Jesus as environmentalist
All of us want clean air, safe and adequate water, and productive land. Most of us place value on landscapes and seascapes—lush gardens, mighty waterfalls, leaping dolphins. Many of us care for pets and feel a bond with species other than our own. We decry the pollution that threatens our swimming in Boracay and that which causes asthma in our children. And now that we are aware of it, climate change has made everyone an environmentalist as we cite it whenever the temperature gets intolerably high and typhoons dangerously strong.
Environmentalism, however, goes deeper into the causes of environmental degradation. It analyzes the causes of the causes—and the ultimate causes. With the spirit of Easter still with us, we realize that the virtues that Jesus espoused reveal these ultimate causes which are actually the solutions. One of these virtues is simplicity of lifestyle and trust in the Lord as the antidote to undue worry over material things. In Matthew, 6:26-29, Jesus says: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”
All our needs are met by the environment. God created our natural resources to serve all His creatures, humankind included. Problems arise when these resources are excessively exploited. Materialism and greed—amassing wealth beyond need and reasonable comfort—have led to the destruction of forests, mountains, coral reefs, mangroves, arctic ice and all other ecosystems.
At the other end of the spectrum of human tendencies, as opposed to greed, is generosity. As Jesus preached, He enjoined His disciples to share their fish and bread with the crowd, and miraculously fed thousands. Generosity made the phenomenon possible. Generosity is certainly the need of the times. Currently, the gap between the rich and the poor of the world is scandalous and continues to be so. It is this gap that exacerbates environmental destruction. The very rich can afford to hoard the wealth that nature offers; the very poor have only nature to turn to, as when the landless are forced to migrate to the uplands and clear the forest for their own small place under the sun.
A fair socioeconomic system and equitable distribution of the planet’s wealth would ease the pressure on its ecosystems. Often, however, those in privileged situations, those who benefit from the status quo, stand in the way of reforming unjust structures. The breakthrough will come only by following Jesus’ call for generosity. There is an environmental postscript to the miracle of the loaves and fishes: Afterwards, when all were fed, Jesus made His disciples gather the leftovers. He was teaching us not to waste.
Jesus had love and compassion for all, including the outcasts of society like the prostitutes, and the perceived enemies like the tax collectors and the Roman colonizers. He saved from death the woman caught in adultery when He challenged those who would kill her, if they were sinless themselves, to “cast the first stone.” He called out to Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector, to come down from the sycamore tree from where he was watching Jesus and to host Him for a meal. He invited another tax collector, Matthew, to be one of His chosen apostles. He pitied the Roman solider and restored his ear which had been cut off at the Garden of Gethsemane by the apostle Peter.
Love and compassion are the foundations of peace. When we try to understand the other’s situation, we do not judge and we do not hurt. Self-righteousness has resulted in violence and war. Communities and nations that arrogantly believe in their cultural or religious superiority have inflicted harm not only on countless human beings but also on the natural world. Bombs have scarred the earth, killing flora and fauna and leaving the soil contaminated with heavy metals, radioactive materials and other poisons. Even unused arsenal can produce leachate toxic to soil and water. Enormous amounts of minerals and energy go into arms manufacture. Deforestation, species extinction, pollution, etc.—the collateral damage of our lifestyles—are intensified immeasurably by war. Great as He was, Jesus taught us humility, equality and peace, which we must pursue if we are to reverse the tide of environmental deterioration.
As He taught us through His life, Jesus taught us through His death. Not restricting His love to family and friends, He suffered and died for all, from the beginning until the end of humankind. That is exactly what environmentalism is: concern for the next generations. Sustainable development is defined as “meeting the needs of the present generation while ensuring that future generations will have the capacity to meet theirs.” Only if humankind takes care of our natural resources can that be possible.
May the life and death of Jesus inspire us all to be better environmentalists. His resurrection brings the promise that as we work for the integrity of His creation, the world will be better for those who will come after us.
Angelina P. Galang is president of Green Convergence for Safe Food, Healthy Environment and Sustainable Economy. She is officially retired from Miriam College but continues to teach at its Department of Environment.
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