Hearing Both Cries

Cry. Image by gyanlopez via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Bible’s sensitivity not only to the natural world but to economic justice for the lowly is truly remarkable, given Scripture’s origins during the influence of great empires that stretched across the near east. Judah’s prophets expressed the small nation’s hope that “every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low” (Isaiah 40:4, see December 10). Such understandings lent to earliest Christian writers living under Roman dominion the confidence that the God who rules heaven and earth, with all its creatures, lands, and nations, “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52; see December 24).

As Pope Francis put it in his landmark encyclical Laudato Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home, “a true ecological approach … must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (49). These two dominant scriptural themes, God as creator of all life and God as upholder of justice for those who are politically and economically weak, show up abundantly at the turn of the liturgical seasons, as November’s lectionary passages build toward Christ the King, and December’s passages recommence in Advent. They remind us that Scripture’s emphasis on the natural world is not merely about aesthetic beauty and emotional majesty. Rather, focus on the humble members of the earth’s community — the grass of the field; the smallest of the sheep — reminds humans that we live properly as members of creation and not apart from it. And attention to the deep connections between violence against humans and violence against the earth reminds us that economic justice cannot take place without ecological justice. This wisdom is available week after week for the discerning to highlight.

Scripture’s dual emphases on creation and justice offer an urgent warning for our own time concerning wealth disparity, greed, and displacement. Since, in Matthew 23’s words, “the greatest among you will be your servant,” not one of us is exempt from considering the economic and ecological ramifications of our own choices, no matter how insignificant they may seem to us. As Americans who, largely unknowingly, take up far more than our share of the earth’s resources and land, we each have great potential to give back, to change the course of things, to follow a better pathway ourselves and to show this path to others. And as pastors who guide their flocks toward God, we have great potential to lead our people to a renewed relationship with society and with the earth itself, if we only seek to live and speak this truth about the world as we find it.

November 5 (Ordinary 31)

  • Micah 3:5-12 critiques religious and political leaders’ collusion with economic injustice.
  • Psalm 43 prays for vindication against the unjust.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 reminds Christians of Paul’s own toil for them.
  • Matthew 23:1-12 urges, “The greatest among you will be your servant,” since “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (verses 11, 12).

November 12 (Ordinary 32)

  • Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 describes Wisdom seeking out those who desire her.
  • Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 commends desire to learn Wisdom’s ways.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 assures the grieving that the dead will participate in Jesus’ reign on earth.
  • Matthew 25:1-13 commends the five well-prepared bridesmaids, saying, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

November 19 (Ordinary 33)

  • Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 envisions “a day of distress and anguish” for those complacent in their wealth.
  • Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12 meditates on time, compares humans to ephemeral grass, recognizes the inevitability of toil, and prays that God’s servants’ work may prosper.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 reminds readers to keep awake and sober, wearing faith, love, and hope of salvation.
  • Matthew 25:14-30 emphasizes servants’ responsibility to carry on their lord’s work while he is gone.

November 26 (Christ the King / Reign of Christ)

  • Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 asserts that it is God who shepherds, by looking out for the weakest of the sheep and protecting them from the powerful.
  • Psalm 95:1-7a proclaims God’s single-handed sovereignty over the earth’s depths and heights, the sea and land, and all inhabitants.
  • Ephesians 1:15-23 reminds readers that we are not placed in charge, nor do we leave the earth behind. Rather, Jesus already rules over all.
  • Matthew 25:31-46 spells out what Jesus expects of followers: to care for the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned as they would care for Jesus himself.

December 3 (Advent 1)

  • Isaiah 64:1-9, a lament from exile, prays for redemptive divine presence, calling God the potter and Israel the clay, the “work of your hand.”
  • Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 likewise prays for restoration, promising, “Then we will never turn back.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 tells Christians that faithful God will strengthen them for blamelessness.
  • Mark 13:24-37 asserts that preparation for the future means pursuing our work as servants.

December 10 (Advent 2)

  • Isaiah 40:1-11 envisions God’s coming in the earth’s wild places, the valleys and mountains, the rough places where human life is short, but divine words endure. 
  • Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 sees faithfulness springing from the ground, righteousness peering down from the sky, and the land yielding its increase.
  • 2 Peter 3:8-15a reminds us that God is not slow but patient, wishing that nothing should perish.
  • Mark 1:1-8 announces John the baptizer from the wilderness, dressed in wild clothes, eating wild foods, baptizing with wild water. 

December 17 (Advent 3)

  • Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 describes “those who mourn in Zion” as “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.”
  • Psalm 126 envisions restoration of fortunes as waters in the wilderness and abundant grain harvests.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 exhorts the faithful to rejoice, pray gratefully, and never quench the spirit.
  • John 1:6-8, 19-28 imagines Jesus’ coming as light, and John as the voice from the desert, witnessing to the light.

December 24 (Advent 4)

  • 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 reminds King David that God was satisfied with tent-dwelling among God’s people.
  • Luke 1:46-55 praises God for bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly.
  • Romans 16:25-27 describes proclamation of Jesus as the mystery kept secret but now revealed.
  • Luke 1:26-38 narrates God’s gift of fruitfulness to two unlikely women.

December 31 (Christmas 1)

  • Isaiah 61:10-62:3 imagines Jerusalem’s salvation as bright as the sunrise.
  • Psalm 148 catalogues those called to praise God, prioritizing wild, heavenly forces and wild earthly inhabitants.
  • Galatians 4:4-7 describes kinship with God.
  • Luke 2:22-40 narrates Simeon’s readiness to “depart in peace,” having seen promise of redemption.

Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.