Walter Breugeman talks a lot about the pharaoh the Israelites left behind. He says pharaoh is a stand-in for all the empires that have ever been: Egypt. Rome. Western capitalism.
I remember being shocked in college when I first heard somebody question capitalism. You can question that? I thought.
Boy, can you!
As an economy, capitalism values productivity over kinship. This means how much we get done, how we benefit (or “serve”) the group’s goals, or how much we contribute, are the primary criteria for our value and worth.
Don’t believe this is what we believe? Ask your disabled brothers and sisters, who physically can’t contribute, if they feel valued. Ask immigrants or children or pregnant women or nursing mothers, who don’t or can’t contribute to the bottom line, if they feel valued.
The opposite of a productivity-based system of value is kinship.
Kinship is common. It belongs to everyone by virtue of their existence.
Kinship says: you are flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.
Kinship says: we are one body.
As a Christian, Jesus calls me to value kinship above all else.
But the thing is—this is the thing!—I am a capitalist! I am literally embedded in the capitalist economy! Pharoah’s economy puts food on my table and a roof over my children’s heads!
So now what?
Do I do like the Israelites, and move myself to the promised land? Would freedom be like this: a move to a mountain in Colorado and living hand to mouth, off the land? In a commune? Wearing clothes I sew for us myself?
What’s always so shocking about Jesus is how personal his stories were. I don’t mean individual, because individuality was not the ethos or the framework he lived in—it wasn’t the water he swam in.
I mean his stories weren’t all: a group of people got together and made a list of new laws and they changed everything.
His stories were more like: one person loved somebody else and this is true holiness.
When the rich young ruler comes to Jesus, Jesus says: why do you call me good? Only God is good. Out of hand, Jesus rejects traditional notions of goodness as a framework for humanity’s worth. In fact, what Jesus highlights in this story is the fantastic lure of Pharaoh and the predatory economy, where productivity is everything.
How can I choose kinship over productivity, in my job?
How can I choose love and true holiness, over predatory economics?
I don’t know. But I’m reminded of the Israelites who dipped their toes in the blazing desert sand and longed to go back to slavery because it was a sure thing (in all our criticism of the Israelites, do we ever think about how truly hot and barren the desert was?).
So, I can assume this task will seem very difficult. Perhaps impossible.
But I’m also reminded of the Israelites who were given daily manna for their daily bread.
I’m reminded of how the Israelites ate their daily bread and followed a cloud by day and a fire by night.
Jesus’ prescription for the rich young ruler? The one who wanted to be good? It was to step outside of Pharaoh’s economy (sell everything) and embrace kinship (follow me).
So, this is what I can do. Maybe a day will come when I sell everything and move to a mountain in Colorado but for now, I will daily find the courage (because the desert is very hot) to choose love over productivity. Don’t ask me how; ask the cloud that goes before me.
Why do you call me good?
Only God is good.
Exhale valuing the producers.
Take this bread.
Inhale friendship with Christ.
My body broken for you.
Take this cup.
Inhale my daily bread.
My blood spilled for you.
Exhale storing up provision.