Stewardship as the Ministry of Service and Inclusion

August 6, 2014

For most churches stewardship has to do mostly, if not solely, with money. This connection is valid, as the Greek term oikonomos (related to economy) is used for the crafty manager in Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward (Lk. 16). But we realize that stewardship is much broader than economics. The environment has become a pressing concern. We have all heard sermons about using our time and talents for the Lord. As it turns out, the biblical understanding of stewardship is very wide. It involves everything we have and everything we are, all in relation to God. For the faithful steward, it is a way of life, a life of discipleship.

Stewardship is a way of life, as it is grounded in God’s creation of human beings. The story of creation emphasizes that God created human beings in His own image. Though the traditional understanding of image of God emphasizes soul that enables human beings to think, reason and interact with God, the text of the story indicates that being made in God’s image has to do with our role or function: “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea…” (Gen. 1.26). Human beings are commissioned as God’s stewards or agents to manifest God’s rule on earth. The responsibilities of naming the animals, and filling and subduing the earth show that they are being given an ambassadorial reign as God’s vice-regents.

God’s rule is vividly portrayed in Genesis 2. The focus is primarily on God’s care and concern towards his creation. God planted a garden and caused a river to water the garden. God’s care and concern towards Adam is seen in the creation of “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2.9), and creation of a partner, Eve. When Adam did not find a suitable partner among animals and birds, He created Eve. Generally the theological significance of this story of Gen. 2 is understood that God’s intention for the creation of human being is to glorify or worship him. However, this understanding overlooks the essence of the story, i.e. God’s service to human beings – creator serving His creation. The story emphasises an essential quality of God, i.e. the desire of the creator for the best of his creation. Therefore, the rule of God should primarily be understood in terms of God’s care and concern for the welfare of His creation.

This rule of God or the kingdom of God was manifested in the life, words and works of Jesus Christ. The content of Jesus’ words and deeds was the kingdom of God. His Galilean ministry started with the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God (Mk. 1.15). His miraculous deeds were the indicators of the presence of God’s kingdom. In Mt. 12.22ff when Jesus healed the one who was mute and blind, the Pharisees said that Jesus did that with the power of the Beelzebub. But Jesus responded by saying that “If it is by the spirit of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

What is this kingdom of God or rule of God? Mt. 12.22-32 indicates that bringing healing and wholeness to the body of the person demonstrates the presence of the kingdom of God. In this passage Jesus said two things that are interrelated: binding the strongman and the healing of the person. It was already said that the sickness was caused by the evil spirit. Jesus was dealing with the cause that caused pain and suffering in the person. Jesus was making right the wrong done by the demonic and oppressive forces. It was this transformative action of God in the lives of people and the society that was evident in the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is to this transformative ministry that the disciples of Jesus are called.

Presence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ Words and Deeds

Service to those in need

Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God proclaimed through words and deeds signifies service and inclusion. In Mark Jesus was described as touching the hand of people in the context of healing: a leper (1.41), Peter’s mother-in-law (1.31), the dead body of Jairus’ daughter (5.41), a deaf man (7.33), the blind man (8.23), and the dumb and deaf boy (9.27). There were also several instances of people touching Jesus: the woman with haemorrhage (5.27-28) and the crowd seeking healing (3.10, 6.56). Among these healings by touch, leper, dead body of Jairus’ daughter, and woman with haemorrhage were generally considered unclean.

The bone of contention between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities was the unregulated contact with the unclean. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus’ deliberate gesture of touch and contact with the impure was part of his ministry of inclusion and service. His understanding of holiness was different from that of Jewish religious authorities. For them, holiness meant separation. For Jesus, it meant loving one’s neighbour as oneself or service to those in need.

Ministry of Inclusion

Jesus’ ministry did not confine to Jewish dominated areas. His ministry of exorcism, healing and teaching included the Gentiles. That means, his ministry of the kingdom of God was an inclusive ministry, not an excluding one. Jesus associated with tax-collectors and sinners and ate with them (Mk. 2.14-17). He exorcised a person in the Gentile territory (Mk. 5.1-20) and healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk. 7.26). Thus, he demonstrated that God’s rule had no boundaries.

Therefore, Jesus deeds demonstrated God’s rule in the service of the needy. They not only showed Jesus’ divine power, but also illustrated the character of his power, the way he used it in the service of others. The intense kindness, sensitivity and unfailing benevolence of Jesus aligned him with common people, particularly the marginalized groups, and contrasted him with the powerful religious and political leaders who never showed any interest in the welfare of these groups, except lording over them.

Jesus’ Teaching on Service

The primacy of service is emphasized in Mk. 9.33-37 and 10.42-45. The disciples’ discussion on greatness provides an occasion for Jesus to teach about true greatness in terms of service: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9.35). Such service should be rendered to those marginalized in the society such as children (Mk. 9.36-37) and “little ones” (Mk. 9.42). The contrast between setting mind on “divine things” and on “human things” can be seen between Jesus’ understanding of greatness and that of his disciples (cf. Mk. 8.33).

The disciples’ understanding of greatness represented that of the society. In response to the request of James and John for places of honour in the kingdom of God, Jesus instructed:

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers, lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mk. 10.42-45).

The disciples knew how rulers used their power and authority to dominate and make people serve their greed. Their knowledge of the way power and authority operated in society was used by Jesus to teach them the alternate way that power and authority should be used by the community of the kingdom of God. He clearly stressed that the behaviour of rulers was the model that should be avoided by his disciples. The way the rulers rule and the great men exercise their authority and power is unacceptable in the kingdom of God. Self-seeking, self-promotion, and abuse of power and authority for self-interests are improper in the kingdom of God. “Greatness” and “being first” involve inversion of familiar models.

In contrast to the familiar models of greatness in the society, Jesus becomes the model of greatness to his disciples. Greatness is redefined in the kingdom of God. Jesus taught greatness as service. He commanded those who wanted to be great among his disciples to be servants and those who wanted to become first to be slaves of all.
Paul says that the church has been entrusted with this gospel of the kingdom of God, which he called “the mysteries of God” or the mystery of “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3.9,10). Related to this was his use of the word “stewardship” (oikonomia) to describe his preaching of the gospel (I Cor. 9.16,17).

Faithful stewards are involved in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, inclusion and service. Obeying Christ’s commandment to love the unloved and the unlovable, to pray for our enemies, and to care for outcasts is part of our stewardship obligation.

How Much Is Enough?

August 6, 2014

In the chaos of the Indian street, pedestrians, honking cars, bikes, auto rickshaws and buses battle for road space. In the glass-walled fortresses of “India shining”, it’s a whole different kind of chaos. Shopping malls are where India’s exploding consumerism is witnessed.

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace since the Indian market was opened for the international trade two decades ago. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls, particularly in urban India. This change is due to the influence of “American Dream”, a myth, characterised by high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification. The “American Dream” is nurtured by the American economic system that has created a culture in which people are encouraged to accumulate and show off material wealth, to the point where it defined their self-image and their status in society. “American Identity” has, thus, become defined by its relationship with consumer goods.

Emulating this American culture, people in India are embedded in an ever expanding consumerism. They are increasingly persuaded to focus on materialistic pursuits, to acquire “that next want” which goes far beyond a genuine need for sustenance, safety and security. Most people, especially the young, give in to the pressure to possess all the latest fashionable gadgets and consumer goods. Youth find in spending, a way of gaining autonomy and identity, and of overcoming their insecurities. Those who can afford and those who cannot, all seem to have been caught in the ever widening tentacles of consumerism.

Consumerism is economically manifested in the chronic purchasing of new material goods with little attention to their true need, durability, product origin or environmental consequences of manufacture and disposal. It is the desire, pursuit and acquisition of consumer goods. Consumerism is like the greedy man in the story of Leo Tolstoy “How Much Land Does a Man Need”:

After slowly accumulating more and more property, a greedy Russian named Pahom hears that the Bashkirs, a minority race in Russia, are practically giving their land away. He decides to visit them and they offer him as much land as he wants, provided he can walk its perimeter in one day. Pahom agrees and goes out on his trek, but when the sun starts to set, he finds he has walked too far. Running back, Pahom collapses at the starting point just as the sun disappears behind the horizon. The Bashkirs try to congratulate him, only to find him dead. In answer to the question posed in the title, the Bashkirs bury him in a hole six feet long by two feet wide.

The greedy man finds himself driven by an endless desire to acquire as much area before the sun sets and ultimately finds himself lost in his incapability to control his greed.

Similarly consumerism is an insatiable desire for things and money to buy them with little or no regard for their utility. Greed and acquisitive tendencies have grown due to unhealthy influence of consumerism along with scientific and technological development. As N. Radhakrishnan says, “Globalisation has pushed humanity to the cut-throat world of consumerism with utter disregard for human and ecological concerns. And we justify all this in the name of ‘enlightened self-interest’.” Moral principles and ethics have no place in the world of consumerism. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption, because in consumeristic culture human beings themselves do not possess value. Their value and worth are measured merely on the basis of their purchasing power, thus turning human beings into commodities. The irony is, living beings find their value, worth and identity in non-living things.

The “philosophy” of consumerism is embedded in the slogans and images of the advertising agencies and display designers, who welded human physical needs, impulses and fantasies to consumer goods. Consumerism is driven by advertising, which is designed to create desire to follow trends, fantasies and value system based on acquisition of consumer goods. The advertisers bombard people with images and allurements of status, self-worth, satisfaction and happiness through acquisition. They make people captive in imagination and desires: “I can imagine it, therefore I want it. I want it, therefore I should have it. Because I should have it, I need it. Because I need it, I deserve it. Because I deserve it, I will do anything necessary to get it.” By making people slaves to their imagination and desires, the advertising industry indulges in “proliferation of unnecessary necessities”. It makes one feel insecure, since the advertising industry has turned one’s sense of self-worth into a symbolic presentation of possessions. In the world of consumerism one is captive and unaware. When the prisoner is unaware of his/her chains, then it is hopeless.

Advertising industry has invaded home and family through electronic and print media. During their free time, children and adults occupy themselves with mass media filled with advertisements of consumer goods with enticing promises of good feelings. Their purpose is to stoke further desire for more things. Television programmes and advertisements generally depict a way of life well above the norm and beyond what most people can afford. In this climate, almost everyone is vulnerable to “affluenza”, an infectious disease in which one becomes addicted to having more. Thus, there is no private retreat from the world of consumerism.

The important question, however, is whether consumerism delivers happiness and satisfaction promised by advertisers? In The High Price of Materialism American psychologist Tim Kasser investigates whether materialistic values really produce happiness and well-being. He cites and agrees with studies showing that once people have met their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, there is little benefit in accumulating more. Using statistical studies Kasser shows how those who place a high value on acquiring wealth and material goods aren’t as happy as their less materialistic counterparts. The “paradox of affluence” is that “richer is not better.” Happiness can’t be purchased in the market place, no matter how much advertising tries to convince us of it.

What’s disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn’t make us happier. Kasser argues that our hyper-consumerism is a response to insecurity. In the highly competitive market-driven economies the sense of insecurity has increased. Advertising industry has exploited this human malady and enticed people with false promises of security, satisfaction and self-worth through acquisition of consumer goods. However, the lack of consumption restraint may result in feelings of insecurity, guilt, anxiety, frustration and loss of control, financial hardships and domestic discord. The broader socio-economic consequences associated with unrestrained consumption include global resource depletion and increasing environmental problems.

Kasser found that “existing scientific research on the value of materialism yields clear and consistent findings…The studies document that strong materialistic values are associated with a pervasive undermining of people’s well-being, from low life satisfaction and happiness, to depression and anxiety, to physical problems such as headaches, and to personality disorders, narcissism, and antisocial behaviour.” Jane Hammerslough, a journalist, says, “Faith in material solutions has a funny way of renewing and reproducing itself. Once you sail into the mythical land of Consumer Satisfaction, Where products fulfil every desire, pretty soon you notice another ship setting sail for a place where there’s the potential for even more satisfaction. The product you own is okay, but think of how much greater the satisfaction could be with something else you can buy! It’s hard to resist the urge to hop on.”

What is ignored in this world of consumerism is the fact that the real sources of lasting human fulfilment, security and satisfaction are stable family, healthy relationships, community and self-acceptance. Our worth is determined not by what we have or don’t have, rather what we are as individuals. In an essay, “Gandhian Economy and the Way to Realise It”, J.C. Kumarappa pointed out: “Our life is something higher than material possessions and our life is also to be looked at from the possibilities of development of personality. The personality of an individual does not require for its development the satisfaction of a multiplicity of wants. In fact the simpler (the) life the more conducive it is (to) exercising the higher faculties.” True wealth lies in the scarcity of one’s wants, as opposed to the abundance of one’s possessions. Having fewer things means enjoying what we have more and actually getting to use it, thereby raising its intrinsic value. As it is said, “The less clutter that one has in their surroundings, the fewer distractions there are from the essentials such as family, friends, food, nature and study.” Self-control prevents us from falling into the black-hole of consumerism. Self-absorption, self-gratification and living for now should be overtaken by thrift, contentment and simplicity. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said, “He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

Who Am I?

August 6, 2014

In 2005, Liz Beattie, a retired British school teacher, proposed to her union, the Professional Association of Teachers, that the word failure should be banned from classrooms and replaced with the phrase deferred success, as the former was not good for building self-esteem in school children. Building self-esteem in students has been a primary focus in schools, especially in the western world.

Not only schools, advertising industry also focuses on self-esteem, because people need self-esteem. It gives them a sense of self-worth. Advertising appeals to this need in people to sell its products.

What does advertising do? It tells us what it means to be a “desirable” or “ideal” woman or man. It uses different strategies depending on whether the target audience is female or male.

Advertisements of cosmetics, hair colouring and skin products aimed at girls and women show their models as “beautiful”. Unfortunately, skinny models, with skimpy rags at times, are presented as if everybody is supposed to look that way. Advertising presents a very narrow and limited image not only of beauty but also of women roles. Girls and women in advertisements show concern mostly about their physical appearance – their clothes and their body – in order to attract boys and men. Seldom are women shown in roles of authority and responsibility. The relentless barrage of advertising with the narrow and limited images of beauty and potential programmes our minds to a limited understanding of self-image and self-worth.

The “flawless appearance” of models with airbrushed blemishes and wrinkles, bleached teeth and eyeballs, created by makeup artists, photographers and photo retouchers, captivates girls and women. What happens when a girl or a woman is exposed to these artificial, manufactured images? She will be dissatisfied with her real self. Poor self-image results in higher levels of anxiety and depression. It can cause her to avoid activities she normally enjoys, lower her confidence and self-esteem, and at times lead to eating disorders.

The “highly processed look” of models in the advertisements, thus, creates anxiety and depression, promoting envy and fostering feelings of low self-image and low self-esteem.

Advertising also targets boys and men. It presents boys and men having an aura of power, physical strength and dominance. Personal grooming products, such as deodorants, colognes, shaving aids, hair colouring, etc., are sold using self-esteem through improving appearance. Most of these advertisements use the idea of drawing the attention of “attractive” women, because of a smoother face, sexier smell, or younger-looking hair. The implied message to the viewer is this is the way a boy or a man should be. This is again a very narrow and limited image of masculinity. Traits like sensitivity, compassion and vulnerability are never shown in the male image.

When the self-image of boys and men do not align with that of handsome, muscular and clear complexioned men in advertisements, their self-esteem gets damaged.
Advertising, thus, creates a “problem” in viewers by presenting a new image of “perfect person” and consequently denting in their self-image and self-esteem. It also offers a “solution” to this “created problem” saying, “To become “that perfect person” you should consume our products.”

Self-esteem and Character

What the advertising industry is trying to do is to instil in us an obsession of “self”. The focus is so much on “self”: “I should be the best”, “I should have the best”, “I should be the prettiest”, etc. This produces selfish, dissatisfied people with a distorted self-image and an unrealistic view of the world they live in. If the “self” is allowed to become the overriding focus of our lives in a misguided pursuit of self-esteem, the results can be disastrous, experts say. The extent of greedy, egocentric, careless behaviour observable in our consumeristic societies seems to confirm that pursuing self-image and self-esteem as created by the advertising industry is catastrophic both to individuals and communities.

While no one denies the importance of having a healthy self-esteem, overemphasis on it would lessen the focus on another, perhaps more important one – character. This is a rare commodity in the present consumeristic world. People no longer talk about character. Nor do families, educational institutions and religious centres emphasise on it.

However, I believe that a healthy self-esteem comes from developing a firm, good character. One should focus on building character. Self-esteem will naturally follow.
Character refers to “the moral dimension of one’s self understanding or self-definition.” People of good character place moral concerns at the center of their identity. Conduct flows from character. Also attitudes, motives, perception and value system are based on character.

Although people of good character derive self-esteem from many sources, their self-esteem is deeply influenced by their moral behaviour. Self-esteem results from good conduct. In other words, you feel good about yourself because you have done something right.

Building character involves having integrity and honesty, and becoming a neighbour. Self-esteem should come from love for others. This is outgoing love, which is opposite to selfish love promoted by the advertising industry. Love for neighbour concerns for the wellbeing of the other. This is the core of healthy self-esteem. As we do things for the welfare of others, we begin to experience feelings of true worth.

The worth-based self-esteem comes from a firm belief of being created in the image of God. This belief gives a sense of intrinsic self-worth or self-dignity. If one has a sense of inherent self-worth or self-dignity, then one may be motivated to behave in ways that brings this worth or dignity into realization.

Since everybody is made in God’s image, everyone has an intrinsic worth. Individuals have value and worth apart from their age, gender, race, educational status, vocation, etc. This notion of personal worth leads to a judgment that individuals have a right to life and wellbeing. The belief of intrinsic human worth, therefore, ought to be expressed through compassion and love to enhance life and wellbeing of ALL.

A firm belief of being created in God’s image, therefore, forms the basis of a healthy self-esteem, which in turn prompts one to bear the fruit of that inherent self-worth or self-image.

Parents’ Influence on Their Children

August 6, 2014

Do parents have any important, long term influence on the character development of their children? This was the question raised by psychologist Judith Rich Harris, author of the controversial book, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, published in 1998. She argues that parents matter much less, at least when it comes to determining the behaviour of their children. Instead Harris contends that a child’s peer group play a much more influential role.

On the other hand, there is the debate about Nature vs Nurture. Some raise the question: why do children reproduce the skills, intelligence and habits of their parents? They argue that personality resemblances between biological relatives are due almost entirely to heredity rather than home environment or nurture. Genes is much more important than the home environment in the personality development of children, they say.

So the important question is: what shapes a person? I would include nature (genes), parental nurture, peers, society and life’s experiences that make a person. Neither one of these factors is in themselves deterministic.

Teach Children by Example

Parents play a critical role in shaping the character or personality of their children. Parents’ personality and the nature of parent/child relationship influence children’s attitudes, choices, decisions and behaviour. Parents leave not only their physical looks, to a certain extent, but also their footprints in the lives of their children. Susan B. Campbell states, “Negative, inconsistent parental behaviour and high levels of family adversity are associated with the emergence of problems in early childhood and predict their persistence (in adult life).” The philosopher John Locke once said, “Parents wonder why the streams are bitter, when they themselves have poisoned the fountain.”

One of the best ways that parents can influence their children is to teach by example. In II Timothy 1.5 Paul reminds his coworker Timothy the influence that the latter’s mother and grandmother had on him: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” We don’t know when these women had come to faith in Jesus Christ. Eunice was a Jewish believer (Acts 16.1). But Timothy’s father was a Greek. He was not a believer in Christ. That could be the reason why his name was not mentioned by Paul. Even then Timothy’s mother maintained her faith in Christ. Most probably Eunice became a believer in Christ after her marriage with Timothy’s father.

The faith of Lois and Eunice was described as “sincere”. The word “sincere” literally means without play acting, without show or pretence, or without hypocrisy. It describes that which is unhypocritical or genuine (cf. Rom. 12.9; II Cor. 6.6; I Tim. 1.5; James 3.7; I Pet. 1.22). A hypocrite was “a stage-actor. It was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice; hence the word became used metaphorically of a dissembler (i.e. the one who puts on false appearance), a hypocrite.” A hypocrite is, therefore, an actor. The faith of Lois and Eunice was completely genuine, without hypocrisy or pretence or deceit. Having a sincere faith doesn’t imply perfection. But it does imply reality (and not pretence) with God. It means to have godly character, qualities, attitude and behaviour (cf. II Pet. 1.5-7).

Paul says that the sincere faith “lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (II Tim. 1.5). The word “live” literally means to dwell in, to take up residence. That means, sincere faith took up residence in the lives of Lois and Eunice. This defines the depth and extent to which faith in Jesus Christ has become a vital and integral part of their lives. Sincere faith was not an occasional visitor, but a permanent resident and an abiding presence exerting its influence on their behaviour. Timothy was blessed with a godly heritage, although it was only one parent and grandparent who contributed. In the Roman world, fathers had absolute authority over family, and since Timothy’s father was not a believer in Jesus Christ, his home situation was less than ideal. But the two women were persistent in their faith and provided a model for Timothy to emulate. J.R. Miller writes, “There is something in genealogy, after all. It is a fine thing for a young man to have had a good mother and a godly grandmother. This does not mean that a man (or a woman) is necessarily good because of the faith that dwelt in his grandmother and his own mother. Goodness cannot be passed down like an estate. Some very bad men have had most pious ancestry. At the same time, it is fitting when in successive generations piety is found. A young man (or a woman) with worthy ancestors owes it to them to be worthy. We are responsible for the carrying on of the work which they have begun. Paul was persuaded that the faith of his grandmother and mother was also in Timothy. It should always be so with young people with Christian parents. Those who have a noble inheritance, or memories, influences and teachings should be better than those who have not had these blessings.”

Parents give a lot of thought to what they pass on to their children. By the example of their lives, they can pass on to their children the more important things than a pile of money and possessions. Paul says the best gift of all is the example of sincere faith in Jesus Christ. The faith in Jesus Christ and the related values parents leave in the lives of their children are more important than the valuables they leave to them.

Timothy received sincere faith from his grandmother and mother. This faith was reflected in his life. This was acknowledged by people of his home town and others: “He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16.2). Paul too confessed, “I have no one like him (Timothy) who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Phil. 2.20).

Guide Children in the Right Path

Godly parents not only teach their children through their exemplary lives, but also attempt to guide them in the path of right living based on the scriptures. Eunice, and probably Lois also, taught Timothy the scriptures starting at a very young age (II Tim. 3.15). Jewish boys start formal instruction in the scriptures at age 5. The Jewish people were instructed as follows: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise” (Deut. 6.4-7). Parents have responsibility to nurture their children. Parental training is emphasized in the Bible. “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (Prov. 22.6). “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6.4). The Greek word for “to bring up” is ektrephō, which means “to educate” or “to nurture”. The texts of Deut. 6.4-7, 11.13-21 and Ex. 13.1-10,11-21 were written in small parchments and placed in small leather boxes and were tied into phylacteries of the Pharisees apparently to remind themselves their obligation to teach their children to obey Yahweh’s commands.

Timothy’s mother instructed him the scriptures and that prepared him to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ (II Tim. 3.15). Nurturing children in scriptures lead them not only to salvation in Jesus Christ, but also to a life of godliness (II Pet. 1.3, 4). Scriptures is profitable for teaching the ways of God, i.e. how God wants us to live, for reproof, i.e. to convince us of our wrongs, and for training us in righteousness, which means not only right relationship with God and neighbor, but also right living (II Tim. 3.16, 17). That means, scriptures helps us to maintain sincere faith that is reflected in godly character, qualities, attitude and behaviour (II Pet. 1.5-7).
Parents, therefore, play a vital role in helping their children to develop godly character and behaviour. Parents who spend time with their children, and are involved, responsive and hold their children to a reasonably high standard of behaviour tend to have their children less likely to engage in risky behaviour. And children who report feeling “connected” to their parents are also least likely to engage in risky behaviour. Often times parents, who have misbehaving children, allow them to continue in this bad behaviour for many different reasons. Children are often very effective in convincing their parents that what their parents say is irrelevant to their lives, and the mistake parents make is to believe it and withdraw from taking any corrective measures for the bad behaviour of their children. Some believe that their children will grow out of it. Unfortunately these parents are actually making things worse for their children. Instead of being indifferent towards your children’s bad behaviour, help them learn about consequences, so that they may behave well and not have problems later on in life. In essence parents should be knowledgeable about their children’s activities and interests in order to guide them to become mature and responsible human beings.

Parents have, therefore, an immense responsibility to bring up their children through positive model life and nurture. Since this is a God-given responsibility, they are accountable to God for the way they discharge their responsibility. Through their positive influence on their child, they are also helping their child to become a responsible adult in society. So actually when parents have influence on their child, they are also influencing society. The quality and quantity of time, accountability to God, setting proper role models, providing security and showing responsibility – all these should be great motivators in helping to see how parents have an important influence on a child.

Onesimus: From Slavery to Sonship

July 22, 2014

Onesimus was a slave (Philemon 16), owned by Philemon. Though his master was a Christian and hosted a house-church in Colosse (Philemon 2; Col 4.9, 17), Onesimus was still a heathen (Philemon 10).

Why Onesimus had left Philemon is not stated. We need not infer from Philemon 18 and 19 that Onesimus had stolen money from his master. He was not a runaway slave in the traditional sense of being a fugitive or deserter. What we can say is that some serious domestic grievance destroyed the relationship between Onesimus and his master Philemon. Having known his civil rights, Onesimus went to Rome believing that Paul could mediate between him and his master.

Under certain conditions of the Roman law governing slavery, it was possible for a slave to seek out an intercessor or an advocate to mediate a grievance with the master. Often a close friend of the master was chosen by the slave for this purpose. Since he was asking for mediation or intercession, he was not considered fugitive or runaway slave. His intention was to return to the master’s house and to continue to serve his master in changed conditions. Exactly what the misdeed of Onesimus is not clear, but it did some damage (Philemon 18-19), so that he needed a mediator.

Interestingly enough, the pagan slave Onesimus went to the Christian apostle Paul, who was imprisoned, for help against his Christian master. Onesimus would have known Paul from the contacts that Philemon had with the apostle. While he was with Paul Onesimus became a believer in Jesus Christ (Philemon 10). Paul, then, wrote this “letter of intercession or mediation” trusting that Philemon would forgive the “wrong” and cancel any debt (Philemon 18, 19), and to accept him again with love. Paul stressed his appeal by pointing out that he was instrumental in the conversion of Onesimus into a Christian while he was with him (something that the master could not do). Onesimus, therefore, deserved to be welcomed as a “beloved brother” in the Philemon’s house-church, leaving no more room for anger (Philemon 10, 16, 17).

We see how conversion to the Christian faith broke down all social, racial and economic barriers. A new relationship and partnership has been formed in this situation where master, slave and apostle (i.e. Philemon, Onesimus and Paul) are all part of one family in Christ (Philemon 16). In Galatians 3.28 Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The existing social difference between slave and master no longer had relevance in the Christian community (I Cor 12.13), where all should treat one another as equally worthy and with love. Existing worldly social differences should not be used to the disadvantage of the lower classes. In the church “free” and “slave” were no longer relevant social terms. All those who believed in Jesus Christ are the children of God (Gal. 4.4-7).

As a Christian, Onesimus was now “useful” for Paul and his master (Philemon 11). In his letter, Paul asked Philemon to send Onesimus back so that Onesimus could “serve” the apostle (Philemon 12-14). This “service” probably refers to being a co-worker with Paul in the gospel work for a time in place of Philemon himself (Philemon 13). Lending a representative by a church to serve another in mission (Philemon 14) is known elsewhere (2 Cor 8.23; Phil 2.25-30; I Cor 16:17; Col 1.7). Through these workers, the churches shared actively in Paul’s mission work. Since Philemon represented a house-church, he could lend Onesimus as a representative of his church to participate in Paul’s mission work. Other mission helpers were already present with Paul when Paul wrote his letter to Philemon and even sent their greetings (Philemon 24). From Colossians 4.9, it can be concluded that Philemon indeed released Onesimus for temporary service to Paul’s mission.

Interestingly enough, Onesimus means “profitable” or “useful”. The one, who was “useless” to his master when he was a pagan (Philemon 11), became “useful” after his conversion.

Andrew, the Apostle of Jesus Christ

July 10, 2014

Our knowledge of Andrew from the Bible is limited, as his name occurs only 12 times in the New Testament. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, his name is mentioned mostly in the list of apostles (Mt. 10.2; Mk. 3.18; Lk. 6.14). Only on three occasions he is mentioned outside of the list of the apostles (Mk. 1.16; 1.29, 13.3). Although Andrew was one of the Apostles, Acts of the Apostles mentions him only once, i.e. in the list of apostles (Acts 1.13).

Only in the Gospel of John, Andrew becomes more than a name (i.e. a name mentioned in the list of apostles). In this Gospel we gain a clearer picture of his character and activity (Jn. 1.35-44; 6.8-9; 12.20-22).

1. Basic Details of Andrew

Andrew was the son of John, brother of Simon Peter, a native of Bethsaida in Galilee and a fisherman by trade. Although Andrew was a native of Bethsaida, he later moved to Capernaum (Mk. 1.16, 17).

Andrew, whose name means “manly” or “courageous”, was the first disciple of Jesus Christ. Before he became a disciple of Jesus Christ, he was a follower of John, the Baptist.

2. Character of Andrew

Though he is not as much visible as his brother Peter does, his life teaches us several important lessons.

a. Andrew – A Man of Humility

Andrew is described in the New Testament primarily as the brother of Peter, although he was the one who brought Peter to Jesus Christ. He was scarcely more than a name, almost completely overshadowed by his brother. Even though Andrew was the first disciple of Jesus, he was not a member of the inner circle of Jesus. Peter, James and John became the members of that intimate group and were with Jesus on special occasions such as the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5.37) and Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk. 9.2).

Thus, Andrew never reached a place of “prominence”. But he never craved for a place of honour. Also he did not show envy of those who played the lead role. Andrew was more concerned with serving than building his reputation. His attitude was opposite to that of James and John, who asked Jesus for places of honour (Mk. 10.35-40). Humble Andrew was content with his role and labored quietly and with deep commitment to serve God.

b. Andrew – An Honest Seeker

Andrew and another disciple heard John, the Baptist, say about Jesus, “Look, here is the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1.35-36). Regardless of the fact that John did not speak to them directly, regardless of the fact that John did not volunteer to introduce them to Jesus, they acted upon what they heard.

Seeing them following him, Jesus said, “What are you looking for?” Notice, Jesus did not say, “Whom are you looking for?” but “What are you looking for?” This is a question to search their hearts for the motive behind their quest.

As the popularity of Jesus grew, the multitude sought him for healing (Mt. 4.23-25), and for loaves and fishes. They would make him a king so that their food problem might be permanently solved (Jn. 6.15).

It is not often that people give themselves up to honest, penetrating examination of their own motives and desires in following Jesus. What are we looking for, anyway?

Andrew and the other disciple responded to Jesus’ searching question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (Jn. 1.38). This query expresses their desire to know Jesus. Honouring their desire, Jesus invited them at once, “Come and see” (Jn. 1.39).

So much awaits the one who seeks Jesus with a genuine desire to know him: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11.28); “Come” “Let everyone who is thirsty come” (Rev. 22.17).

The meeting of Andrew and the other disciple brings sharply before us the fact that there is no substitute for a personal experience of Jesus. The testimony of John, the Baptist, was helpful to these seekers, but they could not rest in that. They must see Jesus for themselves.

It is so today. One is not saved by another’s faith, nor nurtured by another’s spiritual experience. A pastor, Sunday School teacher, parent or friend may perform the valuable service of testifying about Jesus Christ. But one must come to Jesus for herself/himself to be saved and to enter upon a life of fellowship with Jesus.

c. Andrew – A Man of Strong Convictions

When Andrew found that Jesus was the Messiah, he looked for his brother Peter, shared his conviction about Jesus and brought him to Jesus. His strong conviction enabled him to encourage Peter to become a disciple of Jesus, the Messiah. His faith and joy beckoned him to tell somebody about what he discovered.

Good news is hard to keep. This is as it should be. Information that benefits one will help others as well. This is true of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Andrew became a witness, going to work at once in the task of spreading the good tidings.

d. Andrew – A Man of Positive Outlook (Jn. 6.1-14)

Jesus’ feeding the five thousand illustrates Andrew as a man with a positive outlook. Jesus was concerned about the condition of the crowd that had been listening to him teach for a long time. Hungry and tired, they needed food to eat. So Jesus turned to Philip and asked him where they could buy food.

Didn’t Jesus know how much it costs and that he didn’t have money to buy? Yes, he knew that he could not afford to buy food for this crowd. If so, why did he ask Philip “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jn. 6.5). The Bible says that Jesus asked this probing question in order to test Philip’s faith in him. Philip immediately calculated how much money was needed and told Jesus that it would cost 200 denarii (one denarus was a day’s wage of a laborer).

Calculating how much money was needed is not wrong. Jesus himself encouraged to count the cost in the context of discipleship (Lk. 14.28-32). What Jesus tested Philip was NOT whether his disciple would calculate the cost, but whether his disciple would look to him for solution after calculating the cost. Philip’s answer seemed to suggest that his eyes were on the enormity of the problem than on his master who had the ability to solve the problem. In a way, he was telling Jesus how much bread they didn’t have, how impossible the task was. It seemed overwhelming and impossible. It was all that Philip focused on.

Then Andrew walked up. He had been quietly working on the problem himself. But all he had been able to find was a boy carrying his food – five barley loaves and two fish. Mind you, barley loaves was the food of the poor in those days. Andrew presented his “solution” to his master, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (Jn. 6.9). Though Andrew knew what he found was inadequate, yet he informed Jesus what was available.

While Philip looked at the issue from a negative perspective, here was Andrew trying to look for a positive solution. Philip looked at the enormity of the problem that made him inadequate, weak and inactive, while Andrew looked at the enormity of the problem as well as his master, and brought to Jesus the little he found. Jesus turned this little into much and fed the hungry.

The human spirit is so prone to negativism, the focus on what we can’t do and what we don’t have…. When we become so tied up in focusing on what we don’t have, we lose choice opportunities to let God use what we do have!

There is a rich lesson for us to learn here.

i. We should look not only at the problem/issue but also at our God.
ii. We should not focus on what we don’t have. Instead, we should focus on what we have, no matter how small or little it is, submit it to God and let him use it for his good purpose.

e. Andrew – A Man of Global Outlook (Jn. 12.20-22)

Andrew showed a global outlook, by ushering the Greeks (foreigners) to meet Jesus. It would have been easy to completely dismiss the Greeks and their request, as there was racial and religious prejudice. But Andrew was not that kind of a person. He believed that everyone had access to Jesus, and no one could ever be a nuisance to Jesus, if that person was seeking the truth. Through his initial experience, he knew how important it was for people to come to Jesus in order to know him!

3. Andrew’s Death

Andrew’s death is not recorded in the Bible. But church tradition says that Andrew was crucified on an “X” shaped cross. He seemed to have requested those who crucified him that he not be crucified in the normal position, feeling unworthy to die as his Lord Jesus. So his cross was turned on its side to form an “X”.

A Religion of Inclusion and Service

July 1, 2014

The perceived importance of the story of Jesus’ act in the temple is evident as it appears in all the four Gospels (Mt. 21.12-17; Mk. 11.15-18; Lk. 19.45-48; Jn. 2.13-22). Mark’s version is the longest among the four. Only Mark makes clear that God’s house shall be called a house of prayer for “all the nations” (Mk. 11.17). The episode in Mark 11.15-18 is generally called “Jesus cleansing the temple”. However, this description of Jesus’ act in the temple is too weak an appraisal. Jesus’ act is symbolic of a more serious pronouncement. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ action in the temple reinforces the purpose of a larger narrative that the time of fulfilment has come and God’s kingdom has dawned. The final public act of Jesus in the temple forms the climax of the conflict between Jesus, messenger of the kingdom of God, and the guardians of the self-serving Jewish religion.

A. Jesus’ Act in the Temple

After entering Jerusalem, Jesus proceeds to the temple (Mk. 11.11). The critical nature of his visit is clarified by the events of the following day (Mk. 11.12-14). The fig tree episode throws light on Jesus’ act in the temple.

The fig tree event sandwiches Jesus’ temple act (Mk. 11.12-14; 11.15-17; 11.20-26). This event interprets Jesus’ action in the temple. However, there are hardly any references to the temple described metaphorically as a tree, leave alone fig tree. If the fig tree in Mk 11.12-14 is used symbolically for the temple in Mk 11.15-17, the most likely metaphorical use would be as a reference to the Jerusalem temple-related religion not belonging to “the time” (the Greek phrase ho kairos is translated as “the season” in NRSV).      

On the following morning on his way to the temple along with his disciples, Jesus sees “a fig tree in leaf”. He approaches it in order to pluck its fruit and satisfy his hunger. But he finds no figs. The writer points out that it is not ho kairos, which is translated as “the season” (Mk. 11.13). If this is the intended meaning of the writer of Mark’s gospel, then Jesus’ expectation of fruit at this period is unreasonable. Moreover, Jesus cursing it for not producing fruit out of season is outrageous. The other important thing is, Jesus, who lived in Palestine all his life, must have been aware of the fact that it is not the season for the fig tree to produce fruit. Considering these things, one needs to know the writer’s intended meaning of ho kairos (“the time”).  

Mark uses the Greek phrase ho kairos in 1.15, 11.13 and 13.33 (and tō kairō in 10.30 and 12.2). In 1.15 and 13.33 ho kairos refers to the eschatological age (i.e. the “end time” that has come on to this earth with the coming of Jesus Christ). This implies that ho kairos in Mark 11.13 also refers to the eschatological age. Therefore, the cursing of the fig tree demonstrates that the leafy fig tree symbolizing the temple cult does not belong to the eschatological age.

The temple-related religion gives an illusion that it has “fruits”, whereas in reality it is barren. Here “fruits” refer to “serving the needs of people”. The guardians of the temple-related religion, by promoting this delusion, have benefited not only through the business that is taking place at the temple, but also in maintaining their power and authority over people. Jesus is exposing this delusion through the acted parable of “cursing” of the fig tree and by bringing to a halt the business associated to the temple cult.

The purchase of sacrificial animals and change of currency are necessary for the operation of the temple cult. The tables of the money-changers are needed for buying and selling of the sacrificial animals at the site and to exchange Roman coinage with its idolatrous images and inscriptions into an acceptable coinage, probably Tyrian coinage, which would be used for buying sacrificial animals and paying temple tax. Jesus has chased away the buyers and sellers of the sacrificial animals and birds needed for sacrifice, and overturned the tables of the money changers. Jesus overturning the tables of merchants is often understood as Jesus’ desire to rid the temple of dishonest merchants, who are involved in unfair business practices. But the Gospel says nothing about this. Jesus’ radical action is directed at the abolition of the temple cult. As Herman Waetjen says, “This is not an act of reformation intended to eliminate business activities from the observance of the cult or to separate trade and commerce from the worship of God. Jesus is not “cleansing the temple”.” Jesus is rejecting the temple cult: “He would not allow anyone to carry a vessel through the temple” (Mk. 11.16). He is, in effect, stopping the operation required for the functioning of the sacrificial system.

The immediate context of Jesus’ temple act, and the wider context of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God and his conflict with the guardians of the temple-related religion give an eschatological framework. Jesus’ radical act signifies that the temple cult does not belong to the eschatological age. His condemnation on the temple cult is based on the scriptures: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mk. 11.17). This quote is taken from Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7. Isa. 56 envisions a time of full inclusion of the excluded groups of people, and so an inclusive community. Eunuchs and Gentiles, who were excluded from “the assembly of the Lord”, are welcomed (cf. Deut. 23.1-4). God’s house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations. Only Mark has included that God’s house shall be called a house of prayer for “all the nations” (Mk. 11.17). Further, Isa. 56.11 complains about the greed of the leaders of Israel: “The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. The shepherds also have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, to their own gain, one and all.” The term “gain” clearly implies that their profit has been unjustly and violently acquired. This is one point of contact with Jeremiah 7. Although “den of robbers” in Mk. 11.17 seems to suggest that the problem is dishonesty of the merchants, the citation from Jeremiah 7 refers to sins including stealing, murder, committing adultery and swearing falsely. These sins refer to the sin of greed. The people of Judah were involved in acting unjustly with one another, oppressing the alien, the orphan and the widow (Jer. 7.5-6). It is such behaviour that made the temple “a den of robbers”. Jeremiah goes on to say that the people “then come and stand before me (God) in this house, which is called by m y name, and say “we are safe” – only to go on doing all these abominations” (Jer. 7. 9-10). The prophet declares God’s judgment on “this house, which is called by my name.” Jeremiah cites the destruction of the Shiloh temple as precedence for the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

Therefore, Jesus’ temple act signifies his condemnation on the temple cult (cf. Mk. 15.1-2). At Jesus’ trial one of the charges brought against him is that he has said that he would destroy the temple (Mk. 14.58). The same charge is repeated by the mockers when Jesus is crucified (Mk. 15.29-30). However, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple that Jesus pronounced is not through violent means. This is found in Jesus’ answer to Peter’s astonishment at the sight of withered fig tree: “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you” (Mk. 11.22-23). The destruction of the self-serving religion happens through the presence of the community of faith. 

B. The Subversive Community of Faith and Forgiveness, and Service

Faith and Forgiveness

The subversive nature of the community of the kingdom of God is evident in Jesus’ answer to Peter (Mk. 11.22-24). To Peter’s exclamation: “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered,” Jesus answered: “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” (Mk. 11.21-23). The witnessing of the withered fig tree immediately follows Jesus’ temple act. “Mountain” in Jesus’ answer refers to the Mt. Zion on which the temple stands. The faith community effects the demise of the self-serving and self-promoting temple cult, because it exposes the duplicity of the Jewish temple-related religion.

The motif of “faith” is emphasized in Mark. The role of faith in healing is repeatedly mentioned (Mk. 2.5, 5.34, 36, 6.6, 10.52). Although the object of faith is not specified in these passages, presumably Mark is referring to God’s kingdom power that is active in and through Jesus Christ. The relation of faith to the dawning of the kingdom of God is evident in Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of God (Mk. 1.14-15).

The faith community is also a forgiving community. Forgiveness removes the barriers among people, which in turn engenders an inclusive community: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mk. 11.25). The means of divine forgiveness is not temple and its sacrificial system, but offering forgiveness.

Since faith in God’s kingdom is possible to anyone in any place, and the disciples’ forgiveness of anything they have against anyone generates an inclusive community open to reconciliation and peaceful relations with all other people, the kingdom community of faith and forgiveness becomes God’s house of prayer “for all the nations” (cf. Mk. 11.17). The inadequacy of the temple cult to promote God’s will is expressed by the scribe’s confession that the two-fold commandment of love (loving God and loving one’s neighbour) is “much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk. 12.32-33). Only in Mark does the scribe declare that the commandment of love for God and neighbour “is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (cf. Mt. 22.34-40; Lk. 10.25-28). By subverting the temple’s entire sacrificial worship, designated by a generalizing reference to “all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”, through the two-fold commandment of love, the scribe has in effect called into question the worth and adequacy of the temple cult. The love for God and one’s neighbour surpasses the greed perpetuated by the temple-related religion. Seeing that the scribe responded “with understanding”, Jesus confirms the surpassing value of love for God and one’s neighbour by pronouncing that he is “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12.34).

Greatness as Service

The community of the kingdom of God is characterized by not only faith and forgiveness, but also service. The primacy of service is emphasized in Mk. 9.33-37 and 10.42-45. The disciples’ discussion on greatness provides an occasion for Jesus to teach about true greatness in terms of service: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9.35). Such service should be rendered to those marginalized in the society such as children (Mk. 9.36-37) and “little ones” (Mk. 9.42). In response to the request of James and John for places of honour in the kingdom of God, Jesus instructs:

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers, lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mk. 10.42-45).

The disciples know how rulers use their power and authority to dominate and make people serve their greed. Their knowledge of the way power and authority operate in society is used by Jesus to teach them the alternate way that power and authority should be used by the community of the kingdom of God. He clearly stresses that the behaviour of rulers is the model that should be avoided by his disciples. The way the rulers rule and the great men exercise their authority and power is unacceptable in the community of the kingdom of God. Self-seeking, self-promotion, and abuse of power and authority for self-interests are improper in the community of the kingdom of God. “Greatness” and “being first” involve inversion of familiar models.

In contrast to the familiar models of greatness in the society, Jesus becomes the model of greatness to his disciples. Greatness is redefined in the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches greatness as service. The word “great” in Mk. 10.43 echoes the word “great ones” in Mk. 10.42, and the word “slave” in Mk. 10.44 the word “lord over” in Mk. 10.42. The intention of this is to emphasize the contrast between the way power and authority are understood in the community of the kingdom of God and in the society. Mk. 10.43-44 reinforces the idea of service presented in Mk. 9.35. Jesus commands those who want to be great among his disciples to be servants and those who want to become first to be slaves of all. His teaching on service grows out of the commandment to love one’s neighbour.

The disciples of Jesus are freed from the enslavement to the self-serving religion. “Ransom” effects deliverance from enslavement to this religion: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10.45).  The term “ransom” refers to slave market, where a slave is redeemed from slavery by paying a ransom price. In Mk. 10.45 “ransom” does not refer to Jesus’ death ransoming many from their sins. Here “ransom” is presented as a parallel to “came not to be served but to serve”, and in contrast to “tyranny” and “lording over”. The ransoming for “the many” is from the system or social order of “tyranny” and “lording over” into a system of service. Jesus gave his life as a “ransom” to liberate “the many” from the system of enslavement to power and authority (“tyranny” and “lording over”) into the system of serving others, especially the poor and the marginalized. Freedom from the system of enslavement to power and authority is expressed by being a “servant” or “slave”.

Service to others, particularly the marginalized, is central to the ministry of Jesus Christ and so to his disciples, even if such service attracts opposition from “tyrants” and “lords”. The service of Jesus expressed in terms of “giving his life a ransom” is the cause for the service of disciples (notice “for” at the beginning of Mk. 10.45). Those who are redeemed from the system of “tyranny” and “lording over” others into the system of service are called to follow Jesus in serving others, especially the poor and the marginalized. Such service to the powerless and marginalized challenges the powerful. The disciples of Jesus engage in subversive practice of power in contrast to “lords” and “tyrants” who are enslaved to power and authority. With their freedom from the system of enslavement to power and authority, they become willing servants or slaves of others. Thus, the community of the kingdom of God is a subversive community to the structures of power and authority of this world.

Samuel – The Leader

June 30, 2014

The character of Samuel may be studied from different angles. But today we study his character from leadership point of view.

God had called Samuel to be the leader of Israel as a result of the crisis in Israel.

  1. The Crisis in Israel
  1. The crisis in Israel was created by the corruption and immorality of priesthood.

In those days Eli was priest in the temple of the Lord at Shiloh (I Sam. 1.9). God had elected Eli’s family to be priests (I Sam. 2.27-29). Eli was also a judge over Israel (I Sam. 4.18). That means, in those days Israel was under the leadership of a family of priests.

Though Eli was righteous, his two sons Hophni and Phinehas, who were also priests at Shiloh, were extremely corrupt and immoral. On the outside they did their priestly duties, offering sacrifices in the temple, but inside they lived corrupt lives and carried out their system of filth and corruption behind the closed doors.

Eli’s sons treated with contempt the offerings of Yahweh (I Sam. 2.17). Not surprisingly, they performed their duties as priests in an improper fashion (I Sam. 2.12-17). They also slept with women serving at the entrance of the tent of meeting (I Sam. 2.22). This meant that the leadership in Israel had become corrupted.

Though Eli rebuked his sons, he could not control them (I Sam. 2.22-25). He was held accountable for all the improper behavior of his sons (I Sam. 2.29). Therefore, Eli was guilty of what his sons were doing and no amount of proper priestly functions on his part could make up for their evil actions. As a consequence, Eli and his family came under God’s condemnation, and the lineage of priesthood would end with Eli and his sons (I Sam. 2.30, 36). The promise of I Sam 2.35 is designed to address this problem.

What lessons can be learned from the fate of Eli’s sons:

-          Being a good and righteous leader does not mean that his/her children will also be righteous.

-          Positions of power can be easily abused;

-          Yahweh may reject anyone already holding an important position, if the conduct of that person is flawed.

-          Divine promises of succession may be broken by Yahweh due to immorality and corruption of leadership (I Sam. 2.30, 35-36). 

  1. Need of God’s word

I Sam 3.1: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread.”

During this time Israel was suffering from the absence of Yahweh’s word.

Into this situation Samuel was born in order to solve the crisis.

  1. Family into which Samuel was born

Elkanah, Father: Elkanah loved his wife Hannah “though the Lord had closed her womb” (I Sam. 1. 6). In that culture a woman, who was barren, was looked down. Such women did not have respect both in their families and society. But Elkanah loved her, although she was barren. For him the “baggage” she carried was immaterial. He loved her as she was.

Elkanah was also an understanding person (1.8). He was there whenever she was down. He consoled her and comforted her whenever she was sad.

Hannah, Mother: She had deep faith in God. Notice what she did before God: she wept bitterly and confessed that she was in distress (1.11); she “poured out her soul before the Lord” (1.15); she spoke out her “great anxiety and vexation” (1.16). That means, she was honest before God. She just poured out before God what she had on her mind and heart. Expression of our feelings, emotions, doubts, questions and hurts before God and a trusted person is not unspiritual.

  1. Transition of Leadership from Eli and His Family to Samuel and His Family

The transition of leadership from Eli and his family to Samuel and his family (1 Sam. 3, 8.1-3]) is highlighted because the transition is not simply from one man or family to another, but from one kind of leadership, namely priestly, to another kind, namely prophetic.

Initially Samuel was apparently being trained as an apprentice under Eli. Samuel ministered as Eli’s assistant (2.11, 18; 3.1), wore an ephod (2.18), offered sacrifices (even after being established as a prophet; cf. 7.9-10), built an altar (7.17), and later was expected to carry out routine priestly functions (16.2-5).But at the same time that Samuel was being groomed as a priestly aide, there are indications that he was destined to be primarily a prophet. His priestly duties were subordinated to his position as prophet.

Israel’s new prophet functioned as its new leader. As Eli the priest had, so Samuel the prophet also “judged” Israel (1 Sam. 7.15). Thus, Samuel was a priest, prophet and judge.

God began to speak again to his people through Samuel. Israel, which at this time had been suffering from the absence of Yahweh’s word and vision, as a result of the call and the prophetic activity of Samuel once more came to hear the divine word. People acknowledged that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet (I Sam. 3.19-24).

Thus, through Samuel the crisis of corrupt leadership and the rarity of God’s word had been solved.

Samuel is recognized as the last judge of Israel, prior to the establishment of kings. He was also God’s appointed kingmaker. His anointing of Saul and David would have given legitimacy to these kings in the eyes of the people and showed that it was God’s doing.

  1. Strengths of Samuel
  1. Obedient to God

Samuel obeyed God’s call to the ministry of priest, prophet and judge. He faithfully carried out the tasks God gave him by speaking the truth to the people, even when it hurt and even when it might be considered dangerous (like when he told Eli what would happen to his sons; and when he rebuked King Saul for disobeying God). He didn’t sugarcoat things (1 Samuel 3:18, 13:12-14; 15:10-31).

What lesson can we learn from Samuel in this? This kind of truth-speaker seems more and more rare these days. See 2 Timothy 4:3, Matthew 4:4, Acts 20:27. The world wants people to tickle their ears and normally they get just that. A lot of these mega churches get to be mega churches because their pastors say only what people want to hear. They don’t rebuke, or warn, or truly exhort to righteous conduct. Why? It makes them uncomfortable and it makes the audience uncomfortable. They wouldn’t be as popular if they spoke the hard truth. We should follow Samuel’s example to share the gospel and teach the word of God truthfully without sugarcoating it and without regard to how we will be perceived or how our audience will react. 

  1. Obedient to Eli (I Sam. 3.1-9)

Even in the middle of the night, Samuel got up and went to Eli three times immediately when he thought he called. He then followed Eli’s instructions when God called him again. Finally he obeyed Eli by telling him the contents of what God had spoken to him, even though Eli could have reacted angrily to Samuel.

See Matthew 7:21-23.

  1. Samuel Continually exhorted Israel to follow the Lord (I Sam. 7:3-12:14-16/12:20-25).

When he reached the distinction of being a prophet, we read that he traveled among his people to teach and promulgate the word of God with religious fervor (I Sam. 7:16). We read of Samuel’s reaction when the Philistines threatened the people of Israel (Ch. 7). Verses 8 and 9 describe the prayer and sacrifices which he initiated to promote successfully the defense of his people. He used prayer and sacrifices to increase his countrymen’s confidence in God.

  1. Weaknesses of Samuel
  1. Samuel seemed to have taken it personally when the people of Israel wanted a king (1 Samuel 8:1-9). It is difficult to reconcile Samuel’s feelings concerning the crowning of a king and the laws of monarchy as set down in Deuteronomy (Dt. 17.14-20). The Law of Moses permits Israel to appoint a king. The only precondition is that the king should be a member of their community. Of course, the Law also specifies how a king should be (Dt. 17.16-20).

The reason for the people of Israel to ask for a king was that Samuel’s sons were corrupt. Eli’s sons corrupted the office of priest, whereas Samuel’s sons corrupted the office of judge. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah “were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribe and perverted justice” (I Sam. 8.2-3).

Samuel’s reaction to their request for a king was displeasure (I Sam. 8.6). The people were simply asking for something written in the Torah. Then why should Samuel be displeased with their request? The reason is: they asked him, “Give us a king to JUDGE (or govern) us” (I Sam. 8.6). As we know Samuel was not only a priest and prophet, but also a judge. When people asked for a judge, that means they were rejecting Samuel and his sons as judges! That means, the people were rejecting their leadership! This displeased Samuel. This displeasure and anger remained in Samuel and he kept bringing it before the people again and again by saying that they did wrong by asking for a king (I Sam. 8.18-19; 10:17-19; 12.1-12; 12.17).

I want to state that this is a perfectly understandable human quality, and I believe that the Bible wants to emphasize this point. Even though Samuel was likened to Moses in many ways (Ps. 99.6; Jer. 15.1), we should not forget that he was human and simply could not tolerate the request to have another ruler or “judge” in his place. Therefore we have this entire story, up to the point where he tried to convince the people that they were mistaken in asking for a king, irrespective of what is written in Deuteronomy.

Samuel was deeply offended by the nation’s request and just could not get over it. But we never see in the Bible that Samuel ever acknowledged the sins of his sons and corrected them. He was only offended by the people’s request for a king, but never focused on the reason for their request (i.e. the corruption of his sons), nor offended by the evil conduct of his sons.

  1. Samuel looked at the outside of man, instead of the heart (I Sam.16:6). Again, this is a very natural thing, but Samuel should have known better. He was a prophet for decades. He knew how God worked.

Remember that God’s will is not based on a person’s external appearance or a “baggage” such as academic qualification, social status, economic status, family background, physical appearance etc. God looks at the heart.

Just think what we focus on at the time of choosing a life-partner. We set criteria according to OUR WILL and DESIRES to choose a partner, and then present it as God’s will.    

  1. Samuel failed to raise his children in God’s ways (I Sam. 8:1-5). He did not learn from Eli. Instead he made the same mistake that Eli did.

It’s true that parents can not control 100% how their children turn out to be. But there is a strong correlation. Perhaps Samuel was too busy doing ministry, so he did not have enough time for his family. It is also true with majority of those doing ministry (particularly leaders) that they tend to correct others easily, but not their own children.

Children don’t automatically follow in the footsteps of their parents. We see the same story occur again and again in the Bible where the father or one generation follows God and his/their children don’t. Examples: David, the time of Joshua, many kings of Judah in the Old Testament. You cannot neglect your family to make money or even because you are a busy pastor. Godly men and women should recognise that their families are one major part of their ministry. They represent the best chance to raise up disciples and make a difference in the world for Christ. 

Greed: The All-Consuming Epidemic

June 30, 2014

Changes are happening in India at a rapid pace. One of the changes is mushrooming of shopping malls and the crowds at the malls, particularly in urban India. The myth of American dream, characterised by high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification, has a strong influence on urban Indians. The deceptive notion that happiness lies in the possession of things is uncritically embraced. I am not suggesting you to stop buying. But to buy carefully and consciously with full attention to the real benefits and costs of your purchases, remembering, always, that the best things in life are not things.

One thing most apparent is that in spite of possessing the things most desired, happiness and contentment still elude those infected with “affluenza”. “Affluenza”, according to John De Graff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This metaphor of a disease is an apt characterization of a malignant condition that is eating into the entrails of urban India. People want to buy more and more things. This can cause stress. Stress can come from plain greed masquerading as the “noble” desire for a higher standard of living. In order to maintain higher standard of living, one has to work more time. So one is overworked and pressed for time. It is said, American couples have only 12 minutes a day (at an average) to converse with each other.

People have less time because they work more. They work more because they want more to maintain a higher standard of living. That means, as a society we are choosing money over time.

What are the consequences of this choice?

  1. We have new form of “homelessness”. We have people living under the same roof, but hardly have time to connect with one another. Someone wrote a book with a title “Is there a home in this house?”
  2. The most corrosive impact of consumerism is on human relationships. Consumerism thrives by promoting use-and-throw culture. Attitudes formed towards things (use-and-throw) eventually get transferred to people. As things are discarded after use, people are also thrown out once they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption. Because in consumeristic culture human beings in themselves do not possess value. Their value is directly proportional to their capacity to buy things. Here the irony is, living beings find their value and worth, and identity in non-living things.   

The consumeristic culture, as a result, has promoted greed and hoarding – accumulation of wealth and material things. Mother Teresa said: “Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing.”

In India it is evident that, although since 1990s there has been a period of sustained economic growth as the country moved towards a more market-oriented economy, the economic growth did not benefit all Indians equally. The benefits of globalization have created two Indias: India shining and India suffering. Middle and upper classes in urban areas have benefited under “India Shining”, but the poor have suffered a decline in living standards and rising food insecurity. Poverty and malnutrition, especially among women, children, and people who belong to scheduled castes and tribes, remain very high.

Large sections of Indian society suffer from gross poverty and deprivation, which co-exists with high and very high incomes and growth rates of income for a very small section. One-third of the world’s poor live in India. 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month. Over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.  India has the second highest poverty—after Nepal—among all Asian countries.

About 20 lakh children die every year as a result of serious malnutrition and preventable diseases. Nearly 50% of children suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition. This is one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world. Nearly 30% of newborn are underweight. 79% of children of age 6-35 months are anaemic. 56% of married women are anaemic.

The apathetic attitude of the government towards the poor and the hungry is well sustained by the Indian society in general. As Jean Dreze, an economist and academic, said: “The government can’t get away with large-scale famine, but it can get away with chronic hunger. It has become an accepted part of life in India.”

Greed in Christian Religion

Greed has also entered Christian religion. Mushrooming of corporate churches, corporate Christian organizations and corporate Christian gospel reflect the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs” subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves.” Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “Give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of rupees annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”. The number of “God’s crorepathis” is on the raise.

For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report, among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores. It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

Thus, Christian ministry has become a corporate business with the owners of these spiritual corporate companies becoming wealthy on the pretext of serving the poor and the needy. The God of mammon obscures the God of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of greed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some time ago I happened to meet a Christian real estate agent. She said, God is the greatest realtor, because he owns the entire universe. But what she forgot to mention was, the unique son of this “greatest realtor” once said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9.58).

Greed plays an important role in the fall of Adam and Eve. It is at the root of sin. The desire in Eve for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not arise till the intervention of the serpent. It arose only when the serpent “described them as desirable in order to be like God.” This awakening of her desire for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is made clear in the text: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3.6). This was not “a momentary desire, but fundamental yearning.” Underlying the desire to possess what God possessed was the greed of Eve and Adam: to be wise like God.

Therefore, greed is at the root of sin. Greed is the essence of fallen human nature.

What are the consequences of greed?

  1. It promotes an egocentric outlook on life. What follows, then, is the neglect of higher ideals in the “icy water of egoistical calculation”, as the Communist Manifesto puts it. This is clearly evident from the fact that America has the world’s highest rate of divorce and, according to family counsellors, “arguments about money are precipitating factors in 90 per cent of divorce cases.” I was told by an Indian Christian leader who works among college and university students that the number of potential divorces among families where both spouses work in IT sector is raising alarmingly.
  2. “Chronic self-absorption”. The unremitting craving for things leaves people with little time and patience to think about others. Hence people become unmindful of the maladies of their society. For instance, how many of them know that 83.6 crore Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 a day or Rs. 600 a month; over 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night; and about 7000 Indians die every day of hunger.

Mother Theresa once said: “One of the greatest deceases is to be nobody to anybody.” It is poverty to live for oneself ignoring your neighbour’s suffering, hunger and death. These neo-poor look with their eyes the suffering and hungry, but do not see. They listen with their ears the cries and agony of the poor and hungry, but do not hear. Because they are absorbed in self-gratification. This is the generation that the consumeristic culture creates.

Proverbs 1.10-19 says: “My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit. We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty. Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” – my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood. For in vain the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait-to kill themselves! And set an ambush-for their own lives! Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.”

Church and Its Dark History

June 11, 2014

The Catholic Irish Babies Scandal: It Gets Much Worse

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

http://www.alternet.org/belief/catholic-irish-babies-scandal-it-gets-much-worse

une 10, 2014 |  

It gets worse. One week after revelations of how over the span of 35 years, a County Galway home for unwed mothers cavalierly  disposed of the bodies of nearly 800 babies and toddlers on a site that held a septic tank, new reports are leveling a whole different set of charges about what happened to the children of those Irish homes.

In harrowing new information revealed this weekend, the Daily Mail has uncovered medical records that suggest 2,051 children across several Irish care homes were given a diphtheria vaccine from pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome in a suspected illegal drug trial that ran from 1930 to 1936. As the Mail reports, “Michael Dwyer, of Cork University’s School of History, found the child vaccination data by trawling through tens of thousands of medical journal articles and archive files. He discovered that the trials were carried out before the vaccine was made available for commercial use in the UK.”  

There is no evidence yet—and there may never be—that any family consent was ever offered, or about how many children had adverse effects or died as a result of the vaccinations. Dwyer told the Mail, “The fact that no record of these trials can be found in the files relating to the Department of Local Government and Public Health, the Municipal Health Reports relating to Cork and Dublin, or the Wellcome Archives in London, suggests that vaccine trials would not have been acceptable to government, municipal authorities, or the general public. However, the fact that reports of these trials were published in the most prestigious medical journals suggests that  this type of human experimentation was largely accepted by medical practitioners and facilitated by authorities in charge of children’s residential institutions.”

In a related story, GSK — formerly Wellcome — revealed Monday on Newstalk Radio that 298 children in 10 different care homes were involved in medical trials in the ’60s and ’70s that left “80 children ill after they were  accidentally administered a vaccine intended for cattle.”

Irish Minister of State for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon has  called for a public inquiry into the treatment of the children and their deaths. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has also called for an investigation, adding that it should be free of Catholic Church interference. “We have to look at the whole culture of mother and baby homes; they’re talking about medical experiments there,” he told RTE Radio this weekend. “They’re very complicated and very sensitive issues, but the only way we will come out of this particular period of our history is  when the truth comes out.” And a spokesman for GSK said the latest revelations,  “if true, are clearly very distressing.” 

This is not even the first time information on these kinds of vaccine trials has come to light. In 2010, the Irish Independent uncovered how children born in the homes were subjected to a single “four-in-one” vaccine trial without their mothers’ permission. The children often didn’t even know what they’d been subjected to until well into adulthood. Appallingly,  Ireland had  no laws regarding medical testing on humans until 1987. Mari Steed, who was born at the Bessborough home in the ’60s, told the Sunday Independent, “We were used as human guinea pigs.”

What Ireland is only now beginning to fully investigate and understand is a story involving potentially thousands of children who were almost certainly neglected and mistreated, and whose deaths were addressed as a mere trash disposal issue. It is now believed a total of  upward of 4,000 children were similarly disposed of in other homes across the country. It’s a story of untold even higher numbers of children who were unwitting subjects in a vaccine test that further refused to see them as human beings, capable of fear and pain. 

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And an interesting insight into why so many children may have been so casually treated and tossed away was revealed in a recent feature on the scandal in the Independent. Babies born to unwed mothers—and this, let it be noted, would have included mothers who were raped—“were denied baptism and, if they died from the illness and disease rife in such facilities,  also denied a Christian burial.” In other words, the Catholic institutions that these women and their children were forced to turn to as their only refuge viciously turned their backs on them — treating them, quite literally, as garbage.

This is abuse of the highest order. Abuse in life, abuse in death. Carried out by religious orders so warped, so perverted in their utter lack of mercy that they participated in the suffering of an unfathomable number of babies and children. This is what the Catholic Church of Ireland is capable of, when it is given free rein over the bodies of its most vulnerable members. And an official inquiry hasn’t even begun. As Michael Dwyer told the Mail this weekend, “What I have found is just the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg.”

 


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