13 November 2016

If You Don't Work, You Don't Eat.


Malachi 3:19-20a
II Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

Jesus said, “All that you see here-- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Luke 21:6

In the weeks leading up to Advent the western Lectionary gets apocalyptic. Today it comes out in full swing! The collection of readings emphasises the Christian apocalyptic dynamic in which we always live: already here/not yet.

Jesus is prophesying about the destruction of the temple - which has nothing, really, to do with the end of the world. The Apostles (quite logically) imagine such a threat as only possible in an end-of-the-world context. So Jesus points out all the other things that will happen before the End of the World. But, first, everything's going to get torn down: in a matter of 40 years or so, really. But, even without all that stuff happening, Jesus' warnings were needed: don't let people tell you "There he is" or "Look it's happening now!"

In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat. We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
II Thessalonians 3:10-11

Paul was talking about people who had decided the world was about to end so they were just sitting around waiting. Meanwhile the Christians were being charitable, taking care of them. That charity drew in more freeloaders... It's almost a cynic's reversal of our note yesterday about Orthodox Monastics. But as far as Apocalypse goes, I think, even though the Temple was still around, the discovery that God had come among us and died and rose again was pretty scary stuff. Neighbors looked over and thought this new community was scary, even the ones who did work!We're not that scary any more - although the recent elections reminded us that we can be... but let's remember who we really are.

One day in 2010 Cam Miller, then Rector of Trinity ECUSA in Buffalo, NY, teaching an adult ed class on the Gospels, asked us to list "classes of people" in the Gospel stories and, as we were confused, he started a list on the board with 1, 2 and 3. Then we figured out the pattern and got the rest of it:

  1. Jesus
  2. The Apostles
  3. The Women
  4. Jews
  5. Jesus family
  6. Samaritans
  7. Pharisees
  8. Tax Collectors
  9. Sadducees
  10. The Scribes
  11. Clergy
  12. Lepers
  13. Sinners
  14. The Army
We came up with a few more as well. Then Cam asked us "Who are we?" The Apostles was a logical choice. But Cam pointed out that's who we would want to be, but, as far as the story goes... "Sinners!" Yes, that's true, but I mean, in terms of current parallels none of these categories fit. Who are we, in terms of history as we sit here in Buffalo, NY, in the middle of winter?

All of these people, in the Gospel story, live in Judea (he used the Anachronism of "Palestine" but set that aside for this post). Judea is an outlier provence in the Roman World where taxes are collected and olives are harvested. It is not, however, a place where olives are eaten - they are sent away. It is a place where bad politicians get sent by the Emperor for "special assignments". It is a place where "Keeping the Peace" is a imperial command that is impossible to keep and one's own death sentence.

Do we live in 1st Century Judea? (NO!)
Ok, then where are we?

Americans, in terms of the Gospels, are none of the people in Judea. We're not in the story at all except as an "unseen hand". We are most closely paralleled to Rome, to which all taxes go, all goods are sent, and from whom no secrets are hid. We are the gobblers and thieves who send out armies to "keep the peace" only so much as it benefits us (where "us" is defined as the bankers and companies that keep Americans shopping). We are Rome. What little good others get from our benignity is because we get a greater good from it. We do not send Charity so much as we send blood money. We speak of the Law of Supply and Demand as if we had not imposed it on the world with our guns.

In the end, Christian morals and ideas about purity, morality, equality, justice, and the Kingdom of God undercut the Roman Empire so much she had to start killing the followers of this new cult.

Please, God, it were so now.

In a fit of realism, as I type this on a cheap computer, sitting under lights lit by energy paid for by farmers in Kansas, sipping coffee made by underpaid farm workers in various parts of the world, wearing clothes sewn by hands well sweated in Target and Kmart, I wonder what can ever be done. I have a lot of stuff I didn't work for. I have a lot of stuff paid for by the blood of others. Even the foods I eat are harvested by the hands of wage slaves who come to our country because we have ruined theirs with our our politics and trade agreements. St Paul says to all of us, "Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food." Yet we have, instead, become Rome. We are the rulers of the world, the exporters of the violence that moved west with a Young America. We are the killers and the spoilers. What Marshal will stop us?

I know that some part of the world thinks we may have elected our own Nero or Caligula. Although either would be disastrous, neither were anywhere near the end of the Empire. In fact, they were the beginning of the seriously bad part. But I do fear the wrath when it comes. And it won't be God, as such (although by his will): it will be by the hands of those we've chained to the machines that make our stuff.