvenu, holding out the silver found in Valjean’s pack.
And Bienvenu responds by telling the police that he gave the silver to Valjean and, in front of the police, tells Valjean that he forgot to take the candlesticks with him. After the police leave, Bienvenu tells Valjean to take all the silver and become an honest man.
Now, by our ears, we think this man Bienvenu is a fool, so easily taken by a criminal. It’s one thing to open one’s home to a desperate stranger. But it’s another thing to save him from prison by lying to the police. And still another to willingly give this stranger all the silver when given the chance to have it back in our possession.
We might think, how can Bienvenu be so irresponsible? So gullible? But, if we know the story, we know that this event proves to be transformational for Valjean. It is his salvation. It is his healing. And it is the true beginning of his story.
In this story, Hugo is demonstrating how God’s economy works through the character Bienvenu. Abundance gives of itself whenever a need arises. And in today’s Gospel, we see needs arise.
The hemorrhaging woman, her actual lifeblood leaving her, reaches out to Jesus and is given exactly what she needs. One might even say that she stole this healing because she snuck up on Jesus rather than asking him for help directly. But, in God’s economy, there is no theft and, rather than be angry, Jesus’ response is simply, “Go in peace.” A blessing on her new life.
Then the story continues as people who know Jairus come up to him and say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” In other words, she is beyond redemption, beyond saving… so why bother? But in God’s economy, no one is beyond redemption. No one is beyond help. A need arises and abundance responds. “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus says. And, despite the group laughing at his seeming naivete, Jesus heals the girl.
Our teacher Jesus is showing us that God’s love is one of abundance. And that we are to love others as Christ loved us is to offer of ourselves a sacrifice to God not because God requires this of us but because God wishes for us to be blessed by that sacrifice that we give from our abundance. And when we are in need – financially, emotionally, physically… or in any other way, we may receive from the abundance of others. So that what we find when we participate in God’s economy is that it is in our receiving that we learn to give more selflessly.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he demonstrates over and over again, the truth of God’s Reign – the boundless, abundant compassion that sees a need and responds to meet it. Here’s a story from Mark’s Gospel we’ll hear in October: A rich man comes to Jesus, telling him that he has followed all the commandments so what must he do to inherit God’s Kingdom. And Jesus responds out of love, not judgment, telling him he must give away his riches. And the man walks away sad, not understanding that God’s Reign is not about following rules, it is about self-giving Love.
Loving one another as Christ loved us. The active force of compassion offering of our abundance to meet the needs of others.
There is a contemporary example of this – something called Community Fridges. People offer items to the fridges from their abundance and anyone who has a need, can go and receive food from the fridges. Unlike a Food Pantry or other feeding ministries, where clients typically have to demonstrate need before they can receive, these community fridges are open to all. There is no control except that the fridge is only open at certain times of day.
We have one of these in Kingston. It’s called the Blue Fridge and it’s on the property of Clinton Avenue Methodist Church in Midtown. People bring food to keep the fridge stocked and a volunteer checks on the fridge throughout the day, clearing up messes, checking on food, and closing up the fridge at the end of the day.
Farmers and gardeners bring produce from their abundance.
People buy things at the stores from their abundance and drop it off.
Area chefs make extra meals from their abundance, seal them, and deliver them to the fridge.
And, literally, anyone may receive items from the fridge. No proof of need is necessary. Abundance responds to a need that arises in God’s economy. All God asks us to do is to offer from what we have.
We come to Eucharist as a Christian practice because we believe in its efficacy. It’s not an empty act. We believe that the sacrament will nourish us, change us over time as we partake in it. As we listen to God’s teachings from scripture and we pray for the needs of the world and we confess our own need of healing, we are preparing ourselves to receive from God’s Table – a place where all are invited to come, because all are in need.
And from God’s abundance, we all receive this blessing so that we may be a blessing for the world. Becoming what we receive, the Body of Christ in and for the world. Learning to love the world as God loves us.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Les Miserables because I’m not a big fan of musicals in general, but I have to admit that the character of Monseigneur Bienvenu haunts me… a person who gives so completely of his abundance. It’s something I struggle with, the fear that I won’t have enough.
And so, I feel convicted by this. And compelled to become more involved in the Blue Fridge over on Clinton Avenue. I don’t know if I will volunteer some of my time, or if I will shop for food to drop off, or if I will do both. But I think I have much to learn from this effort because I wince when I think there are people that will take advantage of this system, that some people who aren’t quite in need will just take whatever they want. Or that some people may take more than their fair share, whatever that means. I’m sure that’s my fear being projected onto the world.
So I wonder if you would like to learn with me – to invest in God’s economy and be willing to give away the silver like Bienvenu. If you are interested in creating a St. John’s Blue Fridge Team, reach out and let me know over the next couple of weeks.
Let’s see what happens when we put this teaching into practice. Let’s see what we can learn about God’s Reign.