On our holiday in Port Fairy I stumbled across some interesting finds in an antique store in town. I picked up this official publication, “Australia – Official Handbook’, 1947. The preface reads as follows:
“This book, telling the story of Australia in all of its aspects, is published by the Australian National Publicity Association, a non-profit organisation, controlled by an Honorary Board representing the Australian Railways, Overseas Shipping Lines, General Australian Business interests and the Commonwealth Government.
The aim of the Association is to promote knowledge of Australia in overseas countries, to which end this and other publications are issued.
The Australian Handbook is commended to people of other lands who might be interested, and to Australians themselves, who will find it a suitable publication to mail to their friends and business associates abroad.”
It provides a wide range of details and interesting data on Australia in 1947. One interesting paragraph is entitled: “White Australia”. It states: “To the principle of “White Australia” all political parties in the Commonwealth subscribe, for the economic reason that the white man’s standard of living would be endangered by the introduction of coloured labourers who would be prepared to accept wages and live under conditions that are not acceptable to a white workman. Were coloured labour unrestricted, the ultimate result would be that the white workman in Australia would be forced out of employment by the cheap labour, with a consequent dislocation of the national life. Thus the immigration laws are so designed as to exclude coloured people from permanent residence in Australia.’
Not a lot has changed, except now it is refugees who are kept out of our country and our jobs are exported to those we made laws to keep out of ours. Protectionism, the desire to hold onto something by denying others the opportunity to share our good fortune has a habit of biting back. The thing we so desperately desire to keep for ourselves has a way of dying or escaping, leaving us without what we coveted for ourselves.
The recent referendum in England could be described as an attempt to hold on to or regain something the country never had, not of itself anyway. Much of its remembered wealth and power came from resource rich countries it conquered, controlled and pillaged. For many who voted to leave it could be seen as an attempt to maintain a fast receding quality of life and deny the possibilities of a life to others. How much of the voting in this country reflects similar desperation and fear? Stop the boats, keep our jobs and maintain our personal lifestyle of entitlement, travel and comfort that is all we seem to desire. Even people who belong to the kingdom not of this world, Christians, seem to adhere to such ideology.
Jesus sends out the 70. Two by two they go. They appear to be going out on a short term mission into the world, they are not going to stay, they are going to model a lifestyle and faith completely at odds with the worlds expectations. They are to take very little and accept very little in return for their efforts. Although Jesus says the labourer is worth the hire; a bed, bath and a meal seems to be the wages they were to receive. They aren’t to be choosy, moving to get a better bed, meet a better cook or have a spa bath! They go simply and are expected to be comfortable with enough.
Mark Davis suggests that “The response to the scarcity (and danger) of workers is for the seventy-two to go out with their own scarcity and vulnerability – in total dependence on others for food, shelter, drink and protection.”
Jesus is given the words: “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Lambs have no means of repulsing the wolves. They are helpless and vulnerable. All they have is the mob they belong to and an ewe who will do everything to protect them. Yet for neither the lamb or the disciples there is no comfort or comfortableness, no assurance all will be well, no promise of an abundance of the good things of life. Jesus suggests they will be provided with what they need, and no more.
How far have we moved from this ideal of Jesus! The politics of nationalism has placed the protection of what we have now at the centre of all debate. The idea of the redistribution of wealth so that all may live seems to have escaped us or disturbed us so much that we cling desperately to what we perceive to be ours. This applies not just to money our resources, but to our time, talents and community. It belongs to me and I will decide who, what or when I engage. God is lucky to have me on his/her side and therefore he better get used to the fact I will only give, do, share what I decide. Thats why we decide who comes to our country, who is welcome and what I do for God.
The 70 are modelling a radically different understanding of life:
The mission of the church is to be their/our life. In this story we see the integration of mission and life. Our personal life is not a separate entity in which we make time for God’s mission in the world. Sunday worship, a bit of social justice here, a meditation there; God’s mission in the world is to be our life. All that we do, our work our investments, our leisure time, our money and our talents are to be employed in the fulfilment of God’s mission in the world through the church. We do not have the luxury of making choices that do not have as their first priority: how will this further God’s kingdom in the world? It is not easy and Jesus is aware of this but reminds us it is not about us and our comfort and security, it is bigger than that: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The mission of inclusion is the central point of their being sent out, to bring others in and to share out of their poverty what others need. If people welcome you, include them; hospitality and openness is all that is needed to fulfil the mission. They spend no time planning, getting the logistics in place, setting up places to care for, educate or counsel people. They simply go as they are and find that in the doing and living the needs of both themselves and others are meant. This is not about scarcity of welcoming other, the fear that there will not be enough, but about the abundance that occurs when people open out, become expansive and believe in the possibility of enough.
The sufficiency of enough is to be experienced to be trusted. Jesus reminds them they do not need the things of the world in the way others do, building up security through power and wealth. This is a mission aimed at breaking the power of commercialism and tyranny that was and is rampant across theirs and our world. The modelling of sufficiency or enough is counter-cultural and a stark reminder that those who die with the most still die. There will always be enough if you do not go looking for more. Stay in the first place that welcomes and don’t move if a better offer comes up. Respect the possibilities you find and live out your mission from a place of enough.
Friday I enjoyed the best Vietnamese street food at the restaurant at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and purchased some exquisite indigenous merchandise. I was reminded of the gifts those who came by boat (the Vietnamese refugees) and those who were here since time began have given us and celebrated the wonder of diversity and inclusion. The same arguments were heard in relation to the boat people escaping Vietnam as we are hearing today, yet 40 years on our society is enriched by their culture, food and even by a State Governor who came by boat. There is always enough and more.
God is bigger than our needs. The challenge for the parish, the church and this country following yesterday’s election is to become open hearted, open-minded and open-handed and welcoming of all. Until we are able to do that we are not fulfilling the mission of God witnessed in Christ.