Is the Christian obligation to love each other, that is other Christians, a priority over and above loving all people? When, in this week’s Epistle, St Paul sums up the law in the commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself", he does so in the context of encouraging the fractious Galatian Christians to commit to a life of mutual slavery. They are to stop their back biting and in-fighting and exchange self -indulgence for love.
In this instance, loving your neighbour seems to begin at home, or at least church. Yet we know from the parable of the Good Samaritan that one’s “neighbour” transcends tribalism to encompass all those in need, going beyond those who are like us, or with whom we agree, or who go to our Church, or whose beliefs we share.
If we look at the concept of “neighbour” through a green lens, we would undoubtedly wish to include our global neighbours, those in parts of the world whose “need” is exacerbated by both climate change and the precariousness of living in poverty. We may well wish to consider whether loving our neighbour includes our inter-generational neighbours, those children and young people who are striking for their future and those yet unborn who may inherit a world with insufficient resources to maintain the abundant life we enjoy. We may even find ourselves wondering whether our understanding of “neighbour” can stretch to include those other species with whom we share this planet. For the sake of all these “neighbours” Christian action and advocacy on environmental issues are vital.
Even if we take the understanding of “neighbour” at its narrowest and apply it only to our fellow Christians the conclusion remains the same. For many of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, the threat of climate chaos is a present not a future reality. Loving them, being slaves to them, means doing something about it.
Consequently “creation-care” and “safeguarding the integrity of creation” must not be seen as a “bolt-on” to our Christian mission. This is core business not something we do if “we’re into that sort of thing” or when we’ve got we’ve got time and resources left over from whatever we think the “real work” is. Tackling the climate emergency, advocating for change, educating for sustainability, articulating a Gospel which is good news for the earth and not just people, is the real work. It is loving our neighbour as ourselves.
In our Gospel for today, Jesus, his face is now set towards Jerusalem, prioritises the invitation to “follow him” over and above saying goodbye to loved ones, or even burying the dead. Time is of the essence and Jesus only has a short time left. Activities which would have been normal, desirable, essential even, are to be left undone because of the urgency of the situation. Arguably, the same principle applies in our present climate emergency. We must ask ourselves, as individuals and as a Church what do we need to leave undone, so that we can love those neighbours, Christian and non-Christian, near and far, in the present and in the future, for whom action on climate change is a pressing need? For not to do so and carrying on with a Christian version of “business as usual” would I fear, be the height of self-indulgence and the opposite of love.