It Rolls Downhill

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Today’s readings (click to open in new window): 
Psalms 104; 149, Genesis 6:9-22, Hebrews 4:1-13, John 2:13-22


“Tourist prices” have been a problem for as long as people have traveled out of town. For example, non-Jewish currency was forbidden inside the temple at Jerusalem, so pilgrims needed to exchange it with money changers in the temple’s outer court before purchasing sacrificial animals. Doves, lambs, and other creatures are difficult to travel with, so livestock merchants also set up shop there. Both money changers and merchants took advantage of captive customers by demanding high prices. When Jesus arrived at the temple, he was so outraged to find “a den of thieves” where people traded faith for profit that he fashioned a whip out of cords and drove them all out. Not only had commerce defiled the temple, the institution that was supposed to protect the people was exploiting them.

The faithful are called to steward our resources justly. That means more than tithing and charity. Wealth does not buy us the privilege to shift social burdens onto the poor. In his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis describes how the poor are disproportionately affected by climate change and pollution. The wealthy consume resources and produce waste at a much greater rate than the poor, but poor communities are where we dump trash, manufacture toxins, and  ignore contamination. This burden shift occurs down the road and around the globe. Industries with environmentally devastating activities forbidden under national policies exploit poorer, unregulated countries. Many economic and social forces impact the differences between wealthy and poor communities, but property values are not Christian values. Living in a nice neighborhood doesn’t mean we deserve more justice. Faith calls us to deploy our resources in a way that protects the most vulnerable among us.

Are we in the outer court exchanging profit for justice, or are we working to make sure the poor – whom Jesus told us to serve – are at the heart of God’s kingdom? Rock bottom prices have high human costs. Pollutants we vote or litigate out of our back yards are forced into someone else’s. When the choices we make to better our lives negatively impact others, we need to make better choices. Maybe we can start by treating the poor as we would treat our own family … because Christ has made them so.

Comfort: Rich, poor, or in between, God’s justice is meant for all of us equally.

Challenge: Read about how the poor have been unfairly impacted by pollution in Ringwood, New Jersey (also known as Sludge City), Horlivka, Ukraine, or Flint, Michigan.

Prayer: Lord, help me to live justly, not just for my own righteousness, but for the love of your creation. Amen.  

Discussion: Where in your own community do you see links between poverty and injustice?

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Downstream

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Ezekiel 34:17-31, Hebrews 8:1-13, Luke 10:38-42


When God spoke through Ezekiel, he compared the corrupt and powerful who exploited the poor to sheep who bullied other members of the flock:

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? …[Y]ou pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide.

God promised to judge between the overfed and the starving – and it’s no surprise which side he favored. We can read this as a metaphor for spiritual corruption, but in a land where religion and government were the same, corruption and neglect left people starving in many ways.

Are we even aware when our daily activities foul the waters? How often do we look downstream to see how actions impact the people living there? The further upstream we are – in terms of wealth or status, or sometimes literally – the deeper our effect. The waste we generate goes somewhere, and it’s not landing in affluent suburbs.  The money we save by insisting on the lowest possible prices comes out of someone’s wages, but probably not the CEOs.  Luxuries like cell phones and electric cars include materials from mining processes that endanger children and poison the air and water of unprotected lands around the globe. Neither the pasture we trod and the stream we foul, nor the dignity and mercy God asks us to show each other, stop at state, national, or continental boundaries.

Ezekiel tells us God is not concerned with whether the overfed sheep feel they’ve been treated fairly, but with how brutally they wield their flanks and horns to fill their bellies. We’re all upstream of someone. Through conscious effort we can make more justice-oriented decisions about how we live so that those downstream have cleaner, more plentiful water. Less is more.

Comfort: If you are in need, God is on your side.

Challenge: Read this article on how wealthy nations are dumping toxic waste in poorer nations.

Prayer: Merciful God, forgive me for those I have harmed downstream. Grant me the wisdom and strength to do better. Amen.

Discussion: Do you know what happens with the hazardous trash generated by your community?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!