The Scandal of Security
“The great scandal of the age is that those without the sacraments are so often superior in charity, courage, even laying down their lives for their brothers, to the ‘practicing Catholic’ who partakes of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist and then stands by while his brother is exploited, starved, beaten, and goes on living his bourgeois life, his whole work being to maintain ‘his standard of living,’ and neglecting the one thing needful, love of God and brother.”
-Dorothy Day, from a 1954 article in The Catholic Worker
In a recent podcast from The Bible Project, they shared a story from the book of Exodus that caught my attention in a new way.
In chapter 16 of Exodus, God’s people are in the desert, just a few days out from crossing the Red Sea and witnessing the destruction of Pharaoh's entire army. Yet, even after experiencing God’s power and care for them, they lost trust in God and complained that they didn’t have enough food. So God sent them manna, miracle bread. But this gift also came with a test.
God told his people to gather the amount that they needed for their family for just that day. Whether a family gathered a large amount or a small amount, miraculously, “when they measured it…those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage” (vs. 18). As a part of this test, the people were instructed not to save any manna for the next day. However, “they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it became wormy and rotten” (vs. 20).
God’s test was supposed to teach his people to trust him, that no matter how much or how little a family gathered, they would have enough. God was trying to show his people that he would always provide for them. Their test is also our test.
Our life in this world is marked by precarity. We like to think that modern medicine and technology can protect us, but tragedy can strike at any time. Precarity is certain and inevitable, but how we respond to it is a choice. Perhaps it’s the choice.
The original sin in the garden was the choice to doubt God’s goodness and to subsequently grasp at control in disobedience, and every single sin since then has followed the same pattern (cf. CCC 397). When faced with the reality of our own precarity, we can either try and grasp at a sense of personal control and security, or we can trust in God.
The great lie is that we can actually make ourselves secure—and so much of our life is ordered around this lie. So much of our life is spent trying to protect ourselves. So much of our life is spent running in fear of precarity. This fear, I believe, is cancer to the Christian life and mission.
It is scandalous when a church has a million dollars in savings while people in their community can’t pay their rent.
It is scandalous when a Catholic diocese lives in so much fear of being sued that they don’t take responsibility for the ways they’ve harmed vulnerable people.
It is scandalous when Christians live in the same fear of precarity as everyone else because it betrays that we don’t actually believe that God is as good or as powerful as he says he is—as good as we say he is.
When I'm being honest with myself, precarity absolutely terrifies me. This scandal exists in my own heart. I can say that I trust God's goodness and his providence. In my mind I admire and long for a radical life of holiness. But in my heart I am terrified of precarity.
I'm scared that my wife or my kids will suddenly get seriously ill or disabled or die. I'm scared of growing old and losing the ability to do the things I love doing. I'm scared of my kids getting into freak accidents. I'm scared of house fires and kidnappings and the whole litany of things that run through a parent's mind when they can't get to sleep at night.
The truth is that Christianity does not offer security from precarity. In this world, there is no real escape. Look at Jesus. His life was nothing but precarious, from his poverty and homelessness to his arrest, torture, crucifixion, and death.
Christianity doesn't free us from precarity, it liberates us from being terrified of it.
Once we are liberated from our own fear, we are then free to live lives of justice and generosity. We are to serve our neighbors, free to take responsibility for the ways we’ve harmed others, free to do the right thing—even when the right thing puts myself and people I love at risk.
Christ desires to free us from the fear that compels us to save manna for tomorrow. Christ desires to free us so we can live radical lives that transform the world. Let’s pray for the grace to accept his freedom.