Earthcare and the Heart and Soul of Jesus’ Gospel

May 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

After giving up on Christian earth stewardship and rebooting my study of the gospel of Jesus looking for some opening into earthcare, I found two. Well, one and a half.

“Good news for the poor”. The heart of Jesus’ gospel, I discovered, was what I call the economics of redemption in the common-wealth of God: Jesus’ good news was a prophetic condemnation of the imperial economics that oppressed his people and a radical restructuring of his own community’s economics so as to release the poor from that oppression and from their suffering.

“And he was with the wild animals”. The soul of his gospel—or at least one dimension of it—was the role that the landscape of Palestine played in his communion with the Father: a radical spiritual ecology that informed where he went to do what and why.

The economics of redemption in the commonwealth of God

In the course of my study of the gospel, I took a course on The Prophetic Tradition with the School of the Spirit. On the reading list was The Politics of Jesus by the Mennonite John Howard Yoder. Yoder has a chapter on the Jubilee message in Luke. This put me on a trail back into Torah to study debt redemption law, beginning with the Jubilee described in Leviticus 25 and including related legislation, like that in Deuteronomy 15.

The Jubilee called for four things:

  1. The cancelation of all debts.
  2. The release of all debt slaves, people who had gone into indentured servanthood to pay off a loan.
  3. The return of families who had lost their family farms through bankruptcy to their ancestral portion, or landholding, to their inheritance, to the farm that they had lost to debt—or more accurately, to creditors.
  4. And the injunction to let your land lie fallow for a year.

As the very first action in his public ministry in the gospel of Luke (chapter four), Jesus declared “good news to the poor” through a Jubilee, “the year that Yahweh favors”. But this was just the foundation of his economic platform. Once I had learned to recognize the Jubilee and redemption terms of Torah, I found them everywhere I looked in Jesus’ teachings and actions. From this initial proclamation of the good news for the poor, the message spreads into every corner of his ministry. It is the cornerstone of the kingdom of God he preached.

Very many of our most treasured and familiar teachings and sayings of Jesus deal directly with one or more of the four elements laid out in Leviticus 25, though he reinterpreted them in really creative ways. The Beatitudes are my favorite. They are an extended midrash on inheritance law, promising to fulfill number three above.

And the economics of redemption do not just find expression in Jesus’ sayings; they also find embodiment in his actions. All the stories of feeding figure prominently, including the Last Supper. But also at least half of his healing miracles and some of his other “miracles” either serve to relieve the suffering of the poor directly or have some economic dimension.

These are big claims, I know, and obviously I can’t go into detail here. And we’re still not talking about earthcare, either, at least not directly. For while Jesus has basically nothing to say about land use, he is all about land tenure—who gets to own the land. This in a civilization that defines poverty as the inability to support yourself and your family, that is, as possessing neither land nor trade.

Spiritual ecology

But as exciting as it has been to discover the economics of redemption in the gospel of Jesus, it has been even more thrilling to discover how Jesus used the landscape of Palestine in his own spiritual practice—to look at where he went, to do what, and why.

But this path led me even deeper, into the very origins of the western religious tradition, a tradition of spiritual ecology that Jesus either knew already or rediscovered, but which began with Moses and the inhabitation of the promised land of Canaan, and was in some ways picked up again by George Fox. By spiritual ecology, I mean using the ecology of your landbase as a doorway into communion with the divine.

This is a completely different approach to earthcare than stewardship of property loaned to you in trust. It is an invitation to communion with land and with God. In fact, Christian earth stewardship practically prohibits such nature communion with the principle that we worship the creator, not the creation. I say “practically” because this principle does not literally prohibit seeking divine communion in the natural world, but it builds a fence around it, fearing the slippery slope toward paganism. This fence is maintained most ardently in the evangelical Christian hatred for “New Age Spirituality”, the intuitive seeking for this communion by some of our contemporaries.

These topics—spiritual ecology, land-based spirituality, and religious culture of place—are the subject of another book that I have not even really started writing yet, though I’ve done some workshops on aspects of it. I’m not sure whether this blog is the place to work this out. My blog entries are already way too long to work well as blog entries. But I think I will touch on a couple of things experimentally.

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