Scripture for this Sunday:
Nehemiah 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19.1-6; 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a; Luke 4.14-21
Greta Thunberg is Swedish teenager who has taken to absenting herself from secondary school on a regular basis to protest outside the Swedish parliament about its failure to take sufficient action on climate change and global warming. Last week, she went by train to the World Economic Forum in Davos. There, she stirred up things, basically by telling the participants (1500 of whom travelled by private jet) that they bore responsibility for climate change. The next day, she told a forum that she does not want hope, she wants action.
It was rather provocative. Does provocation accomplish anything? It’s not unprecedented, in biblical terms. There’s John the Baptist calling people ‘a brood of vipers.’ Then Jesus turns up in his home synagogue, reads nicely from the prophet Isaiah, claims fulfilment of the prophet’s words – but angers his former neighbours by referring to Elijah and Elisha who took God’s message to outsiders, to the excluded and the overlooked, to those who were not counted in the small circle of chosen ones.
Rather like Greta Thunberg, he bluntly told people who thought that they were special, that they were not. Instead, that rather than being problem solvers, they were part of (or, in Davos, a cause of) the problem. Deflating people’s self-image is provocative. At least the audience in Davos did not resort to throwing Greta off a cliff.
Jesus might not have used her exact words: ‘I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house was on fire. Because it is.’ But what he went on to tell those who would listen as he travelled around Judea and Israel and the surrounding Gentile territory is that their world was in crisis, and it wasn’t the Roman empire that was the root of the problem. It was the people themselves, who needed to look inside their hearts and minds at their idea of community, and start to examine what God really wanted of a chosen people in an inclusive, compassionate kingdom.
What about us? Are we willing to drop our ideas about being ‘special’ and actually listen to Jesus’ teaching, and what he says about compassion, community and outsiders? This is not just about climate change – although that does matter. It is about how we live, and whether it matches our faith. Are we with Jesus, and Greta – or would we rather just live life as usual, joining together with the cliff-throwers?