It’s that time of the year when we start to hear speeches that feed us predictable lines about the state of our nation. “The state of our nation is strong!” – said pretty much every president in my life time. Based on what though? I don’t know what they base that statement on besides the idea that this is what presidents are supposed to say to make us feel good about ourselves and our nation. Besides, no president wants to actually tell the truth about the portions of the country that aren’t in great shape – what would that do to re-election efforts or future judgements of history?

I don’t bother to listen to the State of the Union address. I haven’t since the mid-90’s when I figured out that all it really is is a prime time speech with a laundry list of legislative goodies the president wants to pass (as opposed to talking about what the actual state of the Union is), and the presentation of some tear jerking stories that act as a prop to tug at people’s hearts so that their elected representatives will feel more inclined to vote for this or that pet legislative agenda. (Thanks Pres. Reagan for starting this.)

I think a regular assessment of how we are doing is important. I just don’t appreciate a campaign speech to do it. I never have.

I hear that we have a strong economy. But I have questions. If our economy is so grand, why is there an increase in homelessness and a prediction that elderly homelessness will double by 2025 and triple from the current level by 2030? Hmm.

If our economy is so strong, then why are we not spending more money to lift people out of poverty, or at least get them to a place that they aren’t worried about survival each day with housing, or food?

If our economy is so strong, then why is the suicide rate so high?

If our economy is so strong, then why aren’t we doing something to alleviate the imprisonment of debt on students? Or at least on future students?

Why does an economy exist at all? This is the best question I can think of. Is it only for selfish purposes? That seems to counter what an economy actually is though and how it is measured.

Does an economy exist for the benefit of the society that it functions in? How is that happening in our society? Not just for those who are benefiting the most, but for everyone?

The new Finnish Prime Minister said something recently that seems fitting to this conversation. She said, “The strength of a society is measured not by the wealth of its most affluent members, but by how well its most vulnerable citizens are able to cope. The question we need to ask is whether everyone has the chance to lead a life of dignity.” (San Marin, Finnish Prime Minister)

I think Ms. Martin is right on target. I also think this way of thinking is more in line with what Jesus taught than any American politician I have heard.

What is the state of our economy? I can’t speak about the economy overall. I don’t have the research to back it up. I only have my observations and what I read from a variety of sources. Is the economy strong? Sure, for some. But I suspect that they would be doing fine regardless. Is the economy strong for all? I doubt it. Our economic system isn’t designed to benefit all.

And before you comment on economic theories, let me say this – I’m really not all that interested in a debate on the theories of what economic systems are “supposed” to do. Those who are experiencing homelessness don’t have that luxury.

But I do have to ask this – How is it that the wealthiest nation in history has a large number of people who are experiencing homelessness? How is it that the wealthiest nation in history is able to afford plenty of military weapons, but can’t afford to make sure it’s own people are housed, or fed, or have adequate health care? How is it that the wealthiest nation in history can’t afford to do things that would keep people out of poverty?

What is all that wealth for anyway? Is it an end unto itself? If so, then what’s the point anyway?

I wonder what Jesus would say about the wealthiest nation in history. I wonder if Jesus would have something to say about how that wealth should be used for the citizens of such a nation – especially the most vulnerable. I wonder.

There’s a couple of places in Scripture that quotes Jesus as saying: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24, NRSV)

I wonder if the same could be said of the economy. Can you serve God and the economy?