Better is a little with righteousness than large income with injustice.
Proverbs like this tend to carry some truth but little conviction, and hover on the edge of platitude. In gospel terms they are inadequate. Jesus was unequivocal: “Give it all away to the poor and look for treasure in heaven”. Amen to that; but we don’t, and we never have. It’s fashionable to conjure up the demons of empire and race these days, but that’s not where the real problem lies. Ancient societies had tribal loyalties, family ties, even feudal obligations to attempt to bring a little justice into the deal. Capitalism changed that. Our Protestant forebears wrestled with the problem of capital wealth and industrial poverty and tried to reconcile the two – and failed. Keynes, the economist, put it like this: “Modern capitalism is absolutely irreligious, without internal union, without much public spirit, often, though not always, a mere congeries of possessors and pursuers”.
We now have a world where celebrities can whizz into space for 2 minutes and millions of pounds while below the earth burns and floods. A pair of sneakers can be invested in for a mere £100,000 while the children starve. The Church has always been part of the game – when Pope Gregory saw the Angles in the market who looked like Angels, he was on a shopping expedition for slaves. The children and mothers who worked in the Manchester cotton mills were every bit as enslaved as their black and brown brothers and sisters who had picked the cotton on the other side of the world. It’s not the emperors and the kings or even the republics and the dictators who enslave us – “It’s the economy, stupid”. Until we learn to give up everything for love and believe that Jesus meant what he said, we will never know what righteousness means.
O God, who has bound us together in this bundle of life, give us grace to understand how our lives depend upon the courage, industry, honesty and integrity of our fellows. May we be grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to then; through Christ our Lord. Amen
Oxford Cycle of Prayer
The Rev’d Peter Moth, retired minister and former broadcasting executive, St Andrew’s, Kenton, Newcastle upon Tyne.