Print Version February 18th, 2007
Today’s readings are a charter for stupidity and a counsel for failure.
Economics is founded on the belief that value grows by self-interest. Politics is built on the conviction that power must be contained by power and violence met with violence. And the biological science has shown that you just can’t beat tit-for-tat as an evolutionary strategy and way of life. Any population of Jesus-type, turn-the-other-cheek do-gooders will always be overrun by those who get their own back.
The gospel recognises that—even sinners love those who love them. On the other hand the gospel says that God doesn’t play tit-for-tat—God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
But isn’t that puzzling? How can it be that the world should play with different rules to the one who made it? Aren’t the rules God’s? It isn’t all down to the Fall—the biology of tit-for-tat doesn’t depend on sinful structures but on the simple clarity of mathematics and the logic of natural selection.
What the numbers say is that tit-for-tat can’t be beaten. It’s always a good bet and evolution favours it. But the numbers also say that real altruists don’t die out—they just remain a minority and a minority always vulnerable, always blessing those who curse them, always turning the other cheek, always lending without hope of return.
And this is exactly where God chooses to be—beaten, cheated, cursed. And it is where we are challenged to choose to be also.
But why should we? The gospel offers two answers. The first is this: so that we might be like God. That we might be with the God who has no truck with war, with violence, or punishment, or tit-for-tat.
The second answer proves just how hard the first answer is to believe–because Luke cops out and introduces tit-for-tat all over again. ‘Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Give and there will be gifts for you. The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’
But even there I think there’s something subversive in God’s economy—it’s not quite tit-for-tat when God’s response is such over-the-top goodness. No judgment. No condemnation. But pardon and plenty: gifts by the lap-load, full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
Because even if we are beaten, cheated, and cursed we have the compensation of good company.