The theme of Earth Day 2023 is using business language – “Invest In Our Planet” – to promote sustainable development and care for Earth.
When I first found out about this theme, my mind immediately constructed different reasons why the business language here is not a good choice.
Isn’t it precisely business that has caused so much destruction of natural habitats, produced pollution and created inequity as one group of people has gotten rich at the expense of others?
Why use business language in the context where economic growth is permanently on the agenda of all governments and reducing our comfort and business-produced carbon footprint proves to be truly painful?
How many companies have first invested in creating an illusion of a need and then started selling the stuff – often including “green” stuff – that is perceived to be so much needed?
Isn’t it a fantasy that investing in the “right” things will solve the problems if we are not willing to stop the ever-growing vicious circle of production and consumption?
Business language and care for creation – these two don’t seem like a great match to me as a Christian who is struggling to find an effective approach for diverting humanity from a highway of destruction to a narrow path of sustainability.
Yet, pondering on it a bit longer, I realized that this is exactly what Jesus did.
He used the common practices of the villagers, patterns evident in the society and language used by his contemporaries to tell the stories that challenged peoples’ attitudes and behavior. His parables were embedded in peoples’ everyday lives, which enabled him to inspire repentance and action.
Therefore, perhaps we should instead engage with the famous question, “What would Jesus do?” as we face the continuous destruction of our planet. Would Jesus invest in our planet?
On the one hand, I have always thought that predicting what would Jesus do is rather arrogant. He always surprised his closest followers as well as the wide audience. Therefore, how could I pretend to know what he would do?
On the other hand, would he teach or do anything different from what he did when he walked this earth?
Jesus told his followers the parable of the pounds (minas/dollars/euros) in Luke 19:11-27. To our contemporary Western eyes, it reads like a proper investment story. Multiply the money and all is good!
Yet, Kenneth E. Bailey offers an interpretation through the Middle Eastern eyes, which emphasizes those aspects of the story that may easily remain hidden under the layers of 2,000 years of changing culture, developing tradition and a shift in geography.
First, the Middle Eastern interpretation of the parable moves the focus from making a profit to “public faithfulness” in handling the gifts given by the nobleman to the servants.
On his return, the nobleman did not praise the servants for making a profit but for being faithful and doing business in a politically unstable situation where most of the country’s citizens “hated” the nobleman and the way he would rule (verse 14).
Acting publicly on his behalf, they “declared loyalty to him,” and this might have cost a very high price for them. Two servants went against the tide and, therefore, received praise for being faithful. The third servant was afraid, he hid his gift and eventually was condemned as wicked (verse 22).
And what was the reward for faithfulness? Early retirement? Shared profit? No, nothing like this. The reward was even more responsibility over many cities.
In addition, the Middle Eastern interpretation emphasizes clearly that the pound given to each servant was a “gift.”
In the story, the servants refer to it as “your pound” (verses 16, 18, 20), which leaves no doubt that they understood the point. Two servants used the gift to grow the nobleman’s authority in society, the third one decided to hide it away.
There are many shades to this story which deserve a much deeper study. Yet, these aspects help us to shape our “investment policy.”
“The earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) and even if we call it “our planet,” our business is to make God known and glorified through all the gifts given to us on this earth.
So, coming back to the question, “Would Jesus invest in our planet?” the answer could only be, “yes.” It is God’s planet, it is created “through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16) and the greatest investment Jesus made in it was his life he gave for it (verse 20).
Therefore, no investment is too big to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Earth Day (April 22). The previous articles in the series are:
Urging Big Business to ‘Invest In Our Planet’ | Martin J. Hodson
We Cannot Live Without Earth’s Bounty | David Wheeler
Natural Disasters and Our Collective Sin | Kali Cawthon-Freels
Assistant general secretary at the European Baptist Federation.