By The Rev. Marilyn Zehr
19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.
– Luke 19:10
If the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost, who could be more lost than large corporations whose actions defile the earth and her creatures? But wouldn’t corporations need to be “people” in order to be saved? Apparently in the USA, corporate personhood is a thing. Corporate personhood is the legal notion that a corporation separately from its associated human beings (like owners, managers, or employees), has at least some of the legal rights and responsibilities enjoyed by natural persons.
What does corporate personhood have to do with Zacchaeus in this week’s gospel text? Justifiably maligned Zacchaeus skimmed money from the taxes of poor and struggling citizens. Corporations are like Zacchaeus. OR corporations are often like Zacchaeus before he climbed that tree. Would it be possible for corporations to be like Zacchaeus after he climbed down from that tree, dined with Jesus and was transformed?
It’s hard to imagine how that might happen. I have more questions than answers on this one.
Just like the people in the story, I would grumble if Jesus called up Exxon or Monsanto and said, “I’m going to eat at your house today, because that would mean that Jesus had gone to eat at the house of a sinner. Since we’re talking about sin, I’ll point out one of Exxon’s sins even if I’m supposed to take the log out of my own eye first. (I’m working on that with the help of good friends and family and church community.) Here is just one of Exxon’s sins.
This clip shows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez interviewing former Exxon Scientist Martin Hoffert. AOC says, “Dr. Hoffert, you have previously said that Exxon’s historic denial was immoral and greatly set back efforts to address climate change. That is correct?” Former Exxon Scientist Martin Hoffert replies, “That is correct that I said it. I have good reason to say it.” Exxon knew about climate change for decades. Instead of acting, it funded denial.
Would Jesus dine with Exxon? We’re back to where we started. The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. The personhood of the corporation of Exxon is a legal construct and may exclude the possibility of it ever developing a conscience about lostness, but stay with me for this thought experiment. Jesus dines with Exxon, and Exxon is transformed and says, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” There will be more rejoicing in heaven and on earth if this one sinner repents than the ninety-nine who do not need to repent.
I say we get over our grumbling and do what Jesus would have done – eat with sinful corporations and see what happens. Okay, I don’t know exactly what it would look like to dine with a corporation. It’s a thought experiment that I invite you to join in with me. Table fellowship takes work and courage. Table fellowship allows people to look each other in the eye. I imagine that it also makes it possible to ask hard questions. People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might be able to show us how to do it. According to the story of Zacchaeus, Jesus’ plan of salvation includes sinners who exploit their fellow humans. And the salvation of Zacchaeus had far-reaching consequences for good. We need this kind of Jesus power in the world as it is now if we have any hope of participating in the salvation of our earth. Jesus makes the unthinkable not only thinkable, but full of possibility.
Marilyn Zehr is a 7th generation Mennonite settler, a Spiritual Director and a Minister in the United Church of Canada who seeks to be attuned to the Sacred through the earth and it’s creatures. Marilyn and her wife, Svinda Heinrichs, reside in the hamlet of Maynooth, Ontario, Canada and on a 64-acre piece of unceded Algonquin territory. This healing hilltop land was once on the shores of an ancient glacial lake known as the Shawashkong and now overlooks a vast river valley in the Ottawa River watershed. Follow our adventures on https://riseabove470.wordpress.com
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.