THERE ARE NO FREE MEALS
There are no free meals in this world. I have to pay for what I eat and for how much I eat. I also pay when I am called upon to feed someone. To be able to eat and feed I must follow this down to earth rule, “No rule will work, if I don’t.” Humor hits home at times. A man fell and hurt his leg. He went to the doctor, who bandaged him up and said, “Don’t worry! You’ll be walking before the day is over.” He was right, said the patient, “I had to sell my car in order to pay him” (Murd. 232).
We are told not to worry what we shall eat or drink, for God will feed us like he does the birds (Matthew 6:25-27). Under the Levitical law, God set aside a tenth for the people, who were employed by God and the people. Jesus’ disciples served under the same rule, and so do most of his ministers today. In a sense, these workers earn their bread by serving God and all the other people were to pay the tenth for these servants. Only one twelfth of the people were supported by the tenth and not as many as half the population of a nation. These servants are the ones who live on faith, not in God, but in the people, who will give the tenth of their net income. This was based on a rural economy that netted nine tenths and cannot be compared to an urban economy that does not even net a tenth. Our mortgage, loans, insurance and utilities eat up most of our pensions. In seminary, over fifty-five years ago, we made it on ten dollars a week. Today, we need more than ten times as much. There is no end in sight of food rising in cost.
I cannot live on faith alone, or wait for some person being send by God, to feed me. I feel embarrassed and humiliated when another person has to support me for being lazy. I rather be the one, who gives a little instead of taking a little. In our economy even a nearly worthless penny counts. I still stay away from a thirty or fifteen dollar meal, when I can eat for five dollars or less. I am not that generous to myself. I do watch my purse. If I have on occasions enjoyed a more expensive meal, then I made certain that my income would allow it. I have denied myself many things just to go to bed with a feeling, that I have not spent more than I can pay for. I am not too anxious to hand out costly meals, to people, who show no signs, that they will make an effort to earn their own. I believe that we should be good Samaritans, but should we be to people, who keep on falling into the hands of thieves and robbers? There is a limit to what I can do for others. I have experienced, what it means to be homeless when we lost everything, and we became victims, who were stranded on the road for three hundred days and only two good Samaritans offered us shelter. All the other times, we had to pull ourselves up and beg for a place to spend the night and never in a home. Even when we offered money, people were afraid to house us for a night.
The disciples had a similar concern. They wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they could find food and shelter. Jesus told them to feed the people and the disciples argued that it would take eight months of wages to buy the food and there were not enough places where they could buy that much bread and fish. Jesus was not asking them to buy on credit or put themselves in debt over bread, but merely give to Him what was available. The disciples had nothing; only a boy had enough courage to hand over his lunch, and see Jesus perform a miracle by feeding five thousand people (Mark 6:30-44). Jesus did it to build faith in his disciples and the people, but it did not happen. The disciple did learn to bring their bread with them, so that Jesus could go on and feed another four thousand (Mark 8:1-13). Again, the disciples and the crowd did not understand, why Jesus was demonstrating his power to create faith in Him, as their Messianic leader. The problem they had and we have is faith in themselves and we in ourselves to feed ourselves. Instead, we want a Moses to give us manna, which does not cost us anything. When Jesus stopped feeding the people, even those that intended to become disciples, left Him (John 6:60-71). People will follow leaders, who promise to put food on their table with no cost to them.
There was an unusually well kept garden in town. An admirer stopped and remarked, “I heard, you asked God to give you a good garden. Did you?” “Yes Sir,” said the man; “but I never pray for a good garden unless I have a hoe in my hand” (Knight 437-438). Christian generosity is similar to the man with the hoe and Christians are pressured to be generous with their income to assist the needy. We ask Paul how God could supply all his needs without a man with a hoe in his hands? His answer was, he worked as a tent-maker to earn his bread (Acts 18:3; I Thessalonians 2:9). We have people, who live like birds, and use Jesus’ statement to, “ask, seek and knock” to play on the sensitive generosity of givers, and make them feel guilty if they do not give (Matthew 7:1-12). Jesus came from a culture, which had short term needy, and not long-term professional beggars. Any one, who lost his property or income to another landlord, then the landlord had to employ the loser until his debt was paid, and it could never exceed six years. The farm, itself, could not be held for debt longer than forty-nine years, with a rest period during every seventh year. The system did not allow people to be indebted for life.
The “Parable of the Shrewd Steward” was not an acceptable way; rather, it was the way the worldly servant operated. He was commended for cheating his employer. Today, he would end up in jail for a lengthy period. He made friends by using his master’s means. According to the golden rule, he used it for his own benefit, and he counted on those beneath him to reciprocate. Such an arrangement depends on the amount the shrewd cheater had deposited. Apparently he had secured enough for the rest of his life (Luke 16:1-9). In the case of the “Parable of the Lost Son,” who took his inheritance with him, he lasted as long as his money held out, and then ended up feeding pigs. He was fortunate that he could return home (Luke 15:11-20). Think what will happen, when millions are on government assistance and jobs, when there are no more taxpayers left to pay debts? Where will they go when there are no more millions of small farmers that can share a loaf of bread? The law of sowing and reaping is irreversible.
Jesus recommended that we use that same principle, not just among Christians, but also when we deal with the secular world. We do need to think of the cost to sustain us, when we no longer can earn our bread. We do need honorable institutions that hold our money in trust and administer it during our retirement. We need homes where we shall be welcomed. Like the shrewd steward, it is our responsibility to set aside a portion of our income for our future, and not the employer, the state or any organization. The Parable of the Ten Virgins is equally applicable to our daily bread (Matthew 25:1-13). Like the five wise virgins, we can buy or earn our bread ahead of unexpected circumstance, and not be left without it, when tragedy strikes. During my childhood in Poland, from time to time, neighbors would help each other, when they had emergencies and had not baked enough bread. Today the story of the neighbor going to his neighbor to feed his visitor can no longer be done (Luke 11:5-10). No one bakes bread any longer and neighbors have become strangers. My father had built a big oven in our garden and grandmother and mother would bake large round loaves of bread. There were days when there was no time to bake and our neighbor’s door was always open. We did not have the money to go to a store and the one we had was a half hour away and it carried no bread.
In fact the world appreciates fair play. It grudgingly gives to those, who cannot pay back. Christians have fallen prey to the idea, that one must only give and expect nothing in return. The right hand must not know what the left does (Matthew 6:3). This applied only to those, who were struck with misfortune and not to those, who have turned need into a profession. The poor we shall always have, but that special gift that demonstrates love can only be given, when it is needed and not when it is demanded (John 12:8). The shrewd manager made clever arrangements for his own needs in case he lost his job, and he no longer could earn his bread. He did it by easing the other debtor’s burdens. He made them feel obligated to take him in. He was a very fortunate thief, whose master did not seek compensation. How long can such a benefactor be exploited, before he has to close down his business? We are living through a time, when labor keeps on biting the hand that feeds it, and have government regulation hold the hand for labor, so it can disable the hand that provides the food. Once regulators set wages and benefits for employees, employers will stop providing work for the employees and discontinue service to the public, because the employer can no longer pay for it.
The reason we survived 1939 and 1945 is, because we knew how to make bread and how to pay for it. If that crisis would occur today, we would no longer survive. Even if we had the money, we no longer have the small bread makers living in the country, who could spare a loaf of bread to a person, who lost everything. During our homeless time, we stayed out of cities, where people were starving. We did taste what Jesus predicted, “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress” (Matthew 24:20-21). Our flight began in January 1940 and 1945, and at both times, our mother was with child. We gained a sister in 1940 and lost her six weeks later. In 1945, we gained a brother, and we lost another brother. It is simply beyond me how my father managed to find milk on the road for three little ones, who were still on the bottle. Every bare meal was priceless and costly, more in sacrifices than in money.