Greening the Lectionary

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

Trinity Reflections Year C

 

Sunday 23rd June

First Sunday of Trinity

Luke 8:26-39

"What about the pigs?"

This week’s Gospel reading is an uncomfortable one on two scores: firstly it deals with “demon possession”, a notion which is alien to our 21st Century sensibilities, at least in the West, and secondly because our increasing awareness of animal rights causes us to ask “What about the pigs?” However, St Luke’s initial audience would have had no such qualms. Their worldview could easily accommodate the idea that someone could be possessed by a legion of demons and it would be entirely fitting to them that these destructive and life draining entities should be disposed of via those most “unclean” of animals, pigs.

For them the primary message of the passage would be power of Jesus to save and heal, even in a Gentile community. But they may also have noted that despite Jesus revealing the extent of his power, the response to him is predominantly hostile. One might go so far as to say he was run out of town. St Luke attributes this to fear. Whether this fear was amplified by what happened to the pigs is unclear but being instrumental in the destruction of an entire village’s swine herd is unlikely to have endeared him to the community. The demoniac who is demoniac no longer, is a different story; overwhelmed by gratitude, and perhaps some fear of his own, he begs to be allowed stay with Jesus, but he is given a far harder mission, to return to his home, bearing witness to his antagonistic community of all that Jesus had done for him.

What we take from this passage will depend, as ever, on our point of view. There will be those who consider that the anthropocentrism of the passage and the fate of the pigs renders it irredeemable as a source for an ecologically sympathetic theology. Others will use it to suggest that a Biblically literate theology does privilege the needs of people over and above those of animals, particularly when people find themselves as isolated and enslaved as the Demoniac did. Those taking this line will wish to consider in which circumstances this privilege should be exercised and where its limits might be. Another approach would be to ask a different question. I would suggest that a contextual reading of the passage will cause us to contemplate what it means to challenge evil. The approval we would expect is not always forthcoming and even positive and necessary change can be met with suspicion and fear, particularly if it has economic implications. In advocating for our planet and encouraging attitudinal and behavioural change we can find ourselves identifying with the lone, brave voice of the former demoniac as he gives his uncomfortable testimony, more often that we might imagine.

TRINITY SUNDAY

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

On Trinity Sunday, it would be perfectly in order to preach on the role of Trinity in Creation, not only in bringing forth the world from chaos but also redeeming and sustaining it. However, if we are limiting ourselves to the texts that the compilers of our lectionary have selected for us, then it is the Old Testament reading about Lady Wisdom, which lends itself most easily to a “Green” commentary.

The personification of the Wisdom of God we find there, was of profound importance in the development of the Doctrine of the Trinity. The idea of Holy Wisdom became incorportated within the Incarnate Word of John’s Gospel and clearly influenced Colossian’s description of Christ as the first-born of all creation. It is interesting to note that Wisdom is created before the natural world and before human beings. It would appear that Wisdom is a necessary pre-condition for dealing with both. In an age when interactions between people and the non-human creation are so disordered that the word chaos is frequently employed, this is worth pondering. To what extent has neglect of God’s wisdom brought us to our present ecological emergency? To what extent can attention to it provide the answers we need?

However, it is the delight that Wisdom shows both in the creative power of God and in the Creation itself which is the most striking aspect of the passage. Wisdom rejoices with God not only in the order that has been created but in the “inhabited” world. The delight is not in a sterile and lifeless world but in one teeming with human and non-human life. It is the human race though, which is singled out for a special mention. The delight in Creation found in this passage has resonances of the refrain “And God saw that it was good” found in the first creation narrative, but it goes beyond it. Not only is creation “good” in the sense of being in harmony with God, but it gives enjoyment and pleasure. Creation’s purpose is clearly more than utility. The ability to delight in creation is a mark of Wisdom and one which we would do well to emulate. Is there a need for our sophisticated, technology-driven society to recover a more simple sense of wonder and joy in the natural world, appreciating it not for what it provides for us, or its potential for exploitation but for the marvel that it is?

 

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