In the Gospel passage set for Holy Communion today, Luke 11:5-13, Jesus tells a story about friends, that is to say, about people who claim a particular devotion and affection in their association with one another, as opposed to mere acquaintances. Friend C arrives at Friend A’s door in the middle of the night, and Friend A has nothing to set before them, or, no evidence to produce in support of the assertion that C is indeed their friend. And so, Friend A goes to Friend B, requesting the loan of three loaves. In other words, Friend A asks Friend B for evidence that A is indeed their friend, evidenced by redistributing their surplus, the loaves they have left over at the end of the day.
There is much chatter in these days of the indominable spirit of the English people, of their deep love for their country and their community. There is also much chatter concerning the viability of certain forms of work, what can be supported or bailed out and what cannot.
Cards on the table, my work role is not viable. Not, it brings in billions but has not been recognised; but, at least in economic terms, it is not viable. Yet, I believe that what I do adds real value to society, some of which is measurable and some of which is immeasurable. And this is true of other forms of work (not to mention children and pensioners, neither group being viable, though at least children grow out of it, and pensioners, die out of it).
The question is, this talk of friendship, that is implicit in how we want to perceive ourselves, where is the evidence? In the terms of this parable—and yes, it is only a story, but a story that might provoke us—where is the redistribution?
One of the things I believe the pandemic has highlighted is the need to adopt a universal basic income or citizens’ income. This is not an extreme form of socialism, let alone communism. If (UK context) you have ever been in receipt of married couples allowance, child benefit, working tax credits, if you have ever been in receipt of a state pension, you will have experienced the partial redistribution of personal resources through taxation. A basic income, ensuring the essential needs of every child and adult, is evidence of a fair society, of genuine friendship.
A Conservative government won’t go for it, because they believe in meritocracy, or, that you get what you deserve: if you have little, it is because you deserve little; if you have much, it is because you deserve much. A Labour government won’t go for it, because the universal nature is essential to the idea, and they don’t believe in giving even a tiny percentage of the common purse to the super rich. Neither of these positions, in themselves, are reasons not to keep raising the matter.
May God give us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and love, of friendship and boldness.