Very rarely things in the world wear name tags “HELLO MY NAME IS EVIL” and “HELLO MY NAME IS GOOD.” Instead, we deal with shades of evil and good and have to decide which is the best. And sometimes, it’s just picking between two goods, or two evils.
Today, Jesus and the religious leaders and political leaders debate the gray area.
On the day of rest, Jesus and his disciples are picking up dropped wheat or rye heads as they walk along.
The religious people shake their heads and say, “Jesus! You’re supposed to be setting an example! And this is your example? Gleaning on the rest day? You should have gleaned yesterday!”
Jesus replies with a story from the Bible. King David once was in a hurry and hungry. He went and ate the bread inside the temple.
The rest of the story is implied that then the King and his companions could continue on their journey, and bring blessings to the land. If we have to pick between the evil of eating the consecrated bread, or the evil of King David and his companions starving to death, eating the bread is the lesser evil.
Picture our communion table today. How would you react if when you came in here, you saw a homeless person making a sandwich out of the communion bread before service began? What is the lesser evil? The bread being ate in an unholy way, or the man going hungry?
Religious people would say give the man different bread. Make him wait until after the service and then give him the leftovers. These are reasonable solutions. Just like it is a reasonable solution to say the disciples should have prepared their snacks the day before.
But Jesus would say – let the homeless man eat his fill and then fill his pockets with the leftovers. The Bread of Life is to be shared extravagantly. This isn’t reasonable. It’s extravagant. It’s about choosing the action that most reflects the love of God, than the rationality of the world.
The Pharisees and Jesus both heard the secondary message to Jesus’ analogy, too. Jesus compared himself to King David. The return of King David’s line is a prophecy of the Messiah.
Jesus concludes, “The Sabbath is made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” The Pharisees agree with this. But they don’t agree that Jesus is the Son of Man, or the Messiah, or as big a blessing to the world as King David was.
The second part of the story has Jesus entering the synagogue on a day of rest and prayer. They think he’ll likely heal someone, and therefore, be caught working on the Sabbath. Jesus is in the synagogue, and he notices the guy with the messed up hand. He calls the man forward, and then asks everyone gathered there: Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath? To save a life or kill?”
Everyone knows you’re supposed to do good, and to save a life. If your kid falls in a well, you pull her out of the well — even if it means work on the Sabbath. Because they agree, also, the Sabbath is for us … we’re not slaves to the Sabbath.
God gave the Sabbath to the Israelites in the desert explaining to them that they were once slaves – and had to work every single day of their lives. This Sabbath is their rest. They are not longer slaves. And this Sabbath extends to their own slaves, hired hands, animals, immigrants and aliens and everyone around them. EVERYONE deserves a day off to rest, recover, and do as they will… Even God takes this time. A Sabbath is a day of wholeness. A day of doing what we need to do to be physically, mentally, and spiritually whole.
So Jesus stands there and asks: Should you do good or harm; save a life or kill on the Sabbath?
Obviously the answer is to do good and save a life.
It means doing good by that man with the withered hand, and returning him to whole life by healing him. With a healed hand, he can provide for his family again. He can provide for the town again. He brings life to all of those around him.
But, it means perhaps violating the Sabbath and working on the holy day. The Pharisees think that man could easily wait until tomorrow. He’s likely been injured a long time. What is the rush? They are rational. They are us.
But Jesus is all about immediacy. This man has waited a LONG TIME to be healed. Why are we going to make him suffer a single additional moment? Why are we going to violate the Sabbath by refusing to do what is necessary to bring wholeness and goodness and life to ourselves?
This is a fight about which is more important — the good of a Sabbath or the good of Healing? This is an argument about thinking individually — I don’t need healed. I can wait. I am not hungry. I can wait. — and about collectively and for the other — He needs healed. We can’t wait. We are hungry. We can’t wait.
The tension between thinking “what is best for me” and “what is best for the community” is a tension that is still happening this very moment.
The Right-to-Work laws are passing more swiftly, 28 states now, and are being brought before our President. Much like the argument about what is or isn’t lawful on the Sabbath, the Right-to-Work is a debate on individual gains or community gains.
It actually has nothing about people’s rights to work. Everyone can be employed.
It has to do with unions.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, men, women, and children worked 12 to 14 hours a day in factories. There were no breaks, and for lunch, you had to eat while cleaning your machine. If you got hurt, you were fired. Even if you got hurt because of your boss skipping on maintaining the machines. Wages were as low as the employers wanted them because so many people needed jobs. There was no ventilation for the machines, and so you breathed in the coal soot smoke all day. Men received 10 cents an hour, women 2 to 5 cents an hour, and children a half penny to a penny an hour. A loaf of bread was 5 cents, a cup of milk 2 cents. This meant a child barely could feed themselves… and many children were starving, malformed from standing still at factories all day, and missing fingers or limbs from the dangerous work.
Out of the condition of childhood labor, and all the children dying daily in factories, unions formed. They ran by negotiating with the factory and shop owners better working conditions and wages, or else the employees wouldn’t show up to work. It might cost a few more pennies to pay everyone a living wage, but it cost a lot more to have the factory shut down. It cost a few more pennies to enact child labor laws, safety standards, and workers compensation… but it cost less than having your whole business collapse because no one wanted to support the machines that were killing children to make goods.
Bit by bit, working conditions improved. Wages went up. It was now illegal to lock your employees into the store or factory. People had to be given breaks. And time to eat. There was a standard set of hours and time off — and overtime and holiday pay established.
Now, some places became union-only. So you couldn’t work there if you didn’t participate and join the union. This was so that the workers stood strong together. This kind of a place is called a Closed Shop. A lot of people think these still exist and you can’t work at this place or that without joining the union there. This isn’t true.
In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act said a person couldn’t be dismissed for refusing to participate in the union.
“But there was much more to this law.
The Taft-Hartley Act additionally required that employment agreements collectively bargained for to benefit union members would also be required to inure to the complete benefit of non-member employees, even though these employees elect not to join the union.” (Forbes)
“But did you know that Taft-Hartley further requires that the union be additionally obligated to provide non-members’ with virtually all the benefits of union membership even if that worker elects not to become a card-carrying union member?
By way of example, if a non-member employee is fired for a reason that the employee believes to constitute a wrongful termination, the union is obligated to represent the rights of that employee in the identical fashion as it would represent a union member improperly terminated. So rock solid is this obligation that should the non-union member employee be displeased with the quality of the fight the union has put forth on his or her behalf, that non-union member has the right to sue the union for failing to prosecute as good a defense as would be expected by a wrongfully terminated union member.
Given the fact that Taft-Hartley was providing non-union members with most all the benefits of membership without having to join up, […] it would be unfair for non-member workers to gain all these goodies at no charge while members were obligated to pay dues for the very same services the union provided.
To compensate for this, Taft-Hartley required that, while nobody could be forced to join the union, non-members would be required to pay dues to the union as if they were members. These are called “agency fees”—the equivalent of union dues when paid by a non union-member.” (Forbes)
Now, these agency fees are only for the negotiated benefits the union provides. It’s illegal for them to be used for political lobbying, or any other activities the union does. The agency fee is only for the portion of cost the union incurred while negotiating on behalf of all the employees.
So along comes the new Right-to-Work laws. These say that no one should have to pay agency fees either, but do not over turn the Taft-Harley Act. Therefore, Right-to-Work laws “permit non-union member employees to continue to get all the benefits of union representation and protection, as is still the requirement of federal law, without having to pay so much as a penny in return for these benefits.” (Forbes) AND the non-union, non-agency paying member can SUE the union if he or she doesn’t like how the union represents them.
Why in the world would any states — 28 of them so far! — sign these what seem like Right to Freeload laws?
The national Right to Work movements and political lobbying groups argue that forcing people to join unions is against some religions’ stances. That is true – but because of the Taft-Harley Act, no one is forced to join unions.
The Right to Work groups argue our freedom is restricted if we have to pay agency fees. That money we could pocket. Yes, that is true. But then there will be a weaker union. And a weaker union leads to a union breaking up. In states where Right-to-Work has passed, the average income for workers has reduced by 3% (Forbes). The medium income has increased — this is because that 3% the workers lost is going to the factory and business owners — driving up the maximum income in the state… but not the average. Medium and average are not the same thing.
So this is a case of what is the lesser evil, the greater good?
If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to have a bigger pay check by not paying union or agency fees. If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to pay your workers less, give them less benefits, and therefore have a more profitable company.
If you’re thinking as part of a community, you know that by sacrificing some of your paycheck now for agency fees or union dues, you end up with a larger paycheck over time because the union is fighting and protecting you from being exploited. If you’re thinking as a part of a community, you know if you pay your workers more and give them more benefits, they tend to live happier and healthier lives, are more productive, and more company loyal.
What way is better to think? Think individually or think collectively? For only self or self and other or only other?
Every moment of our day, every decision we make, we have to balance these choices.
Our scripture and our faith is adamant we are to think collectively and with the other. We’re to think as the Body of Christ, as many members but one body. We’re to think ‘I’m glad I have a day off,’ and think about those who are working jobs without a living wage – so much work two or three jobs to make ends meet – and they have no days off. We’re to think that low-income worker is me — for we’re the body of Christ. We’re to think we are as healthy and as strong, as well off and as whole as the least member of ourselves. We’re to think of the resident aliens, the strangers, the immigrants, the people held into slavery of debt, and know God commands we grant everyone time to rest.
We grant everyone wholeness and healing.
We grant everyone compassion and shalom…
… Because God grants it to us.
The Pharisees aren’t bad guys. Those who think individually aren’t bad guys. But Christians are called to look at the bigger picture Jesus shows us, called to think differently, called to think collectively and act generously to all.