WBB online worship: Economic Resistance and Pandemic Capitalism

(During the COVID-19 crisis, Wine Before Breakfast continues to offer a modified, online version of our worship services, for personal or virtual communal use. Feel free to use this and share it in any way that you find helpful. And you could even engage using the comments section below.)

Introduction:  by Brian Walsh

A Reality Check

They needed a reality check.

In the midst of the crisis,
in the face of the looming storm,

in a crippled and crippling economy,
it actually looked too good.

Real divestment?
Actual redistribution of wealth?
The rich getting poorer?

Could it be?
Could this be Jubilee?
Is the Kingdom of God about to appear immediately?

Umm … no.

The real economics of exorbitant profits,
iniquitous inequity,
exploitation, foreclosure and enslavement
continues unabated.

To all who have, more will be given.
From those who have nothing,
everything will be taken away.

The economic conversion of Zacchaeus
was a foretaste, a signpost,
of Jubilee.

But divestment comes at a cost
that is greater than the rearrangement of the portfolio.

We need a reality check.

In the midst of the crisis,
in the face of quarantine and self-isolation,
in a crippled economy of crippling anxiety,
it can actually look too good.

Expansion of employment benefits?
Wealth redistribution through government investments?
A sense of “we’re all in this together”?

Could it be?
Could this be the “just society”?
Is economic equality at the door?

Umm … no.

Just look at all those CEO’s standing behind the President.
Just follow the bailout money and see where it goes.
Just pay attention to who stands to gain through pandemic capitalism.

A reality check isn’t an invitation to cynicism.
But it is a call to keep our eyes wide open
to see who wins and who loses in all of this.

This week at Wine Before Breakfast,
Jesus gives us a reality check.

They call it the “parable of the pounds,”
but I’d call it a “parable of economic resistance.”

Musically, Sarah Slean names the disease at the heart of capitalism,
while Bruce Cockburn evokes a deeper kind of wealth.

Susan Spicer unpacks the subversive meaning of this parable.

Nate Wall allusively leads us into prayers rich in biblical resonance.

And we’ll even sing a hymn (virtually) together.

Welcome to Wine Before Breakfast, online edition.

Prelude: “Bank Accounts” (Sarah Slean)

I have a future
I have substantial bank accounts
Make lots of money
And hope it don’t run out

I am a beauty
– Just takes me four, five hours a day
Is this the game I’m supposed to know
How to play?

I had a dream that I
Was carvin’ up the inside track
What a disease when I
Put my faith in…

Welcome to Eden
Hope that you’ll have some time to shop
While makin’ investments
Sleepin’ your way to the top

Business is business
Especially this water into wine
Is this the game I’m suppose to play
Every time?

I had a dream that I
Was carvin’ up the inside track
What a disease when I
Put my faith in

All or not at all

I had a dream that I
Was carvin’ up the inside track
What a disease when I
Put my faith in these

I had a dream that I
Was carvin’ up the inside track
What a disease when I
Put my faith in these put my faith in these

Gospel:  Luke 19.11-26

As they were listening to Jesus talking about Zacchaeus,
he went on to tell a parable,
because he was near Jerusalem,
and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.

So Jesus said,

A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.

He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.””

But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.”

When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading with the help of index broker .

The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.”
He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.”

Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.”
He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.”

Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 
for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.”

He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?
Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” 

He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.”

And the bystanders protested, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”

“I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.”

Burning down the world for money
a Homily by Susan Spicer


“Capitalism is a radical project. It will burn the entire world down for money.” Naomi Klein

It has been well noted that the response by governments and populations to the Covid-19 global pandemic is striking, because it shows that the world can mobilize quickly to avert a  crisis. And so the question begs to be asked:
why can’t the world be galvanized around the cause of climate change
with the same sense of urgency?

Maybe it’s because we are just too embedded
in the radical project that is capitalism.
Maybe it’s because we are too wedded to strawberries in March,
to cellphones and spring break vacations,
to break up with capitalism and the way of life that it provides.

The parable before us this morning is a resistance story of people
deeply embedded in an economy that shatters lives and communities.

 A rich man goes off to get royal power, and leaves money
in the hands of his slaves for them to invest.
When he returns, he calls them to account.

The first two slaves have made exorbitant profits on their investments.

But the third  has done the unthinkable – buried the money in the ground.
When the rich man questions him, he says,

 “Lord, here is your pound.
I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth,
for I was afraid of you,
because you are a harsh man;
you take what you did not deposit,
and reap what you did not sow.”

Maybe, like me, you were raised on a traditional interpretation
that goes like this:

God is the rich man, and he gives us gifts – or talents – that we must invest in God’s project, which is to bring prosperity to the world. If we are not good “stewards” of these gifts, then we face harsh judgement. If we don’t invest these resources and make them multiply, then we will lose everything and face the shame of financial failure.

“To all those who have, more will be given;
but from those who have nothing,
even what they have will be taken away.”

Seriously? Does this sound like Jesus?
Do we believe that God is like this?
That our life with God depends on performance?
Achievement? Talent?

Can this interpretation make any sense in
light of everything that Jesus has said about money
and the rich in Luke’s gospel?

Three times Jesus calls people to acts of radical divestment,
abandoning lives of greed and wealth (12.33; 14.33; 18.22).

He meets a rich ruler who wants to know how to inherit eternal life.
Sell everything and give the money to the poor, Jesus says.
But because this man was very rich,
the cost of admission to the Jesus path was too high.

And then, just before this parable, we meet Zacchaeus,
the tax collector up a tree.
Jesus doesn’t have to tell him to divest his wealth.
Zacchaeus already knew.
And so he repays those he defrauded
and divests even more of his wealth
for redistribution amongst the poor.

Do you see the tension with the parable?
The master tells his slaves to invest his money.
Zacchaeus, follows Jesus by divestment, not investment.

What did this cost Zacchaeus? Everything!

Having broken the rules of the very economy that made him rich,
he will now suffer the consequences.

Suffering the same fate as the third slave,
who wouldn’t play by the exploitative rules of his master,
Zacchaeus will be left destitute.

Key to interpreting this parable is to consider
how those first two slaves could have reaped profits
of 1000% and 500%.

They did it the same way anyone throughout history
has been able to achieve such returns on their investments.
By exploiting the poor.

Imagine a poor Judean farmer,
who suffers a catastrophic illness or a long drought
and in desperation agrees to put up his land
as collateral to borrow money.

Along comes an investor,
happy to lend money at exorbitant rates.
By the time the farmer realizes
he isn’t going to be able to make the payments,
his land is in foreclosure,
and he is now no longer the owner of a small plot of land,
but a tenant farmer.

Once, proudly growing grain for bread to feed his family,
this farmer is now tending vineyards and olive groves
whose fruit is shipped out to furnish Roman banquets.

That’s not how God instructed Israel to run their economy.
Not only was the charging of interest on loans forbidden in the Torah,
care for the land was supposed to be rooted in respect for the limits creation.

Instead of incessant extraction from the land,
sabbath rest was the key to flourishing. 

During harvest, the edges of your field were to be left for the poor to glean.
This was how you built a community where everyone has enough.

I think the folks in Jericho got the joke:
if you plant money in the ground,
no amount of rain and sun is gonna make it grow.

Plants grow, animals grow, children grow, community grows.
Money does not grow.

So the two slaves who made the money grow get promoted for their success.
They are given cities to rule, to keep the wheels turning.

That pound wrapped in cloth in the hand of the third slave?
It is taken away and given to the one who made the most money.

So in a broken, sinful economy, it’s true what Jesus says:

“To those who have, more will be given;
to those who have nothing,
even what they have will be taken away.”

But note well. This is a description, not a prescription.

There is always a promise in scripture
and it is found in the way Luke sets up the story.

Jesus tells the people of Jericho this parable,
because he was near Jerusalem,
and because “they supposed that the kingdom of God
was to appear immediately.”

We know that’s not how the story goes.
The kingdom doesn’t come that easily.
It comes through suffering and death.
Jesus will go to Jerusalem, and confront the powers of this world
as their true king.

They will throw him out,
and then they will try to take everything away from him.
But they will not succeed.

Soon it will be Palm Sunday.
It will be time to walk through holy week, in whatever we can,
at a loving distance from each other,
lighting candles in our homes
in lament for the sick and the dying and the dead,
for the lonely and isolated,
for the frightened and those in despair.

We will go the distance with Jesus in defiant hope,
tracing those painful steps, because God is with us,
and working through us,
to bring salvation to this broken world,
one loving action at a time,
and this way, the way of the cross is how we get there.

It is time for us to mobilize:
to pick up our crosses and follow Him through suffering,
and the death and the long isolation in the tomb.

With genuine love and virtual hand holding,
here in the dark we wait for thee dawn of new life.
It feels like a long time away.
But it will come.
Because God is with us.

Thanks be to God.

Hymn: Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun 

Prayers of the People (written by Nate Wall)

Good God!
We had a dream that we
were carving up the inside track,
building a one-world garden-city
whose towers could scratch
our name in the sky.
What a disease when we
put our faith in these.

This morning we wake
to empty streets
and keep six-foot spaces,
scattered here in the shade of Babel.
What a disease when we
put our faith in these.

On Sinai you said,
“Keep the Sabbath day of ceasing”
but we settled in cities and thought,
“When will the Sabbath pass?
We have wheat to sell,
silver to trade,
scales to tilt.”

And so once more you say,
“The land will have its Sabbath,”
and we hear as if in echo the ram
horn sound, strange echo
a return home,
deferral of debt,
goad toward liberation.

And so we pause,
and yield to confusion,
and confess only what we know:

Yours is the land.
Lord, have mercy.

Yours our time.
Lord, have mercy.

Yours our need.
Lord, have mercy.

Yours the economy.
Lord, have mercy.

Yours the sick.
Lord, have mercy.

Yours the dead.
Lord, have mercy.

Yours the living.
Lord, have mercy.

Yours the Jubilee.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Reflection: All the Diamonds (Bruce Cockburn)

All the diamonds in this world
That mean anything to me
Are conjured up by wind and sunlight
Sparkling on the sea

I ran aground in a harbour town
Lost the taste for being free
Thank God He sent some gull-chased ship
To carry me to sea

Two thousand years and half a world away
Dying trees still grow greener when you pray

Silver scales flash bright and fade
In reeds along the shore
Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade
His ship comes shining

Like a crystal swan in a sky of suns
His ship comes shining

Wine Before Breakfast

One Response to “WBB online worship: Economic Resistance and Pandemic Capitalism”

  1. Jacqueline

    Thanks Susan, “a description, not a prescription” resonates.
    Thanks Nate for your powerful prayers.


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