taking the words of Jesus seriously

As I look at the status of our nation today, with families struggling to make ends meet and being denied fair wages, I’m reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “audacity” to believe in a future where everyone has enough. It’s a deeply biblical vision. In one of the most famous stories in the Bible, word has gotten out about Jesus’ healing works. His arrival in a remote town has attracted a crowd of 5,000, many of whom had traveled for days, all eager for a chance to watch him perform miracles up-close and personal. Yet there’s nothing to feed the crowd— just a couple fish and a few loaves of bread. Jesus blesses the paltry provisions and hands them to his disciples, only to find them miraculously multiply, bountiful enough to satisfy the large crowd, with leftovers to spare.

As President Biden, a practicing Catholic who speaks frequently of how his faith guides his public life, works to garner support among Republicans for the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, I’m reminded of the story of the fishes and the loaves. Above all, it’s a tale about creating abundance, even amid seeming scarcity. It’s also a tale of deciding to feed everyone, even when it would be easier to tell the crowd they’re on their own for dinner.

Scarcity has been the name of the game for far too long in American politics. We are constantly offered a choice between which group of people is forced to go without, in the name of austerity: Should we cut Head Start for our toddlers or rental assistance for their parents? Times are tight, we are told—always. So go ahead and choose: who’s most deserving of that mouthful of fish or bread? Yet tax breaks for profitable corporations and the wealthiest aren’t subject to the same scrutiny.

The pandemic brought those false choices into stark relief, amid the very real and desperate choices working families were forced to make. When schools and childcare centers shut down, millions of parents (mostly women) “decided” to leave the workforce in order to take care of their children, or to attempt to do both, and feel like they’re failing their families and their employers. Either/or. Fail at one or fail at both. Take your pick.

READ: Blessing a Cultural Threshold

That’s why the Biden approach has been a welcome change in direction, one that privileges abundance over scarcity, one that says we all should have a life of dignity and flourishing. No matter what we look like, where we live, or how we earn a living, we all deserve to rest assured at the end of the day that the people we love have everything they need.

Politicians like to say that a budget shows your values. Well, if so, the budget plan President Biden just submitted to Congress, as well as the American Jobs and Families Plan, says he believes every person is worth investing in. The plan will make the essential infrastructure of family life — childcare, school, and healthcare — more affordable. It creates good jobs and better pay in workplaces from construction sites to daycare providers. And it lays a new foundation on everything from roads to bridges to clean energy to broadband. It all gets funded by stopping the wealthiest few from dodging their fair share of taxes. That’s a plan that will help get us back on the right track, and lay the foundation for what we call a “holy recovery”—an economic recovery that’s experienced by all of us, in which we all enjoy that sense of abundance, rather than facing constant and impossible economic dilemmas.

Now it’s Congress’ turn to embrace the holy recovery, though we’d ask them and President Biden to go one step further: Don’t just pass a budget that prioritizes the wholeness of our communities (admittedly a great first step). Ensure that those values, and that progress, don’t take a backseat to the name of “bipartisanship”– and especially in the name of a deal with lawmakers who aren’t playing in good faith.

On that note, all of us have a role, not just Congress: We all have a vested interest in an economy that works for everyone, and we all should be vocal in advocating for one. Like a chorus, when we lift our voices together, we create an inspiring message that cannot be ignored. By speaking out as one, we will create momentum and pressure for a holy recovery.

About The Author

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Rev. Jennifer Butler (Twitter @RevJenButler) is CEO of Faith in Public Life Action, a network of faith leaders united in the pursuit of justice. She was chair of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under the Obama administration.

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