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Giving, Forgiving and Sharing

by Otto Weber Friday, Mar. 21, 2008 at 10:20 AM

The daily bread for "us" depends on all of us becoming free from debts. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount urges a change in power and change of the system. "You cannot serve God and mammon." The daily bread is lacking for many of us where money is the all-determining idol mammon.


By Otto Meyer

[This article published in: Ossietzky 12/22/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

In the advent- and Christmas time, the evangelical development campaign “Bread for the World” asks for donations for starving persons in countries of the South. One poster shows a woman of color with a large hoe on her shoulder, a small farmer on her way to a patch of tenured land. The words “fair giving” and “fair sharing” were printed above the picture with the words “God’s rules of the game for a just world.” Which God and whose rules are proclaimed here?

The clever church donation campaign uses words that can be read ambiguously. That plane of meaning which served the churches in past decades in appealing to the consciences of the actual or supposed well-to-do is very clear. “Give something of your riches and you will be forgiven!’ Or for the hardliners: “God forgives everything, even to those who may be responsible for their misery. Therefore be concerned about the well-being of your neighbor. Take care of the poor today above all in the third world. Share something of your surplus!”

Still this does not r3each those contemporaries enthralled with the beautiful consumer world of the perfect market society. “Fair,” according to the dictionary, means “just, decent and corresponding to the rules.” But hardly anyone still connects “fair” and “just.” The old term “just” has long been superseded.

What does “corresponding to the rules” mean? In boxing, a fight is regulated so the stronger or more skillful wins. But who regulates the world market where everyone fights everyone else and society is split to the core? How acceptable are rules allowing that poor farmer on the poster with her five children to be deprived of the last piece of land because agricultural conglomerates decide the bio-diesel business is profitable? Whoever describes the results of market competition – for example between those who can only offer their labor power and those who can but need not buy that labor power and everything else – as “just” must terribly distort the word.

“Bread for the World” wants to be “fair” and has found “God’s rules for a just world.” We should give and share fairly. Does that mean recognizing and observing the rules of the market society as fair? Ort can we correct these rules a little?

In sports, the fair winner respects the loser, extends his hand and encourages him to the next fight. The program of “Bread for the World” clearly appears that way.

Still the God of the Bible has never set down rules for competitive games. Jesus Christ proclaims the will of his God and Father for all people: justice, equality and love/solidarity. In his Sermon on the Mount, he teaches prayer and action. In the Our Father this will of God is stressed for every time and every place: “on earth as in heaven” (the dimension of certainty of faith and hope)!

We are urged to read and take seriously the three terms in their biblical context.

The first word “giving” and “forgiving” is in the Our Father: “Give us our daily bread and forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” “Our” daily bread depends on all of us becoming free from “debts.” In the original Greek text, “the indebted” are negated. Indebted persons were handed over to rich profiteers or usurers. Hardly any bread was left for their own family threatened by debt bondage. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount urges a change in power and a change of the system: “You cannot serve God and mammon.” For many of “us,” the daily bread is lacking where money is the all-determining idol mammon (today: capital).

The second word “be not anxious” is also taken from the Sermon on the Mount and follows the petitions of the Our Father. The new “Faith and Society” project is made precise: “Be not anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you shall drink…what you shall put on… Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.” The everyday anxiety, the existential worry about adequate provisions is annulled as soon as humanity agrees on equality, justice and love/solidarity.

The third word “share” is joined seamlessly here. Sharing epitomizes the life project of the early Christian community derived from Jesus’ teaching: “They sold their goods and possessions and distributed them to all as any had need.”

What is our situation today? Is the poor farmer still carrying the hoe on her shoulder? She and her family, her village and her region need debt cancellation and protection from the big property owners. Supplying all persons living today with bread and fresh water, clothing and housing, education and medicines is technically possible. A system change is necessary, a change of the hierarchy of power, an agreement on other rules and laws, socialism in the 21st century or communism for and with everyone.

Explaining that could be a task of a church meditating on its biblical origins. The church could urge the removal of distress and misery – in Germany with two to three million heavily-indebted households and with income support allowing 20 percent of all children to grow up in poverty. Its first task would be unmasking the market- and capital fetish and the indebtedness dynamic, demanding property’s obligation to the common interest, supporting socialization of the means of production and championing the equal access of everyone to meaningful activity and the necessities.

Our church people are afraid. “Whoever touches idols must die.” This was the title of a book of liberation theologian Jon Sobrino that related how the military of El Salvador in 1990 murdered his Jesuit brothers together with the cook and her daughter. The churches’ advertising strategies in Germany prefer to adjust to the “rules of the game” of the capitalist market god. They only seek upbeat packaging and ignore how they themselves and their packaging have become lukewarm.

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