Inescapable Interdependence – The Rev. Michelle Meech
August 20, 2023
Eggshells. Apple cores. Watermelon skins. Dead leaves. Avocado pits. Wilted lettuce. Banana peels… without the little stickers on them. Coffee grounds. Rotting vegetables. Moldy fruit. Grass clippings.
These are things we have no use for. We might even call these items disgusting.
We’ve eaten the egg. We’ve drunk the coffee. We’ve made guacamole and banana nut bread. We don’t need these things.
Yet, they are exactly what a compost pile needs. A compost pile takes organic garbage and turns it into nutrient-rich soil. As a matter of fact, most compost piles have nutrient-dense manure in their mix too. These items literally enrich the soil, making it more able to support life – to give us ripe tomatoes and tasty basil, onions and pears and peppers and beans and cucumbers and cherries and peas and potatoes and apples… and us.
Because without soil, without good, rich soil, human life would cease to exist.
There is a movie called Martian that came out a few years ago. Based on a novel by the same name. Whenever it’s on, I love to watch it. It has the right balance of humor and drama and science and compassion. Anyway…
The main character, Mark Whatney, ends up stranded on Mars. Thankfully, he has enough freeze dried food to last him about 400 days. But it will take much longer than that for NASA to put together a rescue mission or send supplies so he won’t starve to death.
Then he remembers that the crew were given vacuum-packed food for a Thanksgiving dinner along with their rations. And he finds potatoes. These potatoes are still alive, having not been freeze-dried. But, how to grow them? The soil on Mars isn’t suitable for growth, lacking the nutrients that Earth soil has from millennia upon millennia of vegetation rotting and dying so that it could be broken down into soil.
But he’s a botanist so he understands exactly what’s needed to amend the soil. He understands that it’s what they have thrown away that will give the soil the nutrients it needs so he can grow food. So he can survive.
My point is this: That everything and everyone is interconnected and interdependent. My point is that our very life often depends on the things we throw away, the things we cast off, the people we dismiss as not important or not useful. Expendable. Those that don’t matter. And this is the message in today’s readings.
I’d like to recall the beginning of today’s story about Joseph from Genesis through a recap of last week’s reading. Joseph, son of Israel, brother to the other children of Israel, is attacked by his brothers out of spite and jealousy and pride. They throw him in a pit and leave him to die. But then they figure out that they can gain from the situation. So they sell him into slavery. And they never have to be inconvenienced by his presence again. He is expendable. Unnecessary. Their lives are better without him. That’s the gist of what happened last week.
The part of the story we miss between last week’s and this week’s readings is that Joseph, as a slave in Egypt, earns his way out of slavery through his gifts and gains access to power. So that years later when the tribes of Israel are facing famine, and they come to Egypt for assistance, it ends up being Joseph who has the authority to help them.
Joseph, the one who was thrown away ends up being the one who will sustain life.
Now, I’m quite sure that my professor of Hebrew Scriptures would wonder about my comparison of compost to Joseph, as would many others. But, as the human race continues to live unsustainably in so many ways, the metaphor is appropriate. Because our unsustainability is directly related to our incapacity to understand how connected we all are, how interdependent, how much we need one another, and how we are called to the path of love.
It’s the core of the overall Gospel message and it’s certainly what Jesus is trying to teach in today’s reading. Jesus is defying tradition, explaining to Jewish people that what defiles them, what makes them unworthy to worship God is not what they eat or that they eat with unwashed hands… but how they treat one another, how they hold other humans in their heart. That’s what God cares about.
In other words, ritual isn’t important if it doesn’t lead us to love and to justice. Worship only means something in that it helps us to follow the path of love. But, interestingly, that’s not where the Gospel story ends. After Jesus teaches the disciples such an important lesson, he is confronted by a Canaanite woman… someone who didn’t matter to Jesus. Expendable for 3 reasons: 1) A woman, who had very few rights in that society; 2) A Canaanite, a non-Jewish person who lived in the area; 3) And the mother of a sick daughter, which at that time was a moral judgment on the parents.
And Jesus, the one who had just been teaching about how much more important it was to treat others with respect and dignity than to follow the rules… the one who had just criticized the Pharisees for caring more about religious law than about how people treated each other, responds with, “I’m only here for my fellow Jews.”
It’s an interesting side note, that the only times in the Gospels in which Jesus is taught something by another human… it’s always by a woman.
So here’s Jesus the Christ, Love Incarnate, denying this woman access to healing because she is expendable. Her life isn’t supposed to matter to him. He even goes so far as to call her a dog. And dogs at that time were not the fluffy live-in pets that we have today. Dogs were more like rats by today’s standards – filthy, pest-ridden, disease-carrying beasts who roamed the urban centers.
The inference Jesus is making is that she is filthy. She is garbage. And Jesus becomes his own object lesson, demonstrating that it’s so much easier to talk about love than to act in love. It was what came out of his own mouth that defiled him.
Yet, he is redeemed through God’s Wisdom spoken by the Canaanite woman who refuses to let him off the hook. She responds to his insult by reminding him that we are all connected, that the dog requires the same consideration as those who supposedly own the table.
Because, in fact, everyone belongs at the Table in some way. Everyone belongs to God. All are welcome because God is the God of Love, the God of all life, in whom we all have our home, in whom is the ground of our very being. This God provides for us all, heals us all, loves us all.
The worst things we think about others… the worst thing we believe about ourselves… means nothing to God.
All of us. Every one of us. All of us… belong at God’s Table.
My friends, the interconnectedness of life is undeniable. And this is Good News! This is such Good News!
Because just as we are called to open our hearts to one another, just as we are called to offer compassion and treat others with dignity and respect – so are others called to treat us that way. And, more importantly, so are we called to treat ourselves that way – with dignity and respect. And when that does not happen, when we miss the mark, we have the practice of forgiveness to help us move on.
You see, what is considered expendable by the world’s standards, is not expendable at all. And it is only at our own peril that we insist on thinking of people as expendable, or parts of ourselves that need to be cut off. We need one another.
And until we learn how to create truly equitable systems that ensure the lives of people of color are held as sacred… until black lives actually matter, we cannot claim that all lives matter in this society.
Until we can watch a movie like Barbie and are NOT offended by the “weakness” of Ken, can we be confident that a woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy will not be challenged.
Until we acknowledge the beauty and inherent goodness of transgender people, until we are able to articulate that God himself/herself/themselves is beyond gender and is transgender, do we have any chance of truly keeping our children safe and ensuring they will be welcomed in this world for exactly who they are.
What this requires of us is love and humility. The kind of love and humility that Jesus demonstrates in this beautiful story from Matthew’s Gospel. If Jesus can be humbled, then so can we. This is the kind of love that seeks justice. The kind of love that offers mercy.
Where we humble ourselves and truly listen, doing our best to hold ourselves lightly, acknowledging the difficult feelings that arise when someone points out our blind spot so that our hearts are stretched until we are finally able to perceive the world through God’s eyes, instead of the limited, defensive eyes of tradition and comfort.
Because our very life often depends on that which we believe can be thrown away, the things we cast off, the people we dismiss as not important or not worthy. If these past few years of pandemic and undeniable climate crisis have taught us anything, it is just how much we share the same breath, how much we truly need one another, how deeply we depend upon one another’s safety, upon one another’s life.
We cannot escape our interconnectedness, our interdependence. Nor should we. Our interdependence IS our salvation.
Today’s collect says it best. May we drink this in as our deep prayer:
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us an example of godly life: Give us grace to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.