on the Readings for this Sunday
by the Rev Margaret W. Thomas
As human earthly life evolved, folks domesticated animals. Hunter
and gatherers became farmers, and herders. Religions were also
domesticated. Natural life cycle stories and rituals which had
been passed along in oral and bodily forms of dances, actions
and feasts, were codified, and written , condensed and blended
together with those of other cultures. Holy places emerged into
shrines and rituals were often moved into buildings which may
or may not retained symbolic connections to the past.
Jesus' life, death and resurrection resulted in some major shifts
in the religions life of the time. Jesus used many stories and
examples about and within the natural life of his time. Vineyards,
herding sheep and goats, grain growing along with the fishing
were common themes. Folks whose lives were so close to the animals
of that time and place, knew the flora and fauna as neighbors.
While human neighbors are always around, and certainly seem to
be the prime subject of the codified laws, humans have not ceased
to have relationships with animals, either natural of domestic.
As my own golden retriever nudges me and bounces her ball in the
kitchen until I walk her, I am aware of the faces pictured of
starving children in the Millennium Development Goals presentation
at our recent diocesan convention. As I walk in the fall woods
and witness the bird migrations, I wonder if their winter roosts
will be filled with new coffee plantations or condos for those
humans who enjoy exotic foods and drinks and the humans who also
Humans seem to need relationships with animals. There are all
forms of animal relationships. There are the local, intimate bonds
as well as global connections. Therapy dogs are common visitors
to care and rehabilitation facilities. A bird feeder outside a
nursing home window can bring great interest and fish tanks in
dentists offices can ease children's anxiety. These occurrences
are now well documented. We eat meats from all over the nation,
and globe if we eat ocean fishes or imported snails or such treats.
We enjoy the deer at our bird feeders, yet we dislike their dead
carcasses on the roadsides.
The phrase about animal worship may have been a reference to
the different way to connect with Jesus in ritual and prayer,
If Jesus was the link between God and humans, animal sacrifices
were no longer needed. However, in some cultures animals were
partners in human life. They were more like neighbors and friends.
Much effort was made by some of the gospel writers to connect
the Hebrew and the Jesus stories. The lectionary lessors from
Deuteronomy and Mark bring the written Torah law and the ultimate
commandment of Jesus together for reflection. The old stories
will not survive without the parallels and connections being pondered
and posed in light of the gospel of Jesus and the reflections
from todays world. The new stories are shallow and may be
confusing without the wisdom and depth of the old stores. It is
up to us to wrestle with them. I also need to be responsible about
the balance between the golden retriever and the hungry children
of the world and my own city.