Prometheus, a titan who defies the gods and gifts humanity with fire, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment. A sculpture from the Louvre Museum.
MALTHUS AND PROMETHEUS: KNOWLEDGE IN MANAGING EARTH’S RESOURCES
(Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara at the Youth Sunday, 9/22/2013 at St. James Church, Elmhurst, New York)
Introduction: Christian Tai-Chi
We have just returned from vacation in Spain and Portugal and it’s good to be back. I missed you all and I hope you miss me too. I often joke that vacationing in Europe always makes one feel very religious. Seeing magnificent cathedrals, fantastic palaces, and breathtaking views makes you exclaim “Oh My God!” But when you get the bill you say, “Jesus Christ!” Well, actually it’s worth spending money to see the world, to know other people, and learn about their histories, arts and cultures. And we really had a good time.
Our gospel this morning, “the parable of the dishonest manager,” is one of the parables of Jesus that is hard to understand. For unlike the others where honesty is the best policy, this parable seems to favor what the dishonest manager did. He was shrewd and clever. When he learned that he was about to be fired for mismanagement, he went to all the clients and tried to ingratiate himself to them. He asked one, “how much do you owe my boss?” And when he said, “$8,000 dollars,” he said, “write down $400.” He went to another, and another, and another and did the same thing. He was thinking that when he would eventually be fired, he would go to these clients and ask a return for these favors, so he would be secured. The parable ended with the boss commending the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. Jesus then said: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcome into eternal dwellings.”
Well, this parable makes your head spin and you are left wondering, “What is Jesus trying to say?” What the shrewd manager did was stealing and what he has asked his clients to do was bearing false witness! Both are contrary to the commandments. Was Jesus trying to make exceptions to the rule, and giving sanctions to graft and corruption? Good Lord, no; it is certainly most uncharacteristic of Jesus who alone is worthy and without sin!
So this parable is cryptic: its meaning is hard to fathom and its implication is hard to understand. But while the parable is mysterious, the succeeding words of Jesus are worthy of learning. I am referring to verses 10-12, which say:
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much; and whoever cannot be trusted with little; cannot also be trusted with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’ property, who will give you property of your own?”
It seems to me that trust is earned. It is not given on a silver platter. It is earned through hard work, commitment, dedication and credibility. In a democracy, the public office is a public trust. When the official governs rightly, she earns the trust of her people; when she governs wrongly, she would be voted out in the next election---or impeached.
The world which God created, offers us tremendous resources to use. How should we manage these resources? Recently, I have been following a debate on the issue of population and resources as they affect the future of the world.
There are two schools of thought. One school of thought is called the Malthusian Theory. This theory comes from Robert Malthus, an economist in the 19th century who claimed that the population of the world grows geometrically but the food supply grows arithmetically. In other words, starvation is inevitable because there will not be enough food available to supply the needs of an increasing population. Malthus believed that wars, natural calamities and birth control are needed to check the growth of the population. Recent movies like World War Z and the new novel by Dan Brown, Inferno, speak about this Malthusian theory.
The other school of thought is called the Promethean Discourse Theory. This discourse is derived from a Greek mythical hero by the name of Prometheus. According to Greek mythology, Prometheus saw the sufferings in the world and was moved with compassion. So he decided to steal fire from heaven and gave it to humankind.
Because of what he did, Prometheus was punished by the Greek god, Zeus. He was shackled on a rock at the edge of the earth with his liver being eaten by an eagle, as it continues to regenerate, so his suffering was endless. But as a result of his deeds, there came unprecedented and unparalleled progress of humankind.
The Promethean theory proposes that there is no limit to human progress. While the Malthusian theory says earth has limits to growth, Promethean theory says there is no limit to growth because the human mind is capable of progressive thought and creativity. The name Prometheus means “foreknowledge,” meaning that he always thinks ahead, and not Epimetheus, his brother, who was dull, because he always thinks late.
Now which theory would you subscribe? Which worldview of view would you take? What you believe would dictate how you behave.
If you are Malthusian, then you will be stingy and limit yourself. You will view the world in scarcity mode. You will desire to preserve what you have and maybe hoard your goods. You will see the world as a sea of sinking ships and you will try to prevent people from coming to your ship. You will be fearful and wary of strangers as they might take from your resources that you believe are not enough.
On the other hand, if you are Promethean, you will always believe that there is abundance. That in every problem, there is a solution, that there is an inexhaustible treasure and creativity and human knowledge. Industrialization, technology, computer age, there is an unlimited frontier for progress. If you are Promethean, you will be generous because there is always enough that the world provides.
Do you know the difference between a Western Dinner and a Chinese dinner? In the Western dinner you are given a big plate with everything in it, maybe steak, potato and broccoli. If you are a small eater, you are content with a Western dinner plate. But if you are a big eater, you will not be content with the Western dinner plate. In Chinese dinner, however, you are given a small plate. But whether you are a big eater or a small eater, you are not worried with having a small plate. Why? Because at the center of the table are huge plates filled with food. You take only a few morsels of meat to put in your small plate, knowing that you can always take some more from the big plates at the center of the table. Malthusian theory is Western dinner while Promethean theory is Chinese dinner.
I believe, I am basically Promethean. I have faith that there is nothing impossible under the sun. Jesus said that the first commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all you mind” The mind is God’s tremendous gift to human beings so that we will be able unlock the mysteries of the world. A gift is a tool and a tool is useful only to the extent that it is used. That is why we must always endeavor to obtain knowledge, to gain wisdom, to obtain education.
Along with hard work and discipline, education is the greatest equalizer in society. When I was a child, I hated going to school but my Mother would always encourage me to it. And when I became stubborn, she would spank me with a broom and follow me up into the classroom. I remember her words, “Son, we are poor and we will always be poor unless you obtain education. You can be what God want you to be, if you obtain education.” That words from my Mom never left me. When I finished Grade School and cannot go to high School because of poverty, I ventured in the city as a stow-away and worked as a janitor in order to finish high school and then college. Those were hard times but today I have two Bachelor degrees, two master’s degrees and two doctorate degrees. I am not yet rich financially, but I know I am much better than I was before.
Today is Youth Sunday in our Church and I would like to give the advice given me by my Mom to you young people: “You can be what God wants you to be if you obtain education.” Study, study, study and finish school. God bless you.