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Redistributing Abundance

CHRISTIANS must talk about economics.

So says Rev Ched Meyers, author of The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics who describes us as “addicted” to the current system, devoted to upward mobility and accumulation of wealth.

Apparently, Western society is captivated by capitalism.

We accept the economic structure that generates profit for few by means of exploiting many; normalising inequality and becoming blind to injustice.

“Economic models, like sexuality,” writes Mr Meyers, “are not inherently evil; they are intrinsic to our humanity.

But our appetites … are exploited mercilessly by the highly sophisticated techniques of seduction.”

According to the Californian theologian, there is an alternative: to return to radical Old Testament teachings about money.

The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics is a collection of Mr Meyers’ articles which detail the Bible’s teachings about economic principles, and how to apply them to our life.

Mr Meyers thinks we’ve missed a lot of important points by domesticating Bible verses about money and wealth.

Churches suppress the socio-cultural context of Bible stories, thereby recontextualising the meaning within our political assumptions.

In order to avoid falling into traps of greed and selfishness, Mr Meyers recommends living within the revolutionary paradigm of Sabbath Economics, taught to us in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and echoed throughout the rest of the text.

He said the main points of Sabbath Economics are “Abundance”, “Jubilee Consciousness”, and “Redistributive Justice”.

Mr Meyers teaches that God provides for all.

Allegedly, our earth has the resources to feed every living being equally, but human greed means that “the wealthiest 20per cent of the population receive 83per cent of the world’s income, while the poorest 20per cent receive less than 2per cent!” he said.

Simply put, we in the Western world want everything in abundance.

Beyond resting to aid the body and preserve the soul, the rule of Sabbath is intended to halt the cycle of consumption.

Observing the day of rest and relief also teaches us to receive God’s gifts gracefully, and trust that all seven days will be provided for, despite only six days of human production.

“Torah’s Sabbath regulations represent God’s strategy for teaching Israel about its dependence upon the land as a gift to share equitably,” said Mr Meyers, “Not as a possession to exploit.”

He encourages people to re-examine consumer habits and the impact purchases have upon the earth and other people.

Jubilee Consciousness refers to the book of Leviticus where jubilee is the 49th year during which structures of social inequality are dismantled by releasing people from debt; returning forfeited land to its original owners, and freeing slaves.

The Jubilee year of debt-release was apparently “intended as a hedge against the inevitable tendency of human societies to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few”.

Come the New Testament, principles of debt release are still relevant.

Many of Jesus’ teachings were centred on Jubilee Consciousness, which is Mr Meyers’ phrase for Jesus’ news of debt release from sin.

He said Christ too was in the business of “promising poor sharecroppers abundance, but threatening absentee landowners and rich householders with judgement”.

This is practical teaching which is still relevant today.

Communities of faith who follow Sabbath Economics must regularly practise rearrangement of resources to bring about social justice or Redistributive Justice.

The first Christians of Acts understood this well, undertaking a communal redistribution of wealth regularly amongst followers.

A technique of practising Redistributive Justice could be a social or community investment, often in developing countries.

For example, some organisations will lend donated money to women so they can purchase items to set up a business and support their family, before paying back the money.

Closer to home, we could be ready to give simple possessions away to friends or strangers who are in need.

Mr Meyers’ reading of the Bible is classic Liberation Theology.

Whilst many points are hard-hitting and relevant, it seems that any passage can be twisted to suit his ideology.

Even so, the valid points remain, and are incredibly challenging.

Mr Meyers has begun the conversation about Jesus and the economic system we are entwined in.

This article was first printed in New Times, the magazine of the Uniting Church in South Australia