“They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” (Luke 24: 42-43)
Today is Earth Day; Friday was the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Because the oil “spill” ended up being so much bigger than we realized it would be on Earth Day 2010, Earth Day probably will be shadowed by the anniversaries of the oil spill for many years to come.
Today is also the Third Sunday of Easter, and our Gospel lesson for today (Luke 24: 36-48) is about the resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples. Jesus asks if they have anything to eat, and they give him a piece of broiled fish, which Jesus eats. Luke’s report of Jesus eating the fish helps us to see that Jesus was truly there, that this wasn’t an apparition. It’s striking to have this reading as we observe Earth Day this year.
Fish was a basic food for the disciples and Jesus, as it was and remains for many people in the world. Fish is a principal source of protein for many people, and fishing – the occupation of several of the disciples – is still the way many people make a living.
Two years after the Gulf oil spill, fish near the oil spill site are sick. (See Cain Burdeau’s article for the Associated Press.) Evidence connecting the ulcers, black streaks, and damaged fins to the oil spill is circumstantial; what is known is that something isn’t right in that part of the Gulf ecosystem.
According to a report in the May 7, 2012 edition of The Nation entitled “Two Years After: BP’s Toxic Legacy”, people who live along the Gulf Coast are also sick. Along with fighting poor health, people have had to fight to get access to proper medical care. The article gives details of some of the justice and fairness issues involved. Surely Jesus, who healed the sick, would have us be concerned about those suffering from exposure to toxins.
The Gulf of Mexico isn’t the only place where fishing doesn’t provide the sort of healthful protein and steady livelihood it used to. The health of our ocean ecosystems as well as many freshwater ecosystems is suffering from pollution by various toxins, plastic pollution, loss of habitat, ocean acidification caused by global warming, and other changes in ecosystems brought on by warming waters. Something so basic as catching a fish and grilling it, something so basic that Luke uses it to help us see the reality of the risen Christ, is now something we can’t take for granted.
“What would Jesus eat?” may be a more instructive guide to action than “What would Jesus do?” What basic foods will remain sustainably available to people around the world who have traditionally relied on fish and seafood for daily protein? As Saturday’s forum about the intersection of poverty and the environment made clear, issues of environmental sustainability, poverty, and human health are interconnected. The church has always served Christ through serving the poor and sick; in today’s world, we must extend that service to the earth’s ecosystems in order to truly serve our neighbors near and far.