Father Barron is the Extended Stay Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Grayslake. He preached this sermon on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018.
Milton Friedman said it wasn’t him. Friedman, who died in 2006, was a highly esteemed economics professor at the University of Chicago, winning the Nobel Prize in 1976.
A passionate proponent of a free market system with a minimum of government interference, he has been credited with originating the popular idiom:
“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
While he wrote a book with that title, Friedman never claimed that he came up with it, and said that he wished more attention would be made to a phrase he did coin, such as, “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”
Nobody knows for certain who came up with this bit of mealtime economic wisdom which my diligent research indicates first appeared in print in 1938 in the form of “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” in the El Paso Herald Post.
Why would somebody make such a remark in the first place?
One theory: during the mid-1800s, taverns would often post a sign in their window telling customers that if they bought a drink, they would get a free lunch.
Of course, the lunch wasn’t really free, the price of the drinks would be raised to more than cover the cost.
A woman named Deirdre Stanford, in her book The New Orleans Restaurant, published in 1967, said that the free lunch practice began in the French Quarter of New Orleans at the St. Louis Hotel and then spread from there.
At first the meals were fairly elaborate, featuring creole and gumbo, but as their popularity grew they became much simpler, offering cold cuts, cheese and bread and then, finally, putting out snacks like pretzels, potato chips and peanuts.
This could be the origin of the salty snacks offered in bars today, their purpose being not to lure you in but to make you thirsty.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch, in economic terms, means, of course, that somebody always has to pay for goods or services.
Theoretically, I suppose that is true.
Actually, though, speaking more concretely, a free, or a low cost lunch has been available in some portions of this country since the beginning of the 20th century.
It began with private charitable organizations who were concerned about child nutrition and began providing balanced meals to students during their lunch hour.
Back then, the midday meal was the main meal of the day and school children were often going hungry.
Philadelphia and Boston were the first major cities to implement a school lunch program in the U.S. Philadelphia began offering penny lunches to grade school children and in Boston the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union began serving lunches to high school students.
Other major cities would follow suit in the early part of the 20th century.
Schools in rural areas had a harder time implementing the program as there was seldom enough space for a kitchen and dining area.
Clever teachers began to put pots of soup or stew on the stoves used to heat the classroom and in Wisconsin, what became known as the “pint-jar” method became popular.
Students would bring pint jars filled with leftovers and would place them in buckets of water on top of the stove. By lunch time the food would be warm.
It wasn’t until 1946, though, that school lunches were made available to everyone in the country through the National School lunch Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman.
In part, the Act states that its purpose is to increase national security by safeguarding the health and well-being of the Nation’s children.
Interesting— we decided to feed our children to promote our security not to promote their nutrition.
What did those kids have for lunch after the law was passed? It was not creole and gumbo.
As the program relied on government surplus, schools often received food they couldn’t use.
Some products would rot during delivery or would show up unannounced at schools that did not have the space to refrigerate them.
The USDA guide to menu planning using farm surplus included recipes for creamed chipped beef, cornmeal pudding and a dish known as scrapple.
If you’re not familiar with it, as I wasn’t, scrapple is made from what are called pork scraps, the parts of the pig we would not think about eating which are combined with corn meal and flour and pounded into a mush.
By 1952, school lunches had become a $415 million business.
Private companies began contracting with local school districts to provide the goods, and, as television became more and more popular in the 60’s, branded lunch boxes
began to appear, featuring such TV shows as Gunsmoke, Zorro, and the Lone Ranger; if you were a girl, Barbie.
You had to have one of those lunch boxes in my grade school or risk becoming a social outcast.
As I recall, when I reached junior high and high school, and very few kids brought their lunch, the cafeterias seemed to specialize in Jello squares that I believe the highway department used to patch potholes, and dried out hamburger patties covered with a brown gravy they called Salisbury steak. (We were young but we weren’t stupid; we knew what steak looked like and that wasn’t it.)
I don’t know what schools offer their students today, but I do know that a large number of those students are not getting enough to eat.
A few months ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that what is called “food insecurity”— not having enough food because of lack of money or other resources— is a way of life for almost one in eight Americans.
While abject hunger, prevalent fifty years ago, is a thing of the past, food insecurity, says one organization, touches every county of every state in the nation with the rural counties among the worst hit.
More stringent requirements to obtain food stamps, says University of Illinois professor Craig Gundersen, will worsen hunger in America and, he adds, “Households who are suffering from food insecurity have a higher health care cost.”
Advocacy groups say that helping families avoid food insecurity and hunger could lower long-term health problems, offering a relatively inexpensive way to stem chronic health conditions that are associated with a lack of food.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that food-insecure households spend about 45 percent more on medical care a year than to families in food secure homes.
“Food insecurity is often times invisible,” says Professor Gundersen, who adds, “If you want to talk to one group that sees it, it’s the teachers at the elementary school level. They see children coming in without having breakfast.”
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus tells us. “Do not hinder them.”
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells us. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In John’s gospel there are seven pre-Easter signs, beginning with the turning of water into wine at the wedding at Cana and ending with the raising of Lazarus.
Seven, in scripture, is the number signifying perfection and completion. One writer calls it “God’s number.” The seven signs are there in John to give us a complete picture of just who Jesus is.
As one commentator has pointed out, the fourth item in a sequence of seven is sometimes called “the central point,” right in the middle with three on each side.
In John’s gospel the fourth sign is the feeding of the five thousand. And it is only after this sign that Jesus proclaims himself as “the bread of life.”
God’s name is now linked to a specific earthly element: bread.
Remember, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Listen again to what he tells us today: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
If people were complaining about his saying that he was the bread of life and whoever comes to him will never be thirsty, they will really get upset when he becomes even more specific and says that the bread which he will give for us is his flesh, a reference to his upcoming death.
The bread from heaven will give life to the world by dying for the world.
For Jesus, one commentator has said, there is no free lunch.
We who share in his heavenly bread are well aware of the shortcomings of cheap grace, a phrase originated by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would be executed by the Nazis.
There is a cost to discipleship, he wrote, and I believe we pay part of that price when we feed those who hunger for bread as much as they hunger and thirst for righteousness.
In her memoirs, country music star Dolly Parton, who grew up dirt poor in Tennessee, writes:
“I went to bed hungry many nights as a child. It was a Dream that dressed me up when I was ragged, and it was a Dream that filled me up when I was hungry.
“Now it’s my Dream to see that no child in this world ever goes to bed hungry, certainly not here in America, the most bountiful country in the world.
“We can do better.”
Our call as Christians is to do and be better, and to bring Dolly’s dream, which is really God’s dream, to everyone we meet, but especially to those whose hunger is greater than ours.
May they taste and see that the Lord is good.