Last week Jacqui and I had lunch in the picturesque Cretan hillside town of Kritsa, not far from the remarkable ruins of Lato, a Greek settlement from 700 BC. Facing us was an upmarket souvenir shop and inside its young proprietor, just sitting there. He looked forlorn. There were tourists around but during our 45 (or was it 90?) minutes, not one person entered his shop.
Meal over, we would have gone in to look around, the shop did look attractive – but it would have been too embarrassing. Greek prices are simply too high – thanks to the strength of the German economy. The euro has Greece in an arm lock and it is the ordinary people – like this young man – who are suffering.
In fact, Greek should never have joined the euro. What the euro does is provide a level playing field for its members. But if you are Preston North End (or even Everton) and you are facing Barcelona with Messi in top form, you need to play down a steep gradient, preferably with a gale behind you!
As it happened my daily Bible reading notes from BRF Guidelines were on the theme of money and economics, written as it happens by the Dean of Liverpool, Justin Welby, just appointed Bishop of Durham. So as we daily encountered the manifestations of an economy in trauma, I had a running Bible commentary on what was happening.
Around the time that Lato was thriving, the people of Judah were facing economic meltdown. Simply to buy food many people had to mortgage their fields, their vineyards, their homes. Some were forced into even more desperate measures, selling their children into slavery. And it was the rich, as ever, who were exploiting the crisis.
Nehemiah as governor was the man responsible – and he was outraged. I hadn’t noticed this before but his response is fascinating. “When I heard the outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest! “ (Nehemiah 5:6).
First a sense of outrage. But before acting, Nehemiah pondered. We are not told how long he pondered for – but it does take time to ponder, otherwise, you not pondering! Even in a highly charged situation where the answer may be obvious (which it was), Nehemiah pondered – to weigh (pendere) the situation before God, to imagine his way through the various scenarios, to work out how God’s justice would be best expressed in the crisis.
As we celebrate the ascension of Jesus, we rejoice in the truth that Jesus is Lord, before whose name every knee shall bow. For he is Lord of all, even of international economics. So it is the principles of his Kingdom not of Keynes which matters – to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:17). For despite appearances it is the Kingdom of God which is the real world. And it is its dynamics which count.
So we need to ponder how God’s justice is to be demonstrated in our decisions, certainly in the economy. That may well take a lot of thought and imagination – but we are promised the help of the Holy Spirit. For it is God and he alone who holds all the nations in his balance.