Many Americans imagine the stimulus money as manna from heaven. It ain’t quite that.
This past week, Kathy and I received a letter from The Department of Treasury. Uh-oh. Then I opened the letter. Whew. Treasury just wanted to make sure we had received our $1200 stimulus money. We had, but we didn’t feel all that good about it.
Mostly because we don’t need it. Nor do many folks. And many of those who do need it—unemployed Hispanics come to mind—won’t get a $1200 stimulus check. It’s the occupational hazard of government assistance. Surrogate decision makers design one-size-fits-all solutions. But they cannot know as much as locals whose lives have been disrupted.
But there are other reasons to not feel good. In February 2021, US public debt was @27.9 trillion US dollars, over 4.49 trillion more than a year earlier. In March, the Biden Administration added almost 2 trillion. The latest stimulus will add another 2.7 trillion.
And more trillions are likely coming. But who’s paying for all this? Most Americans don’t seem concerned. It seems they imagine the stimulus money as manna from heaven. It ain’t, at least not as Americans imagine manna. The Israelites recognized the manna came from God. Few Americans recognize where this stimulus money comes from.
It ain’t government. It’s corporate tax increases. But these are passed on to consumers, so the middle class will ultimately pay, as they make up the bulk of consumers. Few recognize this, however, as the damage won’t hit immediately, especially as the economy booms as Covid eases. It’ll hit in the coming years as prices rise while pensions and pay packets shrink.
But here’s another reason stimulus money ain’t quite manna from heaven. God’s manna was history’s first entitlement program. What precipitated this was the Israelites griping about the privations of the desert. They missed Egyptian food. So God sent them manna, in the form of a 40-year entitlement program. They got fed but never got over feeling entitled.
That generation of Israelites remained a royal pain in you-know-what until the last one died. Then the manna stopped. The next generation had watched and learned the lesson. Trust God. Don’t act entitled. Stop whining. Follow God into the Promised Land.
Good lessons for Christians today. But manna reminds us of at least two more things. First, we can answer a question the Israelites couldn’t. When they first saw the manna, the Israelites couldn’t put their finger on what it is (manna means What is it?). Christians can.
Christ said the manna from heaven is a pointer to his body, the food we touch and taste and eat in the Eucharist, the true “bread from heaven,” the “bread of life” (John 6). The Apostle Paul made the same point, calling the manna “spiritual food” (I Cor.10:3), connecting it to the Eucharist. Manna is a common Eucharistic symbol in churches with “thick” liturgies.
These churches see the meaning of manna (what is it?) is bound up in the mystery of Jesus’ flesh-and-blood body being the true bread from heaven that’s literally present in the Eucharist. We see and touch his body when we eat the bread and drink the wine, reminding us of Jesus’ words: unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life (Jn.6:53).
Here’s a second lesson for Christians today. God’s manna reminds us there is no such thing as free salvation. Someone paid. The stimulus money is like God’s manna when we remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone pays. The middle class will pay for some of the stimulus, but I bet most of the costs will be passed on to future generations.
And that’s why, as Christians, Kathy and I don’t feel all that good about our stimulus check.