October 30, 2016: Salvation for All
From Paul Turley
The story of Zacchaeus is nothing if it is not the story of transformation. By the story's end, Zacchaeus and the lives of those around him are transformed by the arrival of Jesus. Two stories that offer the possibility of community transformation are in the news at present.
Scotland is the most unequal society in the global north when it comes to land ownership. Fifty percent of the Scotland, mostly in the Highlands, is owned by only 432 individuals, with 16 individuals owning 10% of Scottish land. However, a group formed in 2010, Community Land Scotland, has plans to make Scottish landholding more equal. Community Land Scotland is part of the growing community land movement that seeks to rethink and reorder land for the benefit of whole communities, not just for individuals.
The Scottish government’s aim is to double the amount of land owned by communities from 500,000 to 1 million acres by 2020. The Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003 allows crofting communities the right to buy the land with which those communities have a connection. This right can be exercised at any time, even if the land is not for sale. (Crofts are small farms and other small landholdings.)
“This is about building sustainable communities and futures in a region where, up until very recently, young people were left with no choice but to migrate in search of opportunities elsewhere,” says Peter Peacock of Community Land Scotland.
Another initiative seeking to transform communities is what is most often known as the guaranteed minimum income, or GMI. This is the concept, long talked about by economists seeking alternatives to poverty and the inadequacies of the welfare state, where all residents in a nation receive a basic income from the state by right.
GMI is a controversial and largely untested idea, but that is changing. In both Ontario, Canada, and in Finland, major trials of GMI are planned. In Ontario, the trial seeks to top-up incomes so that everyone is able to live above the poverty line. Strictly speaking the Ontario trial is not a GMI in that it does not provide all individuals with a regular payment of the same amount regardless of other earnings. However, proponents hope that the trial will lead to the implementation of a true GMI at a later date.
Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal, who has been appointed to conduct the trial says, “70 per cent of the people who live beneath the poverty line in Ontario … have jobs. They just don’t earn enough through minimum wage to be above the poverty line.”
The Finish trial is not a true GMI experiment either. It too will offer a form of top-up to the benefits people already receive and will only be available to people on unemployment benefits.
The Finnish government says about the experiment, “The basic income experiment is one of the activities aiming to reform social security so that it corresponds better to the changes of working life, to overhaul social security to encourage participation and employment, to reduce bureaucracy, and to simplify the complicated benefits system in a sustainable way regarding public finances.”
If you had been in the crowd and from the same community as Zacchaeus on the day Jesus came, how do you think the events of that day might have changed your community?
What activities or events can your faith community undertake that might begin to transform your community in the way Jesus’ visit in this text did?
What do you think are some of the signals that transformation is occurring in community?
God, we read again and again in the gospels that Jesus’ arrival in a place changed so many things for the better. We pray that we might be true followers of Jesus – lovers of justice, and people and communities of transformation. Amen.