Sunday, November 13, 2011

Feeding on Good Pasture - Ezekiel 34:18-19

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? (Ezekiel 34:18-19)

Whenever I read this bible passage, I think of pollution. I think of rivers that used to be fine to swim in, but now are not. I think of natural places that are so littered with rubbish, cigarette butts and plastic bags that their original beauty is almost completely lost. And I think of how our production methods often are destructive to the natural world.

And I think that all of us living in the western world are feeding on the good pasture. And I don't believe there is anything wrong with eating and living well - in and of itself. Where it becomes a problem though is when we not only take what is good for ourselves, but ruin what is left.

The 21st century equivalent of this passage would have to be a huge factory that doesn’t just produce good food, but that completely alters the land, produces more food than what is needed (much of it going into people's bins) and creates a lot of waste that ends up polluting our natural areas.

I think of land-grabbing in developing countries, where large areas of land are bought by corporations, while the people who relied on that land go hungry.

I think of places like Nigeria, where an oil spill covered forestry and farmland and ruined drinking water. One of the village leaders, Otuegwe, said: "This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest." (

I think of companies like Monsanto, who patent their seeds and make it more and more difficult for farmers. An article in GRAIN said: "Corporations have used their power to expand monoculture crop production, undermine farmers’ seed systems and cut into local markets. They are making it much more difficult for small farmers to stay on the land and feed their families and communities." (

Now some people might say that passage in Ezekiel is metaphorical - and undoubtedly they would be right. But it seems to me that Christians who are the biggest advocates for a literal reading of the bible (especially when it comes to places like the creation story in Genesis) seem to forget all about literalism when it comes to passages like this.

I was having a conversation with someone recently about a God who wants to bless people. I said I find it hard to believe that God wants to bless me (and all other western Christians) by giving them good jobs and lots of money and possessions, while seeing others in the world starve. I was told that the most blessed countries in the world were predominately Christian countries - as though that made it all okay.

I think it makes it worse.

I'm used to hearing statements like, if everyone lived like Americans, we would need 4.5 earths. Although it's staggering, it doesn't even make me blink. Same too with statements that the world's wealthiest 16 per cent use 80 per cent of the world's resources. (

But it was a seemingly tame statement that made me really stop and think: Americans use more resources than they have in their country. I use Americans because that's the country that is used most in these kinds of statements. But I think all western countries need to bear some responsibility for the kind of attitude that says we western countries deserve more than our fair share of the world's resources.

If rich countries are predominately Christian, then we shouldn't just be thinking, well, we're blessed because we're Christian. We should be thinking seriously about what the bible has to say about our actions.

The tenth commandment says ' “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:17).

As I've heard many people say before, they're the ten commandments not the ten suggestions. But are they only commandments for individuals? Certainly this commandment seems to be discussing the actions of an individual. But if we are really to take them seriously, then shouldn't they apply to countries and corporations as well?

If I had a neighbour who decided that they wanted more land and my walnut tree looked pretty good, so paid the council to move his fence so that it took over half my backyard, I'd be understandably upset. Similarly, despite the good cherries on my neighbour's tree, I'm not allowed to move my fence so that that tree now belongs to me. According to the tenth commandment, I'm not even allowed to look at it and want it for myself.

So why is it that we can see so clearly that this is wrong when it comes to individuals, but not be greatly concerned when it's done by corporations or countries? If people want to call certain countries Christian countries, then the country itself should be acting Christian, not just the individuals within it - especially when those individuals benefit from a system that is acting in decidedly unchristian ways.

It would be nice to think that western countries are more blessed because they're Christian? But I'm afraid it simply isn't true.

I think we're blessed because so often we fail to take the bible seriously. We quote the tenth commandment when we think that those poorer than us may be eyeing off our possessions. We take a metaphorical approach to Ezekiel 34:18-19, because the alternative may ruin our lifestyle. But we're quite happy to ignore the bible when it suits our interests to do so.

If we really are a Christian nation, then let's stop benefitting from systems that aren't Christian at all. And if we actually started to behave like Christian countries, maybe we would find that the world's resources can be distributed far more justly after all. Maybe some other countries deserve to be blessed for a change.

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