Today, in the readings for the daily prayers we have what may be one of my favorite readings from all of Exodus. The reading is when God gives the people of Israel the bread from heaven. You can read it here. You might think that I love the reading because of its association with the Eucharist, or because I’m a bread baker, or because of any other of a thousand other things, but the truth is that I love this reading because it gives us an insight into how God looks a the economy and at justice.
First, we have to talk about those words. Economy, a word derived from the Greek word for household, is not the stock market, your 401K, if you’ve got one, not your debt, or any one thing. The economy is a summary of all the exchange of goods and services and, most importantly, how we distribute those goods and services among all the people in a given area, e.g. Kentucky, the US, Djibouti, etc. What counts in God’s economy is summed up nicely in the opening verse of Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein.” Put a pin in this.
Second, what is justice? When we in the US think about justice, too often we think about retributive justice. You broke the law, and you must be punished. Not actually how most God’s law is framed. God’s law is typically framed in reconciliation. How do we live together after a breach has occurred. But that’s law, not justice. When we talk about God’s justice, we are talking about distributive justice. In Leviticus, when at the end of every 50 years, all land must be returned to its ancestral steward, that’s distributive justice. We don’t own it, we’re watching over it till it’s time to give it back.
What does this have to do with bread in the wilderness, you ask? In God’s just economy, when the people asked for bread, he gave it to them. If you continue on the reading through chapter 16, you will see that the folks who gathered too little still had enough to eat; those who gathered too much, the hoarders (looking at everyone with 8,000 rolls of toilet paper), all of the excess began to rot. In short, God gives enough to everyone. God isn’t means testing, God doesn’t add administrative burdens, God doesn’t make folks stop getting their manna supply just because they make 134% of the poverty line instead of 133%. God wants us to understand that justice is to be spread around just like the manna, literally rained down. God understands that the household of Israel will be judged by other nations not by how the people in the top 1% are doing, but by the people in the bottom 1% are doing.
In the days of Covid-19 and a stopped economy, there is a lesson to be learned here. So many people are struggling and suffering because of the farce that there is not enough in God’s creation to take care of them while we stay healthy at home. We as faithful children of God, when we read about Israel in the wilderness must conclude that, like the manna, God will take care of us and we can take care of one another, feed and clothe one another, and keep one another housed. We can look at the world, at God’s household, God’s economy, and see abundance, and the just way to distribute it.
This is a scary and painful time, but our hope is in God. The God who rained down manna in the wilderness, the God who through Isaiah said, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is 55.1), the God who through Jesus said “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sew nor reap…), that is the same God who says to us today, give food to my hungry children who are healthy at home; forgive all the debts as I have forgiven your debts; let my vision for this world reign.