Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth

by Christopher Collins.

My holiday reading this summer included Yaa Gyasi’s outstanding first novel Homegoing. It’s a masterpiece of story telling following the fate of the descendants of two sisters born in Africa. One is sold into slavery and the other becomes a slave trader’s wife – the effects of which fissure down the generations: from the Gold Coast of Africa to the plantations of Mississippi, missionary schools to the dive bars of Harlem. It’s the story of one family separated by generations and oceans.

The story ends in the current generation. Marcus is living the dream of a college education researching the enduring scar of the trade – discrimination, accusation, addiction and poverty. But the more he delves into the stories of his own family, he becomes increasingly aware of the disconnect from the culture in which their fate has placed them. It is only when he visits the Gold Coast, home, and swims in the ocean in which his ancestors swam, and saw the land that his ancestors farmed, that he found connection, peace and healing.

Healing was in a homegoing to the land that fundamentally formed him.

And that got me thinking about how we theologically respond to the climate emergency that is unfolding before our very eyes.

We could approach it by looking at the consequences of climate change through the lens of the Parable of the Good Samaritan we read in Luke 10. The ones who suffer the most, like the beaten man, are not the ones who have added disproportionally to the problem. Changes to the world’s climate have their greatest impact on the nations in the global South. Nations that don’t have the means to adapt quickly to their changing climate.

In that context, I wonder who historians who look back on the twentieth and early twenty-first century will say are like the Levite and Priest – the ones who saw the need but walked on by. Who might the Samaritan be? The one who responds helpfully to the great need to help their world-wide neighbours who are devastated by drought and chronic hunger or who are forced from their homes because of flooding and rising sea levels?

As we look on the consequences of climate change and learn to be the Samaritan in the story, we might need to learn to “love wastefully” as the Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong described it. Loving wastefully means living “a life defined by love that will not seek to protect itself or to justify itself. It will be content simply to be itself and to give itself away with abandon.” [1] Surely this is how the Samaritan loved and how we can mitigate the consequences of a changing climate.

But, is it enough? Is it trying to heal a wound without healing the cause?

In his latest book, They Will Inherit the Earth, John Dear, the Catholic priest, author and activist reflects on words found in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5.5). Meekness, he writes, is what Thomas Merton recognised as non-violence. It is following a life of non-violence, he argues, that enables a oneness with all of God’s creation in which we will turn from our destructive ways.[2]

So, perhaps we need to be more than the ones who bandage and console because, in the view of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we need to find ways to stop the beating in the first place. To live a life of non-violence. Surely this is how we can be the best possible global neighbours and it’s how we can find our own homegoing to the earth out of which we are formed.

[1] Spong, John Shelby, Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy, (New York: Harper Collins, 2016) p.366

[2] Dear, John, They Will Inherit the Earth, (New York: Orbis Books, 2018), p.2

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