My father, a retired Uniting Church minister in Australia, writes a weekly Lectionary Commentary/Note for his congregation's pew bulletin. This week, his commentary takes a Climate Justice theme, so I thought I would share it here.
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31
I have never really been a fan of the natural world - the “great outdoors”. Oh, I can appreciate its beauty and wonder all right, but preferably through a plate glass window, or via a book or video, in the comfort of my own room. For me, the real thing has always been uncomfortable, threatening, with unexpected dangers and obstacles which frustrate me, and which I cannot circumvent. But that does not mean that I don’t share the concerns of many these days, about climate change and the fact that we are now technologically advanced to the point where every move we make means mass destruction of some part of our environment - large chunks of land ripped out for their metal or mineral content, vast areas of old growth forest denuded, once fertile soil now barren, and air, seas and waterways polluted; and all because the small proportion of the world’s population in First World countries (that’s us!) is hell bent on ripping up the world God gave us for our own selfish ends, whereas the great majority continues in abject poverty, often made worse by our actions in misusing the resources God gave for the welfare of all.
And yet, despite a growing recognition of the problem, there is a strange paralysis of the will in doing anything about it. And after all, do we really want to give up any part of our comfortable lifestyle to help stop the rot; do we really want to “live simply, that others may simply live”. I think not! The haves have never been particularly good at recognising, let alone doing anything about, the needs of the have-nots. The precise import of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is not always clear, but of this much we can be sure - the rich man’s condemnation came from his failure even to see Lazarus in need at his gate. How many Lazaruses are we not seeing at our gates? Those in the poorer countries off our shores? The ethnic communities gathered in our cities and towns? Refugees and asylum seekers, people living on our streets, often there because of mental health issues; nobody wants them around embarrassing us, so we ignore them. And what about the isolated communities of aboriginal people (that word means “first people” by the way)?
Then there is the fact that environmental destruction is big money - to someone. Large corporations, especially the few at the head, are making mega-bucks by digging up our coal, gas and iron ore and sending it overseas for someone else to pollute their atmosphere. Why should we we worry when we are doing so well out of it. And what government would be so foolish as to prohibit a practice which brings so much wealth into the country? “Economy” is what every government thinks about, first, last and in between. If they didn’t, how would they provide those services that we have come to expect as our divine right? “The love of money”, says today’s Epistle, “is the root of all evil”. How very true that is in the matter of caring for the land God has given us.
We, the white races of Europe, seem more than any other to have lost sight of the fact that we have a responsibility to care for this earth on which we live. Indigenous peoples have proved to be much more alert to this need to live in harmony with their land, that it might continue to provide for them. I refer briefly to Australian Aboriginal practices of systematic burning off, and regular moving around their territory to allow each area to recuperate and rejuvenate after a period of use. In the Bible, the Israelites saw their land as a trust from God, given them not only to sustain them in every need but to be cared for that it might continue to support future generations. Today’s OT reading tells of Jeremiah buying land; he did this in the first instance to demonstrate his faith that despite the many “woes” he was predicting for Israel, the day would come when Israel would go about buying and selling, and all the business of daily living in the land God had given them. But there is more to it than this; the details of the sale process are spelt out in detail because we have here an example of the way the Israelites saw their land as a trust from God. When they entered the Promised Land under Joshua, the land was divided up and portioned out to tribes, to clans, to families. Each family had its own “bit of dirt” which it regarded as a sacred trust, to be handed down through the generations intact, or even improved. It was not to be squandered away at any whim or fancy. Remember Naboth, who refused to give his vineyard to King Ahab for this very reason: it was part of his heritage. If for any reason someone was forced to sell his land, he was to seek out a relative who would “redeem” the land - buy it in order to keep it in the family and so fulfil God’s purpose of trust. This is what happened in the case of Jeremiah. Maybe we too should learn to view land in this way - as a sacred responsibility rather than a means of trade as we seek to build our own little empires.
Father God, You gave us this Earth to care for that it might provide for us and others. We confess with shame that in selfish ignorance and careless greed we are in grave danger of destroying our heritage; grant to our leaders insight, and to us willingness, to seek out and follow ways to restoration, that the Earth itself may rejoice with us in Your bountiful provision.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen