A friend of mine lives in The Villages, a few hours north of here. If you’re not familiar with The Villages, it’s a vast retirement development that sprawls over parts of three central Florida counties. My friend describes it as “Disney World for old people.”
A few years ago, he had a very funny story about life in The Villages. When gasoline prices increased drastically in 2008, a number of people in The Villages traded in their large, American cars with V-8 engines for small, imported cars with 4 cylinder engines. Their intention was to decrease their expenditures on gas, but the trade cost them a great deal more than what they would have spent on fuel.
The new owners of 4 cylinder economy cars continued to drive their new cars in the same way that they had driven their V-8’s; they continued to try to speed through yellow lights, beat one another across 4-way Stop intersections and vie with one another for convenient parking spaces at the shops and country clubs. Because 4 cylinder engines have less power, and slower acceleration, than V-8’s, the mismatched driving styles led to a sudden increase in collisions at intersections, driveways and parking lots. My friend was grateful that he had kept his gas guzzler; it cost him much less than buying two new cars in rapid succession.
The popularity of a particular vehicle is partially determined by style and convenience, but very much determined by economic conditions. If there was another, sudden increase in gasoline prices, it would precipitate another buying spree of compact and hybrid cars. Economic conditions say a great deal about the state of a society. The first reading this Sunday uses common images from economics to speak about God’s promise to send a Messiah to Israel.
The prophet Zechariah foretells that when the Messiah comes, “He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem.” (Zec 9:10) Zechariah described the Messiah as “a righteous savior, . . . humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9) Horses and chariots were weapons of war, while donkeys were used for farming and transporting trade goods. Zechariah uses images from economics to describe the type of society that will result from the Messiah’s reign. In the messianic age there will be no need for weapons of war; peace and prosperity will be universal.
This first reading echoes the message of the Gospel. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus described himself as “meek and humble.” (Matthew 11:29) He said that he was sent by God to lighten the burden of those labor to live just and holy lives. He invited all people to imitate his own faith in God; he said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:30) Jesus humbled himself to bring the wisdom of God to humanity; those who are humble enough to understand Jesus’ words come to know God Himself.
As Jesus made himself the humble servant of God and the humble servant of humanity, it is appropriate for us to ask whether we have taken this message to heart. Jesus’ example is not merely to be admired; it is to be imitated. Are we humble servants to one another and the world? Are we good stewards of the message of divine humility and service to those in need?
There are certain economic conditions that promote effective Church ministry. I am using the words “economic conditions” in the classical, academic sense. Economic conditions include money and material goods, but are not limited to those; the economic conditions of a society are primarily determined by public relationships. Weapons of war have a definite monetary value, but their impact on a country’s internal and external relations is usually greater than their financial impact.
The economic conditions that promote the Church’s ministry are those that mimic what the Scriptures say about the messianic age. Those conditions consist of public relationships, between individuals and institutions, that imitate Jesus’ humble service. Obviously, we cannot bring about the coming of the Kingdom by our own efforts; that is God’s work. We can, however, proclaim that Kingdom by our actions. We can announce the coming of the Kingdom by our humble service.
There are countless ways to give witness to the Kingdom of God, countless ways to be involved in the Church’s work. The charitable organizations in our community, Pinellas Hope, FEAST Food Bank, The Kimberly Home, and the Homeless Emergency Project of Clearwater, are always in need of volunteers and donations. Many of the local schools have volunteer opportunities during the academic year. Our parish sends ministers of Holy Communion to local nursing homes and Mease Countryside Hospital. Our participation in these charities and ministries is a statement about the economics of our faith; it is our witness to the presence and immanence of God’s Kingdom.
Where you become involved is less important than that you become involved. The social conditions of God’s Kingdom are a reflection of God’s nature. We look forward to the day of Resurrection, when all people will be reconciled with God and one another. Until then, each of us has the obligation to bring that reconciliation to our immediate environment. This is the easy yoke and light burden that Jesus spoke of in the Gospel. We are not required to travel far from home, or venture into unknown territories in order to discover God’s will for our lives. God’s will is most often found in our immediate environment, in the need that lies immediately before us. We have only to acknowledge the need, and give ourselves in humble service to God and neighbor.