November 23, 2014
I think I’m probably the only person in the United States
who saw the new Hunger Games movie “Mockingjay” this weekend…completely by mistake.
I had intended to see a different movie which I had heard was lighthearted and fun.
But instead of walking into theater 10,
somehow I walked into theater 9,
and by the time the previews were over and I realized my mistake,
I was stuck!
So I watched “Mockingjay,”
a movie which is most definitely neither lighthearted nor fun.
And yet I recommend it.
It has some really good conversation material for over Thanksgiving dinner.
For those of you who don’t know the books or movies,
“Hunger Games” tells the story of Katniss Everdeen,
a young woman who lives in the fictional society called “Panem.”
Panem’s government, called the “Capitol,”
is a government in which the wealthy elite rule.
It maintains power by fear.
It subjugates children in the poorer areas of the nation
to take part in a battle – it’s a battle to the death, called the “hunger games.”
Katniss becomes a hero as she defies Panem’s government.
She goes on a quest to end the exploitation of the poor.
So “Mockingjay” becomes a movie about income inequality,
about what can happen when a government loses sight of the poor,
about class differences,
and about the courage of a young woman as she takes a stand.
As with most good storylines,
“Mockingjay” touches truth.
It is not entirely a fairy tale from a land far far away,
but speaks to us who happen to live in a world
where the gap between rich and poor is becoming greater;
where it seems that sometimes our government does lose sight of the poor;
where children are the ones who suffer most when this happens;
where some have seen extraordinary abundance,
and have built bigger and bigger barns for themselves,
whereas others have been left far behind.
In our gospel reading today,
there is a man who has an unexpected windfall.
His harvest is far more than he’s ever had before.
He’s never had so much, so he just doesn’t know what to do with it all.
And here’s his mistake…he asks himself the wrong question.
Instead of asking the question,
“Why did this happen?”
“Why might God have given me such an abundance of crops?”
(which might have led him to at least consider
that he has been blessed to be a blessing to others…)
Instead of asking that question, he asks the question,
“Now what should I do with it?”
“Where should I store this abundance?”
The passage is full of I,myself, and me….did you notice?
“What should I do.
“I have no place for my crops…
“I will do this:
“I will store all my grain and my goods.
What a lonely man!
His wealth has insulated him from others.
His only concern is for his own contentment.
He’s unaware of the needs of his neighbors.
He has no clue of how his blessing could be a blessing to others,
and how being a blessing to others could bring him joy, happiness, relationship.
He is without a sense of connection to anyone.
And so he is a fool, isolated in his own very small world.[i]
To eat, drink, and merry sounds like a good thing…
but when you think about it, how much fun could it be to eat, drink, and be merry all by yourself?
At one point in the film “Mockingjay,”
Katniss comes to the realization that in order for change to happen in her world,
those in the government, those in the Capitol,
need to see what it is like.
They need to see the people that are oppressed.
The rich man has not seen.
Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler once wrote that
to possess wealth is to be able to purchase distance from one another.[ii]
If we have the means we can live in a home in a neighborhood far away.
Box seats at ball games separate us from the masses in the bleachers.
We can purchase seats on an airplane which let us board first and sit apart from others.
He goes on “We have built an economic system in which prestige is marked by the comforts of diminishing proximity – and indeed, diminishing solidarity – with others.”
The rich man didn’t see.
He could afford not to see.
And frankly, sometimes we don’t see.
It’s so hard to see.
I saw my first bell ringer for the Salvation Army last week…
and it was hard.
I was in a pretty good mood;
I was going into the grocery store and I was planning a lovely dinner for myself;
and I was saying to myself,
Self, what will I eat?
What will be on my table?
And by the grace of God, just then, interrupting my thoughts,
there was the sound of the bell.
There was a ringer whom try as I might, I couldn’t ignore.
She was smiling, looking right at me, and saying, “Good afternoon.”
And so I looked…and I saw…just for a moment…I saw.
And I thought to myself, “You fool!”
The celebration of thanksgiving described in Deuteronomy,
the ritual bringing of the first fruits to God,
is a celebration of a God who has seen his people who have struggled.
As we celebrate our Thanksgiving,
may we recommit ourselves to be people who see
those who struggle around us.
(It will make our eating, drinking and merrymaking a whole less lonely.)