44…and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher,* let me see again.’ 52Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Here is a Gospel reversal. The blind man is in last place, way beyond the crowd and being quieted by them. Jesus stops the momentum and calls him forward into first place, and in their encounter he heals him.
The crowd is all inward looking, surrounding Jesus, and not inclined to be disturbed. Jesus puts a stop to that, and forces the crowd to turn to the blind man, call him, and welcome him in. They make space for him, where before there was none. This is what Jesus still does in a Christian’s life, and in the church when we become too inward looking; when we make church a way of not hearing what lies beyond. He enables us to make space for those on the margins and to be messengers of hope and wholeness.
Friday 24th September was National Make Way Day, to raise awareness of the experience of wheelchair users and sight impaired people. A full wheelie bin on the pavement, or a car parked on the curb, could make a wheelchair user dismount the curb and pass on the road. A sight-impaired lady spoke of overhanging branches as something her dog and cane could not detect, and had caused her much pain and scars before. Hearing their experiences struck me that I would not have thought of those things. And yet loving our neighbor is just that; trying to feel what another experiences and to act accordingly. The crowd above had stopped feeling what it must be like to be blind, excluded and on the margins.
In this Harvest season, can we love the planet as our neighbor? Can we move from inward looking existence to feel the pain of the earth, and the suffering of the vulnerable exposed to the extreme effects of climate change? Can we relate to the earth and it’s ecosystem as our mother, brother and sister, as Saint Francis did?
Our brothers and sisters around this planet are already suffering Climate Change effects. Rain in South Sudan has decreased nearly 20% over the last 40/50 years while temperatures have risen 1 degree c. This is activated drought and crop failure. What does it mean to love our neighbor in South Sudan as ourselves?
We need to stop treating Green Issues as the current trending topic, and see it as at the core of our faith and identity. Saint James, who we have been reading for the last month or so, is adamant that our words and actions be aligned. We cannot profess faith in the Creator and then asset-strip his creation. We cannot sing Harvest hymns of praise and dismantle the ecosystem and its resilience.
But what can we do? The question itself suggests a certain weariness.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man does nothing wrong to Lazarus, he just does nothing. He only sees Lazarus as we see wallpaper. Every day he passed him at his gates and never managed to open up a space to feel what Lazarus endured. However the parable is powerful in seeing how toxic this negligence was. We cannot just go in and go out, with thoughtless fuel consumption, emissions, waste and excessive plastic use, while the planet suffers all around us. We need to overcome cynicism, self-interest and compassion fatigue. We need to be activists, campaigning for our governments to adhere to their promises at the Paris Agreement, and advocating for far reaching measures at the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow next month. We need to get our own houses in order. We can audit our churches to see where we can improve the best green practices, and we can as individuals make informed choices and priorities.
I was moved by a Buddhist prayer from New Mexico, and wondered if we could find such courage and conviction to make such a vow, and establish such a practice.
I vow to myself and to each of you:
To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.
To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future generations,
and my brothers and sisters of all species.
To support others in our work for the world and to ask for help when I need it.
To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in
observing these vows.
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