The Roman Empire provides an important backdrop and context for this Sunday’s Gospel. When Jesus gives us the image of God as a landowner in the Kingdom of heaven, he is speaking to anxieties that many of his hearers were experiencing as a result of the Roman occupation of Judea, Galilee, and surrounding lands. Rome’s system of taxation and tribute resulted in mounting debt that led to land loss, forcing many into the precarious economic circumstances of the day laborers Jesus describes. Such economic anxieties frayed the social fabric of village economies based on customs of mutual aid. Jesus’ description of the Kingdom draws his hearers back to the economic vision described in the Hebrew tradition, grounded in generous sharing of material goods, hospitality, and care for the most vulnerable, including Earth.
Similarly, issues currently confronting communities across the U. S. today, particularly the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, the systemic racism that does violence to Black lives and communities, and the urgent reality of climate change, all have roots in an economy that socializes and pressures us to prioritize individual economic security over the common good of the community.
In an effort to discern a response, we tend to think at the scale of reforming global structures or how we might respond as individuals. While these are important, we tend to miss what is in-between. How can we nurture collective responses in our watershed, in our neighborhood, in our town or city ward, in our parish? It is here that we can most effectively shift power. We can join or start co-operatives or community gardens, host neighborhood resource or skill sharing networks, offer weekly potlucks at our parishes, or pass neighborhood ordinances. In short, we can minimize our dependence on the economies of empire. Together, in solidarity, we can enact a preferential option for public health, Black lives, Earth, and all others sacrificed in the name of ‘the market.’
Ed Sloane is originally from West Virginia. He serves as the board chair for the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and received his Ph.D. in religious education and pastoral ministry at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. His writing focuses on approaches to education in faith through the lens of ecological justice and place-based learning. Ed is also a high school theology teacher.