Relationships, Self-Interest and Shrewd Action…

I have been looking again at photos from our recent visit to the Top End of Australia – Darwin, Kakadu and East Alligator River, Litchfield NP, Katherine and Nitmiluk, and Adelaide River.  I am reminded of the immense beauty and wonder of this place.  The diversity of flora and Fauna continues to create a sense of awe in me.  I remember the overwhelming sense of wonder all around me as we drifted down a river or across a billabong or hurtled down a highway en-route to another place of beauty and experienced the vastness, the diverse raw beauty surrounding the coach.  The skies seemed close and vast.  The trees enormous, small, white, grey, black, brown and in infinite forms and array.  The magnificent crocodiles that lay in wait along riverbanks or billabongs, seductively quiet and seemingly asleep only to burst into immediate life s opportunity arose.  Their capacity to ‘leap’ from the water and grab food dangling high up was incomprehensible.  The birdlife was magnificent and vibrant and everywhere.

I ponder those photos and rekindle the experiences and sense of wonder.  I think also of people like Big Bill Neidjie, whose cave we stood before.  We took a moment to pay respect to him, his memory and the land on which we stood, land that his people had cared for and related to in deep and profound ways for millennia.  We looked at his art, drawings and writings that taught other indigenous people how to live on the land, with the land and its creatures and behaviour.  He also gave them a basic education in white fellas ways and language because he had been able to go to school for a bit.  Reading his story, I am convicted of how important, vital and real his relationship with land, creatures, seasons and everything around him, truly was.  I have much to learn about living on and with this earth, which provides sustenance for us all but is suffering terribly!

As I remember this astounding experience or the moments of awe in wandering the local parklands and creek on our morning walk, this week filled with powerful flows of water following rain, I recognise the raw beauty, diversity and the fragility of creation.  I am also aware of the powerful storms and events of nature that have devastated communities and nations in recent times.  Such power is overwhelming and it isn’t hard to understand why many ancient cultures (and more recent ones) feared the storms and worshipped storm gods in order to appease their power and seek protection.  In the Old Testament, the revelation of Yahweh, the God of Israel, was usually accompanied by the various manifestations of storms and nature’s power.  God was assumed to hold the forces of nature within ‘his’ power and control – they obeyed God.  We see this belief echoed in some stories of Jesus controlling storms and calling nature to submit to his power. 

In various ways people through history have understood God or their various forms of gods, to be revealed in the power and wonder of the world and to be in control of the breadth of nature.  Nature is a powerful witness to the wonder and mystery of life and of the Divine.  As we engage more fully with the natural world we understand the intricate and vital connections and relationships between all things.  Ecosystems, food chains, relationships between species that are mutually dependent, and the various cycles implicit and explicit within the natural world reveal the profound interconnectedness of all things.  In this we encounter and experience the Divine in mystery, wonder, and power. We name, define and control God and nature and all else but ultimately we discover we can only work with these powers, this mystery.  We find ourselves in awe before the power of the world around us and before the mystery we call God.

Through September many churches are engaging in a Season of Creation whereby they reflect on the beauty, wonder and fragility of the world around us.  They hear the call for humanity to remember our place within the whole ecosystem of life as stewards called to care for the earth and its creatures.  The absolute necessity of the relationships between us and all the earth becomes onvious.  Our spiritual, physical and emotional well-being depend upon the restoration of our relationships with the earth and its creatures.  The earth is suffering under the weight of human activity and we need to relearn the ancient practices and wisdom, even if we don’t retain the associated mythology.  The Season of Creation invites us to reflect on the wisdom literature of the ancient world and to rekindle a sense of wonder, along with the restoration of relationships with all things.

Other churches will read an intriguing story from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 16:1-13), which speaks about a dishonest steward.  This middleman for a wealthy landowner is responsible for the buying and selling of goods on behalf of the master.  He has control over the business interests in a particular region.  He takes his cut on the profits and lives it up.  Stories emerge that he is squandering the Master’s wealth and he is called in and reprimanded.  In desperation (and recognition that if he is sacked he isn’t fit to do manual labour and doesn’t want to beg), he hatches a scheme to use some of his (and perhaps the Master’s?) wealth to nurture some relationships with his master’s clients so they will look favourably upon him.  He reduces their debts significantly and they are indeed grateful and act favourably towards him.  The Master, surprisingly commends the steward for his actions and Jesus uses him as a positive example of how we might act and live.  Suffice it to say that scholars and other argue endlessly over this puzzling story and its implications.  In reality this is the only way to fully engage it – to argue and debate it within a group.

A clear implications within the story is that the steward, out of self-interest, acts shrewdly and reverses the nature of the relationships between himself and those who are in debt to his Master.  No longer do they relate through the power that debt imposes and implies but through mercy and even something approaching justice (even though the Steward doesn’t ever appeal to justice).  There is a more genuine relationship between him and the clients.  His shrewd desperation restores something of their relationship, and he realises that relationships are more important to his future than money alone.  He uses his resources to rebalance relationships and create a positive future – which, incidentally, benefits all people involved.  This is the nature of God’s realm, a reversing of the power imbalances and a restoration of relationship between people and people.

The crossover between this story and the Season of Creation is that relationships are at the heart of our future.  If we do not see the desperate need for the restoration of relationships and learn to act shrewdly, we will suffer – or continue to suffer as the earth struggles with changing climates, distorted ecosystems and the imbalance of relationships between humans and non-human creation.  The story from Luke invites us to shrewd restoration of relationships, if not for the well-being of all, then for our own self-interest that will also ultimately benefit all creation and bring peace to the earth.

By geoffstevenson

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