Reflection for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 21-22, 2019
We are more than halfway through this year’s Season of Creation, and only two weeks away from the start of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region. Today’s readings seem tailor-made to keep us focused on a central issue of both these important events – the impacts of climate change.
Our first reading gives a stern warning about trampling the needy and destroying the poor of the land, those, we are told, who are most affected by climate change. Yet in the reading, those who hear the warning are more concerned with when they can get back to work and start making some money, and if it means cheating others a bit, well no big deal.
I read a little further in this reading from the prophet Amos and it is indeed prophetic: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” It is as if Amos were predicting the catastrophic climate events that are occurring around the world now – including here in Ottawa as we mark the one-year anniversary of the six tornados that changed our region. We mistreat the poor and the Earth at our peril.
We hear again the emphasis on the poor in the Responsorial Psalm. The poor were the priority of Jesus in many of his teachings and in his daily interactions while he lived among us. Care for the poor and marginalized has also been an ongoing refrain of Pope Francis throughout his papacy.
Pope Francis’ concern for the poor of the earth, for indigenous peoples and for the Earth itself, was the impetus for, and is an overarching theme of, the upcoming Synod on the Amazon. It is also the theme of this fall’s Development and Peace education and action campaign. It’s called “For our common home – a future for the Amazon, a future for all”.
So why this seemingly sudden focus on the Amazon? The Amazon basin is home to the world’s largest tropical rainforest. As such, it plays a vital role in regulating the entire planet’s climate, and is one of our best defenses against catastrophic climate change. I learned at a Development and Peace webinar this week that one out of every five breaths we take is with air that comes from the Amazon and one in every five glasses of water we drink also is attributable to the Amazon. This affects us. If we weren’t listening before, our own self-interest should make us pay attention.
We have all heard in the news about the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest and the frightening rate at which it is being destroyed. Serge Langlois, the Executive Director of Development and Peace has said “…what’s behind the headlines [are] … policies that privilege profit over people, our own demand for resources that drives those policies, and the traditional and Indigenous people who resist the destruction of their territories and ways of life.” As the 1st reading warns us, God will not forget this.
As a perhaps telling sign of the times, guess what comes up first when you Google “Amazon”? It is not the so-called “lungs of the Earth” that’s for sure. It’s the Amazon that enables us to order more stuff on line and get it delivered right to our doors. What does this reveal about us and what we give our attention to?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that “no servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.” If my Google search result is any indication, might we be leaning towards mammon?
When confronted by huge societal problems, problems like climate change and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, I mean, isn’t easier to just throw up our hands and go shopping? We can tell ourselves, “But what really can I do, by myself? What impact can I have on such insurmountable problems?”
But I ask you, what if Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, had said that? She started a movement of young people the impact of which we have been seeing on the news in the last couple of days and will see firsthand in Ottawa this week with the climate strike and march this Friday. One girl stopped going to school on Friday’s and instead showed up on the grounds of the Swedish Parliament to protest lack of action by adults on climate change. People noticed; the media noticed; the world noticed and soon a world-wide movement was born.
The thing is we tend to underestimate the impact the smallest actions or words can have. If you say hello to a neighbour on your way to the bus stop in the morning, you might be the only person who actually speaks to that person that day. If you bring your own coffee mug instead of getting a take-out cup, or ride a bike or walk instead of driving, you don’t know who will notice. You just might inspire someone else to re-think a choice of theirs, and so on and so on. That’s how change can start to happen. True, our individual actions alone do not solve huge problems, but incrementally they add up and, more importantly, they keep our hearts open and our minds and bodies engaged.
Like the steward in today’s Gospel, we have all been entrusted with a certain amount of resources to look after. While it may not be wise to adopt all the steward’s methods, his employer – the rich man – does give him somewhat grudging respect for his cleverness and ingenuity after he was dismissed. We might want to be clever about how we use our resources, our wealth. Jesus constantly reminds us that when discerning how to share these blessings, it is the poor who have the preferential option.
We have also been entrusted with shared wealth – the Earth, our common home. Becoming educated, judging for ourselves what we personally are being called to do and then acting in the spirit of faith, hope and love is another way of being a clever steward, of the Earth.