Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. This week, we will look at how asking God for our daily bread can exponentially move us in the direction of biblical justice.
Looking at things from a global or universal perspective, will help us to be less selfish. It will help us to realize that the sun really does not rise and fall at our command and that the world really doesn’t revolve around our selfish needs. Living in America, you would never know, or rather hardly care that this world consists of nearly 7 billion people – each in every one who needs to be fed, have a roof over their head, and a job to go to so that they can provide for both.
These things are essential human rights, and to deny them of anyone is to deny their humanity. However, the way that we consume resources in this part of the world affects the way the rest of the world can live and share in our mutual humanity. Here are a few stats from research out of Washington State University that could perhaps put things in perspective for us:
- Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day – that’s roughly 200 billion more than needed–enough to feed 80 million people
- Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily.
- The average American generates 52 tons of garbage by age 75.
- The average individual daily consumption of water is 159 gallons, while more than half of the world’s population lives on 25 gallons.
- Fifty percent of the wetlands, 90% of the northwestern old-growth forests, and 99% of the tall-grass prairies have been destroyed in the last 200 years
- Eighty percent of the corn grown and 95% of the oats are fed to livestock.
- Fifty-six percent of available farmland is used for beef production.
- Every day an estimated nine square miles of rural land are lost to development.
- There are more shopping malls than high schools.*
Hearing this, the troubles around the world really start to add up because we start to realize that we are causing them all. People are starving and doing without the basic necessities that they need to survive because of our consumption habits. Making this already horrible situation even worse is the fact that we insist on paying very little for what we take in. We delude ourselves into thinking that we are making a deal by paying less for more, but let’s call a spade a spade here: it’s exploitation.
Our policies force farmers to sell their product with hardly a profit so that grocery stores like Super Wal-Mart can keep their prices low. Many of our goods and clothing are manufactured overseas in sweat shops with horrible working conditions. Workers make very little so that the retailer can turn a profit without charging too much, otherwise they fear that consumers won’t buy. Our trade policies give us permission to sell our food in places like Mexico at rates lower than the local farmers, putting them out of business. No wonder people are fighting tooth and nail to get here, our consumerism has taken away their jobs. And no wonder we have enemies across the world, our greed has robbed them of their homeland, polluted their water, stolen their children and killed their fathers.
Jesus’ admonition to us to ask God simply for our daily bread is a direct rejection of all of these things. Asking God for only what we need and no more, is an act of rejecting, rejecting our tendency to hoard, to consume, to amass wealth and resources at the expense of others.
It also signifies that we have enough as bread, in the Bible, is a recurring sign of divine generosity. According to Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theologian and author of Journey Toward the Common Good, bread is the concrete indispensable resource for life in this world, breaking the pattern of violence that is rooted in the fear that there is not enough.** Contrary to what Pharaoh and world powers would have us to believe, the world is not as we had imagined it. There is enough to go around, we are just hoarding it all!
Such adherence to patterns of scarcity undoubtedly produces a world where the generosity of God is nullified and where the desire to pursue the common good goes out the window. Dwight Hopkins, in Being Human: Race, Culture and Religion, describes the common good as being where all community members have access to adequate shelter, food, clothing but also peace, freedom, respect, dignity, security and satisfaction, and a feeling of belonging to something greater than the individual self and an individual determined self-identity.***
As we begin to pray and ask God simply for our daily bread, and release everything that we have been hoarding, we open our hands to those who have been starving because of us. All of a sudden their continual prayer for God to also give them their daily bread is also met because at last, we have taken our grimy hands off of it.
And all of a sudden, we’ve solved the world’s problems overnight. Honestly. When we remain content with what we have and stop chasing after stuff, we inevitably stop oppressing the world around us. War, slavery, colonization, genocide, infighting, and so many other things take place because of our incessant desire for more. This is what James, the brother of Jesus knows so well – “You lust and you do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.” There is a solution: be content with what you have.
Asking God for what we need for today is also a matter of trust in God. This is what God tried to teach the Israelites when they first escaped slavery in Egypt. When they were enslaved, exploited and abused, they had ready access to all kinds of meat, bread, vegetables, and fish – all at their expense mind you, but it was there. Now, all of a sudden, those things are gone and in its place: manna. Now the Israelites were instructed to take only what they needed on a daily basis to feed themselves and their family – no more and no less. And when they got greedy and took more than what they needed, it spoiled. God wanted them to utterly depend on Him and wanted them to stop buying the lie that Pharaoh fed them for 400 years of consumption without cost.
When you live in a consumer driven society, its always hard to renounce the lie. So often, we end up confusing our needs with our wants because we see what everyone else has and start to believe that it is the norm. But it’s not. God has really taught me that over the last year. After the birth of my youngest, about 13 months ago, my family and I went through a rough hard time financially. Our landlord at the time gave us less than 60 days to move, and we had absolutely no clue where we were going to go because we had very little resources with me being on maternity leave and my husband still looking for a full time job.
We eventually found a place and moved in less than a week after I had a c-section because baby boy decided to take his sweet time coming. And thereafter, it seemed like there was bill on top of bill on top of bill on top of another bill. Oh, but for manna! We only made it through because of the manna that God gave, not all at once, but little by little to let us know that he was in charge. All of the things that I thought I needed with a growing family went out the window as I impatiently learned to embrace this principle of absolute trust in God’s, not Pharaoh’s provision.
Now that we are on the other side of this situation, and things have somewhat improved, I find the need to come back to this place. I find the need to remind myself, remind my head that I really don’t need another pair of jeans. I don’t need to keep up on the latest fashion trends, my kids don’t need every toy that is put on the market, and that my family really doesn’t need to consume all of the resources that we have access to. We don’t need to keep fighting hard for the American Nightmare and we certainly don’t need to keep up with the theoretical ‘Jones.’ At the risk of sounding minimalist, which brings it’s own set of issues, all anyone really needs is the daily bread that God so willingly provides.
I will end with this oft quoted passage in Matthew 6:
It’s all about trusting God for what he willingly provides, recognizing that He alone gives us enough to fill us and satisfy our hungry souls. And it’s about rejecting, consistently and persistently rejecting the lie that God isn’t enough and that we need to go out and provide for ourselves to get more. Once we accept this, and walk in this, we have really begun to do biblical justice.
Come back next week for part III of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it
Read last week’s post – The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done (Part 4)
Read other posts in the series – The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology
*Washington State University. Consumption by the United States. Website: http://public.wsu.edu/~mreed/380American%20Consumption.htm accessed June 20, 2014
**Walter Brueggemann. Journey to the Common Good. (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press) p. 18
***Dwight N. Hopkins. Being Human: Race, Culture and Religion. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press) p. 86
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