Thought for the Day - Rev Dr Michael Banner
There was a report over the weekend that a school boy in China sold a kidney in response to a newspaper advertisement in order to raise the money to buy a trendy new IPad. His mother said she became suspicious when she saw the impressive new hardware and the equally impressive stitches on his back.
Stories make it into the news, of course, because they are unusual, rather than because the events are commonplace. So I think we may safely assume that selling kidneys for the latest computer gadgetry is not as everyday as were, for example, the favoured means in my teenage years for making a bit of extra cash – washing cars and mowing lawns. But if the story of the Chinese schoolboy is an extreme story, it also serves, I think, as a sort of parable of the human condition: revealing at the extreme something of the impetus and direction of more commonplace behaviour – and that is the drive to find happiness in possessions; to find solace in stuff; even at the risk of our lives.
The tale of the Chinese school boy is perhaps especially shocking just because he traded so much for so little. He underwent a serious operation and risked his life, all for the sake of a little over £2000, and to buy a piece of kit which will, in the way of these things, be superseded by another model in about 18 months time. But if this particular trade seems highly unbalanced, there are others, not so immediately shocking or newsworthy, which seem to conform to the same logic. I well remember a friend recounting the woes of his daily commute, the stressful and unrewarding nature of his work, the costs it all imposed on friendships and family, only to console himself (I am not sure with any conviction), with the thought that he could expect a very good pension in 15 years time. We all need money to live; unless we possess a private income, we all give up a part of our lives for the sake of daily bread. It is a necessary trade – but an unbalanced one if for the sake of stuff we hand over our lives; for then the things we sought to own, end up owning us.
At the very beginning of the Book of Acts we hear of the early Christian community inspired by the descent of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which we celebrate this coming Sunday. We read in that story that the believers ‘. . . had their possessions in common, and would sell and distribute them, as any had need.’ I doubt that what is said to have occurred on that day, simply became commonplace – it is, in fact, recounted as a miracle. But what that story does is to hold up to us a logic of possession which turns the normal pattern of things on its head, a new logic which may yet inspire and challenge us: rather than giving up life for stuff, the early Christians gave up stuff for what truly brings meaning and value to life: fellowship, solidarity and community.