Since my last post, I’ve listened to more from Ched Myers on Sabbath Economics.
The fundamental thought here is based on a reading of the whole of scripture, First and Second Testament. (or Old and New)
Ched Myers traces his proposition back to the experience of Israel after being freed from slavery in Egypt. In the years that followed the Exodus from Egypt, the story describes how God provided for Israel through the gift of Manna. Each day this food would appear like dew on the ground. There would be enough for everyone. But they were commanded not to try and keep it overnight as it would spoil. Each day there would be a new provision. In addition, they were instructed that once a week, they were to gather enough food for two days, giving one day of rest each week – this was the Sabbath day. From this experience, they were to understand a new way of living that was not based on the predatory economy that the had known in Egypt.
The story of manna in the wilderness gives us three lessons for a free people.
Lesson 1. There is enough for everyone. No one has too much and no one has too little.
Those who gathered much did not have too much, and those who gathered little had enough.
Lesson 2. There will be enough tomorrow.
Abundance does not mean accumulation. Just because there is an abundance of resources does not give us the permission to keep on accumulating. An economy based on amassing more and more only leads to the more wealthy having control over resources which inevitably leads to inequality.
Lesson 3. Stop. Take a break.
The instruction not to gather one day a week was to do with stopping what would otherwise be an endless cycle of work and production, such as they had known in Egypt. The Sabbath principle was also extended to letting land lie fallow every seventh year, and after 7 times 7 years there would be a jubilee year every 50 years when there was a redistribution of land and wealth.
The commandment to keep Sabbath is instituted before the giving of the Ten Commandments. Then after Moses receives the Ten Commandments there is a reminder to keep Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath is both the beginning and end of Torah. “It is the bedrock of a culture of restraint.”
Lesson 1 is about abundance – enough for all.
Lesson 2 is about avoiding the wealth disparity that comes from accumulation
Lesson 3 is about the need to challenge an economy that never takes a break, but rather live in such a way that in the long term wealth is distributed fairly.
In our world, we have forgotten these lessons, we just don’t get it. We do not live by these instructions, but live largely with an economy that is diametrically opposed to the principles set out for Israel in the story of manna in the wilderness … “our economy being based on private wealth, accumulated welath, and no limits to production or consumption.”
It’s interesting that these lessons are so foundational for Israel, and revisited by Jesus in the feeding of the 5000. This story in Mark chapter 6 also takes place in the wilderness (a remote place). It concerns food, and the need for all to be fed. Jesus turns first to the disciples, who immediately think of buying food (even though they acknowledge that solution as impractical, it is their first thought). They are short on ideas. Then, in Ched Myers reading, Jesus, as community organiser, sees that there is capacity there already and enables the food that is there in the crowd to be distributed so that all have enough. “Only cooperation can turn market scarcity into shared sufficiency.”
As Ched Myers traces what he calls “Sabbath Economics” through the pages of the Bible, we come to the account of the last Supper, where Mark records Jesus using exactly the same words as are recorded at the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Before the food is shared we read: “Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it … “
Surely the same words are used here to link the Last Supper with the Feeding of the Five Thousand. What Jesus is doing here is a final reminder to the disciples that this is how they are to live – by the principles that were first established in the Sinai wilderness.
And when we come to the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see that they did remember … “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Acts 2:44-45.
An online group that I recently joined spent some time listening to Ched Myers, and thinking about ‘Sabbath Economics.” Among a range of subjects, including Food Banks and other attempts to promote food sovereignty (where everyone has enough) we wondered what a communion liturgy based on these principles might look like.
That’s for next time.
Grace and Peace
Please note. All quotations are from Ched Myers – Studies in Mark III: Sabbath Economics & Eucharist (Mk 6)
Go to the BartCast and look for Ched Myers Bartcast 05