The Great Commandment: An Ecological Perspective

EcoChaplain Roger Wharton

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

In Matthew’s gospel the Pharisees test Jesus by asking him this question; “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matt 22:34 NRSV). The Great Commandment is one of the most familiar pieces of scripture. I would like to examine it from an ecological perspective.

We are asked to love God with out total being. To love God is to love all that God has created. To love God is to love the Creation. To love God is to love our fragile planet Earth. To love God is to love the natural world where God is manifested. To love God is to love and care for all that God has created. To love God is to live a simple life that is as ecologically sound as possible in order that the creations of God not be destroyed.

We are asked to love our neighbor as ourselves. One perspective of this aspect of the Great Commandment is the ideal of eco-justice. To love our neighbor is to be concerned for the quality of air and water not only for ourselves, but also for those who may be poorer than we are. Our nation’s poor live in places where the air and water quality is less than acceptable. In many places not only is the quality of life threatened, but life itself is at risk due to forced contact with toxic substances in the air, land and water. Our consumptive life style is tearing the very fabric of meaningful and healthy living away from the millions who live in so-called developing countries as we strip away life-giving natural resources to be squandered in our reckless living.

We are all in the same life boat together and that boat is leaking. Without clean water and air as well as the natural systems that make them possible, human life becomes more and more difficult to sustain. To care for our neighbors, Christians also have to care for Creation from the ozone layer to the deep aquifers and ocean bottoms.

It may also be time for Christians to be challenged to understand that our neighbors are not just our human brothers and sisters, but all of the creatures with whom we share our island home. Our neighborhood includes all plants and animals — all creatures great and small. Our lives are sustained by the sacrifice of these creatures. Native American philosophy/theology speaks of our sacred relationship with all of Creation in the naming of our relatives as grandfather bear, sister deer and brother hawk. St. Francis also called the animals his brothers and sisters. We as Christians can experience this interconnectedness as sacred communion. When we begin to understand the inter communion we have with all of Creation in the Holy Eucharist, care of the earth and all our neighbors becomes more and more important.