Good Trouble – Generosity
by Tim Mooney
In his last words, Congressman John Lewis said, “(Martin Luther King) said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.”
Our scriptures today, give us two examples of people standing up, speaking up, and speaking out, against a sensed injustice.
The Israelites found themselves starving in the desert after being released from slavery in Egypt. They stood up, spoke up, spoke out against Moses. Moses turns to God, and God provides Manna. But there were stipulations. Gather an omer, about ten cups worth, per person; no more. Some, perhaps hard workers, or the entrepreneurial of spirit, or the greedy, gathered more than an omer. Some, perhaps the elderly, the sick, or the lazy, couldn’t or wouldn’t gather even an omer. But when they measured, each person had an omer, no more, no less. Some tried to save some of the manna for the next day. What they saved? It turned rotten. God was saying, “Trust me. I’ll provide.” Gather enough for today, and it’ll be there every day. Try to out-hoard, out-gather others, it will rot.
In Matthew, Jesus tells a story. A landowner hires laborers throughout the day. At the end of the day, he pays first the ones who worked only the last few hours – a full day’s wage. He pays the others – a full day’s wage, what they agreed to. The ones who worked all day are outraged. The stand up, speak up, speak out! It’s not fair! It’s unjust! But notice. The landowner erred on the side of generosity. He gave what he promised, a full day’s wage, and to some he gave more than they “deserved.”
The Israelites complained of starvation and God provided. But those who wanted to take extra, to make a killing, were thwarted. And those who could not gather enough, found they had enough for their daily needs. The workers who agreed to a full day’s wage, got it. But the landowner gave more.
When we say the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for our “daily bread.” We do not pray for a bank account that would be big enough to feed, shelter, clothe, and entertain us for 200 years after our death. To a large extent America’s top corporate “earners” have hoarded more and more of the country’s wealth, while 80% of the country lives on less and less and less. But what if the Big Land Lord would say, “Wait a minute. Those who came late to the American party, the ones who were not the elite, not the descendants of white Europeans; the ones who were here first but were killed off by the diseases and guns we brought over; and the ones who were brought here without their permission, the slaves, forced to work for nothing, what if I give to them much more than the ones who are making a killing are giving to them?” Would the top 5% stand up, speak up, and speak out and say: “That’s not fair!” They are saying it already, every day. The people we call “essential” front line workers in almost every line of work, are the most susceptible to COVID-19, and the lowest paid.
...each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out.
In Jesus’ parable, the landowner says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” Isn’t this what our country is all about? Freedom? Isn’t this what all of us, rich and poor, might say? Let’s even forget for a moment how we acquired what belongs to us. Because what the landowner says next is the key of the parable. He says, “Or are you envious because I am generous?” Might we be generous? Might our economic system be known more for its generosity, than for its greed?
James McMurtry, a Texas blues singer/songwriter wrote a song in 2005 titled, “We Can’t Make it Here Anymore.” A line from the song says, “Just try yourself Mr. CEO, see how far $5.15 an hour will go. Take a part-time job in one of your stores, I bet you can’t make it here anymore.”
John Lewis said, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” Being generous, is good trouble.
Jesus begins this parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Who is the landowner in our country? We are. We are a democracy. As Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” We are charged with this responsibility, not only to not let it perish, but that it might work for all of us. From the Gospel’s perspective, we – individually and corporately – are asked to emulate this landowner. What would it mean for us, this country, to be generous? What would it mean for you and me to stand up, speak up, speak out, say something, do something for generosity? Amen.