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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Silence and Shouting
distributed 3/30/07 - ©2007

Two brief reminders:

  • In just two weeks, over 1,000 Step It Up rallies will be held across the US. Are you recruiting people to take part in events in your community on April 14? This is the launch of a nationwide, grassroots movement to address global warming. Let's make it big!
  • For our Denver-area friends, remember the special luncheon celebrating our Eco-Justice Ministries community at the Butterfly Pavilion on April 19. Make your reservations today!


In the calendar of Christian holidays, we're about to enter the wild roller-coaster ride of Holy Week. Our rituals and readings in the coming days encompass Palm Sunday's joyous celebration, conflict with the authorities, the agony of betrayal and death, and a return to celebration with the astonishing good news of Easter.

This profound story has always spoken to me with authenticity, because it is filled with such thoroughly human emotions and reactions. The cheering crowds who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem turn into an angry mob when he critiques the "cheap grace" of their familiar temple rituals. The religious leaders are filled with fear when their power and authority is threatened by this charismatic newcomer. The disciples bicker among themselves, fall asleep, and deny that they know Jesus. His friends and followers are overwhelmed with grief when Jesus dies, and unbelieving when he rises from the dead.

Other than the unique event of the resurrection, it is a story that could be -- and has been -- played out many times in many settings. A visionary leader challenges the status quo, and is killed. It is all too familiar.

The biblical story hints, though, that this isn't the standard conflict. There is something more profound going on. Remember the words from Luke, when the palm-waving multitudes were proclaiming Jesus as a new king. "Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, order your disciples to stop.' He answered, 'I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.'"

The Palm Sunday proclamation about Jesus is more -- much more -- than a batch of over-excited people. It is an announcement that cannot be silenced. The stones would shout.

As I peruse the pages of scripture, I find the inescapable truth that the Hebraic people did not give stones a lot of credit for awareness and eloquence. Stones are way down at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to sentience. Stones just sit there. They are useful for building things. Statements about "you are my rock" evoke a sense of one who is unchanging and utterly reliable. Don't expect a lot of insight and action from the stones.

It would be a bold claim to say that the birds of the air and the fish of the sea would break forth into praise. But the stones? Surely this must be an event of utmost importance if the rocks would take up the acclamation. Jesus is saying that this is not just another parade.

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I'm reluctant to take too many liberties with this odd text. The audacious response of Jesus to the Pharisees is important because it is so bold, and because it is unique.

I hesitate to jump from the possibility of shouting stones on Palm Sunday to some general comment about listening to the cries of the creation, because doing so denies the whole point of what Jesus was saying. If we take his words too lightly, if we presume that the natural world is always engaged in praising God, then the claim of Jesus has no shock value. He refers to the stones precisely to say that this is not an ordinary thing.

And yet, there is something here which calls us out of our fixation with the human experience. There is a reminder in those words of Jesus that we, the people, are not the only ones who can make proclamations.

If the people are silent, God still has other options. If the crowd gives in to fear, uncertainty or self-interest, there are still the stones to speak up. In times of great importance, truth will be expressed, one way or another.

The uniqueness of Holy Week should not be trivialized. But neither should we think that there are no similarities between that remarkable time and our more ordinary experiences. For just as the Holy Week story is full of utterly human responses, so, too, is it full of God's persistent and consistent presence.

If those close at hand will not speak truth, then others will. Maybe we shouldn't count on the stones being the ones to cry out, but important truths will be spoken, some way. That is a timeless message when we take God seriously.

If the political leaders will not speak for peace and justice, then people who are not in power will give voice to God's truth. If humans will not acknowledge the need to live gently and sustainably as part of the web of life, then other parts of the creation will make that need known. If these are silent, then others will shout.

There's good news in that. God's message will be proclaimed. But there's a threat, too. If we are the ones who should be shouting, and we fail to do so, then our silence will be exposed. If we don't speak, then eventually it will become clear that we should have.

In the coming days, we recall the ups and downs of Holy Week. We travel again through days of celebration and rejection, joy and fear and grief and back to joy. In this sacred time, may we find hope in the assurance that God's message will be proclaimed. And as people of faith, who have been transformed by what God has done in Jesus, may we commit ourselves to proclaiming God's message of care for all of the creation, so that the stones don't have to.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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