*Work hard be kind.” I saw a meme recently with that quote and I thought about how often people have the right priorities in the wrong order. Our values matter, but the priority we place on these values matters every bit as much. Take the meme, at some point working hard will be in conflict with being kind. There come points in everyone’s life where kindness forces us to slow done and stop working. There are points where working hard will probably mean running over others who simply cannot keep up. In these situations we are all faced with the problem of which priority will win.
I wrote that paragraph months ago intending on publishing it, but I never finished the thought. Today, I sit here wishing I would have published that thought so I could have looked like a prophet. We are living in the exact situation I was thinking about then, where our society is being forced to ask what priority our values have. We cherish many things in our society and most of them are good, but now we are being asked what is our priority.
I do not envy government leaders who must balance the economic decisions against the health of millions. After all, society cannot run without people eventually returning to work; nor do we want to unwisely expose society to health threats. But we do have to ask what is our priority? Do we prioritize economic realities, allowing that many more may become sick; or health, understanding this might place many in a financial crunch? There is no simple cut-and-dry answer.
There are as I see it two options- work hard over care for others or- care for others over work hard. And these are represented in two societies in the Bible Egypt under Pharaoh and Joseph and the Jubilee Year in Leviticus 25.
Option 1 is illustrated by Egypt in Genesis 47:13-26 whee most are poor and needy, selling themselves to the few rich and powerful as slaves. Pharaoh and Joseph prioritized wealth and power over the lives of the people. The result is a system of slavery and abuse, which in the next narrative has come back to plague Joseph’s descendant’s. They sold food to people without money and capitalized on a desperate situation. There priority was wealth and power, and they achieved it. Yes, Pharaoh would possibly have said he cared about his people and didn’t raise prices, but the reality was he horded food and did not care about the needy. His priority was work hard, not care for others.
The regulations for the Jubilee Year in Leviticus 25 show us a different system. scholars are quick to point out there is no evidence Israel ever held such a year and they are divided over how to interpret this passage. yet, I think one thing is clear, Leviticus was meant to provide Israel with a picture of the priorities of their society. The priority of the society was to construct a system which could withstand years without economic production. Depending on how you understand the regulations against planting, there might have been three years without a true harvest. During this time everyone, rich or poor and their cattle, had to be fed. Israel was being asked to plan for this future reality.
To construct this society, Israelites would have all had to learn to work hard, they all would have had to pitch in for such an effort to succeed. But more importantly, they would have been forced to know one another and their needs. And the wealthy among them would have had to sacrifice some of their bounty; recognizing their material surplus was from God’s work not theirs. Establishing such a society was obviously the goal of Leviticus, however it takes a great deal of work. Again notice this is a case of priorities, both Joseph and the Leviticus community would have to work hard and both would have had to care for people to some measure, but which one is most important? The Jubilee Year mentality calls on me to recognize God is providing for society (including me); and we then, must work to see that all people can live in God’s abundance.
In many ways we are in the midst of a Jubilee year and we have not planned for it. More accurately we are in the year of famine and did not have the foresight to plan for it. Now we are being confronted by rather large questions about what is MOST important to us as a society. And our answers have consequences. I am not, thankfully, in a position where I have to make many decisions. I will say though we cannot make decisions without considering the ramifications, And the Bible calls us to consider the most vulnerable of our society as our greatest priority as we make these decisions. Pharaoh valued work over kindness and built a society of slaves. The Jubilee calls us to build a society of kindness over hard work, which will lead to a society of love and grace, where everyone is cared for.
I am encouraged that on a local level I see many people laying aside personal gain to invest in helping others. I am further encouraged by many leaders who seem to weighing the consequences of plans of action. Hopefully, we will begin to construct a society that can overcome such difficult circumstances with as many as possible living well.