The least of these

From Stephen Cottrell’s ‘I Thirst’:

A further interpretation of this story [Jesus’ parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25] touches powerfully upon the way we treat the whole created order, particularly our fellow-creatures. ‘The least of these’ can refer to animals abused and exploited in so many atrocious ways. The food scares that have rocked our world in recent years have invariably arisen directly from the appalling ill treatment of animals in our gluttonous desire to have cheap meat on our tables every day. Then there are the unnecessary cruelties of much animal experimentation. ‘The least of these’ can be the species facing extinction because of the destruction of their natural habitats. ‘The least of these’ can be the fauna and flora themselves disappearing as land turns to desert, as rainforests are plundered and polluted. (p. 152)

If part of the meaning of the Incarnation is that God identifies with suffering humanity is it too much of a stretch to suggest that God identifies with the “groaning” of all creation, which is waiting to be redeemed, particularly from human cruelty and misuse? Is it proper to see the face of Jesus in a battery hen or a veal calf? Is the new covenant a covenant with humans only, or with all flesh, as the Noahide covenant was?

If it is a covenant with all flesh, or even all creation, then we might see it as God’s “yes” to his creation. God affirms the worth of all that is. This doesn’t necessarily imply that there are grades of worth among different kinds of beings, but that each kind is valued by God and has a place in creation. However, if Christian ethics call for special attention to “the least of these,” those who are downtrodden, weak, and vulnerable, then animals, who so often are completely vulnerable to human use, and even the ecosystems that are frequently subject to human intervention, would seem to merit special consideration.

2 thoughts on “The least of these

  1. I don’t think it’s a stretch, but it can be a juggling act. Whose needs come first, the needs of the jaguar to have a forest to hunt and live in or the needs of the subsistance farmers to grow their vegetables and have a place for their goats to graze? There’s not a firm rule than can be applied.

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