November 3rd 2019 All Saints Sunday Luke 6:20-31
Although there are enough similarities to suggest a common source, "the Blessings and the Woes" in Luke's Gospel stand in marked contrast to Matthew's more familiar Beatitudes. Both articulate a vision of the "upside down" nature of the Kingdom of God/Heaven where those who are currently overlooked and undervalued will be recognised and rewarded, but Matthew frames this in terms of character and spiritual values, whilst Luke's version is far more concrete. He is speaking not of attitudes but of the promise of a new world order - a literal reversal of fortunes where those who at present find themselves at the bottom of the heap will be raised up, echoing, the words of the Magnificat.
"He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty."
Poverty, privilege, justice and equity are intimately bound up with the ecological crisis. The same factors that have so oppressed the planet, also oppress the world's poorest. Both the integrity of nature and well-being of vulnerable people are considered collateral damage in the pursuit of unlimited economic growth. It is the global poor who are at present bearing the brunt of the climate crisis and it will be the poor who are least resilient to the climate change in the longer term. Both ecological irresponsibility and vast inequality are symptoms of dis-ease - disordered relationships with God, with the created world, with each other and with the self.
This passage illustrates explicitly the axiom of Liberation Theology, that God has a preferential option for the poor. God takes sides and it is the side of the oppressed that he chooses. Working to mitigate climate change whilst not tackling issues of poverty and injustice is not a possibility open to Christians. They are all of a piece.
Despite this we should be cautious in interpreting the passage as suggesting that God will punish those who have plenty yet have ignored the needs of the poor, although there is ample Biblical justification for such a view - think Dives and Lazarus, or even the Sheep and the Goats. I prefer to think in terms of levelling. Achieving a more equitable world where the hungry are fed and the poor lifted from their poverty would come at a cost to the rich. In order for no-one to go without, some will have to have less. Such a re-ordering will be as painful to those with privilege as it is joyful to those who will be liberated. One only needs to consider the outcry in this country which met the suggestion that the demands of feeding the world’s population might necessitate a shift to a plant-based diet, to see the reluctance of those who have much, to sacrifice in order that all may have some.
Historically however, such a levelling is not without precedence when circumstances warrant it. During the Second World War and the years following, rationing ensured that limited food supplies were sufficient for the entiry of the population and the poorest benefitted, accessing a better diet than in the pre-war years. Thus, infant mortality declined and life expectancy increased.
It is often said that opportunity is the flip side of crisis and it may be that the deepening climate crisis presents us with opportunities to rethink the way that our global society works and to engage in some much-needed “levelling”, but this will not happen automatically and we will need to choose whether to stand with God, on the side on the poor, or woefully, on the sidelines.