A String of Hope

February 12, 2015

In 1886 G. Frederick Watts titled one of his paintings Hope. It was painted shortly after the death of his adopted daughter Blanche. In this painting a woman is depicted sitting on the top of the globe, plucking at a wooden lyre with her head leaning towards the instrument. At first glance it gives an impression that she is in an enviable position, sitting on the top of the world, playing lyre and enjoying the music. But when you look at the painting closely, the ILLUSION gives way to the REALITY. The woman in the painting is blindfolded (probably symbolising that the world around her is dark for her) and in tattered clothes, playing the lyre with all but one of its strings broken (probably symbolising the condition of her life). Her head is leaning towards the instrument so that she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string. Commenting on his painting Watts says, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord.” It is the ability of people, at their lowest point in life to sense and feel a strand, a single string of hope that gives them strength to move on even in the darkest hour of life.

Hannah in I Samuel 1.1-18 was like the woman in the painting. She was a wife of Elkanah. Her husband loved her. Whenever Elkanah, along with his family, went to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord, he gave a double portion of the sacrifice to Hannah, “because he loved her”. He loved her more than his other wife Peninnah and her children. In fact it was his love towards Hannah that caused Peninnah to be jealous of her.

Elkanah loved her “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.

People in the society must have known about Elkanah’s love towards Hannah. Most of them must have thought that she was lucky and blessed. Her husband loved her. Hannah’s position seemed enviable. Outwardly she looked as if she was sitting on the top of the world.

When we look from a distance at some people, families and countries, it gives an illusion that they are happy, comfortable and peaceful. They wear designer clothes, drive latest model vehicle, live in a posh locality, a well paid job, a rich family. We think they have everything. On the outside they give an illusion of being on the top of the world.

This is the illusion Hannah’s life gives to the outside society. But this illusion gives way to the reality when we look at her life closely.

 

The Reality of Hannah’s Life

  1. Most probably, the attention of Elkanah to Hannah caused Peninnah to be angry and jealous. When jealousy gets hold of us, we can’t let it go because it won’t let us go. A jealous person tries to make the life of the other miserable by hitting at the areas where it hurts the most. Peninnah knew her target area. Every year when they went to Shiloh to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord, Peninnah constantly stayed on her, hurting her, making her cry and taking her appetite away, because the Lord did not give her a child (1.6-8).
  2. Then there is the pain of a barren woman. The story of women in those days (even today) with no children was a story of deep sorrow and despair. Her respectability was tattered and torn. Hannah was “deeply distressed” and “wept bitterly” (1.10). She confessed that she was “deeply troubled” and in “great anxiety and vexation” (1.15-16).

Hannah was deeply hurt and in pain. Outsiders could not see that pain and sorrow. This deep pain and sorrow made her vexed with life. Moreover, her heart was bruised and bleeding with constant attacks of a jealous woman. This had affected her psyche, which was visible in her crying, refusing to eat anything. She was deeply hurt.

When we look at Hannah’s life closely she was in a living hell. What looked like heaven, the illusion of having everything, the illusion of sitting on top of the world, was actually existing in a quiet hell.

Deep distress, sorrow, anxiety and vexation lead a person, usually, into depression and isolation. At times they may also be symptoms of depression. Remember Elijah in I Kings 19.4: “He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now O Lord, take away my life.” He did not eat. These are the signs of depression. It drives us into isolation and death.

However, in the case of Hannah, she found the single string that was not broken, that is, her relationship with God. She was definitely alone. But alone with God. Because she did not lose hope.

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.

The other thing which Hannah did was she cried bitterly before God. That means she had pent up emotions/feelings. She did not have a let out. She did not have a window to vent out her feelings and emotions. We usually let out our deep emotions/feelings before a person, whom we trust and who loves and cares for us. This is what Hannah did. Because Hannah trusted God and believed that God loved her and cared for her, she let out her emotions/feelings. When we vent out our emotions/feelings, it will have a therapeutic effect on us. It lightens our heart and mind.

Notice the change in Hannah’s appearance: “Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer” (1.18).

In her darkest hour of life, Hannah had the ability to sense and feel the sole string that was intact. In her deep distress and sorrow, she found that one string of hope, i.e. God. Hannah had a strong relationship with God. Though she was barren in her womb, she was fertile in her relationship with God. Year after year when they went to the Lord’s temple in Shiloh, she kept on praying, although there was no visible sign of change in her condition. She prayed so fervently that Eli thought she must be drunk.

It is very easy to hope in God when there is evidence of God’s goodness all around us. But it is difficult to hope when the love of God is not plainly evident, or there is absence of God. There is a documentary titled The Day My God Died. This documentary presents the stories of young girls whose lives have been crushed by child sex trade. They describe the day they were abducted from their village and sold into sexual servitude in Mumbai, shattering their dreams and hopes, as The Day My God Died. These children are “the commodity consumed by the voracious and sophisticated international sex trade. Recruiters capture them, smugglers transport them, brothel owners enslave them, corrupt police betray them and consumers rape them and infect them. Every person in the chain profits except for the girls, who pay price with their lives.”

In a situation where there is no visible evidence of God’s love, care and presence, it requires courage, audacity to trust God, to hope in God.

There is an African American Spiritual titled “Over my head”. African American Spirituals were originated in the American South. These were created by mostly slaves whose names history never recorded. These were sung by slaves during their work in fields, factories etc. The theology conveyed in these songs is a powerful mix of African spirituality, Biblical narrative, an extreme human suffering, and hope. These were written in extreme pain and suffering. In the midst of that they express Hope in God.

Refrain:

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

 

  1. Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

 

All: There must be a God somewhere.

 

Refrain

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

 

  1. Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

 

All: There must be a God somewhere

 

Refrain

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

 

Even when the world remains a mute spectator to our hurts, sufferings, pain, agony and cry, and we feel lonely in the valley of the shadow of death, we can still hear the music from the divine musician!

The Temptations of Jesus Christ (Mt. 4.1-11)

February 9, 2015

The account of the temptations of Jesus Christ is sandwiched between the baptism of Jesus and the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee (Mt. 3.13-17; 4.1-11; 4.12-25). The body of the narrative (Mt. 4.3-10) consists of three temptations: to turn stones into bread (vs. 3-4), to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple (vs. 5-7), and to fall down and worship Satan (vs. 8-10). The first two of these temptations are introduced by a conditional clause “if”, whereas the third is a straightforward attack.

One of the key terms in the story of Jesus’ temptations is “tempt” (Greek word peirazō Mt. 4.1,3,7). Though its root meaning is “to attempt, to try”, and by extension “to put to test”, in common usage today the sense of “tempt” is “to entice” (eg. “tempting food”) or “to entice to sin” (eg. “Lead us not into temptation”).

The word peirazō in Matthew means “to tempt for the purpose of discrediting” (16.1, 19.3, 22.18,35). Satan tempts Jesus in order to discredit him or deviate him as the Son of God from doing God’s will. It is Jesus’ faithfulness as the Son of God that is put on trial. In Mt. 4.1 and 4.3, peirazō is used in this sense. The lure of bread when Jesus is hungry, the lure of performing spectacular act at the temple, and the lure of gaining “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” – in these ways the devil tempts Jesus.

However, in Mt. 4.7 the word peirazō has the sense of “testing”. The reference is to Deuteronomy 6.16: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Here there is the question of testing God of his power or providence or trying his patience.

Therefore, the entire temptations’ narrative is about enticing and testing. Three strands run through all these three temptations, and these three strands are found in Israel as well as in the church. They remain perennial problems of the church even in the twenty first century. These are: (I) The Search for Identity, (II) The Search for Purpose, (III) The Search for Methods and Means.

 

  1. The Search for Identity

The temptations’ account is connected to the preceding story of Jesus’ baptism by Matthew’s favourite particle “then” (Greek word tote Mt. 4.1). At the time of baptism a voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3.17). Now in the wilderness, after forty days of fasting and prayer, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God…” (Mt. 4.3,6). As Scroggie says, “After the testimony, the test.” Thus, Jesus confronts the question of self-identity before he has started his public ministry.

Dr. Erickson, a psychiatrist, notes that many geniuses and leaders have a crisis of self-identity. He lists among the persons who had such an identity crisis Luther, Darwin and George Bernard Shaw. This crisis of self-identity is also faced by institutions, and social and religious organisations. The church too confronts the question: “Who are you?”

The basic question of the temptations and of the rest of the Gospel of Matthew is: “Who are you?” Time and again this question of Jesus’ identity comes up in the Gospel. The disciples said, “Who is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Mt. 8.27). The disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Mt. 11.3). In the city of Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt. 16.13). After they gave varied answers, he turned to them and asked, “But who do you say that I am” (Mt. 16.15).

The divine testimony at the time of Jesus’ baptism establishes the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3.17). The temptations of devil reflect no doubt about the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. The conditional clause in his words (“If you are the Son of God”) is not the statement of an unreal but of a real condition, a statement of fact. The “if” clause in Mt. 4.3 and 4.6 corresponds to the word “since”, than to the hypothetical “if”.

The temptations of the devil are not on the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, but on what kind of Son of God Jesus is. The issue is how Jesus uses the power and authority that the status accords him.

The divine announcement about Jesus at the time of his baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” combines the thoughts from Psalms 2.7 and Isaiah 42.1. Psalms 2.7 points to Jesus’ role as the Messianic King, while Isaiah 42.1 suggests his function as the Spirit-anointed Servant. Thus the Son will exercise his Messiahship as the Servant. So Jesus is called to be the Servant-Messiah.

The temptations of devil are for Jesus to be trapped into a false identity, or to become or be shaped into the image of the expectations of the people. Jews are expecting a Messiah and they have developed many ideas about the Messiah. Some are expecting that the Messiah will come and fight on behalf of the “sons of light” against the “sons of darkness”. Some others are expecting a priestly Messiah who will come and cleanse the Jerusalem temple as it has become “a den of robbers”. The revolutionary Jews are expecting a political Messiah who will come and redeem them from the Roman bondage. So the devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory, and says, “All these I will give you” and tempts him to become a political Messiah! Jesus is tempted to do some spectaculars as the Son of God, probably to attract crowds to become his followers!

By refusing to be tempted to use his identity as the Son of God for his self-interests, or to become a Messiah of people’s expectations, and by using only the Word of God, Jesus has reaffirmed his identity as revealed by the voice from heaven at the time of his baptism. His identity is grounded in and shaped by the Word of God or the Will of God, not by the expectations of the people or the will of the people. All through his ministry, Jesus had to be conscious of this identity in order to avoid being trapped into some false identity. He had to rebuke Peter when the disciple wanted the master to be a different kind of Messiah, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” (Mt. 16.23). After feeding five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, when they tried to take him in order to make him king, Jesus escaped from there (Jn. 6.15)!

The people of Israel, as the chosen people of God, tested God by asking for signs in the wilderness. They wanted to be called the chosen people of God, but did not want to be servant. They wanted all the privileges and prestige of the “only beloved nation of God”, but not responsibilities. They neglected God, his covenant and his word, but wanted to use God for their self-interests.

Similar is the state of the church in the twenty-first century. The church has succumbed to the temptations and shaped itself according to the expectations of people. The will of the people takes precedence over the will of God! So the church confronts the question about its identity: What is the church? Is it an inefficient organization, or is it an efficient institution? Is it a social or caste or class club taking on all of the mores, customs and systems of our Indian society? Or is it truly the Body of Christ? The salt of the earth and the light of the world? Is it the servant of God, or does it make God its servant? This is the heart of the continuing temptation of Jesus Christ in the church: the search for self-identity.

Jesus makes it clear that God (and his Word) is not someone to be used for self-interests. Rather, Jesus, Israel and the church are God’s servants, God’s stewards and God’s ambassadors. God’s power in the church is not to be used for spectaculars, for attracting crowds, for getting attention! God wants the church to do his will: Love justice, show mercy, and walk humbly before the Lord, our God!

 

  1. The Search for Purpose

By identifying Jesus as the Son of God, the voice from heaven during his baptism commissions him as the Servant-Messiah to establish the kingdom of God (or the rule of God) on this earth. For this mission Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit. In his first public ministry in Galilee, Jesus proclaims the good news of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) and cures every disease and every sickness among the people (Mt. 4.17, 23).

The confrontation between Jesus and Satan is central to the establishment of the kingdom of God on this earth. It is by the power of the Spirit, who led him into the wilderness to be tempted, that Jesus is able to proclaim the message of the dawning of the kingdom of God, cure the sick with various diseases, and cast out evil spirits (Mt. 4.17, 23-24). Casting out demons from the lives of persons, who are controlled in body or will or both by evil forces, indicates the presence of the kingdom of God (Mt. 8.16, 28ff, 9.32-33, 12.22-32).

To the establishment of God’s kingdom Satan stands unalterably opposed. So, he tries to hinder the Son’s work or tempts Jesus to stray from doing his commissioned work according to God’s will (Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43).

In the wilderness Jesus is tempted by Satan to fulfill his messianic purpose, i.e. the establishment of the kingdom, by departing from the will of God. The devil shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, and tempts him, “All these I will give you.” But the condition is: “If you fall down and worship me” (Mt. 4.8-9). Jesus’ messianic purpose is to establish NOT his own kingdom by becoming a vassal king to Satan, but the kingdom of God. As the messiah of a benevolent God, he is commissioned to serve the needs of people, and thus show God’s goodness, love and compassion to them. Jesus declares clearly his messianic purpose to the disciples of John the Baptist: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt. 11.2-5).

Thus, Jesus is clear about his purpose as God’s Son. He says to his disciples, “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). Humility and service are the characteristics of the Son of God.

Israel had also been called and commissioned with a particular purpose. The covenant promise that was given to Abraham, to Moses and to others is quite clear. It was remembered very well – at least two-thirds of it – by the Israelites and the Jews. First, “you shall bear a son”. Second, “I shall make of you a great nation.” These they did not forget. Jews remember this even today! Some of them still quote it in relation to Zionism and a new twentieth century nation called Israel. But the third part of the Covenant was the statement of the purpose: “…in you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12.3). But Israel became nationalistic, jingoistic and self-serving. In their pride and selfishness, they lost their ultimate and true divine purpose.

The crisis in the church is obvious today – not only its identity but also its purpose. It is concerned more about statistics, economic success, external appearance, or even with mere existence. The purpose of the church is not to test God’s faithfulness or God’s power or God’s promises, but to show forth in faith and service God’s goodness, compassion and love.

Until we know our true identity and purpose, it becomes easy to be tempted to follow false messiahs, false purposes, and to seek false goals. But if we are the Body of Christ, we have a purpose. It is to follow Jesus Christ in life and in mission. That is, to love justice, show mercy, and walk humbly before the Lord, our God, and to be co-workers with God in the establishment of the kingdom of God on this earth.

What profit would it have been to Jesus, to Israel and to the church, to gain the whole world and lose its life, its self-identity, by betraying its very purpose?

 

III. The Search for Means and Methods

Satan wants that something has to be done to get Jesus Christ to betray his identity and his purpose by the kind of methods he used. The temptations of Satan to Jesus are to demonstrate his divine sonship and to fulfill his divine mission by means which are not in accordance to the will of God.

By attacking the ego of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, Satan is enticing Jesus to test God’s faithfulness as the provider and protector, and to establish his own kingdom on this earth. The underlying objective of the devil seems to be to break the relationship between the Father and the Son and to force Jesus to stray away from his divine purpose.

 

  1. Bread Alone

Satan’s question is sharply formulated: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Mt. 4.3). Are you not hungry? Are you not the Son of God? Then why not “command these stones to become loaves of bread”? The end justifies the means!

Certainly satisfaction of hunger itself is not wrong, for this is involved in the angels’ ministry later (Mt. 4.11). The fact that a miracle would be involved does not make it wrong, for Jesus often performs miracles, twice where hunger is involved (Mt. 14.13-21; 15.32-39). Then why did Jesus refuse to use his power to turn stones into bread and satisfy his hunger?

The reason for Jesus’ refusal is found in his reply to Satan’s challenge, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt.4.4). The issue is: How does one “live”? Jesus is tempted by the devil to live “Bread alone” lifestyle, by keeping aside the Word of God or the Will of God. It’s true that without bread man can not live. He will surely die. “By bread alone” man can “live”! However, he can not live the life he himself wants to live and God wants him to live. It takes both bread and the Word of God to make man live in the way God wants him to live. Bread and the Word of God are basic for man in order to live. Thus, Jesus has brought “bread and the Word of God” together. “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8.2-3).

Food, clothing, shelter, sex, money, brain, work, technology, power and religion must be illuminated and judged by the Word of God, and in the light of God must be brought to the right relationship to one another. Jesus says that the entire law (the Word of God) is summed up in two related commandments of God: Love your God and love your neighbour. What does “love your God and love your neighbour” say about poverty and hunger in the world, ever growing gap between the rich and the poor (i.e. inequality), power politics, casteism, classism, nepotism, regionalism in the Christian church and in Christian organizations and institutions, oligarchy and dictatorship in the world, globalization, present day greed-based capitalism and economic policies, and so on?

“Love your God and love your neighbour” is a way of life. It is living, it is speaking, it is applying the commandment to our own life and situation.

God complains against his people, “She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold that they used for Baal” (Hos. 2.8). Only human being misuses the good things given by God. This is the human being’s tragedy! So any human being lives constantly with the two possibilities: “For Baal” and “for God”. In him coexist tragedy and glory! Man can live “by bread alone” and man can not live “by bread alone”.

To be human means to know that she/he is confronted by these two possibilities: “For Baal” and “for God”; “Bread alone” and “Bread and the Word of God”. But “the true and authentic living” requires both bread and God’s Word. This is where human beings differ from animals!

 

  1. Testing God

Taking the cue from Jesus’ reply to his challenge to “turn stones into bread”, now the devil appeals to the Word of God. In an effort to persuade Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, he quotes Psalm 91.11,12: “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’” (Mt. 4.6). Satan’s appeal to this Psalm is especially appropriate, for the Psalmist is declaring the security of the man who claims to trust in God (Ps. 91 .1-2). God promises to intervene through his angels to protect the man who has faith in him. Satan seems to be challenging Jesus, after listening to the reply of Jesus that man lives by bread and the Word of God: “If you claim that man lives by the Word of God, then live it out by throwing yourself down by trusting in the Word of God (or the promise of God)!”

Jesus’ response comes from Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not test the Lord your God.” This verse in Deuteronomy is referring to the episode in Exodus 17.1-7 where the people of Israel test God by questioning His presence among them. Yahweh is to prove His presence and keep His promise to Israel by providing water for the murmuring people.

To comply with the devil’s proposal would be asking God to prove His presence and His faithfulness to His promise of protection. Jesus refuses to confuse confidence in God with challenging God to prove his concern. Jumping down from the temple would not express faith in God, but would needlessly test God’s faithfulness to His word.

A trust that is weak or wavering seeks a sign or a dramatic intervention to make it steady! “I don’t understand why I have to go through all of this – humiliation, agony, sufferings and trials – why isn’t life easier for me? Why so many hassles? Why so many challenges day after day? Essentially ‘Why me?’ Why can’t God do something?”

Those, who truly know God and trust Him, do not need to find something spectacular to convince themselves of God’s faithfulness. In the present day there is a growing preoccupation with miraculous signs and “promise cards”. God does miraculous things … when He chooses to do them. But if people seek the spectacular in order to believe or to convince themselves of the faith, it betrays a weak faith.

The promises of God are always valid. But they are valid for us ONLY at GOD’S TIME. It is always wrong to put God to the test at OUR TIME.

 

  1. Building the Kingdom by Shortcut

When Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, the temptation is subtle. Because Psalm 2 had promised to the Davidic King a world-embracing empire. It had spoken in terms of violence and warfare: “You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2.9). Doesn’t it say that the Messiah has even scriptural warrant for capitalizing upon the nationalistic hopes of the Jews and leading them on to a world-conquest guaranteed by the divine power at his disposal? It is truly an inviting prospect!

Satan seems to be saying, “Look, you have come as the Messianic King to inherit the nations. Here they are. I will give them to you. Why go through the trouble of being the suffering Servant. Give me one moment’s homage and I will hand over the nations.” The temptation is to do with fulfilling the commission with a shortcut, not doing in God’s way.

This is the common temptation to avoid the means to get to the end, or as is said, the end justifies the means. Satan always offers shortcuts. He aims at speedy and sensational results and speedy solutions. Waiting, enduring and hoping do not figure in the devil’s theology.

Jesus rejects the speedy and sensational building of the kingdom. If looked carefully, Satan’s proposal costs Jesus at least three important things: a. Being the Servant-Messiah; b. Loyalty to God; c. Establishment of the kingdom of God (Jesus is commissioned to establish the kingdom of God, NOT his own kingdom).

Jesus stood firmly and replied to the devil, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him’” (Mt. 4.10)

Today false messiahs in the church use wrong methods and shortcuts to do the ministry of the kingdom of God. They offer people spectaculars. They offer security, material prosperity and peace of mind. Instead of seeking to establish the kingdom of God, they succumb to their desires for kingdoms. The kingdoms of this world spring out of one of the most fundamental and persistent aspects of personality – the desire for power – power to rule over others.

 

Conclusion

The aim of temptations encountered by Jesus Christ is to separate him from God and His will. In order to achieve this, the devil used the Scriptures subtly, attacked the ego of Jesus, and enticed Jesus to follow the principle – “end justifies the means”.

The church too is tempted to forget the will of God in doing the ministry of God by preaching to suit the desires of the audience, doing spectaculars in order to attract people, and using all kinds of techniques and methods for survival, for raising money, for stewardship, for evangelism, for missions and for social action.

Father John McKenzie, a Jesuit Biblical scholar, wrote in the Dictionary of the Bible on the “Temptations of Jesus”: “The episode describes the kind of Messiah Jesus was and, by implication, what kind of society the church, the New Israel, is: it lives by the Word of God, it does not challenge God’s promises, and it adores and serves God alone and not the world. Jesus rejects in anticipation the temptations to which his church will be submitted.”

 

References

Balmer H. Kelly, “An Exposition of Matthew 4.1-11.” Interpretation 29, 1 (1975), pp. 57-62.

Carl Umhau Wolf, “The Continuing Temptation of Christ in the Church: Searching and Preaching on Matthew 4.1-11.” Interpretation 20, 3 (1966), pp. 288-301.

Jacques Roets, “The Victory of Christ over the Tempter as Help to the Believers’ Fight against Sin: A Reflection on Matthew 4.1-11.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 22 (2011), pp. 107-127.

John Thomas Fitzgerald, “The Temptation of Jesus: The Testing of the Messiah in Matthew.” Restoration Quarterly 15, 3-4 (1972), pp. 152-160.

Kosuke Koyama, “’Not by Bread Alone…’: How Does Jesus Free and Unite Us.” The Ecumenical Review 27, 3 (1975), pp. 201-211.

Lamar Williamson, “Expository Articles: Matthew 4.1-11.”  Interpretation 38, 1 (1984), pp. 51-59.

Lewis Johnson, s. “The Temptation of Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra 123, 492 (October, 1966), pp. 342-352.

Taylor, B. “Decision in the Desert: The Temptation of Jesus, in the Light of Deuteronomy.”  Interpretation 14, 3 (1960), pp. 300-309.

Theodore J. Jansma, “The Temptation of Jesus.” Westminster Theological Journal 5, 2 (1943), pp. 166-181.

Veselin Kesich, “Hypostatic and Prosopic Union in the Exegesis of Christ’s Temptation.” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 9, 3 (1965), pp. 118-137.

Christendom and Counterfeit Christianity

January 28, 2015

By Soren Kierkegaard

 

  • Gold and silver I do not have, but I give you what I have; stand up and walk,” said Peter. Later on the clergy were saying: Gold and silver we have – but we have nothing to give.
  • One would think that the omnipotence of money would run aground on the rock of Christianity, which proclaimed that a rich man would have difficulty entering the kingdom of God. Yes, so it was originally, but then the ordained hired-servants, the money changers of Christianity, got hold of things, and Christianity was improved practically and it triumphantly spread over kingdoms and countries.
  • Once upon a time learning to read was a rigorous matter; it took a lot of hard work. But eventually the theory was devised that everything ought to be enjoyable. So the practice of having a little party after each hour of reading was introduced, and the A B C’s were decked out with pictures, etc. Ultimately that hour was also dropped, and the A B C’s became simply a picture book. But still people went on talking about learning to read, even though the children did not learn to read at all. Learning to read was now understood to mean eating cookies and looking at pictures, which became an even more pleasant experience just because it was called “learning to read.” So also with the transformation of Christianity in Christendom, except that here (which is not the case in the illustration) “the teacher” (i.e. preacher) is also interested in this transformation, it suits him best of all.
  • No one can be the truth; only the God-man is the truth. Then comes the next: the ones whose lives express what they proclaim. These are witnesses to the truth. Then come those who disclose what truth is and what it demands but admit that their lives do not express it, but to that extent still are striving. There it ends. Now comes the sophistry. First of all come those who teach the truth but do not live it. Then come those who even alter the truth, its requirement, cut it down, make omissions – in order that their lives can correspond to the requirement. These are the real deceivers.
  • Christianity has been made so much into a consolation that people have completely forgotten that it is first and foremost a demand.
  • We humans have ingeniously turned God into a humbug. We talk about the fact that God is love, that we love God (who does not love God, what “Christian” does not love God, etc.) and even rely on him, and yet we refuse to see that our relationship to him is purely and simply a natural egotism, the kind of love which consists of loving oneself. We try to get this loving God’s assistance, but only to lead a right cozy, enjoyably religious life.
  • Think of a father. There is something he wishes his child to do (the child knows what it is); so the father has a plan: I will come up with something that will really please my child and give it to him. Then, I am sure, he will love me in return. The father believes that his child will now do what he asks. But the child takes his father’s gift and does not do what he wills. Oh, the child thanks him again and again and exclaims: “He is such an affectionate father”; but he continues to get his own way.
  • And so it is with us Christians in relationship to God. Because God is love, we turn to him for help but then go our own way. Although we dance before him and clap our hands and blow the horn and with tears in our eyes exclaim, “God is love!” we go on our merry way doing what it is that we want.
  • In so-called Christianity we have made Christmas into a great festival. This is quite false, and it was not at all so in the Early Church. We mistake childishness for Christianity – what with all our sickly sentimentality, our candy canes, and our manger scenes. Instead of remaining conscious of being in conflict that marks a life of true faith, we Christians have made ourselves a home and settled down in a comfortable and cozy existence. No wonder Christmas has become little more than a beautiful holiday.

Paul’s Experience of God’s Revelation of God’s Son, the Victim of the Law

January 23, 2015

Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s son on the road to Damascus is recorded not only in Galatians (Gal. 1.11-17) but also in Acts (9.1-19, 22.4-16, 26.9-19). It is an encounter between the one cursed by the law (Gal. 3.13), but raised by God (Gal. 1.1), and the “persecutor inspired by his zeal for the law”. This encounter of Paul with Jesus Christ brought forth an insight into the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ “as the epiphany of sacred violence.” It exposed to Paul what had been concealed in Judaism, to which he belonged, that Judaism was a sacrificial structure of sacred violence. This revelation made a radical impact on Paul’s life that resulted in change of his worlds.

A. Paul’s Pre-Conversion Zeal

A zealotic religious ideology affirms the salvific power of violence. It denigrates people who do not follow the social order based on its interpretation of the Torah, thus permitting discrimination and violence. Paul associated violence with which he had persecuted the church with “zeal” for the law. He not only was persecuting the community of Jesus Christ but also wanted to destroy it because of his zeal “for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal. 1.13-14). For Paul the way of life in Judaism provided a context where the law was used as a means to violence against those considered to be apostates. The law that governed his life, before his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son, was the law interpreted in exclusionistic terms, which enforced a wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles. The community of Jesus Christ that he persecuted did not observe the Jewish distinctive rituals (circumcision, dietary laws etc) that expressed this separation, because the cross has made the rituals no longer significant (Gal. 5.11). It is this situation that has led to zealous Jewish persecution to preserve strict observance of ritual requirement of the law or the social order that promoted exclusionism (Gal. 5.11; 6.12).

1. Zeal

Zeal was an important characteristic of the Second Temple Judaism Period (about 515 BCE-70 CE). This is evident in the Maccabean movement. The zealous Jews were vigilant against those who were a threat to the Torah (i.e. zealot interpretation of the Torah), which was the constitution of the Jewish communities. In order to maintain the social order based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law, they used violence against individuals and communities that threatened the social order of the Jewish communities. During Paul’s “life in Judaism,” he was “extremely zealous for (his) ancestral traditions,” so much so that he “used to persecute the community of Jesus Christ and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:6). The precise reasons for Paul’s persecuting activity are unknown. But there can be no doubt that it had to do with his zeal for the law and what he perceived as the threat by Jesus’ communities to the Torah, the constitution of the Jewish communities (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:6). Paul characterises his life in Judaism and his persecuting activity to “destroy” the community of Jesus Christ by the Greek term zēlōtēs, meaning a “zealot”.

2. Paul as a Zealot

In Gal 1.13-14, 23 (and Phil. 3.5; cf. I Cor. 15.9) the extraordinary zealotry of Paul is related to his persecuting activity of the communities of Jesus Christ. However, earlier studies on the persecuting activity of Paul did not always pay much attention to the character and role of his zeal. Some scholars have offered psychological reasoning for Paul’s persecuting activity, claiming that it was a result of purely personal aberration. They contend that it was an external attempt to silence his dissatisfaction with his life under the law and to suppress “all humaner tendencies in the interests of his legal absolutism.” However, this view is no longer in currency. Moreover, the zealot Jewish behaviour has precedence in Mattathias, the father of Maccabean movement, and his followers on the model of Phineas.

Echoing the Reformation interpretation of Judaism F.C. Baur argues that Paul’s persecution of the community of Christ has to do with its rejection of the Jewish idea that true religion was a matter of “outward ceremonies”. Baur remarks that Paul understood the gospel as a “refusal to regard religion as a thing bound down to special ordinances and localities.” Bultmann reformulated the Reformation view by stating that the concern at the heart of Paul’s persecution was faith versus works. Paul became a persecutor of believers in Christ because he understood the gospel of the Hellenistic Jewish believers as a message of “God’s condemnation of his Jewish striving after righteousness by fulfilling the works of the law.” However, E.P. Sanders strongly refutes the Reformation understanding of Judaism as a religion of works-righteousness by saying that it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of it. According to him, the Torah in Judaism functioned as part of a system, not of legalism but of “covenantal nomism”.

Hengel supposes that the proclamation of the crucified one as the Messiah, who would lead the Jewish nation to salvation, would have been an intolerable offence to someone like Paul who combined nationalist aspirations with zeal for God and his law. For Menoud the heart of Paul’s persecution was that “the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah was not only a contradiction in terms, totally unanticipated in Jewish eschatological expectation, it was categorically prohibited by Deut. 21.22-23.” According to Sayoon Kim, the scandal of the cross could be the proclamation by the followers that Jesus Christ, the cursed one God, is the Messiah. Hultgren notes that even though there were several messianic movements before and during the times of Jesus Christ, followers of these movements were not persecuted. He contends that the messianic movement centered on Jesus, however, is different in several reasons. Two of the reasons are its proclamation of a crucified one as the messiah and the inauguration of the new age in Christ.

In the above studies Paul’s claim that he was “an extraordinary zealot for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1.14; cf. Phil. 3.6) is not taken seriously. However, in his 1975 article on the call of Paul, Klaus Haacker focused on Paul’s zeal as important for understanding his persecuting activity. According to Haacker Paul’s zeal should not be understood as a psychological category, but as a “pure theological category”. For Paul as a Pharisee, the law was his ruling measure and as a persecutor, the zeal his “obligatory norm, which is a decisive governing principle.” Haaker understands the term “zeal” as referring to a violent religious intolerance rooted in the times of the Maccabean movement. This zeal was directed primarily against Jewish apostates, but not foreigners. He contends that the claim of Paul to be a zealot does not indicate that he was a member of a revolutionary Zealot party, since it is doubtful that such a party ever existed. So Paul’s designation as a zealot denotes that he belonged to a radical wing of Pharisees.

Some scholars assume that references to zeal or zealot in the New Testament, such as Simon the zealot, refer to the Zealot Party. Justin Taylor argues that Paul’s claim to being a “Zealot”, before his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son, should be understood as a reference to his membership in a Zealot party. He suggests that the reason for Paul’s persecution of the community of Jesus Christ was due to “the supposed hostility of a Zealot towards a group which stood apart from the national struggle.” According to Taylor, the Zealots were already opposed to Jesus and his teachings because of his “refusal to ally himself with them, and more generally his preaching of non-violence and even of non-resistance to Roman rule.” Therefore, they considered him to be a “no-less-dangerous quietist, hardly better than a collaborator and a traitor.” Paul’s persecutions were of the same kind as the Zealots’ political struggles. As Taylor notes, “He persecuted the followers of Jesus for the same kinds of reasons that Zealots had to be hostile to Jesus himself, namely that not only did they not take part in the national struggle . . . but they were a threat to it.”

However T.L. Donaldson and M.R. Fairchild disagree with Taylor’s view. They contend:
(Considering) diversity of offenses, the cross-section of literature glorifying zeal, and the variety of individuals and groups to which zealous actions were attributed (eg. Paul the Pharisee was a “zealot”) suggest that the term “zealot” was not a sectarian designation but descriptive of a type of piety which was not limited to one group or sect.

Donaldson and Fairchild argue that the evidence from Josephus indicates that the “Zealots” as an identifiable party did not appear until Roman-Judean War during 66-70 C.E.

Donaldson emphasizes that Paul’s claim of being a zealot does not denote that he belonged to a specific revolutionary party. He contends that a zealot is one who was not only passionate towards observance of the Torah, but also willing to use violence against those who were a threat to the Torah. Donaldson notes, “Zeal was more than just a fervent commitment to the Torah; it denotes a willingness to use violence against any – Jews, Gentiles, or wicked in general – who were contravening, opposing or subverting the Torah.” The reason for persecution of the communities of Jesus Christ by the zealots, according to Donaldson, was the conflict between Jewish sequential understanding of the Torah and Messiah, with the Torah defining the community guaranteed salvation when the Messiah arrives, and the “peculiar already/not yet structure of early Christian messianism.” He explains:

In early Christian proclamation the Messiah had appeared in advance of the full eschatological salvation, and participation in that salvation is dependent on acceptance of this Messiah. In consequence of this, Christ becomes, at least implicitly, another-thus rival-way of drawing the boundary in this age of the community guaranteed of salvation in the age to come.

Fairchild also argues that Paul’s claim of being a zealot does not make him a member of the Zealot party, because there had been zealot ideology that was cultivated over decades from the times of the Maccabees. The zealot ideology transcended the boundaries of the Jewish parties and had adherents not only among the various Jewish parties, but also among the unaffiliated Jewish masses. Zealotry expressed itself in violent actions against those perceived to be a threat to the Torah, such as Paul’s persecution of the community(s) of Jesus Christ.

Paul claimed, “I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal. 1.14 cf. Phil. 3.6). This terminology is so close to the words of Mattathias, the father of the Maccabean movement, in Josephus’ Antiquities 12.271: “If anyone be zealous for the laws of his nation”. Septuagint records these words in I Maccabees 2.27 differently and uses the verbal form of the word for zealot: “He who is zealous for the law and the established covenant”. This change is significant in view of Josephus’ consistent concealment of past Zealot history. The pivotal demonstration of zealous piety, which inaugurated the Maccabean movement, may have become a pattern of pious action for the future. This implies that Paul was a follower of zealot tradition. He aligned himself with his predecessors of venerable individual zealots. This does not, however, make him a member of the Zealot party. But Paul, being zealous for the Torah, saw himself as acting out the model of Phineas, even to the extent of using violence against those perceived to be a threat to the Torah. Thus he became a persecutor of the communities of Jesus Christ. Paul’s zealotry resembles that of Mattathias. The zealotry of Mattathias was first, zeal for the purity of the ancestral tradition, and second, zeal that drove him to use violence against those considered to be apostates and posed a threat to these traditions. In Gal. 1.13-14 Paul mentions the same concerns: zeal for the ancestral traditions and violent action against those considered to be posing a threat to these traditions. By turning into a threat to the Torah, the constitution of the Jewish communities, the communities of Jesus Christ have become a threat to the Jewish freedom of patterning their lives according to the zealotic interpretation of the Torah, a privilege the Jews were enjoying in the Roman empire.

3. Paul as a Persecutor

In the NT “to persecute” (diōkō) is used in the sense of “pursue” (Phil. 3.12,14; Lk. 17.23), “follow” (Rom. 9.30, 31, 12.13), and “persecute” (Mt. 5.10,11,12,44). Therefore, the context becomes important in determining the meaning of diōkō.

In Gal. 1.13 Paul testifies about his conduct in Judaism. His use of the term “Judaism” (Ioudaismos) is very significant. In the NT this term is used only in Gal. 1.13,14. “Judaism” came into currency with II Maccabees, where it was used to distinguish those who were faithful to the Jewish way of life from those “adopting foreign ways” (II Macc. 2.21, 8.1, 14.38). According to Dunn, Judaism is “a description of the religion of Jews, only emerged in the Maccabean revolt…in reaction to those who attempted to eliminate its distinctiveness (as expressed particularly in its sacrificial system, its feasts, circumcision and food laws – II Macc.vi).” Thus, the religion represented by “Judaism” is a religion based on the zealotic interpretation of the law. Paul followed the same kind of Jewish religion that demanded exclusionistic way of life expressed primarily by the Jewish distinctive rituals such as circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath and festivals. This is confirmed not only by the description of Paul’s way of life in Judaism in Gal. 1.13-14, but also the usage of cognate expressions “Jew” and “live like a Jew” in the context of the controversy over the dietary laws in Antioch (Gal. 2.14). These cognate words are found only in Galatians. Raisanen aptly comments that “the word Judaism carries connotations which hint at those practices which separated Jew from Gentile.” Moreover, the word “way of life” occurs only in Galatians. Significantly this term also occurs in II Maccabees 6.23 (and Tobit 4.14) in the context where the Jewish way of life was seriously threatened.

Paul explains his way of life in Judaism by two interrelated clauses in Gal. 1.13-14. The first one is “I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it” (Gal. 1.13). It is significant that the word “persecute” (diōkō) is used in I Maccabees to describe the Maccabees’ pursuit of “the sons of arrogance” and the “lawless” (I Macc. 2.47, 3.5). Paul uses the verb diōkō not only in describing his own persecuting activity (Gal. 1.13-23; cf. I Cor. 15.9; Phil. 3.6), but also the persecution he himself suffered (Gal. 4.29, 5.11, 6.12; cf. I Cor. 4.12; II Cor. 4.9). The persecuting activity of Paul, before his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son, is recorded not only in Paul’s letters but also in Acts (I Cor. 15.9; Gal. 1.13, 23; Phil. 3.6; Acts 8.1-3, 9.1-2, 22.4-5, 26.9-11). The verb diōkō is modified by the adverbial phrase kath’ huperbolēn, which means “beyond measure”, “excessively”, and “intensely” (Gal. 1.13).

Paul also uses the verb “to destroy” (portheō) to describe his way of life. This term occurs only in Gal. 1.13, 23 (and Acts 9.21) in reference to Paul’s activity towards the communities of Jesus Christ. P.H. Menoud argues that because Paul was never accused of murder, portheō here refers to the destruction of faith (Gal. 1.23), rather than physical destruction. Hultgren too contends that the verb portheō does not have violent connotation and so it simply means that Paul tried to put an end to Christian faith, or Christian church. However, the zealot context in which portheō is used implies the meaning of physical violence. Here portheō is used in the sense of “devastate” or “destroy” cities. This verb is directly associated with diōkō both in Gal. 1.13 and 1.23. What is evident is the intensity of Paul’s violent activity beyond trying to destroy “the faith”. Paul does not need to exaggerate his violent activity, because the communities of Jesus Christ knew about it (Gal. 1.23). Therefore, the violent zealotic nature of Paul’s persecution of the communities of Jesus Christ in the model of Phineas and rooted very much in the Maccabean movement is evident.

The second clause that describes Paul’s way of life in Judaism affirms what the first clause explains: “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal. 1.14). Paul’s sense of superiority with regards to his progress in Judaism, based on the exclusionistic understanding of the Torah, is expressed by his usage of the preposition “beyond”. This sense of superiority is based on his “being an extraordinary zealot for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1.14). Zealotry for the ancestral traditions, the Torah, and God would not have been perceived differently (cf. Gal. 1.14; Acts 21.20, 22.3; Josephus Ant 12.271). It was this extreme zealotry for the ancestral traditions of the law that had prompted Paul to use violence against those perceived to be a threat to the social order based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law.

Considering Paul’s activities as a persecutor in the mould of Mattathias and the Maccabees with Phineas as their model, leads to a conclusion that such a behaviour stemmed from his zealotic interpretation of the Torah. Such an interpretation of the Torah demanded exclusionism expressed by the Jewish distinctive rituals that formed walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Maccabean crisis had promoted a few rituals such as circumcision and dietary laws, as key elements of law observance or boundary markers of God’s covenant community. These rituals remained central even in the time of Paul as the boundary markers between those who belonged to God’s covenant community and those who were outside this community. Any community that tried to remove the walls of separation was considered to be posing a threat to the Torah, the constitution of the Jewish communities. Donaldson comments, “Persecution arises not because a group holds ideas at variance with the norm, but because it does so in ways that threaten social cohesion.” Paul saw the communities of Jesus Christ as representing such a threat. This is implied in Gal.5.11-12, where Paul says that the cross of Christ has become a “scandal” to the Jews (cf. Gal. 6.12; I Cor. 1.23). The scandal of the cross for the Jews is that it has annulled the Jewish distinctive rituals in the communities of Jesus Christ, thus removing the walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles (Gal. 5.11). This results in upsetting the social order that has been constructed on the exclusionistic interpretation of the Torah. In order to maintain social order based on the exclusionistic understanding of the law, it demands “good violence” against the “bad violence”, which is the cause of social disorder. The cross by demolishing the ritual barriers around the Jewish community and thus bringing together the Jews and the Gentiles, those who were excluded by the exclusionistic interpretation of the law, has given zealous Jews the motivation to engage in scapegoat mechanism, to maintain social order based on the zealotic interpretation of the Torah. Since in a zealot context faith in God is understood in terms of zealous action for God or the law, it is linked to sacred violence. It is a violent action against apostates to maintain conformity to a pattern of life according to the law, and thus preserve unity and order of the community. The unanimity of the members of Judaism in directing their violence against apostates is required to maintain the system of sacred violence. All cooperate mimetically in directing their violence against the victims. Those who withhold consent and cooperation in this conspiracy against victims are a threat to the very foundation of the sacrificial structure of Judaism. When Paul confessed that as a zealot, he was violently persecuting the communities of God and was trying to destroy it, he was, in fact, confessing that he used sacred violence against apostates to preserve the pattern of life according to the law, the constitution of the Jewish communities. In other words, by guarding the constitution of the Jewish communities, he was protecting their freedom to live according to the zealotic interpretation of the law.

B. Paul’s Conversion-Call and God’s Revelation of God’s Son

Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is recorded not only in Galatians (Gal. 1.11-17), but also in Acts (9.1-19, 22.4-16, 26.9-19). There are different views surrounding this experience. Some scholars insist that it is inappropriate to call this experience “conversion”. Krister Stendahl argues that the emphasis in the autobiographical account is on Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles, rather than on his “conversion”. In his essay “Paul among Jews and Gentiles” Stendahl argues that Paul, by echoing the language of Isaiah and Jeremiah, describes his experience as a call, similar to that of the prophets. The same God whom Paul had been serving since birth has now given him a new task. This task is, through the risen Messiah, God “asks him as a Jew to bring God’s message to the Gentiles.” Though Stendahl does not deny the fact that Paul’s experience on the Damascus road has resulted in a striking shift in his perspective, he rejects the description of this experience as “conversion”, because Paul did not change from one religion to another. However, Stendahl’s “call rather than conversion” formulation is an overstatement, because the term “conversion” properly understood can be appropriately applied to Paul.

There are many scholars who consider Paul’s experience as “conversion”. They have offered several proposals to explain Paul’s conversion. It is interpreted in terms of the psychological struggle with the Torah, and a result of his long struggle with the law in which he was dejected of ever achieving the righteousness it demands. J.S. Stewart describes how “Paul’s growing sense of the failure of Judaism” gave way to the sudden conviction “that he had found the truth for which all men everywhere were seeking.” However, Paul nowhere in his letters gives a hint of going through a period of dissatisfaction or mental turmoil. He rather testifies about his extraordinary zealotry for the Torah. The only thing that can be understood from his testimony is that his conversion was sudden and unexpected, and was a result of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son. Some other scholars understood Paul’s conversion in terms of his reaction to the scriptural apologetic and steadfastness under persecution of the communities of Jesus Christ. Some argue that Paul through his experience of God’s revelation of the risen Christ realized that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Further he understood that since Messiah had come, the law ceases. E.P. Sanders contends that Paul on the road to Damascus was convinced that God had provided in Christ a universal means of salvation both for the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul’s rejection of the Torah as a means of salvation is a consequence of his new conviction: if the salvation is through Christ, then it is not through the law. Donaldson sees the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the demonstration of God’s provision of universal salvation in Christ. Therefore, if salvation is through Christ, then it does not come through the Torah. Heikki Raisanen proposed a different view of Paul’s conversion. For him, Paul was converted from a rigid Jewish religion to Hellenistic Jewish Christianity and adopted its less rigid attitude towards the Torah, particularly the ritual and cultic aspects. F.F. Bruce maintains that for Paul who considered the proclamation of a crucified one as the Messiah as blasphemous, the experience of God’s revelation of the risen Christ is a “conversion” experience. He further says that this conversion was both an external and an internal event. It was an objective revelation of the risen Christ as well as an overwhelming inward experience. Bruce takes seriously the change in Paul from persecutor to apostle.

There are also diverse views regarding the connection between Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s son and his gospel. Concerning the essentials of Paul’s gospel, Raisanen proposes developmental hypothesis. Paula Fredriksen argues that the autobiographical conversion report of Paul tells more about his state of mind at the time of reporting than at the time of conversion. However, these views can not be sustained in view of Paul’s polemic against the teachers of the “other gospel” that the essentials of the gospel he preaches remain same from the beginning (cf. Gal. 1.17, 5.11). Otherwise Paul would have faced criticism from his opponents, had he preached a different gospel at the beginning of his ministry. That means, Paul’s view of the Torah and the essential content of his gospel are the result of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son on the road to Damascus. Bruce rightly sees the connection between Paul’s experience and his theology. He supposes that although Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith was not developed fully at that time, it too was implicit in the conversion. However, the weakness of Bruce’s analysis is that he relies more on the secondary source, the Acts, instead of Paul’s letters. Developing on his mentor’s view Seyoon Kim finds Paul’s conversion as the source of his thought.

It is important to refer to Paul’s account of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son to see a connection between his conversion and his gospel. Paul claims that his gospel is not “of human origin” but “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1.11-12). “Revelation” and its verbal form ”to reveal” in Paul’s letters refer most often to the end time and linked to God’s action in the end time (I Cor. 1.7, 3.13; Gal. 3.23). Therefore, Paul’s reference to “revelation” in Gal. 1.11-12 and 1.16 underlines the eschatological significance of the experience. This revelation is “of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1.12), which may be taken either as subjective genitive (revelation from Jesus Christ) or objective genitive (revelation about Jesus Christ). In the light of Gal. 1.16 which refers to God’s revelation of God’s son, “revelation of Jesus Christ” should be understood as objective genitive. It implies that the content of the gospel is Jesus Christ, who was revealed. What is striking is that in the following verses (Gal. 1.13-14) Paul, instead of explaining the revelation, first describes his former way of life in Judaism (notice the usage of the temporal particle hote). This implies that the information about his former way of life in Judaism has significance in the context of Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of the risen Christ. After explaining his extraordinary zealotic way of life based on the exclusionistic understanding of the Torah, expressed in the exclusion of the Gentiles, Paul returns to the apokalypsis (Gal. 1.15-16). In order to express the transition due to the impact of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son in not only putting an end to his former way of life in Judaism, but also starting a new life and vocation, Paul uses the temporal phrase hote de. Through this Paul is indicating a sharp contrast between the two periods of his life.

In Gal. 1.15-16 Paul describes the action of God and the purpose of that action. Paul says that God revealed the son “to me”. Paul elsewhere describes his Damascus road experience in terms of “seeing” Christ, or Christ “appearing” to him (I Cor. 9.1, 15.8; cf. II Cor. 4.6). In Gal. 1.16 Paul describes it in terms of God “revealing the son”. The subject here is God. God is disclosing the reality that has been hidden. What has been concealed is the scapegoat mechanism that is generated by the zealotic way of life in Judaism. The power of this mechanism lies in its deception and concealment. On the one hand, it deceives by depicting God as the one who is demanding “sacrificial victims”, and thus, portraying violence against victims as a sacred act. On the other hand, it conceals the plight of innocent “sacrificial victims” and transforms violence against victims as a sacred violence. The content of God’s revelation is God’s son, the victim of the curse of the law (Gal. 3.13). Through this God is revealing not only his rejection of the law (the law on which Paul’s zealotic way of life was based) that crucified Christ, but also God’s vindication of the victim of the curse of the law. Paul says that God has revealed this en emoi. Beverly Gaventa argues for a meaning of “to me” based on parallel usage en tois ethnesin Gal.. It is an encounter between the cursed one of the law and the persecutor inspired by his zeal for the law. This encounter of Paul with Jesus the crucified and cursed by the law (Gal. 3.13), but raised by God (Gal. 1.1), brought forth a realization that the one cursed by the law is vindicated by God. By vindicating the cursed one of the law, God has revealed to Paul that the cursed one of the law (that is, the exclusionistic understanding of the law) is not cursed one of God. Paul reiterates this in Gal. 2.19: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” That means, the way of life expressed in strict adherence to the Jewish distinctive rituals such as circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath and special days, and thus excluding the Gentiles, is not equivalent to living for God.

Paul draws on prophetic imagery in Gal. 1.16-17 (cf. Isaiah 49.1; Jeremiah 1.5) to “convey the radical impact of the revelation.” Even though Paul’s language here echoes the call of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, and implies that he views himself as standing in the prophetic tradition, it does not mean what has happened to Paul may be considered simply as his call. Though Paul’s call and commission are included in this experience, his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son is not limited to these. His experience has called into question his zealotic understanding of the law and the way of life patterned according to such an understanding. When Paul experienced God’s revelation of the risen Christ, the victim of the “curse of the law”, he realized the problem of Judaism to which he belonged. This problem of Judaism is the exclusionism expressed in its distinctive rituals. Paul realized that it is the way of life in Judaism based on exclusionistic understanding of the law that has led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, whom God has vindicated. In other words, the law that has excluded the Gentiles is the same law that caused the crucifixion of God’s son. And God is rejecting the way of life based on the law. Paul understood how the law was (mis)used in Judaism to serve violence, which was expressed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, persecution of those considered to be apostates, and exclusion of the Gentiles. Thus, the revelation of Jesus Christ has exposed what has been concealed in Judaism, to which Paul belonged. That is, Judaism is a sacrificial structure of sacred violence. Paul realized the law and the community that patterned its life according to this law as a system of sacred violence. This realization made a radical impact on Paul’s life and disrupted his way of life in Judaism. Paul’s cosmos has been shattered (cf. Gal. 6.14). This has resulted in his transfer from Judaism based on exclusionistic understanding of the law, to the community of the new creation, where circumcision and uncircumcision are no longer significant (Gal. 6.15). The contrast between these two worlds is expressed by the conjunction de (Gal. 1.15). Charles Cousar comments, “God’s revealing of the son to Paul not only involved a radical assault on his previous life, but also that assault was part of God’s world-changing activity, the bringing of new creation.”

God’s revelation of God’s son has a purpose: “that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1.16). It implies that the conversion and the call of Paul belong to a single event. Interestingly the content of God’s revelation that disrupted Paul’s way of life in Judaism and the content of the message that Paul was asked to proclaim are same. It is Jesus Christ, the victim of the curse of the law. It is also significant that Paul was commissioned to preach this message to the Gentiles, who are also victims of the Torah (Gal. 1.16; cf. Is. 49.1-6; Jer. 1.5). Paul understands his commissioning from that very moment of his experience of the revelation of the son as having Gentiles in view. This conviction is integral part of his experience on the Damascus road. It did not come to Paul later or grown over a period, as some have argued. Christiaan Beker comments that “Paul’s conversion experience is not the entrance to his thought.” However, Paul claims that he already had a well formed conviction before he first met other apostles (Gal. 1.16-17), and asserts its divine origin (Gal. 1.1, 11-12).

Thus, Paul mentions his conversion-call experience in contrast to his persecuting zeal for the ancestral traditions in the context of Galatian controversy in order to affirm that the way of life patterned according to the law (that is, the exclusionistic understanding of the law) and that according to the gospel of Jesus Christ are mutually exclusive. His experience of God’s revelation of God’s son disclosed that the death of Jesus Christ was the result of sacred violence. Paul realized that it was the same sacred violence expressed in exclusion of the Gentiles. This realization has resulted in his transfer from Judaism, the system of sacred violence, to a community of Jesus Christ, the victim of sacred violence. Paul was commissioned to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, God’s disclosure of Judaism as the system of sacred violence, which is expressed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and exclusion of the Gentiles, and the vindication of the victim of the sacred violence. The conversion-call experience of Paul has a direct implication on or become a threat to the self-understanding of Jewish Christians (and Jews) as the covenant people of God, and their zealotic way of life in Judaism. It poses a threat to the Jewish social order and freedom to live according to that order. This led Paul, in his former life in Judaism, to persecute the communities of Jesus Christ. This has also led the Jewish community, to which Paul once belonged, to persecute Paul and the members of the communities of Jesus Christ.

Message of Christmas

December 24, 2014

We live in a world of paradox. On the one hand there is development in the fields like science, technology. Today the world is no longer big. We can watch what is happening in any part of the world sitting in our drawing room. We live in a global village. (I have reservations in using this term because the question is what is the culture of this Village) On the other hand there is deterioration in personal and social values. There is discrimination of people on the basis of caste, color, creed, and race; some marry for fun and some live under the same roof without any commitment. This trend is growing in the cities of India. There is economic disparity- poor countries and rich countries, powerful and the powerless, exploiters and the exploited. There is deterioration in the relations among the nations, among people which has resulted in suspicion and growing sense of insecurity. The world, societies and families are torn apart.

To this world which is torn apart what is the message of Christmas?

Christmas gives four-fold message.

1. Christmas is a Message of Sovereignty of God

Jesus was born during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus. Augustus was a great conqueror and subjugated many kingdoms. These conquered nations had to pay tribute to the Roman government. In v.1 it says that Augustus passed a decree that “all the world should be registered”. This census was taken for the purpose of taxation. So people had to go to their ancestral house or town to be registered. What did this taxation mean to the conquered? Payment of tribute meant domination, subjugation and exploitation. Since for Jews paying tribute was subjection to alien rule and disloyalty to God, there was tension between the Roman government and the Jews. This continuing resistance resulted in slaughter and enslavement of Jews. Many were imprisoned and about two thousand were crucified around 4 B.C.

This was the situation in which people in Palestine were living. They were longing for deliverance from this yoke of slavery. It was a time of gloom. Many a time we wonder why God allows some seemingly evil things happen to us and in the society. We see injustice, exploitation of the weak and the triumph of the wicked. Sometimes we cry like Habakkuk, “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise…. The wicked surround the righteous…. Why do you look on the treacherous and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they” (Hab. 1.3,4,13). Even though we do not understand his ways, we need to confess that he is sovereign. God can bring beauty out of ashes. The decree of Augustus brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, thus fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem (Mt.2. 5-6).

It is God, not Roman Emperor, who is the king of kings. God is sovereign and is in control of the situation. Bill Hybel writes, “How do you pray a prayer so filled with faith that it can move a mountain? By shifting the focus from the size of your mountain to the sufficiency of the mountain mover.” Among the twelve spies of Israel who went to spy the promised land, ten looked at the size of the mountain but two looked at the mountain mover and wanted to move forward.

2. Christmas is a Message of Hope

In this time of gloom an angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds who were keeping watch over their sheep in the night, “I am bringing you the good news of great joy to all the people”. V. 9 says that when an angel of the Lord stood before them, the glory of the Lord shone around them. It was like light shining in the darkness. The shepherds, who were in the night, were completely encompassed/encircled by light, the light of “the glory of the Lord”. This denotes the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1.78-79).

Shepherds were the first receivers of the good news. Shepherds in the 1st century Palestine were poor and had very low status in the society. Jesus by being born in a manger has identified himself with the poor and ordinary people. Jesus’ identification with the poor shows an openness, which broke down all the barriers that separated people from one another. God has inaugurated in Jesus his redemptive act both in the lives of individuals and also in the life of society. This deliverance is not only from the bondage of sin (1.77) but also from the oppressed structures of the society. It is the inauguration of the new world where there is no discrimination based on caste, color or creed and all are valuable.

I do trust that all of us have the experience of Christmas in our lives. I read an article in the News Paper during the time of persecution of Christians in Dangs district in Gujarat. The writer says that one of the reasons of persecution was that after these tribal people, who were illiterate, were converted into Christianity; there was such a positive change in the society that there was no need of police or judiciary. These tribals were exploited by the local non-tribals, middlemen and officials. Their enlightenment and confidence in questioning the policies and the corrupt practices of the rulers/landlords and non tribal officials, in fact, triggered in the form of persecution. This change was reported by a Muslim journalist by name Seema Mustafa. Jesus transforms not only the lives of people but also the life of the society – the very ethos of society and its norms.

The story of Christmas is about the deliverance of those in bondage. That is why Christmas is a message of hope and Jesus is the hope for the world.

3. Christmas Brings Peace

The angelic host praised God by saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors”. Christmas brings peace not only into the life of an individual but also into the life of the society.

In those days Emperor Augustus was honored and worshipped as the divine saviour of the world and his birthday was celebrated as the “good news for the world” and the beginning of the new world, because he had restored peace and order in the empire by defeating those, who were the cause for the unrest. However this peace was brought by military might. Pax Romana (“Roman peace”) means subjugation of other nations. It was brought about by mass slaughter and mass enslavement. Roman peace means tranquility and prosperity for the privileged on the basis of the subjection of common people. This is what some are trying to bring through military power.

Luke is challenging this Roman self-propaganda by claiming that it is Jesus, not Augustus, who is the Saviour and source of true peace and whose birthday marks a new beginning in the world. He is the Prince of Peace (Is.9.5). He brings peace through the power of love. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is the state of wellbeing of the whole person. It means wholeness in the relations between God and the people, among people and the whole created order. Peace is the mark of His kingdom. Is. 9.6-7 “For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore”. He establishes a kingdom of peace through love, justice and righteousness. In this kingdom there is neither discrimination nor exploitation of the poor by the privileged. There is no more war. There is no need of weapons of war. Is. 2.4 “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” The weapons that are used in this kingdom are the weapons of love, mercy and selflessness.

4. The Paradox of Christmas

The essence of Christmas is the Word becoming flesh and living among human beings (Jn. 1.14). The Greek word used for “live” in Jn. 1.14 is skēnoō, which means “to pitch a tent” “to tabernacle” “to dwell in a tent”. So the Jn. 1.14 may be translated as: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us….”

Before a temple was built for God, God “lived” in a tent or tabernacle. In other words, tabernacle denotes a place of God’s presence or God’s glory. Therefore, Jesus, as the Word of God, is an embodiment of God’s presence or God’s glory. He manifested God, whom human beings have never seen, among human beings.

What kind of God did Jesus reveal?

Paul beautifully delineates in Phil. 2.6-11 the kind of God Jesus has revealed. Although Jesus Christ “was in the form of God, (he) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” (Phil. 2.6). The Greek word harpagmos (NRSV: “something to be exploited”) means neither something not yet possessed but desirable (to be snatched at), nor something already possessed and to be clung to, but rather the act of snatching. Jesus did not consider equality with God as plundering or grabbing or acquisitiveness or self aggrandizement. He understood equality with God as not getting, or using it for self interest.

It is a popular view that God’s almightiness or sovereignty means the ability to do whatever He likes. God, like an earthly king, is often associated with wealth, splendour and power to gain self glory. Popular mind imagines that it is divine prerogative to do what he wants. This is what the divine Roman emperors did.

But Jesus thought equality with God otherwise. He considered it not an act of snatching but an act of serving, not gettingbut giving. Jesus Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2.7-8).

The “form of a slave” is in antithesis with the “form of God” in popular view. Kenosis (i.e. emptying) and divinity do not belong together in popular perception. But the self emptying was an exhibition of Jesus’ equality with God or “form of God”. Although Jesus Christ was in the “form of God”, a status people assume meant exercise of power, he acted in character contrary to what we would expect (in a shockingly ungodlike manner according to normal but misguided popular perceptions of divinity), but in accord with true divinity, when he emptied and humbled himself, taking the form of a slave.

Christ’s divinity, and thus divinity itself, is defined as kenotic in character. Humility and service are divine qualities. Greatness consists in humility and service (Mk. 9.35; 10.42-45). This is the good news that the angel proclaimed to the shepherds: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: YOU WILL FIND A CHILD WRAPPED IN BANDS OF CLOTH AND LYING IN A MANGER” (Lk. 2.10-12).

The shepherds went straight to the manger in Bethlehem to see Jesus (Lk. 2.15-17), whereas the wise men from the East went to Jerusalem, the centre of power and privilege, to find Jesus (Mt. 2.1-2)!!!

Jesus Christ

December 22, 2014

Quotes from “Provocations” written by Soren Kierkegaard

The birth of Christ is an event not only on earth but also in heaven. Our justification is likewise an event not only on earth but also in heaven.

Christ is God just as much as he is man – just as the sky seems to be deep in the sea as it is high above the sea.

Christ walks in history as he walked in life – between two thieves.

Christ does not always sit at the Father’s right hand. No, when dangers threaten, he arises, he stands erect, just as Stephen saw him standing at the right hand of the Father.

Christ is not love, according to the human notion of love. He is the truth, absolute truth. Therefore he does not defend himself. He permits us to become guilty of his death which reveals the truth in the most radical way.

Why cannot Christ be called a martyr? Because he was not a witness to truth but was “the truth”, and his death was not a martyrdom but the Atonement.

Christ is the paradox, the God-man. He is the very compounding of God and a socially insignificant man. But this is not the way we Christians like to think about it. We regard Jesus Christ as a great man who lived misunderstood, but after his death became somebody great. And this is how we want to be. Aha! This is why today’s Christianity is nonsense. All the danger is taken away. No, Jesus Christ is the sign of offense and the object of faith. Only in eternity is he in his glory. Here upon earth he must never be presented in any other way than in his social insignificance – so that everyone can be offended or believe. Christ willed to be the socially insignificant one. The fact that he descended from heaven to take upon himself the form of a servant is not an accidental something which now is to be thrust into the background and forgotten. No, every true follower of Christ must express existentially the very same thing – that insignificance and offense are inseparable from being a Christian. As soon as the least bit of worldly advantage is gained by preaching or following Christ, then the fox is in the chicken house.

Christ humbled himself – not: was humbled.

It must be firmly maintained that Christ did not come to the world only to set an example for us. If that were the case we would have law and works-righteousness again. He comes to save us and in this way be our example. His very example should humble us, teach us how infinitely far away we are from resembling him. When we humble ourselves, then Christ is pure compassion. And in our striving to approach him, he is again our very help. It alternates: when we are striving, then he is our example; and when we stumble, lose courage, then he is the love that helps us up. And then he is our example again.

Christ is anything but an assistant professor who teaches to parroters or dictates paragraphs for shorthand writers – he does exactly the very opposite, he discloses the thoughts of hearts.

Christ is himself the way. There were not many ways, of which Christ took one – no, Christ is the way.

Lord Jesus, there are so many things that attract us, and each one of us has his own particular attraction. But your attraction is eternally the strongest! Draw us, therefore, the more powerfully to you.

Whenever I think of the insipid, sweet, syrupy concept of the Savior, the kind of Savior Christendom adores and offers for sale, reading his own words about himself has a strange effect: “I have come to set afire,” come to produce a split which can tear the most holy bonds, the bonds God himself has sanctified, the bonds between father and son, wife and husband, parents and children.

Christ did not teach about dying-to-the-world; he is himself what it means to die to the world.

When the doors were locked, Christ came to his disciples. So the doors must be locked, locked to the world – then Christ comes, through the locked doors; in fact, he also comes from the inside.

One might ask: How was it possible that Christ could be put to death, one who never sought his own advantage? How is it possible that any power or person could come into collision with him? Answer: It was precisely for this reason that he was put to death. This is why the lowly and the powerful were equally exasperated by him, for every one of them was seeking his own advantage and wanted him to show solidarity with them in selfishness. He was crucified precisely because he was love, that is, because he refused to be selfish. He was as much of an offense to the powerful as to the lowly. He did not belong to any party, but wished to be what he was, namely, the Truth and to be that in love.

Christ was born in a stable, wrapped in rags, laid in a manger – so unimportant was this child apparently, so meagerly valued. And immediately afterward this child was so valuable that it costs the lives of the children in Bethlehem. Such is the squandering that can take place in connection with this child.

Declaration of Faith or Demonstration of Faith?

December 9, 2014
  • “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith…You see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2.18, 24).
  • “The only thing that counts is faith WORKING through love….Through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”” (Galatians 5.6, 13-14). Faith is demonstrated through love, and love is demonstrated through loving service. Therefore, faith, love and service are interconnected and are the pillars of Christian life.

 

The issue of the status of SCs (Scheduled Caste Students and Graduates who have believed in Jesus Christ) in certain Christian organisations is a long debated issue. It is also an emotionally driven, rather than an informed debate. Because of this, powerful leaders, aided by an indifferent attitude of the silent majority (mind you, indifference towards evil is more evil than the evil itself), have introduced and are maintaining segregation within the organisations.

When a person or persons are in leadership for a long time, s/he becomes powerful. A secular understanding of the elevated position of leadership and thus the underlying distinction in rank and status between the leaders and the members has made some members of the Christian organisations to be associated with one or the other of these leaders for their own selfish interests (cf. I Cor. 1.12). On the one hand, these members are like a parasite plant which winds around a tree for its sustenance and existence, and so have associated themselves with the leaders. On the other hand, the leaders are “men in enjoyment of praise and honour; moreover, they are healthy, stout and vigorous; living delicately, nursed in luxury, strangers to labour, living in constant company of pleasure.”

The leadership of the Christian organisations has cunningly manipulated casteist images. This is what any racist or casteist society does. In order to maintain the hegemony of a section or certain sections of people, it projects a section or sections of people superior and others inferior. In Indian society some belong to “high” castes and others to “low” castes. The “high” caste people do not allow the “low” caste people to draw water from the same well, use same roads, live in the same locality, enter the same temples and churches, marry members of their communities and become leaders. In other words, the “low” caste people are deprived and marginalised. They are deprived of basic facilities and survival to life. In short, they are deprived of their basic human dignity, value and rights.

However, the “high” caste people expect, at times demand, “low” caste people to work in their fields and do menial jobs in village or town. Without the manual labour of the “low” caste people, the survival of the “high” caste people is very difficult. Who are the manual scavengers? They belong to the “low” castes that are considered as “untouchables”. Just imagine the plight of “high” caste people, if these manual scavengers stop working as manual scavengers, and do some other jobs. Will the “high” caste people do this work? That’s why the “high” caste people perpetuate casteism, on the one hand to maintain their hegemony and control of power and resources, and on the other hand to exploit the labour of the “low” caste people, to continue to keep them poor, weak and oppressed, by not allowing them to the center of power and resources.

Mostly, the perpetuation of discrimination and stigmatisation by the “high” caste people, with the aim to maintain their domination and control, makes the “low” caste people to internalise it. After internalising the manipulated casteist images, the “low” caste people start looking at themselves with the eyes of the “high” caste people – inferior and worthless. This makes them to hate themselves – their state, their identity…. This internalisation of their manipulated casteist image makes easier for the “high” caste people to have domination over the “low” caste people and to use them to serve their self interests at the cost of the interests of “low” caste people.

Similar method is followed by the advertising agencies. They tell us what it means to be a “desirable” or “ideal” woman or man. Advertisements of cosmetics, hair colouring and skin products aimed at girls and women show their models as “beautiful”. 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? They get dissatisfied with their REAL SELF. They hate their nose, eyes, teeth, skin colour and body. Poor self-image results in higher levels of anxiety and depression. It can cause them to avoid activities they normally enjoy, and lower their self confidence and self-esteem. This makes them weak and vulnerable for control and exploitation. Only by creating low self image and self esteem in people can advertising agencies sell their products to public.

Once a person allows her/his self-esteem and self-image to be destroyed by an outside force, s/he becomes a slave to that force, doing whatever that force demands.

This manipulation of images, I am afraid, is also happening in certain Christian organisations with the introduction of “Declaration of Faith”, instead of “Demonstration of Faith”, and casteist categorisation of committees as “official committees” and “unofficial committees”. This creates an image that belonging to a particular caste is bad, unacceptable, and not worthy to be proud of and to be “an official leader”. This section of people are projected as inferiors by those who are in leadership and power for a long time and have got used to imposing their yardstick to judge others. Thus, the leadership of the organisations is indulging in emotional abuse and degrading humiliation of the SC students and graduates.

In fact, Jesus Christ emphasised more on “Demonstration of Faith” rather than “Declaration of Faith”. He was amazed by the “Demonstration of Faith” of the centurion in Capernaum who was a gentile (Mt. 8.5-13). The faith of the GENTILE in Jesus Christ was not found among those who claimed to be the CHILDREN OF GOD. For Jesus, faith is active, not passive. Because even the evil spirits professed their faith in Jesus Christ by DECLARING that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God (Mk. 5.7). In the story of the temptation of Jesus Christ, the tempter Satan confessed that Jesus was the Son of God (Mt. 4.3,6). In these passages the correct translation is not “IF you are the Son of God”, but “SINCE you are the Son of God”. In other words, even Satan and his followers professed that Jesus was the Son of God. Although Satan and the evil spirits DECLARED that Jesus was the Son of God, they never DEMONSTRATED their confession by becoming DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ. That’s why the writer of the Book of James considers mere DECLARATION of FAITH as DEAD FAITH and DEMONIC FAITH (James 2.14-26). James contends, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says (OR PRAYS OR “ENCOURAGES” THEM TO TRUST IN GOD) to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead…You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the DEMONS BELIEVE and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?”

Jesus makes it clear that mere “Declaration of Faith” does not make a person to enter the kingdom of God: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, BUT ONLY THE ONE WHO DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN,” (Mt. 7.21). The FRUIT that a person bears in her/his life DECLARES her/his faith. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bad fruit. If so, how can a believer in Christ indulge in speaking lies, deception, oppression, exploitation and GREED for POWER. Jesus says, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the evil heart that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly” (Mk. 7.20-21). Therefore, it is DISCIPLESHIP (following Jesus, his life, attitude and values), not mere DECLARATION, that is decisive of a person’s FAITH.

Remember that GREED is the root cause of SIN (Gen. 3.5-6). The consequences of sin are hierarchy, domination and separation (Gen. 3.8, 14-16). Jesus Christ, in order to redeem human beings from the bondage of sin, has come to install the kingdom of God or the rule of God, which is characterised by love, compassion, service and equality. The first message of Jesus at the beginning of his Galilean ministry was about the kingdom of God: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mk. 1.14-15). The manifestation of God’s rule or the realisation of God’s redemptive purpose can be seen in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. Jesus told the disciples of John, the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Lk. 7.22; cf. 4.18-21).

However, the gospel of liberation became the gospel of bondage when Christianity was co-opted by the Roman empire during the time of Constantine. Christianity became an imperial religion. The sign of the cross was put on the Roman battle standards (war flags/military flags/battle flags). Thus, the symbolic meaning of the cross was changed from a symbol of shameful, violent suffering of the innocent at the hands of religious and political hierarchy to an imperial symbol of oppression, exploitation, violence, war and conquest. Eusebius, 4th century Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, wrote that during the daylight hours of 27th October 312 AD, Constantine and his 98000-man army said to have seen “a cross-shaped trophy formed from light, and a text attached to it which said, “By this conquer”” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 1.28).

Cross has been used by the western “Christian” empires as the imperial symbol of occupation and colonisation. In the 15th century AD Christopher Columbus planted the cross in the lands he took over in the New World (Central/South America), which he “discovered”, signifying that the land belonged to the emperor of Spain. He presumptuously exploited native people for their natural resources, such as gold, and for human resources, such as slavery. Of course, he had also resolved “to make them Christians”.

As David Stannard wrote, “At the dawn of the fifteenth century, Spanish conquistadors and priests presented the indigenous people they encountered with a choice: either give up your religion and culture and land and independence, swearing allegiance ‘as vassals’ to the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown, or suffer ‘all the mischief and damage’ that the European invaders choose to inflict upon you.”[i]

The National Council of Churches rightly summed up, “For the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands, Christopher Columbus’ invasion marked the beginning of slavery and their eventual genocide.”

Ironically Christopher Columbus believed that God directed him to set sail on a westward journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In a journal he wrote, “It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to Indies…There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because he comforted me with rays of marvellous illumination from the Holy Scriptures.”

Thus, cross and colonisation have been together during the imperial rule of Spain, Britain, and now the US. In this context, for the imperial and colonial powers cross is a symbol of power, domination, hierarchy and control, whereas for the colonised people cross is a symbol of oppression, exploitation, plunder, slavery and bondage. Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had the land.”

In order to avoid questions about and opposition to their evil intentions and practices of violence, plunder and oppression, the Christian colonisers interpreted the scriptures in such a way that the gospel was concerned only with the redemption of soul, and not the entire person, who also has body and mind (cf. Lk. 7.18-23, 4.18-21). If they had preached the gospel of Jesus Christ truly, they and their governments could not engage in dehumanising slave trade, and colonise other nations and plunder their natural resources. The listeners of the gospel would have questioned the Christian preachers why they were not condemning their own governments’ policies and practices of injustice, exploitation and oppression.

The same imperial and colonial gospel, which is concerned only about a person’s soul, is being preached by most of us, thus perpetuating injustice, exploitation, oppression, domination and control of the weak, poor and the marginalised. If someone speaks against injustice, hunger and poverty, s/he is taunted as preaching the social gospel. What these accusers fail to notice is, when people were hungry Jesus did not say, “Now, is that spiritual or political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because good news to a hungry person is bread. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the WHOLE PERSON. Good news to the marginalised persons is bringing her/him to the center of the society, so that they will have access to power and resources. In the case of the Christian organisations, it is recognising human dignity, value and rights of SC students and graduates, and acknowledging them as fellow believers and partners in the ministry of the establishment of God’s kingdom and its values.

The manipulation of caste image by the casteist leadership not only dehumanises and marginalises the SC students and graduates, but also creates a sense of low self esteem and low self image. This makes them silent spectators and bearers of humiliation and hardship inflicted upon them. Some of the mistreated may seek to deny their helplessness and humiliation through “identification with the aggressor”. They live and act according to the dictates of the casteist leadership. From the demeaning feeling of being “inferior”, these collaborators with the aggressors may vicariously feel a satisfying surge of “power over” those who can conveniently be scapegoated.

Since the marginalised are controlled by the manipulated images of casteism, they do not perceive the hypocrisy of the highest degree of the leadership of Christian organisations. When segregation is followed, how can “fellowship” among the members of these organisations be possible? How can there be brotherhood when there are some who consider themselves “superior” and look down upon others as “inferior”? How can they preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when they themselves are in bondage of sin by practising segregation?

Segregation is evil because it stigmatises the segregated SC students and graduates as “inferiors” in the caste system. It relegates them to the status of THINGS. They are THINGS to be used, but not persons to be valued and respected. What is segregation but an existential expression of human beings’ tragic estrangement, their awful separation, their terrible sinfulness?

Racist, apartheid South Africa practised what it preached – racism, discrimination and segregation. But the “saved communities” of Christian organisations fail to demonstrate what they preach, i.e. freedom from the bondage of sin, if one believes in Jesus Christ.

THIS IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF HYPOCRISY!!!

If anyone points out this hypocrisy, that person is denounced and witch-hunted. Whenever a person shows signs of an uncompromising attitude towards injustice, discrimination and casteism, s/he is projected as radical, rebel, irresponsible and extremist. The hypocritical leadership intelligently directs extremism towards those who are defending themselves and other victims against the extremism of casteism and hypocrisy.

However, the prophetic voice against the hypocrisy of the leadership should, first of all, make SC students and graduates to love themselves and their identity. It should help to restore self-image and self-esteem in them. Secondly, prophetic voice should expose the LIE and make the leadership introspect its own sinfulness and bring it to the foot of the cross for repentance and divine forgiveness.

Patience, perseverance and persistence, coupled with God’s wisdom, strength and guidance for the establishment of God’s kingdom and its values of justice, compassion, goodness, love, mercy and equality, will surely take you to the GOAL. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”

Carlyle said, “No lie can live forever,” because TRUTH is stronger than LIE. As William Cullen Bryant thundered, “Truth pressed to earth will rise again.” In spite of mountains on the way, we join in faith with James Russell Lowell:

Truth forever on the scaffold,

Wrong forever on the throne.

Yet, that scaffold sways the future

And behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch above His own.

 

With this faith we will be able to transform the discords in the Christian organisations into a symphony of brotherhood. That will be a DAY when “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” That will be a DAY when ALL GOD”S CHILDREN – SCs and Non-SCs, Women and Men, Servant Leaders and Grassroot Workers – will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro Spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last!

[i] David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 255.

Development of the Concept of “Hell”

December 7, 2014

In the state of Andhra Pradesh summer is the season for the “hell bent” messages. After suffering in the day-long heat of more than 40°C, people throng to the Christian gospel meetings in the cool evening. The summer weather, probably, prepares them for the messages on “hell”. These messages are usually preached by the “experts” in “hell”. In a coastal town of Andhra Pradesh a man went and sat on the sand to listen to the message. He was enjoying the cool sea breeze, after being in the oven-like house throughout the day. The preacher started to give a bombastic message on “hell”. He was describing the “hell experience”—unquenchable fire and eternal suffering of sinners in that fire. Incidentally, Jesus hardly spoke on this subject. His focus was more on the establishment of the kingdom of God (i.e. the rule of God) of justice, peace, love, unity and service on this earth. The man, who came out of the hell-like house to enjoy the evening cool sea breeze and the message, turned to the person sitting next to him and said, “The way this preacher is describing the hell and its experience so vividly, it looks that he has just returned from there!”

The idea of perpetual torment in hell is so prevalent in world religions, though it takes on different forms. Christianity also taught on concepts of judgment and eternal punishment in hell for those who fail to meet the necessary criteria. Augustine, the influential fourth century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, played a key role in the development of the Christian doctrine of an ever burning hell. He wrote that “hell, which also is called a lake of fire and brimstone, will be material fire and will torment the bodies of the damned.” He further wrote of “those everlasting pains which are to follow” the final judgment (City of God 21.10, 13).

But how did the concept of “hell” develop?

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word often translated as “hell” is sheol, which actually means “the grave”. When we die, we simply go to the grave (Ps. 49.10-11; Eccl. 3.19-20). Sheol is portrayed as a place of “darkness” (Job 17.13). The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is the abode of the dead regarded as a place of punishment or torment. The concept of an infernal ‘hell’ developed in Israel only during the Hellenistic period (beginning in the fourth century BCE).”

In the New Testament three Greek words are used for “hell”. In the Gospels the one most often used is geenna (English “gehenna”). The Greek word geenna is a transliteration of the Aramaic word gehinnam, which is derived from the Hebrew word ge hinnom (Josh. 15.8, 18.16). The Hebrew word refers to a valley located on the south slope of Jerusalem (Josh. 15.8, 18.16). It literally means “Valley of Hinnom”. During the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh sacrifices were burnt here to the Canaanite god Molech, even to the point of sacrificing their own sons in the fire (II Kgs. 16.3, 21.6; II Chr. 28.3, 33.6). Because of this prophets condemned this valley, identifying it as the scene of future destruction of life and God’s judgment (Jer. 7.30-33, 19.1-13, 32.34-35, cf. Is. 31.9, 66.24; II Kgs 23.10; Lev 18.21).

In later Jewish literature the Valley of Hinnom came to represent the place of God’s end-time judgment of the wicked Jews by fire (I Enoch 26-27, 54.1-6, 56.1-4, 90.24-27). By the first century C.E. gehenna came to be understood metaphorically as the place of judgment by fire for all wicked everywhere (Sibylline Oracles 1.100-103, 2.283-312). It is located in the depths of the earth (Sibylline Oracles 4.184-186) and is described with “fire”, “darkness” and “gnashing of teeth” (Apocalypse of Abraham 15.6; Sibylline Oracles 1.100-103, 2.292-310). There is also the implication that punishment is an eternal one (Sibylline Oracles 2.292-310; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.14, Jewish War 2.163, 3.374-375).

In Jewish Rabbinic literature gehenna is described as a place created before the creation of the world (b. Pesah 54a). It is reserved for the wicked (b. Erub 19a, b. Yebam 63b), including those who indulged in a variety of sinful acts: idolatry, immorality, arrogance, flattery, foolish speech, lack of compassion and listening too much to women!!! Those who fear God that follow the Torah in obedience and good deeds, and unfortunate in this life are spared from it.

In the New Testament all the twelve references to gehenna are used metaphorically as the place of fiery judgment (Mt. 5.22, 29-30, 10.28, 18.9, 23.15,33; Mk. 9.43,45,47; Lk. 12.5; James 3.6). Gehenna is pre-existent (Mt. 25.41). The New Testament does not describe the torment of gehenna.

Another Greek word used for hell is hades, the place of the departed, the grave, like sheol in the Old Testament (Mt.11.23, 16.18). In the book of Revelation, the word translated as “hell” is always hades meaning “grave” (Rev 1.18, 20.13,14). Hades is the place of the dead, not necessarily a place of torment for the wicked dead.

One other Greek word used for hell is tartaroo. This is found only in II Peter 2.4, where it is described as the place where wicked spirits will eventually be restrained.

From the above it is evident that references to “hell” in the New Testament draw on a rich and varied background. Beginning with the Old Testament, the concept of “hell” progresses through stages of increasing detail and description.

Jesus’ Inclusive And Holistic Ministry

December 4, 2014

The story of Jesus’ visit to his hometown Nazareth acquires significance in the Gospel of Luke. The parallel accounts of Jesus’ visit of Nazareth in Mark and Matthew appear much later (Mk. 6.1-6; Mt. 13.54-58), whereas in Luke the episode follows the temptation and the time of preparation, and becomes the opening scene of his public ministry. This positioning of the episode demonstrates its importance to the ministry of Jesus Christ.

The inaugural preaching of Jesus Christ in the Nazareth synagogue is programmatic that defines his messianic holistic ministry of impartial grace.

Jesus’ Ministry in the Light of Isaiah 61.1-2 and Isaiah 58.6

Jesus defines his ministry by the quotation from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He quotes Isaiah 61.1-2, with a few modifications. This prophetic text begins with the designation or equipping of the agent of Yahweh with the spirit of the Lord. The reason for or the purpose of this anointment is articulated with a series of seven infinitives: to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to proclaim release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God, and to comfort all who mourn. Not all these seven infinitives are included in Luke 4.18-19.

The focus of the mission of God’s agent is on the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted and the captives. The captives are those who are bound. This signifies not those in the exile, but those in prison and slavery for debts and the like (Cf. Lev. 25.10; Jer. 34.8 ff; Ezek. 46.17). A new era (“The year of the Lord’s favour” Is. 61.2) is announced by the God’s anointed.

However, Jesus makes two modifications for the quotation of Isaiah 61.1-2:

  1. A phrase from Isaiah 58.6 “to let the oppressed go free” is added in Luke 4.18. Isaiah 58 demands that God’s chosen people should practice a fast consisting of the loosening of chains of injustice, sharing of food with the hungry and provision for the poor (Is. 58.6-7). It insists on the coherence between liturgical practice and social justice. For the prophet, the fasting pleasing to God can not just be liturgical (Is. 58.1-5), but social as well (Is. 58.6-14).

The association of Isaiah 58 with Isaiah 61 intensifies the social dimension of the mission of God’s agent, and provides a striking corrective to any religious practice which is carried on in the name of Yahweh without any concern for the poor, or to any religious activity that oppresses them or fosters their oppression (Is. 58.3-5).

Therefore, Isaiah 61 in association with Isaiah 58 serves as a corrective to any misguided spirituality that focuses only on ritualistic practices such as worship, prayer and fasting and neglects the weightier matters such as justice, love and mercy.

  1. Jesus’ second modification to Isaiah 61.1-2 is to cut it short. He concludes the brief citation with the phrase “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk. 4.19), and omits the reminder of the sentence “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Is. 61.2). This is quite significant. Jesus also omits the reminder of prophesy which includes references to Gentiles tending Israelites’ flocks and working in their fields, and to Israelites feasting upon the wealth of the Gentiles (Is. 61.5-6). Thus, Jesus has excluded all references of hostility towards the Gentiles. Jesus reiterates this in Lk. 7.22 where he again declares his messiahship, this time in response to the query of John the Baptist, by merging together three passages from Isaiah (Is. 35.5f; 29.8f; 61.1). The contexts of these three passages contain references to divine vengeance (Is. 35.4; 29.20; 61.2), yet Jesus quotes only the good news of divine healing and deliverance. Thus, the messianic new era of God’s grace, which has dawned in the ministry of Jesus Christ, is impartial. That means, it is inclusive of Gentiles and outcasts, which Jesus affirms by retelling the stories in the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (Lk. 4.25-27).

Jesus explains that there were many widows in Israel during a severe famine, and Elijah was sent by God to none of them, but only to a Gentile widow of Zarephath of Sidon (Lk. 4.25-26).

In the second story, Jesus points out at Elisha healing Naaman, a Gentile, although there were many lepers among Israelites.

Both these stories depict God’s grace poured out not only on Gentiles, but upon the lowliest of the low class among the Gentiles – a widow and a leper!

God’s mission has a universal scope – transcending ethnic, cultural, social, racial, caste or confessional barriers. God’s preferential option for the poor is not for the poor of Israel only, and may even give priority to others.

The Object of Jesus’ Ministry: The Poor

Jesus proclaims the good news of a new era of God’s impartial grace to the poor (Lk. 4.18, 7.22). He promises to the poor the kingdom of God (Lk. 6.20 – It is “the poor” not the “poor in spirit”).

During the time of Jesus, certain Jewish sects, particularly the Qumran community, applied the term “poor” to their communities denoting the “pious poor”. However, the Old Testament term for the poor (anawim) refers to both social and religious humility. The poor are, in one sense, the victims of the unjust structures of society – powerless, vulnerable, insignificant, exploited, oppressed and economically deprived. In another sense they are the “pious poor” who are utterly dependent upon God.

The term anawim used in Isaiah 61.1 is translated in Jesus’ Nazareth proclamation with the Greek term ptochoi (poor) in Luke 4.18. The term “poor” is used by Luke in the same broad sense of anawim with reference to both social and spiritual humility.

Jesus in Luke is fundamentally concerned with those who are outcast or marginalized, a social state imposed on them, which was sanctioned by religion (Lk. 4.18, 5.30-32, 6.20, 7.22, 14.13, 21, 16.20). The term “outcast” is related to issues of power, privilege and social location. So “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” are the outcast in the society. The inclusion of lepers in this social category means that these are considered ‘untouchables’ who are forced to live on the periphery or outside the periphery of the society (Lk. 7.22 cf. 5.12-16; 17.11-19). This is evident by the phrases “streets and lanes” (14.21), which refer to narrow streets and lanes where one would find beggars of the town and “roads and lanes”, which refer to the area immediately outside the wall of the city inhabited by those involved in menial occupations and prostitutes (14.23). They are forbidden from having social relations with those “at the center of the society” (I QSa 2. 5-7 cf. I QM 7. 4-6). Since they are considered unclean, they represent a possible source of contamination to the community at large. Pharisees are particularly concerned about protecting the community against such dangers by upholding the purity rules of the community and in that way keeping the boundaries of the community strong. That is why there is constant conflict between Jesus and the community religious leaders, particularly Pharisees, over the boundaries and purity of the community (Lk. 5.30-32, 7.36-47). It shows that it is a common knowledge to follow the above regulations (cf. Lk. 5.30, 6.2, 7.39, 15.2, 19.7) and leaders have invoked commitment to this common knowledge. That is why the outcast are to be “compelled” (Lk. 14.23) to partake in the dinner, for they have immediately understood that the invitation is an inexplicable breach of the social system. Luke thus presents the traditional pattern of the society that has given legitimacy to oppressive structures. These strong social barriers have restricted the outcast from entering into the society and confined them to the periphery or outside of the society.

Thus, the outcast are those who are the victims of oppressive structures, which in turn have deprived them socially, economically and religiously.

Jesus Brings Good News to the Poor

As noted above, Isaiah 61.1-2 and Isaiah 58.6 define the messianic ministry of Jesus Christ. The determinative word in these Old Testament texts is the Greek word aphesis, which means “release” or “free”. This word links the two quotations. Out of the four sentences in Isaiah 58.6 (“to loose the bonds of injustice; to undo the thongs of the yoke; to let the oppressed go free; and to break every yoke”), which say essentially the same thing, the one chosen in Luke is the one that in the Greek translation of Isaiah 58.6 uses aphesis. This word is prominent in Luke’s writings – Gospel and Acts. In these writings, aphesis is particularly associated with the release from sin. It is forgiveness (Eg. Lk. 1.77. 7.36-50, 24.47). The oppression from which Jesus sets people free is the tyranny of the evil one. The chains that Jesus breaks are the bonds that enslave them to sin in all its forms.

Isaiah 61.1-2 and Isaiah 58.6 enable us to understand that the release which God began in the ministry of Jesus Christ is not only from sin, but also from all those concrete kinds of physical, social and economic oppression. This holistic ministry of Jesus is spelled out and illustrated in Luke’s Gospel. It is among and to the poor that Jesus comes and brings good news (Lk. 7.22). He constantly commands and approves the sharing of wealth or giving of wealth to the poor (Lk. 14.13, 21; 16.19ff.; 18.22; 19.8). Jesus gives sight to the blind (Lk. 7.21; 18.35ff.; 14.13, 21) as well as deliverance from other physical illnesses and incapacities (Lk. 7.1-10, 11-17, 18-23). He also breaks the religious barriers, which enslaved the outcast, by healing them on the Sabbath (Lk. 6.6-11). Thus Jesus not only proclaims but also practices the holistic mission as God’s anointed messiah (Lk. 4.18-19; 7.20-23).

There is, therefore, a clear holistic liberation emphasis in Jesus’ mission: the aim is to radically change the spiritual, personal, social and economic conditions of all the victims, of all those who have been put aside by religious, social, political or economic developments in society. The categories are clear: the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed. The aim is clear: good news, release, sight, freedom. There is no priority within this holistic vision and mission of God’s messiah Jesus Christ.

This messianic holistic mission has already happened: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4.21). However, what God has accomplished in the ministry of Jesus, he continues through the history of humankind through those who have identified with Jesus Christ and his ministry. To live and work as ministers of God and disciples of Jesus is to proclaim and enable people to find forgiveness. It is to carry on Jesus’ liberating work in church and society, to help persons find the free, obedient and responsible life.

There has been a sad tendency in evangelicalism to reject the holistic and inclusive ministry of Jesus Christ through oversimplifications or interpretations of biblical texts that are irrelevant to real life. However, the new era of God’s impartial grace, dawned in the ministry of Jesus Christ, calls the people of God everywhere to embrace the holistic mission of Jesus by engaging in the real world through Jesus’ spiritually and socially inclusive mission of justice, mercy and love.

 

Sources

Hugh Anderson, “Broadening Horizons: The Rejection at Nazareth Pericope of Luke 4:16-30 in Light of Recent Critical Trends.” Interpretation  18 (1964), pp. 259-275.

Jeffrey S. Siker, “”First to the Gentiles”: A Literary Analysis of Luke 4.16-30.” Journal of Biblical Literature III/I (1992), pp. 73-90.

Paul Hertig, “The Jubilee Mission of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: Reversals of Fortunes.” Missiology: An International Review XXVI/2 (April 1998), pp. 167-179.

“Luke 4:16-30 – The Spirit’s Mission Manifesto – Jesus’ Hermeneutics – And Luke’s Editorial.” International Review of Mission LXXXIX/352 (January 2000), pp. 3-11.

Contentment

November 6, 2014

Contentment is one of the most crucial virtues. It is the “rare jewel” in the present day society. Because we live in a time that is set up to keep us from being content with ourselves and therefore we suffer from insecurity, lack of self-confidence and anxiety. Take a look at the media. The whole point of media and advertising is to convince us that we are not happy, that we don’t have enough, that we need more of what they are selling. When we buy their product, or when we have the lifestyle and body and looks of celebrities and models, then we will be happy!

The current economic system is set up to do the same thing. It is expected of us to try and earn as much money as we can. One house is not enough. Two cars are not enough. A six-digit salary is not enough. There is always an anxious need to gain more, even it means stepping on others to get there.

So from the moment we are born we are brainwashed to believe that the only way to happiness is to earn as much money as possible, to have perfect abs, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, or big house in the right neighbourhood. If we don’t have these things, then we are not happy. Since most of us don’t have these things, we hold on to a neurotic need to be different than who we are and live life with much stress and anxiety as we helplessly look for the thing that will make us happy. And those of us who have the money, the perfect abs and all the rest are just as unsettled, because they discover that the things they thought would make them happy really don’t. They too helplessly look for that elusive and illusive thing they are missing.

And the result is DISCONTENTMENT.

Discontentment opens up our hearts to many unhealthy habits in our lives. Materialism is, after all, the natural behaviour born out of discontent with our self-image. Dishonesty is born out of discontent with the truth. Substance abuse is born out of displeasure with the current state of our lives. So many people are unhappy in their jobs and in their marriages or with their own self image. They cast off their spouse in search of someone with better mansions or better status or more hair or less shortcomings. But no matter what they do they can never shake off that gnawing sense of anxiety and unease that is stuck in their chest.

If a person cultivates discontentment instead of contentment, then that person will never be happy and at peace with who s/he is, and what s/he has.

One person who had figured out the secret of contentment was the apostle Paul. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he talks about contentment: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4.11).

The Greek word that is used for “content” in Phil. 4.11 is autarkēs, which means “sufficient or adequate in one’s self” or “contented with one’s lot”. This word is found only here in the entire New Testament. In I Tim 6.6 another Greek word autarkeia is used for “contentment” which means “contentedness” or “a frame of mind viewing one’s lot as sufficient”.

Autarkēs is used by the Stoic philosophers to describe a man of emotionless, wooden impassivity, the man whom nothing could touch because in himself he had found a completely satisfying world. Paul used this word meaning “restful contentment”, the opposite of covetousness or the desire for more. Circumstances have no power over a contented person. Paul says, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (Phil. 4.12).

Contrary to Paul, the people of Israel lacked the virtue of contentment during their journey in the wilderness. At Pi-hahiroth, when the Israelites saw the Egyptian army they cried out in great fear to the Lord and said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Ex. 14.10-12; compare this with Ex. 3.7-10 which tells that Israelites cried to God to liberate them from their Egyptian bondage!). Again Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16.3). At Rephidim when there was no water, they again complained, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17.3). And Ex. 17.7 says, “He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” They tried to force God’s hand: “If God were really with us this would never have happened. Let him deliver us and we will trust him.” Thus they tested God. Israelites expected their God to fulfill their needs and wants with or without their demand! In other words, they wanted their God to act or provide according to their expectations, and thus keep them comfortable, insulating them from any lack or pain or suffering! This resulted in their discontentment.

Contentment is not found in having everything we like or we want or we need. It is not about always being comfortable and always getting our way. If that’s the only way we can find joy and peace, then we will be unhappy and restless a lot. In Phil. 4.12 Paul explains that contentment isn’t about circumstances. He says, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” The greater part of our happiness and misery depends not upon our circumstances, but upon our disposition. Socrates says, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

Therefore, contentment is an attitude and an intentional act of will or a willful choice. As Paul told Timothy, “We brought nothing into the world, so that we take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing (and shelter) we will be content with these” (I Tim. 6.7-8). Job understood when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21).

Contentment is the state of being satisfied with what one has, with her/his status and current situation. It is not resignation, which is more about giving up, being a victim and feeling disempowered. Being contented means that one is truly satisfied with her/his life as it is right now! Of course there is always room to grow and expand who we are and how we live our lives. But we can also be satisfied with how much we have and accept ourselves as we are. This is a powerful way to be in the world. This means we are not victim to other’s opinions, including media and movies. We actually live our lives in a more authentic way!

Contentment is a learned behavior. It is something which Paul learned: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4.11). The Greek verb used here for “learned” is manthanō which means “to learn by practice or experience” or “acquire a habit”.

In Phil 4.12 a different Greek word is used for “learned”, i.e. mueō, which means “to be disciplined in a practical lesson” or “to learn a lesson”. This word is used in the Greek mystery religions to describe people who had worked their way up through the various lower “degrees” and had finally admitted into full possession of “the mystery” itself.

Through all life’s ups and downs Paul has learned how to be content. Bit by bit, test by test, circumstance by circumstance, he persevered through the lower “degrees” until he finally “matured” in acquiring the virtue of contentment. Contentment did not come easily. He acquired it through discipline. Paul says, “I have made my way up through the degrees of progressive detachment from the things of the world, its comforts and its discomforts alike, and finally I have reached maturity on this point. I know the secret; circumstances can never again touch me.” Thus, contentment is the mark of a mature believer, and a virtue to be cultivated by all believers who want to grow in Jesus Christ, who had “nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9.58).

What is the secret of Paul’s contented life? How could he be joyful and peaceful in spite of being imprisoned, being in trying situations (1.7, 13, 17; 4.4, 10)? How could he be joyful and peaceful at all times? Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.13). This verse might be translated as “I have strength for all circumstances through him who strengthens me.” True, lasting, lifelong contentment is found only in God.

Obstacles to Contentment

In every single one of our lives there are things that stand between us and contentment like a huge wall that we can never seem to scale. Some of the most common ones are:

  1. Selfishness

Pleasure seekers get caught up in high consumption, compulsive acquisition and instantaneous gratification. Instead of being content with what they have, they want to have the latest and the greatest. They feel they need to have something new to satisfy them.

Although the root of discontent is selfishness, it plays out in two ways: Greed and covetousness. Even though these two are closely related, there is a difference. When I am greedy, I just want what is there, whether it is needed or not. When I covet, I specifically want what you have.

  1. Greed

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to contentment is greed. “If only I had a little bit more money, a little bit more things, a little bit more beauty, a little bit more comfort….” The words “if only” are contentment-killers.

Ambition is not wrong. One may strive for excellence and to go up the socio-economic ladder. But when ambition is uncontrolled, or when it simply fuels our ego, it is not good. James writes, “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind” (James 3.16).

Bible warns specifically against the selfish ambition to get rich: “Keep your lives free from the love of money” (Heb. 13.5). Because “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim. 6.10). The love of money is not only a root of all kinds of evil, but also an empty love. It will never satisfy, rather it brings misery and destruction. Greedy people fall into temptations like lust and envy. They fall into the traps of corruption and compromise. They become trapped by their own envious desires as they forsake their morals and convictions in order to achieve their goal of financial gain (or selfish purposes/ends). Their greed, their foolish and harmful desires will plunge them into ruin and destruction (I Tim. 6.9, 10).

  1. Covetousness

Covetousness is a big factor in being discontent. It means desiring what belongs to the other. This happens when people are not satisfied with their own selves and what they have, and start comparing with others. The problem is that comparison is the enemy of contentment, because there will always be people who possess a greater quality or quantity of what they think they should have. Because of this, comparison leads to covetousness. Instead of loving their neighbours, they find themselves loving what they possess.

Covetousness robs people of enjoying and being grateful for who they are and what they have. Advertising agencies exploit this human weakness. The goal of advertising is to create discontent with who they are and what they have. It makes them believe that their toothpaste isn’t good enough, their vehicle isn’t good enough, their appearance isn’t good enough, and their life isn’t as good as it would be if they bought their products. And it works. It seeps into their brains and spoils their hearts.

Discontentment breeds resentment towards themselves, their parents, their spouses, their children and God. They get angry and resentful toward God because from their perspective, God is depriving them of what they think they should have.

The truth is that if they are not satisfied with who they are and what they have, they will never be satisfied with what they want!

 

  1. Unhealthy Sense of Entitlement

Another major obstacle to contentment is an unhealthy sense of entitlement. It is thinking that we deserve something or that the world owes us something. It’s getting angry when we don’t get our own way. Paul addresses this in I Timothy 6.6-8: “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

So the world doesn’t owe us anything. We are not any more special or privileged than the next person. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave it with nothing. Let’s be humble and not think more highly of ourselves than we should.

  1. Unrealistic Expectations

Media, movies and advertisements are contributing to unrealistic expectations of people, particularly younger generation. The level of expectation has changed and many people today just expect everything to be theirs. When young people get married, they want everything right now that it took their parents years to accumulate.

The consequences of unrealistic expectations are anxiety, stress, depression, addictions, unhealthy relationships, family conflicts, divorce and suicide.

 

How to Cultivate the Virtue of Contentment

  1. Gratitude

Everywhere one looks these days, one finds unhappy and upset people. Parents demean their children, children blame their parents. Advertisers make it clear in thousands of ways every day that our lives as consumers will never be meaningful or fulfilled until we purchase their products. We live in a culture of deficit, demand and desire. One’s own self and its insatiable demands become the center of one’s life. The orientation towards deficit, demand and desire is rampant in contemporary culture which results in discontentment.

One deep root of the pervasive discontent appears to be ingratitude. The inability to acknowledge and appreciate gifts and benefits one has received from God, parents, siblings, spouse, friends, relatives and natural world tends towards bitterness and, eventually, inhumanity. Immanuel Kant, German philosopher and theologian, counted the inability to express gratitude among the three “meanest and basest vices” that degrade the individual and corrupt society.

Ingratitude is hardly a modern phenomenon. One day Jesus encountered it while on his way to Jerusalem (Lk. 17.11-18). Luke’s account of the healing of the ten lepers underscores the human tendency to expect grace as our due and to forget to thank God for his acts of grace and kindness. To be ungrateful is, at root, to deliberately and willfully ignore God’s acts of grace and kindness. Jesus had to ask the one leper, who was healed and came back to thank Jesus, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

One of the main causes for ingratitude is deliberate and willful forgetfulness. Ancient Israel’s calendar included several annual festivals to remind the Israelites of God’s acts of deliverance and provision so that they would renew their sense of gratitude and reliance upon God.

In spite of this Israelites forgot: “Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against you” (Neh. 9.26); “Our ancestors when they were in Egypt did not consider your wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love … But they soon forgot his works” (Ps. 106. 7, 13). Prophet Hosea captured the essence of this decline into ingratitude: “When I fed them, they were satisfied; they were satisfied and their heart was proud; therefore they forgot me” (Hos. 13.6).

Os Guinness says, “Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant.”

Centuries earlier, Moses warned the children of Israel that they would be tempted to forget the Lord once they began to enjoy the blessings of the promised land: “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deut. 8.12-14, 17). The antidote to this spiritual poison is: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gave you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8.18).

Even as believers in God, we tend to overlook the fact that all that we are and have – our health, our intelligence, our abilities, our very lives, our families – are gifts from God, and not our own creation.

Forgetfulness leads to ingratitude. We tend towards two extremes when we forget to remember God’s acts of grace and kindness in our lives. The first extreme is presumption: when things are going “our way”, we may forget God or acknowledge him in a shallow or mechanical manner. The other extreme is bitterness and resentment due to difficult circumstances. When we suffer setbacks and losses, we wonder why we are not doing as well as others and develop a mindset of murmuring and complaining.

Most of us are awful at acknowledging and showing appreciation for the goodness done to us. A young man with a bandaged hand approached the clerk at the post office, and asked, “Sir, could you please address this postcard for me?” The clerk did so gladly, and then agreed to write a message on the card. He then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man looked at the card for a moment and then said, “Yes, add a PS: ‘Please excuse the handwriting!’” The disposition of the young man is not on the help that the clerk extended graciously, but on the bad handwriting of the clerk!

Gratitude is a knowing awareness that we are recipients of goodness. It combats discontentment because gratitude takes our focus off what we don’t have and onto what we have. It grows contentment in us. Therefore, gratitude and contentment go hand in hand. Cicero, Roman philosopher, says, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

Gratitude is a conscious and willful choice or decision, not merely a feeling. It is not a result of our circumstances. Gratitude causes us to focus on the good things we already have regardless of our present circumstances. That’s why Paul says, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thes. 6.16-18). The more we live in the discipline of conscious thanksgiving, the more natural it becomes, and the more our eyes are opened to the little things that we have received.

Gratitude requires humility. It requires us to admit we have been the recipient of goodness we don’t deserve. Gratitude broadens our perspective so we can see the source of the good things we have. Whether we are thanking our parent, spouse, teacher, friend, or a mentor who has invested into our lives, our response of gratitude to their action gives the praise to the one who rightly deserves it.

Studies show that there is a correlation between gratitude, physical health and contentment. Grateful people report increased wellbeing, better health, healthier lifestyles, increased optimism, and a more positive outlook on life. Additionally, those who display a high level of gratitude are much more likely to have below average levels of materialism.

The fruits of gratitude are:

  • Lower stress
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Increased energy
  • Less likelihood of depression
  • Deeper sleep
  • Stronger relationships
  • Deeper sense of purpose
  • Better coping strategies

Thus, gratitude is the very thing that makes life at the same time both livable and delightful. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home and a stranger into a friend.”

  1. Generosity

Generosity is a sign of being content. In other words, the secret of contentment is revealed in generosity. Because contentment makes the poor man rich and discontentment makes the rich man poor (Prov. 11.24-25). When we give our time, our energy and our resources to help others, it has a way of adjusting our priorities and reminding us how blessed we are. It also gives peace, joy and satisfaction.

  1. Trust in God

Contentment is an outworking of our faith in God. The closer our relationship with God is, the more we will trust him and the less we will be bothered by the circumstances of life. We rest in his power and sufficiency. That’s why Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.13). The writer of Hebrews instructs, “Be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Heb. 13.5-6).

  1. Want Vs Need

One should contemplate on the difference between a want and a need. A want is usually based on fantasy. It’s usually something we don’t have and we think that when we get it we will be happy. Wanting something leads to never feeling satisfied because the mind is very creative thing, easily persuaded by the latest trends and always dreaming up more and more things to want. This means we rarely get the chance to fully enjoy what we already have!

A need, on the other hand, is more practical and has to do with the basics – either physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. One may want the “perfect boyfriend”, but what she may need is affection, support and some enjoyment. There is nothing wrong to have dreams, but dreams take time to attain, may be a lifetime, while getting our needs met can happen quickly – if we can identify what they are and if we have the courage to ask!

Charles Spurgeon said, “A man’s contentment is in his mind, not in the extent of his possessions.” The secret of contentment is not about HAVING, it’s about BEING. Contentment is found when my mind and heart are centered on God.


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