Perhaps this year of the COVID-19 virus has shown us most clearly how interconnected we all are. A disease that started in one city has affected near enough every country in the world. Millions have been infected; hundreds of thousands have died. We have been made aware of how difficult it is for poor people who live in crowded slums or refugee camps to find soap and water to wash their hands and the space to distance themselves from others. The provision of hospitals, doctors and lifesaving equipment is far less for them than for richer nations. Our political systems and our demand for more and more possessions make the levelling of equalities intended by a Jubilee impossible to achieve.
Paul reminds his readers of four of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and, like Jesus, sums up this part of the law: “Love your neighbour as yourself……..Love is the fulfilling of the law”. The way we live does not constitute loving our neighbour as ourselves. Our focus is nearly entirely on ourselves. We consume vast quantities of food wrapped in plastic. We make toys and many of our household goods from plastic too. When that plastic is once in the environment it enters the food chain to poison people as well as clogging up the oceans, rivers and lakes. We burn fossil fuels and pollute the atmosphere, water and land with the by-products of our industrial processes. The injustice is that it doesn’t just affect those who used the plastic or create the pollution, but those all across the globe including many who are struggling to survive. In fact, it is the poor and marginalised who are always affected disproportionately. They are the ones who suffer most from a change in climate which makes a precarious living into an impossibility. In a globally connected society, these people are our neighbours just as much as the person across the street or in the apartment above us. Future generations are also our neighbours in time; we are leaving them a terrible legacy of extremes of climate and impoverishment of biodiversity. You could also argue that our neighbours are the creatures with which we share the planet, 50% of which face extinction because of human behaviour.
So, what can we do? We cannot point the finger of blame at the world’s people in general if we, as members of the Church, are not doing something to change how we live and how we look at the problem. The Patriarch of the Orthodox church says this:
“We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.” Sin is an unpopular word, some would say an old-fashioned word that is not helpful to people. Our modern way of looking at human motivations and the trauma in some lives which causes bad choices leaves no room to talk of something like sin. However, God gave us a mandate to look after the Earth and we have failed badly. We have grabbed what we want without a thought for the outcome. Jesus made it plain that if we see another Church member sinning, we are to try to correct them. We cannot just turn a blind eye to wrong behaviour.
We have no right to challenge a brother or sister in Christ about their choices if our own behaviour is not in line with God’s commandments. We each have a responsibility to look at our own lifestyle and choices and consider how we can change as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said: Resolving the ecological crisis of our planet, however, is no longer a problem we can leave to the scientists. Just as we are all part of the problem, so we are all also part of the solution. We all need to come to terms with the forces that have created this crisis and the resources within our traditions that can motivate us to resolve the crisis. One of those traditions is our biblical heritage.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the problem. What can we do about five huge ‘islands’ of waste plastic floating in the oceans? How can we protect people in Bangladesh from the effects of floods or people in California from raging fires? In terms of action that would make a quick difference, there is probably nothing we can do about such things. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Every day offers us the chance to live more in line with God’s call to jubilee.
Currently, 40% of food is wasted; meanwhile two and a half billion people go hungry. Everyone can examine ways to avoid food waste in their own household. It’s amazing what you can do with left-overs. There are websites and Facebook pages dedicated to avoiding food waste.
We can also work on reducing the rubbish we produce. We can avoid single use plastics by having reusable cups and refillable containers for products.
We can reduce the pollution from driving our cars and heating our homes by choosing clean energy. We can walk and cycle more. We know that when lockdowns began to happen, atmospheric pollution dropped by a huge amount. We have seen that our behaviour can make a difference in this wonderful world we share.
Jubilee means the ‘ram’s horn’ that was blown to mark the start of a time of universal redemption ‘Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the Day of Atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. (Leviticus 25:9) The Jubilee was a time of hope for the people. It’s up to us, brothers and sisters of Christ, to be that voice of hope in the current critical time for the Earth and all who live upon it.