In his 1999 book Sabbath, Wayne Muller briefly summarizes the history and rationale of the
Gross Domestic Product, the economic measuring stick of choice for the United Nations.
At first glance, this simple accounting method seems a useful, reasonable, and relatively neutral tool.
Upon closer inspection, however, we quickly see it is both astonishingly myopic, and insidiously dangerous—even violent—in its application.
For when wealth is measured only in terms of goods and services bought and sold, only those actions involving money are seen as good and useful….
Consider a woman in Somalia who rises early to walk two miles to the nearest well to get water for her family, returns to feed her children and ready them for school, spends the
morning working the soil of the family garden, the afternoon tending to the sick and infirm of her village, then in the evening cooks and mends clothing and sings songs to her
tired children and makes love with her husband.
As measured by the G.D.P., this woman has no value.
She is useless; a drain on the nation’s wealth.
Now let us look at her cousin, who was lucky enough to go to military school and become a
As a government employed pilot, let us say he is ordered to bomb a mountain enclave deemed sympathetic to some rebel cause.
In this case, a great deal of money must be spent to bury all the dead men, women, and children, to rebuild the destroyed buildings, to pay soldiers to police the area, fly in emergency personnel, hire extra doctors, and recruit foreign aid—not to mention the money needed for fuel, bombs, and military aircraft.
By murdering innocent children, our young pilot has done a very good thing; he has provided an enthusiastic boost to the economy.
The woman who draws water and tends the sick and feeds the children has, according to our
official measurement of growth and wealth, provided nothing at all.
At the end of the day, it is the pilot, not the mother, who will get the medal for service to the
This horrific paradox is the very foundation of the world’s official economic policy.
It is repeated a billion times a day, everywhere on earth….
Every time someone gets cancer, the G.D.P. goes up.
Every time an infant dies, the G.D.P. rises.
A drive-by shooting improves the economy by $20,750.
If the victim dies, and there is a murder trial, the benefit to the economy leaps to well
And so it goes: Land mines, civil wars, church burnings—each provides a boost to our bountiful economy. (Muller, W. 1999. Sabbath. New York: Bantam, pp.109-112)
Perhaps this partially explains why we have a holiday to honor our fallen military heroines and heroes—as we absolutely and properly must—but have no holiday to remember slaughtered school children and other murdered civilians.
There are other reasons too, of course—those victims didn’t willingly and bravely sign up to risk their lives at worship or school or the grocery store for any cause nobler than survival—so let’s not dwell on them or, worse yet, lose another day of money-making work.
The bald, tragic truth is that usually, collectively, we value money more than people.
Which brings us to Philippi.
Paul and friends get followed by a slave girl, who is property, not a person.
She is possessed by evil, including but not limited to the spirit inside her.
She is a valuable commodity to her owners, presumably men, because the spirit told the truth, which is rare enough to be profitable, if you can find or create any demand for it.
She kept interrupting the preacher with truth so persistently that he finally lost patience and
banished the spirit, which so stripped her of any value that even the storyteller disposed of her.
When her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.
They likely learned effective tactics from their days in the army, since Philippi was a colony of
military veterans rewarded with homes there for their patriotic service of forcefully maintaining Roman law and order.
When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These brown foreigners from south of here are disturbing the peace and threatening our city.”
The politicians immediately recognized the real danger: declining property values.
After the neighborhood association backed up the trumped up charges, the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods and sent to maximum security—where the public never sees and fears to go.
It’s midnight dark in there all day.
It’s your-child-is-dead dark in there.
It’s I’m-going-to-slaughter-people dark in there.
It’s all-hope-is-lost dark in there.
We might say it is a God forsaken hellhole, but Paul and Silas are singing and praying like God is right there with them.
The cross has taught them that there is no such thing as a God forsaken place.
There are people forsaken, even demon forsaken places, but there is nowhere so dark, so deadly, or so desperate that God refuses to show up there.
In the inner lair of cruel, predictable evil, Paul and Silas pray and sing.
They change the conversation from blame to praise.
They call on a different power than the one that built and managed the prison and trained the guard to kill himself honorably if the inmates ever escape.
In this dingy boiler room of hell, they worship and insist on hope.
God responds by causing property damage.
God shakes the foundations because that’s what God does to corrupted economies, empires, and other prisons.
God, you see, naively insists that people are worth more than money, so God reserves the right to loot the system and sacrifice property and profits for the wellbeing of people.
The jailer is saved; he washes the prisoners’ wounds and then is baptized, meaning that the
prisoners also wash his.
He most likely becomes part of the church Paul establishes in Philippi, to which years later Paul will write what is by far his warmest, most joyful letter—from yet another prison cell.
In 2017, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, the Lutheran World Federation organized its work around three themes: salvation—not for
sale; creation—not for sale; human beings—not for sale.
Christ and land and people are living mysteries, not commodities.
Exploiting any of them for personal wealth spits in God’s face.
Life has value that cannot be measured or stolen with dollars or other weapons.
So when the hateful, violent, greedy world does its worst—as it did at the cross—death itself finally buckles and bends to the power that shatters iron and rock but heals skin and soul for free.
There is no tomb, no prison, no price, no policy, no hatred, no horror, no sickness, no security system that can ultimately restrain or deny the disruptive, death-defying love of God.