The trend of Jesus ministry and of the early church was consistently toward including more and more people as recipients of the good news and heirs of the Kingdom of God. Jesus had a reputation for eating and drinking in doubtful company, reflected in the accusation, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘he has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” He even called Matthew, one of those tax collectors, to be a disciple. According to the Gospel of Matthew, when he first sent the disciples on a missionary journey, he told them to go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:6) In the Beatitudes Jesus referred to the poor as blessed, upending the popular view of who is in favor with God. He specifically included people who were normally excluded or looked down on. (Luke 6:20)
At first Jesus addressed himself only to his fellow Jews. The story of the Syrophoenician woman portrayed Jesus as open to change. When she first approached him, Jesus refused her request and even insulted her people, comparing them to the dogs who scrounge for scraps. But she, with the tenacity and resourcefulness of a mother fighting for her child, pushed back: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then Jesus relented and healed her daughter. (Mark 7:25-30)
In the story of Pentecost, the author of Luke-Acts makes the extension of God’s love abundantly clear. When the disciples were filled with the spirit and spoke in the square, their words were miraculously transformed so that people of many different languages understood their proclamation. Acts and the letters of Paul tell how the apostles spread the word from town to town around the Roman Empire. The impetus to expand, to include ever more people under the reign of God has continued, now more vigorous, now less, but always present throughout the history of Christianity.
Caring for Creation is an extension of the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. The church has long understood the need to extend love to people who are poor, marginalized, or suffering. Most of the time we have considered our neighbors to be other human beings. But the Apostle Paul and the Gospel of John made clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection were for the reconciliation of the entire world, including the natural order. Now that we understand how intertwined our lives are with the rest of the life on the planet, we need to extend neighborly love to every living thing.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Harries
P.S. I deliberately didn't write about the pandemic. It seems to be all we read and hear about these days. I wanted to focus on something else, and I thought you might enjoy that too.