The Story of Jesus the Servant of Creation
Readings for Year A—2013-2014 (Reprinted from 2010-11)
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary by Dennis Ormseth
Part I: Reviewing Our Commentaries of Jesus, the Servant of Creation
Trinity Sunday provides occasion for a recapitulation of the narrative of the Gospel of the Servant of Creation. Is Jesus recognizable as one who shares the will, the purposes, perhaps even the authority and power of this God of creation?
Baptism as a creational moment:
The Gospel of the Servant of Creation begins with that “creational moment” of Jesus’ baptism, as Jesus rises from gently troubled waters and when the water “falls away from Jesus’ dripping body, the heavens open, and Jesus sees the Spirit of God descending and alighting upon him like a dove.” If it is the church’s expectation that Jesus will bring justice to all the Earth, will he bring justice also to those troubled waters?
Redemptive co-suffering with all Creation:
From the outset, the story of Jesus is about the care for creation of this triune God. As “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” his death will become “an icon of God’s redemptive co-suffering with all sentient life, as well as with the victims of social competition”
Discipleship: New ways of living with creation.
He calls his first disciples fishermen who are experienced with life at the edge of the wilderness, who are familiar with imperial strategies to dominate the economies of the Earth’s lands and seas, and who will be able to envision “new ways of living in and with the non-human creation.”
The mountain as witness for creation.
Following the way first taken by Moses, he will ascend a mountain to teach these disciples As representative of the ecology of the earth, the mountain attends to that teaching with an ear for wisdom that “tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of a biotic community”—i.e. for a “land ethic” that might truly “constitute justice for the whole creation.”
Love rather than violence
Jesus blesses those who give place to others, a fundamental principle of ecological awareness; and he also blesses those who live according to the purposes their Creator has installed within their very nature—taking creation as a gift not as an occasion for violence.“
Disciples as Salt of the Earth!
As “salt for the earth” and “light of the world,” his followers will “carry out God’s dynamically unfolding purposes for the whole creation until the end of time.” Jesus will lead them in a “demonstration project of the power of God’s love” lived out in a community of relationships that include all that God loves, the whole creation, so that they might not only love what God loves, but love as God loves: “without expectation of reciprocity, without self-interested conditions . . . without qualifying distinctions.”
Giving up the quest for wealth. It destroys Earth.
Jesus would have us “not worry;” and so he assures us that God does indeed know that we need food, drink, clothes, and shelter. Jesus would have us refuse the domination of wealth in favor of obedience to God—for the pursuit of wealth is easily the chief “driver of environmental deterioration,” in James Gustave Speth’s apt characterization.
Repentance and Restoration
The “blackness upon the mountains” of the text from the prophet Joel prompts a call for repentance in our contemporary situation for the environmental crisis of our time, in response to God’s promise to restore the people to “the life and well-being that God intended for the creation.”.
Service to creation is service to God
The Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life,” leads Jesus “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The temptation shows that what Jesus does for God in his temptations is what God intended humans to do in and for the creation. “To serve God is to serve God’s creation, and the service of God’s creation is service of God.”
Creation is everywhere in the story of Jesus
In his conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus evoked the power of the Holy Spirit who makes God’s love for the cosmos worthy of trust. In his conversation with the woman from Samaria at the well of Jacob, Jesus “brought ‘living water,’ i.e. water with Spirit, to heal the alienation of the woman from her neighbors and of Samaritans from Jews, but also to show how water can serve as the means for reconciliation of all things everywhere on this blue planet.” And with his healing of the man born blind, Jesus practiced what humans are for, serving God by serving the creation, while exposing the blindness of the Pharisees, who refused to see in his healing a truly holy use of water that would contribute to the flourishing of all God’s creatures.
And even in the face of the death of his dear friend Lazarus, Jesus’ actions were governed by what we have come to call the rule of the servant of God’s creation: “What he does is always shaped and determined. . , not by his own very human desires and loves, but by what God knows the world needs, what God wants for the world God so loves.”
Resurrection is new creation!
The resurrection is about more than vindication. The resurrection is a demonstration of the restoration of creation, of the “new creation.” Jesus’ service to the creation is for its restoration and perfection, not its abandonment.
Yes, Jesus is the Servant of Creation—and we are to be servants of creation.
Is Jesus recognizable as one who shares the will, the purposes, and even the authority and power of this God of creation? Warren Carter notes (in Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, p. 551) that . . . what was granted to humankind in the beginning of creation was the responsibility to care for the needs of all the non-human creations.
Part II: Why has Jesus’ call to care for creation been neglected?
What are we to make of the fact that this aspect of Jesus’ life and mission has been so sorely neglected in the teaching of the church until very recent times? Certainly, misunderstandings and misapplications of the claim of “dominion” have contributed to a resistance to accept Jesus on the part of advocates for Earth.
We live in a culture of the denial of creation!
Of deeper significance is what Norman Wirzba describes as the “culture as denial of creation.” The problem, he suggests, is that in modern culture, we no longer share what he calls “the experience of creation”: “ Nature, rather than being the realm of God’s creative work and plan, the object of God’s good pleasure, is the foil for human technique and desire (Wirzba, The Paradise of God, p. 62).
What is behind our “loss of Creation?”
One factor in this “loss of creation” is the “eclipse of agrarian life,” In addition, “the modern technological mind . . . destroys the sacred, divests the world of its sanctity or integrity, since its overriding goal is to transform the world into means for decidedly human ends” (Ibid., p. 81). Furthermore, our culture has become abstract: “interdependencies are either forgotten, denied, or scorned, the assumption being that persons float above their life-giving context, dipping in and out as consumption patterns dictate” (Ibid., p. 85). The processes that sustain human life are increasingly severed from the processes of the earth, as money becomes the medium for all interaction between them.
God is irrelevant!
And finally, the meaning of creation is made difficult by “the growing irrelevance of God:” “As we have become controllers of our own fate, God has simply become an unnecessary hypothesis. Talk of God as a creator who is intimately and concernfully involved in the daily affairs of existence is simply quaint. How, then, can we think of ourselves and the world as creation, when the idea of a creator has been so severely compromised?” (Ibid., p. 91).
God has been banished from creation by economic forces
“God is not so much dead, as absent: God has been banished by us in the drive to fashion a world according to our own liking or, failing that, the liking of corporate, global, economic forces. We cannot be the caretakers of creation because the divine model for such care has been systematically denied or repressed by the dominant cultural trends of the last several centuries” (Ibid., p. 92).
God is our personal friend
At best, God becomes our personal friend, and Jesus a ‘soul mate’ who feels our pain and encourages us in our distancing ourselves from engagement in the web of nature. The idea that God is the God of creation and Jesus the servant of creation would appear, in view of this cultural situation, to be excised from the teaching of the church simply because it no longer makes sense within a culture that has no experience of creation.
What then are we to do?
Or more to the point here, does what we have done in constructing this narrative of Jesus the Servant of Creation address the situation at all effectively? Scholars are finding new insights on which to base a “relational theology of creation.” In particular, we have found the work of Terry Fretheim extremely helpful in this regard (God and World in the Old Testament, pp. 5-9). God is creator/maker, speaker, evaluator, and consultant of others; in interaction with one another.
Genesis 1 is a democratization of care for creation—everyone is called!
Fretheim also argues for the “democratization that is inherent in the claim that every human being is created in the image of God. If royal language as been democratized, then royal links that may be present have been subverted and non-hierarchical perspectives prevail.” (Ibid. pp. 36-47.)
We find the Triune God in water, bread, and wine.
It is in the presence of water that can be the bearer of Spirit, and of bread and wine that are acknowledged as gifts of the Creator, even as they are also nature transformed by human hands—that we find the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the One who invites the community into the experience of creation and moves it toward assuming responsibility for its care. The story of the Servant of Creation becomes our story, even as our story of the abandonment of creation has become his. And he is with us, to the end of the age.
For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288