Ecological hermeneutics of MT 25

I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me … Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:31-46

The 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is a foundational message to understanding climate change. 

What is an eco-hermeneutic? It means to read the biblical passage through a “green lens”. 

The cause-effect of climate change is forcing the marginalized in society to go hungry, thirsty, and forcing people into deeper poverty. Matthew 25 is not only foundational in our belief in the Universal Christ for us, but it is also our “vocational call” as believers in Christ and our call to save the planet. In other words, it shapes not just what we believe and what we stand for, but also what we do as a church, a political society, an organization of any kind. The issues we address, the campaigns, causes, and movements we get involved in, the statements we sign, the coalitions we join, and much more. We need to come to realize that climate change has the most direct and dire impact on the marginal in society.

Matthew 25 is addressing issues of organizational stewardship and sustainability.

We are faced daily, with many invitations, requests, and opportunities to make a positive impact on a variety of issues, in our churches or social organizations, and our personal lives. The question is, how do we decide where and how to focus our ministry, energy, staff, time, and gifts? How do we become good stewards of our calling? I think that Matthew 25:31-46 provides the answer in all that we do and when we look at all we do we need to ask what is the impact of climate change going to be by our actions.

Americans, who are of means, put climate change low on their list of priorities. It is something most can’t see and touch so to speak.  But consider how those who are marginalized in society, the people Jesus is asking us about, and how we have helped them fare when we opt out of the conversation of climate change or worse make the marginalized scapegoats for climate change. I read where 250 million are currently affected each year by climate change-related disasters is increasing every single year. Climate change is becoming a serious threat to at least half of the world’s population. The plight of those affected by our society’s cause/effect of our climate can no longer be viewed as someone else’s problem. The future of life as we have known it on this planet is at stake.

In the first year after Hurricane Katrina, low-income families headed by single mothers in New Orleans fell from 18,000 to 3,000, according to a 2009 report on climate change and gender. Just over 80 percent of such families were displaced, and those who tried to return to the city faced a particularly steep set of obstacles. Industries dominated by women—healthcare, hospitality, and education—struggled to the right themselves while construction and clean-up jobs became plentiful. The hurricane damaged four in five subsidized affordable housing units, and subsequent demolitions led to an affordable housing crisis. Four years after the storm, less than half the number of pre-Katrina childcare centers were open, leaving working mothers with few options.” 

Compound this world-wide and see the devastation climate change is bringing to our society, and we should be asking how we will answer the questions Jesus gave us in MT:25.

We live in a world on a planet that is interconnected with every living thing that is mutually dependent on each other for life and survival. The entire universe, Earth, and all that we have come to know of this universe is one dynamic cosmic design, and within each of us is a level of responsibility that should cause us to reflect.

Jesus makes it clear in MT 25: 31-46 that the betrayal, the scapegoating of the poor and the vulnerable are among the worst sins possible. Our growing warming planet has a direct impact on those who Jesus has named as “the least of these,” and they are being affected by climate change. When we strip this planet of its resources, we leave people without means to grow food, and then they encounter starvation. Droughts produce the horrible effects of people dying of thirst.

Matthew 25 is asking us to elevate climate change on our list of priorities. Pope Francis named it as such in Laudato Si’. Our relationship to our God, to our neighbors, and the planet we call home are one and interconnected.

Let Matthew 25 be your guide to how you address climate change; let it be your guide as you look at political candidates and those who currently hold office. And always remember:

 “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me … Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:31-46

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