The second Sunday of Easter we celebrate today falls just three days before our nation will observe the annual day of solemnity known as Income Tax Day. Yes, friends, it’s coming this Wednesday, April fifteenth. As I was thinking about what I might say this morning, I looked through a folder of things I’ve clipped from various sources through the years and there it was! It was a front page article from the Science Section of the New York Times from several years ago. It was written by Natalie Angier and was clearly aimed at this national day of whining. The article was titled “Taxing, a Ritual to Save the Species.” There was a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor in the story, but it was also packed with fascinating information. It began with the claim that giving up a portion of one’s income for the sake of the tribe is such a ubiquitous feature of the human race that some researchers see it as crucial to our species success. But according to the article, we human beings are not alone in these taxing expectations For instance, did you know:
- that when a rhesus monkey goes shopping for groceries and happens on, say, a trove of high-quality food like a batch of ripe coconuts, he or she is expected to give a characteristic food call to alert comrades to the find so they can share it? or
- that when bell miner birds in Australia are raising their nestlings, young male helpers provide a steady supply of a sugary treat called lerp to the babies that’s as important to their growth and development as the “meatier” food provided by the parents? or
- that when a dominant male superb fairy wren, another Australian species, notices that one of his young male helpers is doing a less-than-superb job of feeding the young, or if the helper fails to sound the alarm when intruders enter the territory, the dominant male will angrily chase, harass and peck the offender for up to twenty-six hours? or
- that when a helper fish among the highly social cichlid fish is delinquent in its duties, it will ostentatiously redouble its contributions to the communal nest, digging in the sand, cleaning and fanning the eggs? or
- that vampire bats who are sated with blood are expected to share with their fellow bats who are down on their luck? And they can’t hide their “wealth” in secret off-shore bank accounts because it’s hard to hide a swollen belly when what they do is rub bellies with each-another to determine who’s got the most to share.
According to Samuel Bowles, director of the behavioral sciences program at the Santa Fe Institute, “There is not one human society in the world that doesn’t redistribute food to non-relatives.” He goes on to say, “Whether it’s through the state, or the chief, or a rural collective, or some other mechanism, food sharing of large nutritional packages is quite extensive and has been going on for at least 100,000 years of human history.”
I just found this very fascinating, especially as I read the passage from the Acts of the Apostles we hear this morning: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There have been many, many attempts to live in community marked by economic equality and interdependence, both before and after this first generation of Christians we just heard about. But very few have lasted much beyond the dying off of the founders, and many dissolve before that. I suspect that’s not terribly surprising to you and me. As children of the Enlightenment, we’re steeped in an individualistic tradition that treasures independence over interdependence, and often enough seems to value hoarding over sharing.
And then there’s sin. At the heart of all sin is putting ourselves and our needs and our desires first regardless of the effect of such self-centeredness on others and their needs and desires. You know, God came among us in Jesus to show us how to be fully human beings. When we decided that living fully human lives just seemed too costly, Jesus allowed us to vent our fury by nailing him to a cross until he was dead, dead, dead. And God who will not be defeated by our ignorance or stupidity or malevolence, promptly raised him to life again. We cannot be reconciled to God, we cannot participate in the “new covenant of reconciliation” as the prayer for today puts it, without also being reconciled to one another. The prayer makes it clear that what we do in this respect is just as important as what we say.
What so utterly delights me about rediscovering this first week of Easter a newspaper article published years ago is that the information it contains is presented with no religious motives or theological conclusions. And yet, I believe it gives us a glimpse into the heart of Divine creativity. God made you and me to be free. God did this knowing that we would repeatedly misuse that freedom for our own selfish ends and to the hurt…and sometimes the destruction of one another and of ourselves. And so God instilled in our very nature an altruism that can be ignored but simply cannot be completely snuffed out. And what so amuses me about the article is to learn that we are not alone in this. It is operative throughout nature. The loving generosity of God permeates nature.
My hope for me and for you, is that this tiny little glimpse into the ordering of creation will open our eyes and our hearts to the Divine calling to live generously with one another. My prayer for us is that we’ll learn to treasure rather than resent the fact that we are wired for interdependence not isolated independence. My deepest desire is, that as we are willing and able to embrace this way of looking at our lives, the economy of creation will be enriched and all God’s creatures can thrive in a world that is a little bit closer to what it was intended to be from the beginning.