There are all kinds of altruisms out there that we use so often that we forgot their origin, meaning, and context,
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”
“The trouble with the rat race is, even if you win, you are still a rat.”
And… rather on the nose today, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
This phrase, “There is no such thing as a free lunch” originated in the common pre-prohibition era practice of offering a (often heavily salted) “free lunch” at bars if the patron bought a beer. The bar owner expected to recuperate the money spent on these lunches with the profits made in beer and repeat business—in that way the “free lunch” was, in fact, not free.
There was an illusion of it being a free gift, but there was a hook, a catch, ultimately, you paid for it.
To this God replies, “Oh every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
God replies, “There is a free lunch.”
Let us pray
There is a free lunch.
Not though, in the first instance, for Isaiah’s kin. Their parents perished when Jerusalem fell—they were taken to a strange land, taken down to Babylon as captives, kept for a generation—until in despair they sang such songs as the 137’s psalm, where they mourn:
“By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?”
Yes, they toiled there
—they were used by their captors,
cut off and kept,
held as a ransom against their brothers back home. Maybe even told what a good deal they were getting—they had food and maybe a bed—in exchange for iron in their soul and around their neck—there in Babylon, separated from land and loved ones, slaving away in imprisonment.
A hard salted form of a free lunch—at the end empty.
To this Isaiah speaks a liberating word, taking that sorrow psalm from down by the rivers of Babylon, mingling in a hymn of hope, transforming their situation into one of liberation—salvation: “Oh every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!”
There is a free lunch! Life is granted on account of God’s heart—God’s ongoing faithfulness—that’ll truly fill you up!
There is a free lunch.
Not though, in Rome or its territories. In the Empire, there was a well built up system of fidelity
—a patron-client relationship, they would call it.
The Emperor was able to control the Empire, the same way the Mafia controls neighborhoods, and get rich quick pyramid schemes take advantage of employees.
The Emperor would gain the fidelity—the loyalty—of the aristocrats and the wealthy by handing out government and religious positions to them.
The aristocrats in turn kept control of the soldiers and the mid-level bureaucrats by handing out titles and land holdings.
From there smaller gifts were given to citizens, and peasants, and finally slaves
—this last group received the momentary joys of cruel entertainment and a little nourishment to quiet their empty bellies in the form of “bread and circuses.”
In this way loyalty was bought from above, and in this way gifts were not gifts, but burdens and bribes.
There could be no relationship amongst equals, because everyone was racing to the top,
trying to do anything to have leverage over others,
trying to be a patron instead of a client.
-In such a system, bread became that which was not bread,
-and the circus, that which does not satisfy.
To this too, Isaiah speaks, “Oh every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!”
There is a free lunch!
Just look at Jesus.
-He could have, insisted the crowd follow him, on their knees.
-He could have, dolled out miracles as chits to be cashed in for later favors.
-He could have, kept the crowd there—increasing their hunger—in order to auction off 5 loaves and two fishes to the highest bidder.
That’s how Rome would do things.
--But he does the exact opposite!
No salted food for the sake of sales here
—only a truly free meal.
There is a free lunch.
Not though, here.
Here, where people on their death-beds ask, “Was I good enough?” in a million different ways.
Here, where we are so quick to judge others as wanting and failing—so that we might be built up in comparison.
Here, where we act like food and healing are only for those worthy of them, and where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Here, it would be wise to cling Luther’s famous prayer:
-“Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
-I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
-I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.
-I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
-O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
-In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
-I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
-I am a sinner; you are upright.
-With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness.
-Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.”
Cling to it, knowing that to all our emptiness, weakness, cold heartedness, doubt, poverty, and sin God replies, “Oh every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
To all our hungers, God replies, “There is a free lunch.”