Even though I live just over the bridge from Philadelphia where Pope Francis will speak about immigration and religious freedom to thousands from Independence Mall, I didn’t hazard a chance at grabbing a ticket. I didn’t hop online at noon. I didn’t wager to see if I could possibly grab one of those free tickets.
I only heard about it. While on my way to the grocery store, I heard on National Public Radio that so many people had done just this. They had refreshed their browsers over and over again trying to snatch up one of those illustrious tickets—and it didn’t take long before some of those free tickets ended up on eBay and Craigslist for $500 a pop. Rest assured, eBay has since removed those listings.
To this, Mayor Michael Nutter was the moral voice declaring that this is “just wrong.” It’s something he couldn’t imagine happening in his own neighborhood. It’s something he couldn’t imagine would ever happen in the City of Brotherly Love.
But, it has so that our worst cynicism rings true once again: nothing in this life is ever really free. Everybody is working an angle. You can’t get anything for nothing.
It was something I heard a church member say just the day before that NPR broadcast. Reflecting on a former pastor, this church member told me how that pastor gave him so much care and attention before he ever put something in the offering plate.
To this, I join Mayor Nutter in proclaiming that this is “just wrong.”
You shouldn’t have to earn that care and attention. Pastoral care should never be dictated by our financial giving to the church. It should come freely and generously. It should come with a healthy dose of grace because that’s how God works.
That’s how we should work.
We shouldn’t be boggled by a pastor who is so generous but open to the grace of God that confounds capitalism every single time. (I do believe that Pope Francis said just this in D.C. this week.)
That grace should ever appear on a balance sheet. We might live in a world where everyone is trying to make a buck. Pastors might get burned over and over again by people who can’t escape the grips of poverty, but are we really so hardened that our truest faith rests in the market.
Does capitalism teach us more of the ways of God than grace?
Is this really what we believe most? That you can’t get something for nothing?
On my way to the grocery store that morning, I was surprised to hear that the mayor was the moral voice for this sin. It was the mayoral voice that called out the injustice reminding us all that there is a higher ideal than individual capital gains in the City of Brotherly Love.
I searched and searched for another voice that might remind us what religion has called us to again and again. Something that said something about how we care for each other as our highest morale. Some voice within the church that might proclaim the promise of grace no matter how desperate our finances might be. Instead, I found the Archdiocese of Philadelphia offer the mere recognition that we “live in a free-market economy.”
No religious institution is perfect. While trying to offer the gifts of God, our religious institutions struggle to keep the lights on. We want to believe that we can do justice with our resources by paying a living wage and offering healthcare to all so that perhaps we too put our faith in the market too much. In doing so, religious institutions fail as many time as ordinary people do.
But, is nothing in this life free? That seems to be “just wrong” because it goes against everything we preach. No matter how much we struggle to keep the lights on and end poverty in our times, the truth remains for you and me: “You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NRSV).
That grace—that grace that is a gift from God alone—is always free.
The Rev. Elsa A. Peters is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who has served churches in New York City, Maine and Washington. She believes in the power of community, that poverty can end in our lifetime and that everyone needs a little more love. Follow along in her adventures in ministry at http://revelsaanderspeters.com. You can also find her on Facebook at /elsa.a.peters.