Thursday, 10 January 2013

Supermarkets, quotas and challenging the powers

This week the markets are pronouncing judgement on the UK’s supermarkets. As each of our leading retailers announces their crucial Christmas sales figures, analysts are crunching the numbers as they try to work out who’s up and who’s down. You’ve probably read some of the news stories. Sainsbury’s and Tesco have so far reported strong numbers, and it appears that M&S is set to be this year’s fall guy, disappointing shareholders and analysts with news of a 1.8% drop in sales over the festive period. Look behind the headlines and you discover that things aren’t as bad as they might appear at first. M&S did sell record amounts of food and it says profit margins are improving, which seems pretty encouraging for a company that last year reported pre-tax profits of £658m, but... not good enough. What the market demands is year on year growth. On Thursday morning, M&S shares fell by 4.5%.

I thought about M&S this week, while preparing my reflections for Sunday evening, when, as a church, we’ll be thinking again about the theme of ‘Challenging the Powers,’ from the perspective of Exodus. We’ll be focussing our thoughts on Exodus 5, when Moses goes to Pharaoh for the first time, requesting that the Israelites be released from their labour for three days so they can go out to the wilderness for a celebration festival in honour of God.

Pharaoh’s response is to show no flexibility, no willingness to compromise. It seems he fears any relaxation of his rules, any possibility that production will slow down. Indeed, his response is to ratchet up the economic targets: ‘Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’

Quotas, targets, an insistence on relentless growth... such are the demands of the Empire. It’s always been this way. As God’s people, what responses can we make which demonstrate our desire to challenge the constantly acquisitive and driven nature of our world? This is one of the themes we’ll attempt to unpack on Sunday evening. It would be good to know your thoughts, either shared on Sunday or as a comment here.

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