Summary of January 7th discussion
We read that Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw £700 million worth of investment from the UK because of the criticism he has been receiving. It seems that rich and powerful people are able to dominate society and politics these days- which often makes us angry. In the same day’s newspapers it was reported that bosses’ salaries have grown from 47 times average wages in 1990 to 180 times today. The United States is often identified as the leader in this- in fact big business is now international and global, even though the influence of the USA may well have been crucial in the past in creating the present situation.
The Old Testament reading in our prayers was from Jeremiah chapter 23, where the prophet condemns the “shepherds” of the people for destroying their “flocks”, and promises a future shepherd who will bring justice. “Shepherds” in Jeremiah’s day were the kings and leading high priests. Today perhaps they might be seen as business leaders and the governments who support their interests rather than the needs of the people (or who do not challenge public opinion when it tries to scapegoat some groups for the problems of society).
The New Testament reading was the Parable of the Vineyard Labourers (Matthew chapter 20). What did Jesus mean by this parable? We noted that parables are often intended to provoke us into thinking things through in new ways, rather than giving us clear and unambiguous answers. So does the Parable mean: 1. that everyone should receive the basic income (the “daily wage”, which in those days was the minimum needed for existence), whatever work is available for them to do? And that people who have been fortunate enough to have full employment should not grumble at this (or resent the assistance that is given in eg Overseas Aid to poor countries)? 2. that those who come to faith late in life will receive the same “reward” as those who have been part of the People of God for a long time? And that the latter should welcome the former without complaining? Does it specifically refer to the fact that Gentiles have “in the last hours” been brought into equality with Israel, which has served God “through the heat of the day”? 3. Should we understand the parable as linked to the account of the Rich Man in Matthew chapter 19? (Both end with “The last will be first and the first last”, though of course this may be the only link between them). Jesus challenges the rich man to give up his vast landholdings (something he should have done anyway if the Jubilee of Leviticus 23 had not been ignored for many centuries)- but he is unable to take that step. By contrast the owner of the Vineyard has no thought of giving up his power- instead he tries to create some justice without changing the structures of ownership, and only succeeds in creating conflict between his workers. Attempts to create justice without changing structures of ownership will always fail in the same way.
We also discussed North Korea’s nuclear test, the history of Korea’s division into North and South, and the debates in the Labour Party about Britain’s “independent” nuclear deterrent. And the demand by many to create an “exclusive” society (in Europe, Israel and other places) in the face of some challenges posed by integration (eg the disturbances in Cologne Railway Station at New Year)- whether the work of creating an “inclusive” society is worth striving for in the long run.
But to try to include these would make this Summary far too long.