Greening the Lectionary

A Theological Response to the Ecological Crisis: Reflections, Liturgy, Reviews, Comment.

Look below to find reflections for this Sunday.

October 20th Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity Luke 18:1-8

Justice is the point at which the ‘Green’ agenda, which seeks ecological and social justice, and Christianity most closely intersect. The Christian God is a God of justice, an emphasis which is particularly explicit in the Gospel of Luke, which presents the coming kingdom as involving a ‘levelling’ with the proud being brought low, the humble exalted, the hungry fed and the rich doing without. (Luke 1:51-53).

It is therefore surprising, in this week’s Gospel to find a parable which compares God to an unjust judge. The parable describes a corrupt judge who neither values God or respects people but who is persuaded to do the right thing, through the ‘pester power’ of a widow who keeps pursuing her claim for justice.

The implication is not that God is himself an unjust judge, but rather that if even an unprincipled judge can be forced to deliver justice through persistence, then how much more will God deliver justice to those who ask. The take home message seems to be persevere in praying for justice and God will supply it. However, such an interpretation does not stand the test of experience. Too many people are daily subjected to the reality of oppression and injustice, many of whom have prayed and prayed seemingly to no avail.

What does it do to one’s image of God to believe that God promises justice in response to prayer but does not deliver in your life? Thus, it is vital to understand this parable in the context of an expected Parousia, noting that the parable is set against Christ's expected return and it is at this point that God’s justice will prevail. Prayer for justice is bound up with prayer for the Lord’s return. Until that time injustice, like the poor, will be with us always.

But this does not mean that we must accept it. The parable contains within it a strong sense that travesties of justice must be resisted with all the resources available to us. The widow who challenges the unjust judge has little in the way of power or wealth and yet her determination, passion and persistence result in her vindication. Surely a lesson for how we approach the injustices inherent in the ecological crisis. The voice of justice which does not allow itself to be silenced may well prevail.

This is not to say that prayer has no place in the struggle, for where is this hunger for justice, this passion, this persistence and courage in the face of opposition to come from? The struggle for justice is not one that we face alone and as await the day when God’s Kingdom and justice come in all their fulness, we must remain persistent in both our prayer and our protest.

October 13th 2019 Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 17:11-19

Remembering to say "thank you," is the simple message which lies at the  heart of this week's Gospel reading. Jesus is approached by ten lepers who request mercy  from him. As ever in Luke's Gospel, Jesus notices and listens to those whom others deem unworthy of consideration and does indeed show mercy. This takes the form of a miraculous healing, somewhat reminicient of Namaan's,  where the lepers are healed at a distance as they  follow Jesus' instructions to show themselves to the priests. 

Although all ten are healed, and, one assumes, are pretty pleased about this, we are only told about the response of one of the lepers, who might warrant the designation 'the thankful one'. His reaction upon receiving the gift of healing is to praise God and to return to Jesus, prostrating himself in gratitude and thanking him. Clearly Jesus considers his response to be appropriate because he queries why the others have not responsed in a similar fashion. "Were not ten made clean? Where are the other nine?" The lack of gratitude is suprising to him and to the reader. Why wouldn't someone receiving such a liberative gift want to thank the giver?

The surprise is made even greater by the discovery that 'the thankful one' is in fact a Samaritan, who Jesus' audience and the early readers of Luke might have considered to be somewhat uncouth and ill-mannered, such was the contemporary prejudice.  However it may have been this very fact which rendered him so grateful in the first place as he struggled under the burden of what we would now term "double discrimination' or 'dual oppression' -  being a both a Samaritan and a leper. Jesus had unexpectedly treated him as one deserving of mercy and this alone might have warranted his thanks.  

Jesus then commends the faith of 'the thankful one' stating that it was this that had made him well. Since all of the lepers were healed of their illness, it seems likely that this 'wellness' or 'wholeness' extends beyond physical recovery and forms part of what it means to be in a right relationship with God. Those who are truly well are those who show gratitude. 

As we work to transform humanity's attitudes towards the natural world from the abusive patterns which have resulted in the ecological crisis into something more constructive, encouraging gratitude will have a significant part to play. If we view the natural world, which sustains us, as a gift from God  for which we are thankful, then we can not simultaneously imagine it to be a resource to be exploited, polluted and desecrated. Gratitude for a gift leads to cherishing the gift.

How we have treated the world suggests we have been ungrateful towards the Creator and taken his gift for granted. Pope Francis hopes that returning to practices  which used to be commonplace such as saying grace before meals and couting our blessings may go some way towards countering this. Our task then, is to cultivate an 'attitude of gratitude' which may revolutionize not only our relationship with creation but also the creator, as we strive to bring healing to the planet and become 'well' ourselves.  



October 6th 16th Sunday after Trinity

Luke 17: 5-10

If only I had more faith….as a parish priest, it’s a refrain I hear often. Nobody imagines that they have enough faith - they worry, they doubt, they struggle, they lionise others who they imagine to have far more faith than they could ever have, they look around at what needs to be done and think “I’m not up to this, the resources I have at my disposal are insufficient for the task. In some, this sense of inadequacy leads to prayer, whilst others use it as an excuse not to engage at all.

It would appear that my 21st Century parishioners are not alone in this. As even the first disciples felt that their levels of faith could do with a boost. They demand that Jesus increase their faith. It sounds such a holy request, doesn’t it? How could Jesus possibly respond with anything other than an indulgent smile and some reassurance? But Jesus is far from predictable and his response is more challenging than comforting. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it would obey you.” Thus, implying that the disciple’s faith is even smaller than they imagined. Smaller even than a mustard seed, which for the record is 1-2mm in diameter. Whether this is a rebuke or not is hotly contested, but either way, it seems that even the tiniest amount of faith goes along way.

Perhaps what the disciples are really asking isn’t for more faith at all but rather more confidence and more certainty, but the Christian journey isn’t that easy is it? We must make do with the amount of faith we have and trust that it will be sufficient.

The sense in which we have too few resources for the task in hand will be a familiar one to those concerned about the ecological crisis and seeking to respond to it in the light of faith. Individuals have comparatively little power whilst the governments and businesses who do are failing to take the lead required. It is often argued that there is little point in doing anything if others are doing nothing, but there is power in the small action. Greta Thunberg has famously said “No-one is too small to make a difference” and many small yet faithful actions consistently repeated by a growing number of people may yet have a large cumulative effect.

This week’s reading has two paragraphs and trying to understand the second paragraph in the light of the first can lead to all kind of torturous mental gymnastics so I prefer to understand the connection between the two as tangential, both paragraphs dealing with misunderstandings about the nature of being a disciple.

The first, tackles the idea that we must be spiritual giants in order to be effective for God, whilst the second stands as a stark reminder that in seeking to serve God we earn no favours. We might find the analogy of a slave and slave-owner a problematic analogy but the message remains pertinent today.  God owes us nothing, whilst we owe him everything. Obedience and service are nothing more than his due, and we should not be looking for any kind of quid pro quo, be that material rewards, or conviction that our efforts will lead others to admire us. Anyone asking “what’s in it for me?” is asking the wrong question. Yet if God’s love and grace are infinite, we can expect that our efforts, however small, weak, and lacking in faith will have a place in God’s economy of salvation.

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About the author: Revd Ruth Newton

Ruth is parish priest of St John's Sharow, and a member of the Church of England General Synod. Ordained for 17 years, Ruth has ministered in three multi-parish benefices, as a Cathedral Canon and as a Lay Training Officer. 

Ruth has a Masters in Theology, a PGCE and an an associate fellowship with the Higher Education Academy. She is undertaking a doctorate in the intersection between environmental activism and church.




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