Sunday, June 16, 2013

Alabaster Jars and Pearls of Great Price, Biblical Economics 101.

One of my least favorite subjects in college was Economics. Although the professor tried to make me believe that all the curves and graphs were based on science, it all seemed very unscientific, and perhaps that is why I still mistrust the words of "leading economists", their economic forecasts, and their recommendations for government policy.

I prefer the parables of Jesus with their simple economic principles such as, if something is of high value, it should fetch a high price,
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." Matthew 13:44-46 King James Version (KJV)
Doesn't it always seem that somebody else gets the pearl, or doesn't it always seem to be the other guy who gets the best deal on a new car, or who gets in on the ground floor of something that is about to take off?

I guess part of the problem we have is first to recognize the pearl as a pearl and then to judge its value.

I was visiting Hilton Head Island once when a friend told me the tale of someone who was in on the early development of the island. For those readers unfamiliar with Hilton Head, it is one of the pricier spots in S.C. with beautiful resorts, wide beaches, and lots of restricted access "plantations".

A select few had the vision to see the future of Hilton Head during its initial development. According to my friend, an initial offering of $10,000 per beachfront lot was mailed to a number of potential investors, but there were no buyers.

(Insert sound of hand slapping forehead and voice uttering "Doh!")

After six months the developers raised the price to $15,000 and mailed the offer to the same potential investors. They still had no offers.

After another 6 months they raised the price again and mailed the offer to the same people. This process repeated itself for a while.

At some point, people started buying.

This seemed contrary to the way we see  most sellers operate. After all, when the house across the street goes up for sale, doesn't the price get reduced every six months until it sells if there were no takers at the original asking price?

Time to take a trip down analogy lane for a moment.

Your church attendance has been slumping over the past several decades. In response, your church lowers the cost of admission by cutting back on traditional moral teachings. Does this approach work for the Church as well as it works for the home-seller?

Perhaps people tend to see more value in something that has a higher price tag as suggested by the story of the Hilton Head developers. The cost to the individual of being in a church which teaches those things that God values in us may seem high. After all, it might mean accepting that our favorite sins are Sins and not blessings. It might mean humbling oneself before an almighty God. Perhaps one of the signs of a dying church is one that keeps lowering its standards (either consciously or unconsciously)  thinking that this will attract the paying public.

I was once told you are more likely to get rid of something by asking $5 for it than if you try to give it away for free.

The early church grew during times when the cost of Christianity was measured in lives. Today's Christians in the west may not be under the threat of death that many of our brethren in other parts of the world have to face, but we are still called to sacrifice everything when we are called to give up our precious love of self to gain the pearl of great price.

Analogy lane #2: Hardly anyone bothers to get down on the ground to pick up cheap plastic beads at Mardi Gras parades anymore, but they will do just about anything for a hand painted coconut or a hand decorated shoe (thanks to Keely for the red one).

Do people still see the value of getting on their knees and worshipping God? 

Today's reading from Luke 7 related the story of the sinful woman washing Jesus' feet with tears and anointing them with what must have been costly ointment (costly since it was in an alabaster jar), and the parable of the creditor and his two debtors both of which speak to how we assign value to things.

"And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat.
And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." Luke 7:36-50, (8:1-3)(KJV)
Biblical economics lessons such as these open our eyes to perceive the things of real value such as,

1) Loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul as demonstrated by giving up those things precious to yourself
2) Humility
3) Repentance
4) God's loving forgiveness
5) Thankfulness for His love
6) The value of Faith

Pray to perceive the things of real value so that we avoid Simon's error of not giving to the Lord the homage due His name.