In a daily meditation this week, Father Richard Rohr wrote:
The world of ecology is so exciting because we’re recognizing from all of the scientific disciplines that the entire nature of the biological and physical universe is absolutely relational.
We’ve discovered that when we change one factor, everything changes.
I was watching a show on birds recently, and I learned about red knots that migrate annually all the way from Tierra del Fuego to certain Arctic islands north of Hudson Bay.
Thousands of miles!
I said to myself, “Wouldn’t they be happier if they did not do that every year?”
But no, this is their destiny, to fly north some 9,000 miles each season.
They stop in the middle of their journey on particular beaches along the Delaware Bay. There they always ate the recently-laid, protein-rich eggs of horseshoe crabs.
Those eggs would give them enough energy to get all the way to the Arctic.
Well, we good Americans decided that horseshoe crabs were sort of ugly and not very useful for many things, but they do make excellent bait and attract eels and conch in great numbers. So we started using them for fish bait and killing these crabs indiscriminately.
It took about ten years to recognize that the beautiful red knot might soon be extinct!
So researchers observed and studied, and they found multiple possible answers, such as climate change, along with coastal development.
But you have probably guessed one of the main reasons: we were killing the shorebirds’ life source.
As soon as horseshoe crabs were more protected against use as bait, we saw a return of the lovely little red knot.
The birds again had available protein they could eat on the shores of New Jersey and make it all the way to the Arctic....
Now this example might seem like such a simple, unimportant thing.
And yet a spiritual seer, one we would call a mystic, would recognize that God did not create horseshoe crabs or red knots for no reason.
They are a part of the entire ecology or spiritual plan.
I just offer this as one little example of the ecologically-interconnected and interpenetrating world that we’re all a part of.
But we have to be curious to see it!
Saint Paul saw it in the church.
He tried to tell the crabs and knots and fish merchants and Jersey Shore divas in Corinth that God has brilliantly fashioned them into a beautifully interdependent ecosystem, so the way they treat each other matters.
He points them to the mirror and says, consider your body.
Now consider yourselves the body of Christ.
All the parts are different, but all interconnected and indispensable.
The ugly parts are just as valuable as the pretty ones.
The so-called naughty bits that suffer shame and neglect—usually from pious Christians— should be treated with more honor, not less.
The honorable, public parts can fend for themselves and also get over themselves.
This is so obvious with body parts—or it is by the time Paul is through with his comic sketch of their dialogue—that it should be equally obvious about community.
We all need each other the way God made us: very different parts of a very connected whole that is bigger, more complex, more efficient, and more wondrous than we can comprehend.
And here's the deeper truth beyond Saint Paul and Father Richard's examples: all of creation is made this way.
The single human body, and the natural world of earth, the community named church, are all layers of the same onion, themselves all interrelated pieces of a single pattern.
Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:
All I'm saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.
You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.
This is the interrelated structure of reality.
Which brings us to the synagogue in Nazareth.
Isaiah is a long scroll.
Jesus rolled through more than sixty chapters to find the text he chose to read as his first public words in Luke's gospel.
This is no accident: this is Luke introducing his agenda, what his ministry is all about.
Matthew does much the same thing; in his gospel, Jesus begins with the beatitudes.
Notice in both cases that Jesus' eye is squarely on the vulnerable.
Blessed are the not blessed: the poor in spirit, the grieving, the meek, the frustrated, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and the rejected.
I have come to bring good news to the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed.
God is focused on the red knots, the ones who are not what they are created to be because
someone else's economic agenda is in the way.
Time for a complete reset, Jesus says: the year of the Lord's favor.
That's the Jubilee year written into Torah, the law that every fiftieth year, debts are forgiven, sold and foreclosed lands are returned to original families, the entire economy begins again from square one.
Little surprise that scholars think it never actually happened; of course it didn't.
I didn't give everything back on my fiftieth birthday; why not?
Self-interest greater than love of neighbor wouldn't allow it.
Now self-interest, which Americans have bloated, enthroned, and somehow swallowed as the highest virtue, is choking us all, unraveling the garment and destroying the network.
It is cancer in Christ's body; it is idolatry parading around as practicality; it is death dressed up as life like Bugs Bunny in a dress confusing Elmer Fudd.
So Jesus comes, in his mama's words, to lift up the lowly and send the rich away empty—not to reward or punish people, but to restore God's design.
He has good news for the poor that sounds like bad news to the rich.
He proclaims release—also translated forgiveness—to captives and prisoners, including those incarcerated in addiction, loveless mansions, death row holding cells, shame, debt, and other penitentiaries of despair.
He announces a reset of society that looks a lot like Martin's dream and Paul's vision of church and the way earth flourishes without human overreach.
All of it begins with prioritizing the vulnerable—the poor, the needy, the red knots—and works to clothe them with greater honor and treat them with greater respect.
And here's the kicker: Jesus' torch has now been passed to us.
Now y'all are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Now the Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
Who is suffering, who is threatened, who needs to be fed and protected?
So what needs to stop, and what needs to start, in how we live?