Archive for November, 2009

The Centrality of the Cross in the Apostleship of Paul

November 3, 2009

One of the issues that Paul addresses in his two letters to the Church at Corinth, a Roman colony, is the character of leadership in the Church. Paul presents his view of leadership/apostleship in response to the Corinthians’ criticism of his apostleship basing on their perception of leadership. In his arguments characterizing his apostleship, he refers to the turn of the ages realized through the cross of Christ.[1] Therefore, the focus of this article is how the cross or the death of Christ is intrinsically associated with the existence of Paul and his ministry in I and II Corinthians.

The Cross of Christ: An Epistemological Turning Point

A fundamental theme that coheres I&II Corinthians is the character of Paul’s apostleship. Paul explicates this in response to the Corinthians’ perception of apostleship and their criticism against his ministry characterized by sufferings or “weakness”. Paul’s lack of “words of wisdom” and his “weakness” were contrary to their perception of apostleship (I Cor. 2.2-4; 4.10; II Cor. 10.10; 11.30; 12.9-10).  In II Corinthians it is evident that the criticism against Paul’s apostolic ministry is instigated by the “super apostles” because it did not conform to their criteria for what constituted apostolic ministry (II Cor. 2.14-6.10). The “super-apostles” had considerable influence in the Corinthian church, with their ecstatic visions, miracle-working powers, and oratorical skills (II Cor. 10.10; 11.6;12.12). Their perception of a true apostle is based on the “face” or outward appearance (II Cor. 5.12). On the basis of this criterion, the “face” of Paul is weak and inferior, not glorious like their “faces”. They boast en prosōpō, which Paul terms as boasting kata sarka (II Cor. 11.18).[2] Thus, their criticism of Paul based on the standards kata sarka is directed mainly at the character of Paul’s apostolic ministry, namely “weakness” or suffering (II Cor. 4.7-12; 6.3-10; 10.10; 11.5-6; 11. 23-30; 12.5-10; 13. 3-4) and lack of perceptible ecstatic manifestations of the Spirit (II Cor. 5.12-13; 12.12).[3] What the Corinthians questioning Paul about is the apparent incompatibility of the gospel of power and his “weakness” or sufferings. So Paul wants to explain to Corinthians “why his apostleship took the form it did”.[4] In view of this Paul directs their attention to the eschatological significance of the death of Christ.

In II Corinthians Paul, for the first time, mentions the death of Christ in the context of the “unglorious” character of his ministry: persecuted, afflicted, perplexed, and struck down (II Cor. 4.8-12 cf. I Cor. 4.9-13). He again refers to the death of Christ in order to give ground for the Corinthians to answer “those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart” and to be proud of his ministry (II Cor. 5.12-15). As mentioned above, the perception of the opponents, as well as that of the Corinthians, is that the visible ecstasy is a sign of apostleship. By contrasting those who boast en prosōpō with those who boast en kardia, Paul indicates the inappropriateness of the perception and the criteria of the former group. This is more obvious in II Cor. 12.1-12 where Paul says that even though he too could claim “signs of a true apostle” such as “signs, wonders and mighty works,” and boast about the “visions and revelations of the Lord”, instead he boasts in his “weaknesses”. He validates the character of his ministry by appealing to the death of Christ: “he died for all” (II Cor.5.15). For Paul, the love of Christ manifested in Christ dying “for all” controls him. This love expressed by the cross of Christ is defined as existence for others (II Cor. 5.15; cf. Gal. 2.20; Rom. 14-15).[5]   

Paul points out that  the death of Christ has brought a change in his (and his associates’) perception: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way” (II Cor. 5.16). Some of the scholars like Alfred Plummer and Rudolf Bultmann take  kata sarka[6] adjectivally, thus modifying christen. This interpretation implies that in II Cor. 5.16 Paul is referring to “fleshly Christ”. On the other hand, scholars like C.K. Barrett and J. Louis Martyn, support adverbial meaning of kata sarka. Furnish points out that “whenever Paul does construe kata sarka with a noun or pronoun (Rom. 1.3; 4.1; 9.3, 5; I Cor. 1.26; 10.18), the phrase follows the noun, whereas here kata sarka precedes the proper noun, Christ.”[7] Moreover, Paul in II Cor. 2.14-6.10, is mainly concerned with the turn of ages that the death of Christ has brought and the perception associated with the old age and that of the age initiated by the Christ event.[8] Therefore, Paul, in II Cor. 5.16, is not concerned with Christology, but rather with epistemology. He wants to point out to the Corinthians that the death of Christ has brought an epistemological crisis. This is not a private event relating to Paul and his associates, but, as II Cor. 5.16-17 shows, it is an event of cosmic proportions.[9] Kainē ktisis taken in the context of II Cor. 2.14-6.10 as well as the background of the expression in Judaism (I En. 72.1; Jub. 4.26; IQS iv. 25; IQH xi 10-14) has mainly the eschatological meaning. So “now” in II Cor. 5.16 refers to the “eschatological now”. Paul is saying that there are two ways of knowing and it is the eschatological event of the cross of Christ that separates these two ways of knowing: one is, “knowing kata sarka”, and the other “knowing kata stauron”. Kata sarka is associated with the old age and Paul, in the past, knew Christ in that way. Paul says that this way of knowing is past for the one who is in Christ. But Paul’s opponents are boasting kata sarka (II Cor. 11.18 cf. 5.12).

It is often understood that the opposite of kata sarka is kata pneuma. However, Martyn persuasively argues that Paul does not actually use this expression nor does the one he has employed in I Cor. 2.14, “to discern spiritually” (anakrinein pneumatikōs). Martyn suggests that this could be due to the misinterpretation by the Corinthians of his reference to such a remark in his first letter. So the other way of knowing is, what Martyn calls, “the way of knowing which is granted at the juncture (or turn) of the ages”, i.e. “knowing kata stauron.”[10] The eschatological event of the death of Christ determines the believers’ perception of reality, which is contrary to the perception kata sarka. Martyn explains that “those who recognize their life to be God’s gift at the juncture of ages recognize also that until they are completely and exclusively in the new age, their knowing by the Spirit can occur only in the form of knowing by the power of the cross.”[11] This is confirmed by the “eschatological now” (‘now’ in II Cor. 5.16) of the believers’ existence and the wider context in which Paul has been discussing the character of apostleship, where he has characterized his apostleship as a “carrying in the body the death of Jesus” and “being given up to death for Jesus” (II Cor. 4.10-11). As Christ is regarded now only as a crucified one, so from now on those who are in Christ are to be judged not kata sarka but only kata stauron.[12] In other words, it is the cross which determines the character of the new creation. The presence of a new creation means that the old-age standards, such as wisdom, power, nobility according to the standards of the old age, are not valid (I Cor. 1.26-29). Paul’s reference to the ‘new creation’ in II Cor. 5.17 is polemical and with it he confronts those in the Corinthian community who are following the old age norms, particularly to judge the leaders (II Cor. 10.1-11). In the new creation, contends Paul, no one is judged kata sarka.[13]

Therefore, the problem of the Corinthians is their epistemology, where they failed to perceive in the cross of Christ the epistemological turning point. They also failed to understand that in the new creation the standards and the conduct that characterize the old age are inappropriate. The fundamental eschatological reality is that Christians stand at the juncture (or turn) of the ages. Paul maintains that the understanding of this eschatological reality determines one’s perception of Christ and inferentially of Paul’s apostolic existence and ministry. For a believer there is a new way of perceiving the reality, that is, the way of “knowing kata stauron” and a new value system and so the perception and the value system kata sarka are inappropriate.

The Cross of Christ: Its Intrinsic Association with Paul’s Apostleship

Paul has perceived his vocation, received from God, as “the call to engage in the eschatological struggle at the juncture of the ages,”[14] where some are being saved and others are perishing (I Cor. 1.18; II Cor. 2.14-16). This realization of his vocation has shaped the character of Paul’s apostolic ministry. In contrast to Paul, the Corinthian believers, particularly the opponents of Paul, want to avoid that crucial juncture and its struggle by associating themselves with the accepted pattern of perception, values and behaviour in the Greco-Roman society. Thus, they live in the “old age”, as though the eschatological event in the cross of Christ has not yet taken place. Paul charges them that they are sarkikoi, i.e. “the people of the present age”[15] and are behaving kata anthrōpon, particularly regarding the leadership in the Corinthian church (I Cor. 3.3-4).

The following characteristics of the leadership in the Greco-Roman society indicate how it has influenced the perception of leadership in the Corinthian church:[16]

1. The personality-centered politics is a characteristic of the Greco-Roman society. The underlying dynamics is that of inequality of relationships: the superior (or the leaders) and the inferior (or the common people). The inferior are dependent on the superior for their survival, and so associate themselves with the latter. Plutarch succinctly indicates the benefit of associating with the one having reputation: “But the safe and leisurely way has been chosen by many famous men…For just as ivy rises by twining itself about a strong tree, so each of these men, by attaching himself while still young to an older man and while still obscure to a man of reputation, being gradually raised up under the shelter of his power and growing great with him, fixed himself firmly and rooted himself in the affairs of the state” (Plutarch, Moralia 805 E-F). The superior, thus, cultivate a large following of subordinate adherents to enhance their own status in the society.

The personality-centered politics in the Corinthian church is reflected in the slogans of the members: “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas” (I Cor. 1.12). This is reinforced by their “boasting about human leaders” (I Cor. 3.21) and being “puffed up in favor of one against another” (I Cor. 4.6). A secular understanding of the elevated position of leadership and thus the underlying distinctions in rank and status between the members in the church and the ‘apostolic’ figures like Paul, Cephas and Apollos made the members to be associated with one or the other of these figures for their own advantage. They considered it important for them to be patronized by one of the “apostolic” figures. Such an attitude of patronage towards the relationships within the church is strongly denounced by Paul (I Cor.1.11-17; 3.1-23). Paul exhorts that this perception of relationships within the church is symptomatic of “the present age”, which has resulted in eris and zylos, even though, he says, the Corinthian believers’ very identity and existence are grounded in the cross of Christ, which is the power of God that saved them from the “present age” (I Cor. 1.18). Therefore, their social value system is associated to the “present age”.  

2. The socio-cultural ethos of the Greco-Roman society involved an obsession with status. Because of the gulf between the minority of the wealthy and powerful elite, and the great mass of the poor, the Greco-Roman society was preoccupied with status.[17] The distinctive language Paul uses highlights such a situation in the Corinthian church: “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (I Cor. 1.26). The features of social status, such as wealth, power, nobility, and wisdom, are considered to be important criteria for the leadership in the society (cf. I Cor. 1.26-28).[18] Philo in his treatise That the Worse is Wont to Attack the Better, comments on the lifestyle of the ruling classes of Alexandria: “Those who take care of themselves are men of reputation, rich, leaders, men in the enjoyment of praise and honour; moreover, they are healthy, stout, and vigorous; living delicately, nursed in luxury, strangers to labour, living in the constant company of pleasure, and using all their outward senses to bring delights to the soul…” (X, 34). Thus, the qualities such as reputation, wealth, and honor are important for leadership.  

Few “wise”, “powerful” and “noble born” Corinthian Christians (I Cor.1.26) measured their value and worth and of others in terms of the accepted secular standards of high rank and status (I Cor. 4.18). Sophia logou or sophia anthrōpōn “had connotations of power in the sense of importance or worth” in the Greco-Roman society.[19] In other words, there is a social value and power associated with “words of wisdom” or “human wisdom” or “wisdom of this age and of rulers of this age” (I Cor. 2.5 cf. 1.17).[20] This is a highly valued feature for recognition and reputation: “Indicative of this wisdom is the significance placed on the social class and the importance of boasting in the establishment of personal reputation” (I Cor. 1.20-22, 29; 2.6).[21] Thus, it constituted a social definition of power rooted in the values cultivated by those in the society, who had wealth, status and honor. This led to leadership crisis, which consequently resulted in serious divisions within the Corinthian community. Instead of offering a bit of conflict management to reconcile the warring parties, Paul affirms the message of the cross as a critique of human wisdom. Human wisdom is bound to misconstrue the character of God and the way God works in the world, and a community’s behavior based on human inclinations, not surprisingly, results in jealousy and factionalism (I Cor. 3:3-4). The Corinthians must readjust their vision. They must come to a different way of viewing God and their life together. Thus Paul points to the message of the crucified Christ as the wisdom and power of God.

3. An accepted aspect of leadership in the Greco-Roman society was self-promotion.[22] On the one hand, leaders would elevate themselves, and on the other hand, their followers, with certain element of self-interest, would praise them. Self-promotion as an important tool for social status is clearly pointed out by Plutarch: “There are the feelings and language to which we are prompted not only by stratiōtai and the neoploutoi with their flaunting and ostentatious talk, but also by sophistai, philosophoi and stratēgoi who are full of their own importance and hold forth on the theme” (Plutarch, Moralia, 547 E). In the Corinthian church such “boasting” was also a part of the leadership dynamic. Boasting not only on the basis of the prevailing social norms such as wisdom, but also about human leaders was very much evident in the church (I Cor. 1.20, 29; 3.21). 

4. Enmity, in Roman politics, was a tool of self-promotion and self-preservation. It was seen as a necessary evil in self-advancement.[23] D.F. Epstein, in his book Personal Enmity in Roman Politics explores the importance of enmity for successful politics within the Roman world. Paul rebukes Corinthians for “jealousy and quarrelling” and terms it as belonging to those who are “of the flesh” (I Cor. 3.3).

Therefore, the existential tension in the Corinthian church is a result of trying to live in two diametrically opposed social worlds (I Cor. 3.1). This tension must have been more for those who were “wise”, “powerful” and of “noble birth” according to the standards of “this age” (I Cor. 1.26; 4.8, 10). For them, to pattern their perception, values and conduct kata stauron would mean shame and weakness, for the message of the cross is foolishness to the “wisdom of this age or…rulers of this age” (I Cor. 1.18, 21-23; 2.6). Hengel says that the cross was considered to be a “particularly cruel and shameful death, which as a rule was reserved for hardened criminals, rebellious slaves and rebels against the Roman state.”[24] He goes on to say that “the word of cross” “ran counter not only to Roman political thinking, but to the whole ethos of religion in ancient times and in particular to the ideas of God held by educated people.”[25] The cross of Christ and its proclamation would have been foolishness to and was surely considered despicable in the prevailing Greco-Roman culture. So the cross and the value system associated with it are a scandal to the wider society. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine why Corinthians, particularly the elite and the powerful in the church, followed the perception of the wider community with regards to the leadership in the church.

Paul, on the other hand, finds his calling in the eschatological centrality of the cross. He finds himself standing at the juncture of ages engaging in God’s eschatological struggle to liberate and reconcile the world (II Cor. 5.18-20). He uses an image to describe his apostolic ministry in 1 Cor 4:9: “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals,” to challenge the “kingly” (I Cor. 4:8) style of leadership highly valued by the Corinthians.[26] He uses a similar image in II Cor. 2.14-16: “[T]hanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

On 1 Cor 4:8-13 Martyn comments:

The picture Paul employs is in part that of the Roman circus in which the last act (the eschatological one) is that of the gladiators who are eventually to die a public, spectacular death enjoyed by the (cosmic) onlookers. In this picture, Paul implies that the Corinthians understand themselves to be safely in the stands, already filled and already rich. By contrast, his vocation places him down on the blood-red sand where the Two Ages meet and collide in the paradoxical life-giving cross. The vocation to life which God grants is given nowhere else than in the struggle and daily suffering and victorious rejoicing at this eschatological turning point where God elects what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.[27] 

Paul exercising his apostolic role at the turn of ages proclaims the message of the cross of Christ, which is foolishness and weakness to “the wisdom of this age”, but is the expression of the power of God (I Cor. 1.18) and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 2.6-7). The inappropriateness of the wisdom of this world at the juncture of ages is evident in the action of the rulers of this age, crucifying “the Lord of glory” (I Cor. 2.8) and also in God choosing “what is weak in the world…what is low and despised in the world, things that are not” (I Cor. 1.27-28). Paul, thus, asserts that God has turned the value system of this world or this age on its head, i.e. God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world” (I Cor. 1.20), because wisdom and power have been redefined by the cross of Christ (I Cor. 1. 23-24). F.F. Bruce rightly comments that “nothing could be more subversive of these canons in the first century Greco-Roman world than the proclamation of a crucified man …as Lord (of glory).”[28]

Paul draws the attention of the Corinthian believers to the mode of his apostolic existence. He reminds them of his own “weakness”, “fear”, “trembling” and lack of eloquence, which signified an inferior status in the Greco-Roman society: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” and “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2.2-4).[29] Paul identifies astheneia as a mark of his apostolic mode of being (I Cor. 2.3; 4.10; II Cor. 10.10; 11.30; 12.5, 9-10). In II Corinthians he lists in a unique series the “weaknesses” that characterize his apostolic existence (II Cor. 4.8ff; 6.4ff; 11.23ff; 12.10). Paul presents his hardships in his apostolic task in I Cor. 4.8-13 to remind the Corinthians of his “ways in Christ Jesus”, in comparison to the privileged social position of those whose conduct is characterized as arrogant and boastful: “you have all you want; already you have become rich…you have become kings” (I Cor. 4.8). He contends that the apostles have “become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals” (I Cor.4.9). From the world’s point of view they are “the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things” and Paul emphasizes that this position of theirs continues “to this very day” (I Cor. 4.13). In this way the mode of his apostolic existence is very much rooted in the cross of Christ,[30] for in II Cor. 13.4, Paul characterizes the crucified Christ as astheneia: “he was crucified out of weakness, but he lives by the power of God.”

Paul strongly argues that his “weakness” is not an evidence of his powerlessness nor does it discredit his apostolic ministry. Rather paradoxically, God’s power is manifested in his weakness (II Cor. 12.9-10; I Cor. 2.3-5). Furnish maintains that the series of antitheses in Paul’s list of hardships is to show that the weakness actually discloses the power of God (II Cor. 4.8-9; 6.4-10).[31] Paul boasts in his “weakness” because of this paradox of power in weakness, rather than in the heavenly visions and revelations, which he could claim (II Cor 12:1-10). He further says that his apostolic credentials are evidenced not through the “signs and wonders and mighty works” (II Cor 12:12), which he could claim if he wanted to, but through the hardships which he has endured for the sake of the gospel (II Cor 11:23-33). The paradox of power in weakness stands in contrast to his opponents’ understanding of God’s power, that is, God’s power makes the individual powerful in some noticeable sense. For them power and weakness are incompatible. For Paul, weakness and power are not mutually exclusive, but are coterminous. Paul, thus, consciously subverts the conventional socio-cultural standards by depicting the character of his apostleship and his style of preaching in conformity with the “wisdom” and the “power” of God manifested in the cross of Christ.[32]

Not only is God’s power manifested in his “weakness”, Paul maintains, but his “weakness” in his apostolic ministry has an intended purpose of community building (II Cor. 10.8; 12.19; 13.10). It is observed that in II Corinthians in all the lists of “weakness” or sufferings that Paul experienced, except in II Cor. 12.10, the notion of diakonia is included (II Cor. 4.8-10; 6.4-10; 11.23-33). Paul is rejoicing not in weakness per se but because of its constitutive purpose of serving Christ and the community. That means “weakness” refers to a mode of human existence, marked by willingness to endure suffering and hardship in giving oneself in service to others.[33] Paul says this in contrast to the ‘leaders’ who made the members of the Corinthian church as their slaves and exploited them for their own self-serving goals (II Cor. 1.24; 11.20). He is arguing that even though his weakness reflects social inferiority as per the prevailing social value system, it serves the purpose of community building (II Cor. 10.8;12.19; 13.10).[34] Thus, it identifies him with the cross of Christ, which symbolizes the existence for others (II Cor. 5.14-15).

Paul further characterizes his ministry as “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” and “always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake” (II Cor. 4.10, 11). The purpose clause in these verses, hina, denotes the purpose: “the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” and “the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh”. Thus, the paradox of life in death is articulated in II Cor. 4.10,11. Paul exhorts the Corinthians, who could not reconcile his sufferings and his apostolic ministry of the “extraordinary power of God”, that the paradox of life in death is inextricably connected to his vocation at the turn of ages. Paul, in II Cor. 4.12, summarizes the benefit of his ministry of sufferings to those he ministered: “death is at work in us, but life in you”.

Thus, Paul acknowledges that the paradox of power in weakness and of life in death is fundamentally associated with his apostolic ministry. This paradox is very much evident in the cross of Christ. Therefore, the cross of Christ is intrinsically associated with the concrete existence of the apostle Paul at the juncture of ages.


Paul’s perception of his apostleship is kata stauros, not kata sarka as maintained by the members and Paul’s opponents in the Corinthian church. In contrast to the personality-centered, status-oriented, self-promoting and self-preserving leadership model of the Greco-Roman world, which the members and his opponents in the church are following, Paul characterizes his apostolic ministry as the paradox of power in weakness and of life in death. He acknowledges that the reality of suffering or “weakness” is intrinsic to his vocation, which “is the call to engage in the eschatological struggle at the juncture of ages.” He exhorts that it is in his “weakness” that God’s life-giving power is manifested. He exults in his “weakness” because of its constructive purpose of community building.  


[1] J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 92.

[2] Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians: Translated with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984), p. 308.

[3] Raymond Pickett, The Cross in Corinth: The Social Significance of the Death of Jesus, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), p. 127.

[4] V. Furnish, II Corinthians, p. 42.

[5] Pickett, The Cross, p.145.

[6] Kata sarka occurs nineteen times in the undisputed letters of Paul. Excluding the two occurrences in II Cor. 5.16, of the seventeen, it is used thirteen times adverbially, while four times as adjectivally.  

[7] Furnish, II Corinthians, p. 313.

[8] Martyn, Theological Issues, pp. 92-93.

[9] Martyn, Theological Issues, p. 94.

[10] Martyn, Theological Issues, pp. 107-108.

[11] Martyn, Theological Issues, p. 108.

[12] Furnish, II Corinthians, p. 332.

[13] J.R. Levison, “Creation and New Creation,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds. (Leicester: IVP, 1993), p. 190.

[14] J. Louis Martyn, “Focus: Theological Education or Theological Vocation?” in USQR, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3&4 (1974), p. 219.

[15] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1987), p.122.

[16] Andrew D. Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study of I Corinthians 1-6, (Leiden: EJ Brill, 1993), p. 92.


[17] Richard A. Horsley, I Corinthians, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), pp. 30-31.

[18] Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership, p. 96.

[19] Pickett, The Cross, p. 65.

[20] Pickett, The Cross, p. 76.

[21] Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership, p. 113.

[22] Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership, p. 96.

[23] D.F. Epstein, Personal Enmity in Roman Politics, (London: 1987), p.28.

[24] Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), p. 83.

[25] Hengel, Crucifixion, p.5.

[26] A. Katherine Grieb, ““The One Who Called You….”: Vocation and Leadership in the Pauline Literature,” in Interpretation, Vol. 59, Is. 2 (April 2005), p. 159.

[27] Martyn, “Focus: Theological Education or Theological Vocation?” p. 220.

[28] F.F. Bruce, I & II Corinthians, (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971), p. 36.

[29] By saying this “Paul is not simply subordinating the means of communication to the efficacy of the gospel. Nor is he merely using the typical rhetorical device of an orator deprecating his own ability in eloquence. …In Paul’s day, eloquent speech…was also associated with other marks of high social standing (such as those Paul mentions in I Cor.1.26-28).” Charles H. Cosgrove, The Cross and the Spirit: A  Study in the Argument and Theology of Galatians, (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1988), p. 46.

[30] Cosgrove, The Cross and the Spirit, p. 78.

[31] V. Furnish, II Corinthians, p. 280.

[32] E.A. Judge, “Cultural Conformity and Innovation in Paul: Some Clues from Contemporary Documents,” in Tyndale Bulletin 35, (1984), p. 14.

[33]Thomas Stegmann, The Chracter of Jesus: The Linchpin to Paul’s Argument in 2 Corinthians, (Roma: E.P.I.B, 2005), p. 207.

[34] Pickett, The Cross, p. 194.


A Dalit Reading of the Parable of the Great Dinner (Luke 14.15-24)

November 3, 2009

The miseries of the marginalized Dalits and their struggle to become a people from being reduced to and kept as a non-people by the dehumanizing caste system in Indian society and church have provoked the upsurge of Dalit hermeneutics.

The term Dalit is derived from the Sanskrit root dal which means ‘to crack open’, ‘to split’ etc. and when used as an adjective or noun it means ‘burst’, ‘split’, ‘broken’, ‘torn asunder’, ‘downtrodden’, ‘scattered’, ‘crushed’, ‘destroyed’ and so on.[1] This definition is supported by the reality of Dalits vividly depicted in the Human Rights Watch Report:

More than one-sixth of India’s population, some 160 million people, live a precarious existence, shunned by much of society because of their rank as untouchables or Dalits – literally meaning “broken” people – at the bottom of India’s caste system. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of the police and of higher caste groups that enjoy the state’s protection. In what has been called “hidden apartheid” entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste.[2]

The above highlights several issues related to the state of Dalits: caste, untouchability, social ostracism, dehumanizing poverty, cultural and religious oppression, power dynamics, and so on. Since their condition is due to several unjust systems and structures legitimized by religion, Dalits seek for their liberative and praxis oriented resources available in the Bible.

The present study makes an attempt to re-read the Bible in the light of Dalit hermeneutical focus. The ‘table fellowship’ in Luke, particularly the “Parable of the great dinner” in Luke 14.15-24, which was interpreted from several other perspectives, is used as a fertile ground for the quest for Dalit liberative praxis, for the focus of Jesus’ ministry in Luke is on the religious outcast.


For any critical and constructive engagement of Dalit liberation with the biblical resources we need to take note of the following important methodological observations that will enhance the process of our interpretation.

1. The issue of common ground between Biblical world and Dalit world is of paramount importance for any heuristic exploration of either of these areas and to see their integral interconnection.[3] The struggles of Dalits can easily find certain natural affinity towards the struggles and experiences of the marginalized communities of the Bible written down as the faith expressions in their various traditions.[4] In other words, there are certain points of convergence in the matrices of both the Biblical and the Dalit worlds. The Biblical matrix of preferential option towards the alienated and marginalized and the Dalit matrix of their struggle for egalitarianism are placed on the same plane.

2. The liberative hermeneutics is the common ground and concern in our quest to see inter-relatedness between Biblical and Dalit worlds.[5] The important objective in the liberative praxis for Dalits is their liberation from the socio-economic and cultural oppression legitimized by religion. The Dalit liberative praxis-oriented hermeneutics is geared towards the liberation of Dalits from the psychological, cultural and socio-economic oppression and to empower them in their struggle for freedom.[6] The biblical texts with liberation potential are already processed and reprocessed accounts addressed in their original settings and they continue to negotiate and renegotiate in our context to make the liberation potential possible.[7] It is this understanding that should permeate the context of the oppressed communities of Dalits in India as they seek for liberation from their socio-economic and cultural milieu.

By using the hermeneutics of “suspicion” and “retrieval” Dalit hermeneutics seeks to concentrate on the integral liberation of Dalits themselves.[8] Some of the key interpretative questions raised are: has the reign of God dawned to change the existing situation in the society? What about the advocacy of Jesus which shows bias towards the marginalized? These questions are well within the operation of hermeneutics of suspicion employed by the Dalit Christian readers of the Bible when they are brought into a direct encounter with the latter. The hermeneutics of retrieval helps the Dalit interpreter to approach the biblical text with hope and aspiration. What is to be retrieved in this process is God’s bias towards “the victims of human history right from the beginning till the end. Heaven and earth will certainly become a new heaven and a new earth.”[9] Thus both the hermeneutics of suspicion and retrieval are equally helpful for the Dalit hermeneutical task when it engages in dialogue with the biblical text.

Table Fellowship in Jewish Society

The synoptic Gospels contain many references to Jesus dining with the outcast. They are found in triple tradition (Mk.2.16-17=Mt.9.9-13=Lk.5.27-32), in Q (Mt.11.16-19=Lk. 7.31-35), in Luke’s special material (15.1f) and Matthew’s special material (21.31f). This suggests that Jesus’ table fellowship with the outcast was not only a well known, historically certain feature of his ministry, but also a highly significant feature as well. Luke gives a great importance to the table fellowship of Jesus with the outcast (5.27-32, 7.33-34, 15.1-2) and meals as a setting for Jesus’ teaching (5.31-39, 7.36-50, 10.38-42, 11.37-54, 14.1-24, 22.14-38, 24.20-49). The themes, “together with” and “separation from”, run through these passages. In Luke the table fellowship matrix is characterized by Jesus’ concern for and identity with the outcast (5.29-37, 7.36-50, 14.1-24, 19.1-10) and the contention or conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders because of the outcast (5.30-32, 7.38-49, 14.1-6). Jesus is accused by the Pharisees and the scribes: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15.2 cf.5.30, 7.34) and was called “a glutton and a drunkard,” a proverbial usage for an apostate (Lk. 7.34 cf. Dt. 21.18-21).[10] Thus Jesus’ ‘deviant behavior’ aroused immense criticism from the Jewish religious leaders.

In Jewish society sharing of a meal was a sign of intimacy, communion and fellowship (Ps. 100.5 (LXX); Prov.23.1ff; Lk.14.15; III Mac. 3.4; Jub. 22.16; Tob. 1.11; Jos. Asen. 7.1; Sir. 31.12-32; T. Levi 14.5-6; b. Sanh. 23; b. Ber. 43).[11] “Sharing a table meant sharing life.”[12] Table fellowship was a religious affirmation of belonging and was a fellowship before God, for the eating of a piece of broken bread by everyone who shares in a meal brings out the fact that they all have a share in the blessing which the master of the house had spoken over the unbroken bread.[13]  At the same time, in the social world of Jesus, a meal had become, at least for some groups of Jews like Essenes of Qumran and Pharisees[14], “a microcosm of Israel’s intended historic structure as well as a model of Israel’s destiny.”[15] The fully liberated Israel, the end time community, is pictured as a community of people enjoying table fellowship with God, by partaking in the eschatological banquet prepared by God for them (Is. 25.6; Mt. 8.11-12; Lk.22.30). Essenes paid a great attention to the arrangement of their meals, modeling them on what they believed would be the form of the messianic banquet (IQS 6.2-5).[16] The Pharisaic institution of the haburah was “a strict association for observance of ritual purity and tithing.”[17] One of the primary concerns of this was the extension of priestly holiness to all of life and thus the desire to take all food in a state of ritual purity (m. Dem. 2.2-3).[18] This has governed one’s participation in this association and dominated the Pharisaic way of life.[19] Thus they constructed a barrier between themselves and the outsider “who was by definition a source of ritual defilement.”[20] People, places and things were defined as holy or unholy according to their relation to the temple, the purity of their bloodlines, their bodily wholeness and the nature of one’s occupation (t. Meg. 2.7). A Pharisee would become unclean by coming in contact with the clothes of an outcast (m. Hag. 1.8, 2.6-7). So an elaborate system of purity/pollution structured Jewish society at the time of Jesus[21] (analogous to the caste system in India which is also a system of purity/ pollution).

A Dalit Interpretation of the Parable of the Great Dinner Luke 14.15-24[22]


Luke 14.1-24 is a unit with the common theme of ‘meals’ (vv.1,8,12,15,16,24).[23] The setting of this is a meal at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees in which Luke weaves together three passages (14.1-6,14.7-14,14.15-24) in order to bring forth Jesus’ concern for the outcast.[24]

14.1-6: Jesus heals a man with dropsy on the Sabbath. He defends healing on the Sabbath by pointing to human need over against the Sabbath halakah. The silence of the Pharisees indicates not only their perplexity[25] but also their insensitivity towards the needy (cf. 13.14-17), which further shows that they confine the sick to a continued state of misery. By healing on Sabbath, Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (cf. 6.5), breaks the barrier set around the Sabbath observance and redefines it as a day of not taking rest but giving rest to those ‘in pain’ by liberating them from their state of wretchedness.

14.7-14: In contrast to their insensitivity to the ‘position’ of the sick (and the outcast in general), the guests, most probably the rich Pharisees (cf. 14.1,12), are concerned about their position of honor. By limiting the invitation to ‘friends’, ‘brothers’, ‘relatives’ and ‘rich neighbors’,  these prominent members of the society want to preserve their privileged positions and social relations among themselves, keeping “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” in their depressed conditions and outside the social relations (cf. 14.26, 33, 15.1-2).[26]   

Thus, by their concern to maintain the purity of the community through the observance of Sabbath regulation and limiting the social relations among themselves, the Pharisees protected their privileged positions and power by denying the marginalized any access for liberation. An important function of purity norms is to draw lines between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Jesus’ protest against their ‘purity laws’ is a protest against the unjust structure of the society upheld by these laws.[27] He advocates for the transformation of ‘purity’ from ritual concept to a concept of societal solidarity, which means a break with the present structure and its boundaries.[28] Thus, he advocates for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”, the victims of the unjust structure of the society sanctioned by religion.

Social Segregation of “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame”

The term ‘poor’, understood by some only in economic terms, should be understood in the larger backdrop as Jesus in the Third Gospel is fundamentally concerned with those who are considered to be “outcasts” or “marginalized”, a social state imposed on them, which was sanctioned by religion (4.18, 5.30-32, 6.20,7.22, 14.13, 21, 16.20).[29] It is a term “related to issues of power…privilege and social location…”[30] 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 (7.22 cf. 5.12-16; 17.11-19). This is evident by the phrases  “plateias kai rumas” (14.21), which refer to narrow streets and lanes where one would find beggars of the town[31] and “hodous kai phragmous”, which refer to the area immediately outside the wall of the city inhabited by the those involved in menial occupations and prostitutes (14.23).[32] They are forbidden from having social relations with those “at the center of the society” (M. Hag. 2.6 cf. t. Meg. 2.7; I QSa 2. 5-7 cf. I QM 7. 4-6).[33] 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 the narrative sections focus on Jesus’ conflict with the community leaders, particularly Pharisees, over the boundaries and purity of the community (5.30-32, 7.36-47). It shows that it is a common knowledge to follow the above regulations (cf. 5.30, 6.2; 7.39; 15.2; 19.7) and leaders have invoked commitment to this common knowledge. That is why the outcast have to be “compelled” (anankason14.23) to partake in the dinner, for they have immediately understood that the invitation is “an inexplicable breach of the system.”[34] 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.

The stratification of Indian social system is based on caste.  Though the explanation for the origin of caste system is varied, it takes its sanction from religion i.e. Hinduism.  The classification of the castes as high, low and outcastes not only has led to hierarchialisation, but also to the marginalization and exclusion of some.  The Dalits in the Indian society fall in the latter group.  They are the ‘Untouchables’.[35] The concept of purity and pollution is one of the causes for untouchability: “The idea of purity, whether ceremonial or occupational, which is found in the genesis of caste is the very soul of the idea and practice of untouchability.”[36] Some of the practices of untouchability in the past (and still prevalent in some parts of India) were: the untouchables were not allowed to go through the caste village during day because their sight was polluting or were allowed only at noon because their shadow may not pollute anything or anybody and were denied entry into temples. A high caste person would not eat with them: “It would be contamination to eat with any member of this class; to touch food prepared by them or even to drink water which they have drawn….”[37]Accepting food from an untouchable was considered equal to that of having communion, which was punishable with excommunication from caste.[38] Thus, Dalits were relegated to a permanent state of social degradation. Even today, untouchability exists at the festivals, religious ceremonies, temples and work place, especially in rural areas.[39]  They are made to feel that they are by nature destitute, to be weak, meek and therefore servile.  It is this enforced feeling of being untouchables– low, weak– that constitutes the crux of social oppression.[40]

The village structure plays a major role in the social relations of the people. “The physical structure of the village is, in some measure a reflection of its social structure.  The distribution of population is not haphazard or random, but evinces a more or less conscious plan.  This plan brings out in a graphic manner some of the basic unities and cleavages in the social structure of the village”.[41]  Even today Dalits live in one corner or far from the main village. Also the housing undertaken by the Government for them would be in a place far from the main village, where there would be no health care, no safe drinking water, no communication and so on. 

Economic Deprivation

The parable clearly portrays the economic disparity between “those at the center of the society” and “those at the periphery or outside of the society”.[42] Luke’s statements about the Pharisees (or the rich) and the poor are integral part of a larger pattern of socio-religious, and economic relations that make up the society that he describes. The vast economic inequality is vividly expressed by Luke (6.20-21,24-25, 16.19-25, 18.18-25, 21.1-4). In the Parable, on the one side of the economic spectrum are “the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind and others” (14.21,23) and on the other side are the landowners and the powerful (14.18-20).[43] The latter are at the center of the ‘city’, the center of trade, wealth and power and prevented the outcast from coming to the ‘center’ through sanctions legitimized by religion, thus denying their rights to use the resources. Here Jesus is addressing the rich elite Pharisees (14.1, 7, 12 cf. 16.1-9, 14, 19-31).[44] They are not only concerned with purity and social status but are money lovers (16.14). They are accused of being “full of greed and wickedness” (Lk. 11. 39 cf. Mt.23.25) and of robbing the weak and vulnerable (Lk. 20.47 cf. Is. 3.14-15; Amos. 4.1, 8.4; Sirach.13.3). They used purity laws to perpetuate an oppressive system (11.37-42 cf. 20.47).[45] In the light of this, ‘to distribute the money to the poor’ (Lk.18.22) means redistribution of wealth and establishment of positive relationship with those, whom they have exploited (cf. Prov. 14.31; 19.17).[46] The attitude of the rich, preservation of one’s wealth to oneself and non-sharing indicate social distance from the poor (16.19-31 cf. 12.15-19, 18.21-25). Therefore, the outcast are outside the system of social exchange.

The social location and denial of social exchange have left the Dalits to endemic dehumanizing poverty. Their unskilled, unproductive, lower and menial jobs have fetched them not enough even to sustain them. The situation is expressed clearly by a Dalit:

“We recognize the crucial character of our time and realize that what is at stake is the very life of our people, even the physical life of the masses, not to speak of the quality of their life or their participation in culture or space for their creativity…Among the most shocking features of our community is the poverty of the masses often amounting to destitution and misery, side by side with enormous wealth and luxurious affluence enjoyed by a few who form a thin layer at the summit of our social hierarchy.”[47]

The Hope of the Outcast

The outcast play a significant role in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God (4.18,7.22,14.13,21,19.8). The pivotal verse of 14.1-24 “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” (14.15) shifts the focus away from the guests who refuse the invitation (“they all alike began to make excuses” 14.18) to those who actually attend the dinner,[48] and connects the parable to a series of beatitudes that have eschatological thrust and concern for the outcast (6.20-21): theirs is the kingdom of God (6.20) and they will be filled in the eschatological age at the time of messianic banquet, the very point the parable of the great dinner is making (cf. Ps. 107.3-9; Is.25.6-8, 49.10-13).[49] The reversal pattern of “from hunger to satisfaction” describes how God will reverse the situation and satisfy the hungry in the new age (6. 21-25; 16.19-26).[50] This indicates the link between food and God’s kingly rule. This reign of God has already irrupted in Jesus and embraces those marginalized by the religious leaders (4.16-30, 7.18-22). These are the ones who are not only receptive to the call of Jesus but also exemplary in their total commitment to God (5. 27-28, 19.6-8, 21.3-4).[51] Jesus’ table fellowship with them is itself an expression of the new age.[52] Thus it expresses an eschatological tension of the present and the future realities of the kingdom of God.[53] In Jesus, God demonstrates his fidelity to the hungry by feeding them (1.53, 6.21).[54] By having his table fellowship with the poor and the marginalized “Jesus is saying in dramatic form that God shares life together with them.”[55] That means his eating and drinking with the poor and the marginalized is an “acted parable” of God’s kingly justice.[56]

The solidarity of Jesus with the outcast expresses God’s end time intervention to restructure the world.[57] God’s kingly justice (i.e. kingdom of God) in Jesus reverses the fortunes of the outcast through his intervention to create justice in the society (1.51-53; 6.20-26; 16.19-26). Jesus’ proclamation of good news to the poor parallels bringing the marginalized from the periphery to the center and exclusion of those who have followed a system of injustice and inequality (14.21-24 cf. 4.18-19, 7.21-22).


The point of the parable is a reversal of the world as it is presently known and legitimized. Both in the society of Palestine and in today’s society, the structures of domination and exploitation by the ‘powerful’ are in place, but Jesus offers liberation for the ‘victims’ of these dehumanizing structures. Jesus denied the equation of holiness with exclusivism[58] as practiced by the religio-cultural elite of the Palestine society. Rather he contravened the practice of purity-pollution system prevalent among the powerful Jews and defied their mode of preserving power.[59] Jesus, through his solidarity with the outcast, has established a new order of radicalized purity.[60]

Thus he asserted the people of the periphery against the domination of the “centralized powers”. The biblical response to the reality of “the victimized periphery versus powerful center” can be concisely articulated through the conviction declared by a woman forced to the periphery: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (Lk. 1.52).



[1] Sir Monier Williams. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1976); Eleasor Zelliot, From Untouchables to Dalit: Essays on Ambedkar Movement (New Delhi: Manohar. 1992), pp. 267-271.  James Massey, Towards Dalit Hermeneutics: Re-reading the Text, the History and the Literature (New Delhi: ISPCK, 1994), pp. 1-6.

[2] Human Broken People: Caste Violence against India’s “Untouchables”, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), pp. 1-2.  

[3] K. Jesuratnam, “Towards a Dalit Liberative Hermeneutics: Re-reading The Psalms of Lament,” in             Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol. 34, no. 1, (June 2002), p. 3.

[4] Gnanavaram, “‘Dalit Theology,’ and the Parable of the Good Samaritan,” in JSNT 50 (1993), p. 62.


[5] Jesuratnam, “Towards a Dalit Liberative Hermeneutics,” p. 3.

[6] Gnanavaram, “‘Dalit Theology,’” pp. 62-65.

[7] Jesuratnam, “Towards a Dalit Liberative Hermeneutics,” pp. 3-4.

[8] Jesuratnam, “Towards a Dalit Liberative Hermeneutics,” p. 5.

[9] Maria Arul Raja, “Reading Bible From a Dalit Location: Some Points for Interpretation”, Voices From the Third World, XXIII: I, (2000), p. 81.

[10] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), p. 302. Fitzmyer is of the opinion that this phrase does not echo Dt. 21.20 in the Septuagint, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV): Introduction, Translation and Notes, Vol.2,(New York : Doubleday & Company, inc., 1985), p. 1052.

[11] Neale, None but the Sinners, p.126.

[12] Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus, Vol. I, (London: SCM, 1971), p. 115.

[13] Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus, (New York: SCM, 1971), pp.115-116.

[14] The meaning and origin of the name is obscure. The root is most likely perushim meaning ‘separated’. A.I. Baumgarten, “The Name of the Pharisees,” in JBL 102 (1983), pp. 411-28; H.F. Weiss, “pharisaios,” in TDNT, vol. IX, pp. 12-16.

[15] Marcus J. Borg, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus, (New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1984), p. 80.

[16] Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987), 56-58, 51-52 (?)

[17] David A. Neale, None but the Sinners: Religious Categories in the Gospel of Luke, Journal of the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 58, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), p.24.

Neusner supposes that by 70 C.E. or even earlier, the Pharisees had become “primarily a society for table fellowship.” Jacob Neusner, “Three Pictures of the Pharisees: A Reprise,” in Formative Judaism: Religious, Historical and Literary Studies, Fifth Series, (Chico: Scholars Press, 1985), p. 76.

[18] Neale, None but the Sinners, p.25; J. Neusner, “The Formation of Rabbinic Judaism: Yavneh from A.D.70 to 100,” in ANRW, II.19.2, p.23; M. Borg, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus, (New York: The Edwin Mellon Press, 1984), pp. 80-81.

[19] Neale, None but the Sinners, p.25.

[20] J. Neusner, “The Fellowship in the Second Jewish Commonwealth,” in HTR 53 (1960), 125.

‘am ha –aretz is excluded for zimmun (b. Ber. 47b cf. m. Ber.7.1).

[21] Pharisees were influential at the time of Hasmonians and continued to play an important role in Sanhedrin, an important organ of constitution next to the chief priesthood, even in first century C.E. (JW 1. 67, 1.571; Ant. 13.288, 14.171-176, 17. 41-49 cf. Philip. 3.5; Acts. 5.34; m. Menah 10.3; b. Sukk. 43b; t. Sukk. 3.1). Some of the scholars contend this, by saying that it is an embellished portrait to serve as propaganda for the Romans. But how could Josephus create their status ex nihilo. For the discussion see: Martin Hengel and Roland Deines, “E.P. Sanders’ ‘Common Judaism’, Jesus, and the Pharisees: A Review Article,” in JTS, vol. 46, (April 1995), pp. 1-70; Robert L. Braeley, Luke-Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology, and Conciliation, (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1987), pp. 84-106; David A. Neale, None but the Sinners: Religious Categories in the Gospel of Luke, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 58, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), pp. 18-39.

Some think that ‘strict exclusivism’ (as in the case of Pharisees) and ‘being influential’ are antithetical. For me this seems to be a wrong presupposition if I consider Indian context where Brahmins, the exclusivists, were very influential not only in the society but also at the government level (even today!).  

[22] Three versions exist: Matthew 22.1-13, Luke. 14.15-24, Gospel of Thomas 64.1-2. There is much discussion among scholars on the origin and form of this parable. David Buttrick, Speaking Parables: A Homiletic Guide, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), pp. 156-157.

[23] Rudolf Bultmann, History of Synoptic Tradition, trans. John Marsh, (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 326; John Dominic Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 69.

[24] Arthur A. Just , The ongoing Feast: Table Fellowship and Eschatology at Emmaus, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993), p.171.

[25] Brawley, Luke-Acts, p.102.

[26] The mention of reciprocity indicates social situation in which relations may be disrupted by the inability to reciprocate. Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the kingdom: Social conflict and economic relations in  Luke’s Gospel, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), p. 131.

[27] Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the kingdom: Social conflict and economic relations in Luke’s Gospel, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988, p.121.

[28] Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the kingdom: Social conflict and economic relations in Luke’s Gospel, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988, p.121.

[29] Joel B. Green, “Good News to Whom? Jesus and the “Poor” in the Gospel of Luke,” in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology, eds. Joel B. Green and Max Turner, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), p.61.

[30] Green, “Good News to Whom?” p. 68.

[31] I Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, p. 590. These are not the aspiring poor, as anachronistic capitalist readings understand.

[32] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke,(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), p. 561; Richard L. Rohrbaugh, “The Pre-Industrial City in Luke-Acts: Urban Social Relations,” p. 135.

[33] The sons of Aaron, who have blemish in their body, are forbidden to offer the bread of God (Lev. 21.17-23; II Sam.5.8 (Lxx). According to Qumran literature, the following persons are forbidden from the messianic banquet: afflicted in flesh, crushed in feet or hands, lame, blind, deaf, dumb, defective eye sight, senility (I QSa 2. 5-7 cf. I QM 7. 4-6). Robert J. Karris, Luke: Artist and Theologian: Luke’s Passion Account as Literature, (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 62.

[34] Richard L. Rohrbaugh, “The Pre-Industrial City in Luke-Acts: Urban Social Relations,” p. 145.

[35] James Massey, Roots: A Concise History of the  Dalits, (New Delhi : ISPCK, 1991), p.10.

[36] G.S. Ghurye, Caste and Race in India,(Bombay :Popular Prakashan, 1969), p.307.

[37] Abbe J.A. Dubois, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, Henry K. Denchams, (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1906), p.51.

[38] M.N Srinivas, “Caste system in India”,in Social Inequality, ed. Andre Beteille, (Middlesex : Penguine Books, 1978), p. 269.

[39] Manchala Deenabandhu, Dalit Theology as an ally of Dalit Liberation, (Unpublished Paper), p.3.

[40] K. Willson, Political Philosophy of the oppressed Indians,(Hyderabad : Booklinks Corporation, 1983), p.4.

[41] Andre Beteille, Caste, Class and Power: Changing patterns of stratification in Tanjore Village, (California: University of California Press, 1965)p.19.

[42] Luke tends to place the outcasts on the one side and the Pharisees on the other (cf.3.10-14; 16.14-16). Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the Kingdom: Social Conflict and Economic Relations in Luke’s Gospel, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), p. 20.

[43] The first one most probably is an ‘absentee landlord’ who bought a field outside the town (cf. Lk. 20.9-16 cf. Mk.12.1-12; Mt.21.33-46). The second excuse also point to a landlord, who probably possessed about 100 acres of land. Luise Schottroff, Wolfgang Stegemann, Jesus and the Hope of the Poor, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1986), p. 101.

[44] “The Pharisaic-Scribal ‘establishment’ in Jerusalem …was often quite well-off, or recruited a good many of its members from the middle class of merchants and craftsmen.”  Hengel, “E.P. Sanders’ ‘Common Judaism’, Jesus, and the Pharisees,” p. 65.

[45] Moxnes, The Economy of the Kingdom, p. 112.

[46] Moxnes, The Economy of the Kingdom, p. 120.

[47] M. C. Duraising, “Reflection on Theological Hermeneutics in the Indian Context,” in Indian Journal of Theology 31.3-4 (1982), p. 267. 

[48] John R. Donahue, The Gospel in Parable, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), p. 141.

[49] Arthur A. Just Jr. The Ongoing Feast: Table Fellowship and Eschatology at Emmaus, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993), p.175.

[50] Moxnes, p. 86.

[51] One interesting thing we find is nowhere do we find the ‘poor’ criticizing the ‘rich’ whereas it is the ‘rich’ who look down upon the ‘poor’ from their position of self-righteousness, power and honor. It is Jesus who defends the poor against the onslaught of the ‘rich’.

[52] Jesus’ table ‘fellowship’ with the outcast is distinguished from that with the Pharisees.  7.36-50 demonstrates that Pharisees refuse table fellowship with the outcast. Robert L. Brawley, Luke-Acts, p. 101.

[53] Arthur A. Just Jr. The Ongoing Feast: Table Fellowship and Eschatology at Emmaus, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993), p.174. 

[54] Karris, Luke: Artist and Theologian, p. 47.

[55] Karris, Luke: The Artist and Theologian, p. 58.

[56] Karris, Luke: The Artist and Theologian, p.58.

[57] S. Roth, The Blind, the Lame, and the Poor: Character Types in Luke-Acts, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), p. 181. 

[58] Buddha said:    not by birth does one become an outcaste

                                not by birth does one become a Brahmana

                                by deeds one becomes an outcaste

                                by deeds one becomes a Brahmana.

Quoted by A.M.A. Ayrookuzhiel, “Dalits Move towards the Ideology of Nationality,” in The Dalit Desiyata, ed. A.M.A. Ayrookuzhiel, (Delhi: ISPCK, 1990), p. 104.

[59] M. Maria Arul Raja, “Assertion of the Periphery: Some Biblical Paradigms,” in Jeevadhara, Vol. XXVII no. 157 (1997), p. 33.

[60] W. Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), p. 110.


November 3, 2009

The perceived importance of the story of Jesus’ act in the temple is evident as it appears in all the four Gospels (Mt. 21.12-17; Mk. 11.15-18; Lk. 19.45-48; Jn. 2.13-22). Markan version is the longest among the four. Only Mark makes clear that God’s house shall be called a house of prayer for “all the nations” (Mk. 11.17). The episode in Mark 11.15-18 is generally called “Jesus cleansing the temple”.[1] However, this description of Jesus’ act in the temple is too weak an appraisal. Jesus’ act is symbolic of a more serious pronouncement. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ action in the temple reinforces the purpose of the larger narrative that the time of fulfillment has come and God’s kingdom has dawned. The final public act of Jesus in the temple forms the climax of the conflict between Jesus, messenger of the kingdom of God, and the guardians of the Jewish temple-related religion.

Jesus is critical of the dominant system that has deviously deprived certain groups of people of human dignity and value. There is large-scale dehumanization of a massive group of individuals. They are cast out to live lives of unworthiness. Jesus’ ministry of word and deed should be understood in this context. Jesus is not a reformer of Jewish temple-related religion. He did not spend his precious lifetime to indulge in sanitization of an established religion that proposes and practices discrimination. His refusal to accept the dehumanizing treatment integral to the dominant system or social order proves his dissociation from the dehumanizing system.

I. Jesus’ Act in the Temple

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

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

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

Mark uses ho kairos in 1.15, 11.13 and 13.33 (and tō kairō in 10.30 and 12.2). In 1.15 and 13.33 ho kairos refers to the eschatological age. This implies that ho kairos in Mark 11.13 also refers to the eschatological age. Therefore, the cursing of the fig tree demonstrates that the leafy fig tree symbolizing the temple cult does not belong to the eschatological age. Mark vividly portrays the conflict between the eschatological kingdom power active in and through Jesus, and the guardians of the temple-related religion that sustained a kingdom of enslavement. God’s liberative power active in and through Jesus has removed the veils placed by the dominant religion to block or blur human vision of God. So what people have been seeing is a distorted image of God. On the basis of this distorted image of God the guardians of the dominant religion have perpetuated their power through exploitation and marginalization of people.

The temple-related religion gives an illusion that it has “fruits”, whereas in reality it is barren. Here “fruits” refer to “serving the needs of people”. The guardians of the temple-related religion, by promoting this delusion, have benefited not only through the business that is taking place at the temple, but also in maintaining their power and authority on people. Jesus is exposing this delusion through the acted parable of the “cursing” of the fig tree and by bringing to a halt the business associated to the temple cult. The purchase of sacrificial animals and change of currency are necessary for the operation of the temple cult. The tables of the money-changers are needed for buying and selling of the sacrificial animals at the site and to exchange Roman coinage with its idolatrous images and inscriptions into an acceptable coinage, probably Tyrian coinage, which would be used for buying sacrificial animals and paying temple tax.[2] Jesus has chased away the buyers and sellers of the sacrificial animals and birds needed for sacrifice, and overturned the tables of the money changers. Jesus overturning the tables of merchants is often understood as Jesus’ desire to rid the temple of dishonest merchants, who are involved in unfair business practices. But the Gospel says nothing about this. Jesus’ radical action is directed at the abolition of the temple cult. As Herman Waetjen says, “This is not an act of reformation intended to eliminate business activities from the observance of the cult or to separate trade and commerce from the worship of God. Jesus is not “cleansing the temple”.”[3] Jesus is rejecting the temple cult: “He would not allow anyone to carry a vessel through the temple” (Mk. 11.16). He is, in effect, stopping the operation required for the functioning of the sacrificial system.

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

Therefore, Jesus’ temple act signifies his condemnation on the temple cult (cf. Mk. 15.1-2). At Jesus’ trial one of the charges brought against him is that he has said that he would destroy the temple (Mk. 14.58). The same charge is repeated by the mockers when Jesus is crucified (Mk. 15.29-30). However, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple that Jesus pronounced is not through violent means.[5] This is found in Jesus’ answer to Peter’s astonishment at the sight of withered fig tree: “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you” (Mk. 11.22-23). The destruction of the temple-related religion happens through the presence of the community of faith. 

By repudiating the temple cult, Jesus is rejecting in its entirety the religion represented by the Jerusalem temple. The rejection of the temple cult implies rejection of the oppressive, exploitative, dehumanizing and tyrannical system which it sustained, to the advantage of the ruling elite. This rejection of the temple-related religion has serious consequences on the power and authority of the temple aristocracy, especially the chief priests, the elders and the scribes, who are the custodians of the temple cult and representatives of the Sanhedrin. For them, temple-related religion has been a self-serving system. That is why they question the “authority” of Jesus for his temple act.   

II. Conflict between Jesus and the Guardians of the Temple-Related Religion

What we find in the Jerusalem temple is the climactic intensification of a conflict begun in the earlier chapters of Mark’s Gospel between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders on perceived Jesus’ violation of the Torah. As Thomas Kazen says:

The two concepts of temple and Torah are interrelated. Although the Torah functioned without the temple after 70 CE, the two presuppose each other during the period of the Second Temple…The temple service was an important part of the Torah, and much of the Torah, especially purity rites, were geared towards the temple, although not exclusively. If Jesus was involved in quarrels concerning the temple system or temple service, it is likely that he was involved in some disagreements about the Torah as well.[6]

Conflict between Jesus and the guardians of the temple-related religion occurs in the context of God’s action in and through Jesus Christ in the lives of people, the dawning of the kingdom of God. The context and content of Jesus’ words and deeds is the kingdom of God. Jesus’ teaching and deeds signify the dawning of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom activity of Jesus is developed in the earlier chapters of Mark’s Gospel through his preaching, teaching, exorcism and healing. Exorcisms and healings are signs of God’s reign in and through Jesus Christ. Mark 1-10 stress powerful words and deeds of Jesus Christ among Jews and Gentiles. These chapters also highlight opposition from demonic and human powers to God’s action through Jesus’ ministry of word and deed. The conflict between Jesus and Satan is portrayed by the temptation narrative (Mk. 1.12-13). Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not give details of Satan’s temptation. This conflict is followed by Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God (Mk. 1.14-15). In the conflict stories in Mark 2.1-3.6 the controversy between Jesus, and the scribes, the Pharisees and the Herodians occurs in the context of God’s kingdom power active in and through Jesus Christ in the lives of people (cf. Mk. 14.62).[7] Both exorcisms and healings are the product of God’s power active in Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ ministry of exorcism expresses his conflict with spiritual powers that are resident in human beings to destroy them. The person possessed by the “Legion” is portrayed as violent (Mk. 5.1-3). However, his violence is demonic, as he is helpless and completely under the influence of an unclean spirit. Mark finds violence to be appropriate for characterizing evil spirits. The demonic violence is uncontrollable and no one is stronger to bind this violence (Mk. 5.4 cf. 3.27). It is destructive as publicly exhibited by the drowning of the herd of swine (Mk. 5.13). The power of Jesus is contrasted with that of the demonic. Jesus’ power is not an uncontrollable violence used for destruction. It is transformative as epitomized by the change effected in the possessed person: “Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion” (Mk. 5.15). Jesus’ power perceived as a greater power is not violent in its expression. People are liberated and empowered, not enslaved and destroyed. For people this is “a new teaching with authority”, not as that of the scribes (Mk. 1.22,27).

The dawning of the kingdom of God through the ministry of Jesus is characterized by service and inclusion. Jesus used his kingdom power and authority to serve the weak, vulnerable and marginalized. His message of the kingdom of God proclaimed through words and deeds signifies service and inclusion. In Mark Jesus is described as touching the hand of people in the context of healing: a leper (1.41), Peter’s mother-in-law (1.31), the dead Jairus’ daughter (5.41), a deaf man (7.33), the blind man (8.23), and the dumb and deaf boy (9.27). There are also several instances of people touching Jesus: the woman with hemorrhage (5.27-28) and the crowd seeking healing (3.10, 6.56). Among these healings by touch, several concern people who are generally considered unclean. Defilement constructs a barrier between the unclean person and the rest of the community. The transmission of defilement from the unclean person keeps him/her away from the community. The bone of contention between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities is the unregulated contact with the unclean. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus’ deliberate gesture of touch and contact with the impure is part of his ministry of inclusion and service.

Lepers are included in Jesus’ healing work and fellowship (Mk. 1.1.40-45, 14.3). Jesus heals a leper whose disease has made him marginalized and ostracized (1/40-45). Leper typifies an untouchable. He is treated as the worst form of impurity bearer. This is evident from the fact that leprosy is treated as death in the impurity system (cf. Num. 12.12).[8] Leper is to dwell outside the camp (Lev. 13.46). Exclusion of lepers in the Second Temple period is confirmed by the Qumran literature and Josephus (4QMMT B 64-72; Josephus Ant. 3.264; Ag. Ap. 1.281). The exclusion of leper is aimed at preventing the spread of impurity. Isolation of lepers is a general practice in Palestine during the first century CE. The predicament of those labeled as “unclean” under the temple-related religion is pretty stark. Leper, along with his physical suffering, is loaded with psychological suffering through social alienation. Religion labeled him/her an outcast. It did not do anything to this person to alleviate his/her suffering. The temple-related religion has made no provision for the healing of leprosy, but only for the return to cultic purity when the disease had been healed (Lev. 13-14). This purification can only be declared by a priest and is dependent on making an appropriate sacrifice. The priest is not involved in the healing of leper, but only in diagnosis before and after healing and performance of rituals as part of purification procedure of the healed person in order to allow him/her into the community.

The conventional view is expressed by the leper’s acknowledgment that he is unclean (Mk. 1.40). Jesus did not follow the existing religious tradition is evident when he went outside the exclusive community, where “unclean” or social outcast lived, and touched the leper (Mk. 1.41). He has used his kingdom power and authority to alleviate the pain and suffering of people. Jesus healing the leper is the first of several instances where Jesus violates the Jewish ritual boundaries. He refuses to recognize such boundaries that excluded certain groups of people. Gospel traditions do not give any hints about Jesus going through purification rituals after having come in contact with the impure. This shows Jesus’ rejection of the dominant cultural system. The behavior of Jesus would have been objectionable to the general public, and particularly to the guardians of the dehumanizing religion.

Jesus’ ministry of the kingdom of God characterized by service and inclusion is further evidenced by the stories of the bleeding woman and Jairus’ daughter. The story of the bleeding woman is intercalated into the story of healing Jairus’ daughter, so that the two stories become mutually illuminating. Both stories contain similar themes, motifs and terms, such as “death” in different forms (social and physical), “twelve years” and “daughter”.[9] The common motif is faith (Mk. 5.28, 34, 22-23, 36). The purpose of sandwiching of these stories is “to establish a sense of time lapse.”[10]

A woman with flow of blood touches Jesus. Unnatural flow of blood from a woman results in impurity. Her situation is parallel to that of a leper (cf. Lev. 13-14; 15). Leviticus 15.19 declares that anyone who touches a woman with a flow of blood from her body becomes impure (cf. Lev. 15.25-27). Therefore, impurity is “a bodily state and a contact-contagion.”[11] The legislation in Lev. 15 about discharges contains no hints about expulsion of the discharger. It only discusses about contamination. This suggests that the dischargers lived within the community, unlike lepers. However, Numbers 5.2-3 instructs: “Command the Israelites to put out of the camp everyone who is leprous, or has a discharge, and everyone who is unclean through contact with a corpse; you shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp; they must not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” Kazen comments:

What can be said with some certainty is that, in addition to the main legal tradition concerning discharges (Lev 15), there are clear traces of a stricter tradition within the Torah itself (Num 5). Such a practice of exclusion could be older than that of Lev 15, as attested by texts from neighbouring cultures.[12]

According to Josephus people with discharges were banished from the city by Moses (Ant. 3.261 cf. J.W. 5.227). Both lepers and dischargers were expelled from the city. This account of Josephus is in accord with that of Numbers 5.

Although “the exact mechanism of contamination in Mk 5.25-34 remain somewhat uncertain,” it is likely that dischargers are considered to transmit impurity by touch in the first century Palestine.[13] This is supported by the behavior of the woman approaching Jesus. She wanted to be hidden from public view. Her behavior indicates that her disease is associated with ritual uncleanness. Her sickness contributed to her social alienation. Jesus by calling her forward to the public attention has praised her faith. His statement in Mk. 5.34 is “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” Her healing is not just of the disease, but is a comprehensive one. Her faith on the kingdom power that is operative in and through Jesus Christ has not only cured her of her disease, but also saved (sesōken) her from the dominant system that not only is indifferent to her suffering but has also added more pain by labeling her “unclean” (Mk. 5.28-30). Jesus has rejected the dehumanizing dominant system. He promoted a system of loving one’s neighbor expressed in service and inclusion. Commenting on Jesus addressing the woman “Daughter” Wendy Cotter says:

The choice of ‘Daughter’ is a very sensitive one. Given the intimate nature of the woman’s ailment, it allows a tenderness of address and at the same time maintains the most non-erotic, protective character for Jesus’ relationship to her.[14]        

Jesus’ rejection of the dominant system is further confirmed by his touch of the body of a dead girl, the daughter of Jairus (Mk. 5.41). The Greek verb egairō in Mk. 5.41 refers to life after death (cf. Mk. 16.6). Jesus’ indifference to the existing laws of impurity is reinforced by Jesus entering the very place, where the dead body laid, and touching it in order to give life (Mk. 5.40). Again Jesus is demolishing the boundaries (because touch of a dead body makes one impure) created by the temple-related religion. The law regarding corpse-impurity is found in Numbers (5.1-4, 19.11-22, 31.19-24). A person acquires impurity by not only touching a corpse, but also being present within the same enclosure where the dead body is kept (Num. 19.14-15). Failure to purify from this impurity results in expulsion from the community (Num. 19.13,20).

Also in the story of Gerasene demoniac (Mk. 5.1-20) Jesus enters a Gentile territory, an unclean place for Jews. The man with unclean spirit lived in a cemetery, another unclean place for the Jews. By entering an unclean place consciously Jesus shows his disregard to some of the existing cultural values. What is threatening about Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders (and the Gentiles of Gerasenes) is that he does not leave the world as it is. He transgresses the existing boundaries, thus disturbing the existing social order. This causes social instability. 

Therefore, miracles in Mark demonstrate Jesus’ compassion and kingdom power in the service of the needy. They not only show Jesus’ divine power, but also illustrate the character of his power, the way he uses it in the service of others.[15] The intense kindness, sensitivity and unfailing benevolence of Jesus aligns him with common people, particularly the marginalized groups, and contrasts him with the powerful religious and political leaders who never showed any interest in the welfare of these groups, except lording over them.

Jesus’ ministry does not confine to Jewish dominated areas. His ministry of exorcism, healing and teaching includes the Gentiles. That means, his ministry of the kingdom of God is an inclusive ministry, not an excluding one. Jesus associates with tax-collectors and sinners and eats with them (Mk. 2.14-17). He exorcises a person in the Gentile territory (Mk. 5.1-20) and heals the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk. 7.26), thus demonstrating that God’s kingdom power has no boundaries.

The inclusive ministry of Jesus is also confirmed by Mark 7.1-23. This passage deals with purity and defilement, particularly with regards to foods. Mark 7.1-23 is placed between the story of feeding five thousand, with its many Israel motifs and images, and the story of feeding four thousand, with its Gentile allusions.[16] The two feeding stories which bracket the discussion on purity in Mk. 7.1-23 address the core issue of Jew-Gentile relation. The issue that Jesus addresses in Mk. 7.1-23 is expected to be the issue of transmission of impurity. Purity with respect to foods is part of a larger tradition regarding maintenance of holiness, understood as separation from certain groups of people and things that defile (cf. Lev. 20.24-26). The laws of purity are central to Jewish identity (Lev. 11.1-23; Deut. 14.3-21). Even though it is difficult to “determine exactly to what extent purity regulations were developed and to what degree they were kept among the populace at large, there is enough evidence of the importance of purity to most or all of the religious groups in first-century Palestine.”[17] In Mk. 7.14-23 Jesus is radically altering the Jewish understanding of what defiles. He declares all foods clean (Mk. 7.19) and what goes inside does not make a person impure, but what comes out from inside does. Jesus specifies some of the evil things that come from within that defile a person: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride and folly (Mk. 7.21-22). The thing underlying this list of defiling traits is acquisitive desire or greed. Remember that the acquisitive desire or greed perpetuated by the temple-related religion made the temple “a den of robbers”.

Interwoven with the stories of healing, exorcism, and association with sinners and tax-collectors are the stories of Jesus’ conflict with leaders of Jewish religion. The conflict is over Jesus offering forgiveness and violating Jewish customs such as Sabbath (Mk. 2.1-3.6). Jesus’ subversive activity is expressed by his healing on the Sabbath of a demoniac, Simon’s mother-in-law and a man having withered hand, and his support to the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath. The normal principle of the Sabbath observance is to avoid doing on that day what is not absolutely necessary to life. If there is a genuine danger to life, one may attend to the problem on the Sabbath:

If a man has a pain in his throat they may drop medicine into his mouth on the Sabbath, since there is doubt whether life is in danger, and whenever there is doubt whether life is in danger this overrides the Sabbath” (Mishnah, Yoma 8.6).

The sickness of the person in Mk. 3.1-6 is not life-threatening. Jesus, by healing this man on the Sabbath, has deliberately rejected the dominant system and thus, become a threat to the system maintained by the religious leaders. The deliberate act of healing on the Sabbath is to teach that the customs are meant to serve or enhance life: “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2.27). The Pharisees, who are concerned more about compliance to the rituals than human life, are silent when Jesus asked them: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (3.4). The advocates of barriers neither offer help nor allow it.[18] Cures give way to debates and conspiracies to eliminate Jesus.

Jesus’ activity of subversion of the system that constructed barriers in society and cared much about customs than life, has resulted in direct confrontation with the guardians of the dominant system. The narrative in Mk. 3.1-6 gives an impression of increasing hostility. The religious leaders are no longer discussing among themselves or accusing Jesus for objectionable behavior (cf. Mk. 2.6, 16, 24). They have joined hands with Herodians, the political group, to plot “to destroy him” (Mk. 3.6). After the temple act and teaching, the chief priests and scribes have sought to kill him (Mk. 11.18). The same leaders that questioned Jesus about his authority after his temple act (chief priests, scribes and elders), would seek to condemn Jesus to death (Mk. 14.53-55). They are the ones Jesus referred to in his passion prediction (Mk. 8.31). This opposition from human powers to Jesus’ ministry of the kingdom of God, which ultimately led to his death, happens to anyone who follows Jesus as a disciple proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God. The teacher’s life manifests a pattern for the disciples.[19] Suffering or death for its own sake is not advocated in Mark. Rather service and inclusive ministry might result in suffering, or even death, at the hands of the powerful in the society. However, Jesus did not respond to violence with violence. He refused to adopt the methods of his opponents, but continued to subvert the dominant system by breaking barriers and caring for life.

The incompatibility of Jesus’ ministry of the kingdom of God and the Jewish temple-related religion is expressed by the metaphors of bridegroom and the new cloth/new wineskins (Mk. 2.19-22).[20] These metaphors are at the chiastic center of the five conflict stories (Mk. 2.1-3.6). The imagery of wedding party in Mk. 2.19-20 has eschatological overtones. Jesus’ use of this imagery informs that his presence points to the dawning of the eschatological age. The analogies of not sewing “a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak” and not pouring “new wine into old wineskins” imply a radical discontinuity between the new and the old (Mk. 2.21-22). Because they are incompatible. When the structure of the unit consisting of the stories of Jesus’ controversy with the religious leaders is taken into consideration, the teaching of Jesus about the dawning of the eschatological age and the radical discontinuity between the new and the old is in central place. Jesus’ controversy with the guardians of the religion is on forgiveness, eating with sinners and tax-collectors, fasting and the Sabbath observance. These are related to the existing dominant system of life. Jesus’ indifference to the dominant way of life resulted in criticism of the religious leaders against him. However, Jesus seems to be explaining the reason for his unusual behavior through the analogies of wedding party and pouring new wine into new wineskins. Jesus’ words and deeds represent the dawning of the eschatological kingdom of God that promotes human dignity and value, and inclusivism, which is diametrically opposed to the dominant system that practices and promotes dehumanization of certain groups of people and exclusionism. Jesus exposes the delusion of the Jewish temple-related religion that not only enslaved human beings to customs, but also veiled the true and loving universal God, who cares for all. The religious leaders made God to serve their selfishness, greed and power. God is used to exclude and marginalize certain groups of people. This religion serves the greed of the powerful and not the needs of the poor, weak and vulnerable. This is well expressed by Jesus’ criticism of scribes: “The scribes…like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets” (Mk. 12.38-39). This extravagant lifestyle of the religious leaders comes at the expense of poor and helpless people like the widow, who in the gift of two small coins gave “her whole life” to the temple treasury (Mk. 12.41-44). Addison Wright says:

(We must) see Jesus’ attitude to the widow’s gift as a downright disapproval and not as an approbation. The story does not provide a pious contrast to the conduct of the scribes in the preceding section (as is the customary view); rather it provides a further illustration of the ills of official devotion. Jesus’ saying is not a penetrating insight on the measuring of gifts; it is a lament, ‘Amen, I tell you, she gave more than all the others’…She had been taught and encouraged by religious leaders to donate as she does, and Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.[21]

Therefore, the eschatological kingdom of God dawned through the ministry of Jesus Christ is not only incompatible to, but also subversive of the dehumanizing religion promoted by the Jerusalem temple cult.

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

Faith and Forgiveness

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

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

The faith community is also a forgiving community. Forgiveness removes the barriers among people, which in turn engenders an inclusive community: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mk. 11.25). The means of divine forgiveness is not temple and its sacrificial system, but offering forgiveness. Notice that forgiveness is not dependent on Jesus’ death (cf. Mk. 2.5, 10).

Since faith in God’s kingdom is possible to anyone in any place, and the disciples’ forgiveness of anything they have against anyone generates an inclusive community open to reconciliation and peaceful relations with all other people, the kingdom community of faith and forgiveness becomes God’s house of prayer “for all the nations” (cf. Mk. 11.17). The inadequacy of the temple cult to promote God’s will is expressed by the scribe’s confession that the two-fold commandment of love (loving God and loving one’s neighbor) is “much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk. 12.32-33). Only in Mark does the scribe declare that the commandment of love for God and neighbor “is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (cf. Mt. 22.34-40; Lk. 10.25-28). By subverting the temple’s entire sacrificial worship, designated by a generalizing reference to “all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”, through the two-fold commandment of love, the scribe has in effect called into question the worth and adequacy of the temple cult. His implicit denigration of the temple cult is more pointed because he was listening to Jesus’ teaching in the temple itself (Mk. 11.27). It also coincides with and develops Jesus’ earlier disruption of the sacrificial system in the temple (Mk. 11.15-16) and his condemnation of the temple cult (Mk. 11.17). The nonacquisitive love for God and one’s neighbor surpasses the acquisitive love or greed perpetuated by the temple-related religion. Seeing that the scribe responded “with understanding”, Jesus confirms the surpassing value of love for God and one’s neighbor by pronouncing that he is “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12.34).

Greatness as Service

The community of the kingdom of God is characterized by not only faith and forgiveness, but also service. The primacy of service is emphasized in Mk. 9.33-37 and 10.42-45. The disciples’ discussion on greatness provides an occasion for Jesus to teach about true greatness in terms of service: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9.35). Such service should be rendered to those marginalized in the society such as children (Mk. 9.36-37) and “little ones” (Mk. 9.42). The contrast between setting mind on “divine things” and on “human things” can be seen between Jesus’ understanding of greatness and that of his disciples (cf. Mk. 8.33). The disciples’ understanding of greatness represents that of the society. In response to the request of James and John for places of honor in the kingdom of God, Jesus instructs:

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

The disciples know how rulers use their power and authority to dominate and make people serve their greed. Their knowledge of the way power and authority operate in society is used by Jesus to teach them the alternate way that power and authority should be used by the community of the kingdom of God. He clearly stresses that the behavior of rulers is the model that should be avoided by his disciples.[22] The way the rulers rule and the great men exercise their authority and power is unacceptable in the community of the kingdom of God. Self-seeking, self-promotion, and abuse of power and authority for self-interests are improper in the community of the kingdom of God. “Greatness” and “being first” involve inversion of familiar models.

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

The image of slavery was used by Stoics to people enslaved to their passions. Seneca wrote: “Show me a man who is not (a slave); one is slave to lust, another to greed, another to ambition, and all to fear.”[23] For Stoics the metaphor of slavery almost always denotes a “negative sense of humiliating submission.”[24] Ironically, it is the rulers who are in slavery in the sense of the Stoics’ understanding. This is evident in the expression “those whom they recognize as their rulers” (Mk. 10.42). Hoi dokountes archeiv tōn ethnōn katakurieuousin autōn may be translated as “those who appear to be rulers”. Ironically, although they appear to be rulers, they are, in fact, enslaved to power and authority. This is evident among both religious and political leaders (eg. Pharisees, scribes, chief priests, elders and Herod).

But the disciples of Jesus are freed from the enslavement to the dominant system. “Ransom” effects liberation or deliverance from enslavement to the dominant system: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10.45).  The term “ransom” (lutron) refers to slave market, where a slave is redeemed or liberated from slavery by paying a ransom price. In Mk. 10.45 “ransom” does not refer to Jesus’ death ransoming many from their sins.[25] Here “ransom” is presented as a parallel to “came not to be served but to serve”, and in contrast to “tyranny” and “lording over”. The ransoming for “the many” is from the system or social order of “tyranny” and “lording over” into a system of service. Jesus gave his life as a “ransom” to liberate “the many” from the system of enslavement to power and authority (“tyranny” and “lording over”) into the system of serving others, especially the marginalized. Freedom from the system of enslavement to power and authority is expressed by being a “servant” or “slave”.

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


[1] For survey of literature, read N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996); Craig Evans, “Jesus’ Action in the Temple: Cleansing or Portent of Destruction?” in CBQ 51 (1989), pp. 237-270.


[2] D.A. Hare, Mark (Louiville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), p. 142.

[3] Herman C. Waetjen, A Sociological Reading of Mark’s Gospel: A Reordering of Power (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 182.

[4] The irony is that the “robbers” (the guardians of the Jewish temple-related religion) arrested (“seized”) Jesus as if he were a robber. This irony is also evident when Jesus was crucified between two robbers. Thus, the ones who sustained a system of exploitation, oppression and tyranny accused the one, who opposed the system, as a “robber” and killed him.


[5] It is Jesus’ opponents who have used violent means to silence his voice.

[6] Thomas Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2002), p. 49.

[7] Marcus J. Borg, Jesus A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1987), p. 67.

[8] Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1991), p. 819.

[9] Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 130.  

[10] Wendy Cotter, “Mark’s Hero of the Twelfth-Year Miracles: The Healing of the Woman with the Hemorrhage and the Raising of Jairus’s Daughter (Mark 5.21-43),” in A Feminist Companion to Mark, ed. by Amy-Jill Levine and Marianne Blickenstaff (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 2001), p. 56.

[11] Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 25.

[12] Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 150.

[13] Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 164.

[14] Cotter, “Mark’s Hero of the Twelfth-Year Miracles,” p. 59.

[15] Cotter, “Mark’s Hero of the Twelfth-Year Miracles,” p. 77.

[16] Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 61.

[17] Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 7.

[18] Robert R. Beck, Nonviolent Story: Narrative Conflict Resolution in the Gospel of Mark (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), p. 73.

[19] Sharyn Dowd and Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, “The Significance of Jesus’ Death in Mark: Narrative Context and Authorial Audience,” in JBL 125/2 (2006), p. 278.

[20] Dowd and Malbon, “The Significance of Jesus’ Death in Mark,” p. 275.

[21] Addison G. Wright, “The Widow’s Mites: Praise or Lament? – A Matter of Context,” in CBQ 44 (1982), p. 262.

[22] Alberto de Mingo Kaminouchi, ‘But It Is Not So among You’: Echoes of Power in Mark 10.32-45 (London/New York: T&T Clark International, 2003), p. 127.

[23] Seneca, Moral Epistles 47.7.

[24] Kaminouchi, ‘But It Is Not So among You’, p. 138.

[25] Dowd and Malbon, “The Significance of Jesus’ Death in Mark,” p. 280.

A System of Equality and Nonacquisitiveness as Subversion of the Greed-Based Capitalism and the Patronage System

November 3, 2009

The dominant culture of our times and the times of Paul is inequality and acquisitiveness. This culture is nurtured by the greed-based capitalism now and the Greco-Roman patronage system then. They not only create asymmetrical socio-economic power relations, but also try to conceal this reality through “beneficial ideology”. Paul in his narratives of “collection” to the believers in Jerusalem furthers a system of equality and nonacquisitiveness, thus critiquing and subverting the dominant systems of inequality and acquisitiveness.

A. The Dominant Systems

1. Greed-Based Capitalism

Modern capitalism has made wealth the highest value, and profit the highest social good.[1] Fred Magdoff rightly remarks that capitalist economies are “based on the profit motive and accumulation of capital without end.”[2] The rationale of capitalism is to maximize profits among the economic elite by creating wants and needs in people for market goods and services, whether or not the desires mediated by the need-making system can be fulfilled. While some needs are legitimate, others are not. Consumerism has become the only universally available mode of participation in the modern society. Thus, it furthers the worship of the “holy trinity”, that is, mammon, acquisition, and opulence.

Since capitalism is centered on the increase of capital, laborer is treated simply as a means to produce profit, but not as a being of intrinsic human dignity and value. In other words, in the capitalist system human agents are reduced to mere “things” or “machines”. This is nothing but “thingification” of persons.[3] That is why poor are insignificant in capitalist societies. Moreover, the corporate greed-based capitalism creates asymmetrical socio-economic power relations with those at the top enjoying power and luxury, and those whose labor is indispensable to produce profit becoming mere “productive voiceless machines” and languishing in hovels. On one side there is surplus and unrestrained consumption, and on the other shortage of even the basic necessities. The most corrosive impact of greed-based capitalism has been on human relationships. Attitudes formed in relation to the machines are transformed to people as well, thus promoting a culture of “productivity and success”.

The dictum that there is no other alternative to capitalism to order human socio-economic future and to have a better life has been embraced globally. But the reality is that, despite global economic growth, there is an even greater increase of poverty and economic disparity. Michael Parenti in his article “Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World” rightly questions: “How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?”[4] In the last half a century the investments by the transnational corporations of the US and the West in the economically poor countries have increased tremendously. The reason for their investment in these countries is rich natural resources, and high profit for low investment due to cheap labor, and the nearly complete absence of worker benefits, taxes, environmental regulations, and worker safety costs. For example, in Haiti workers are paid 11 cents an hour (in US minimum wage is $5.15 per hour) by the transnational corporations such as Disney, J.C. Penny, and Wal-Mart. How these companies make such an exorbitant profit is evidenced by the shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve hours a day for 13 cents an hour. These shoes cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the US. So the investments of the transnational corporations are greed-driven, not benevolent.[5]

The greed-driven transnational corporations in their desire to make more profit, at times even disregard the human rights. Some of these corporations use child labor to produce profit. In the rubber plantation in Liberia owned by Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire Company since 1926, children work 12 to 14 hours a day. A UN Report “Human Rights in Liberia’s Rubber Plantations: Tapping into Future” notes: “Although management of Firestone…stated that child labour is prohibited within …(its) concession (area), HROs (United Nations Mission in Liberia Human Rights Officers) spoke with a number of children working on …(the) plantation, aged between 10 and 14 years…Reports of child labour on Firestone plantation have also been documented in a report (“Firestone: The Mark of Slavery”) by the NGO, Save My Future Foundation, in March 2005.” In this plantation the workers are given unreasonably high production quota, which takes a rubber tapper at least 21 hours a day to meet the quota. This forces the workers to bring their wives and children to work in order to meet the quota, or else their already low wages will be halved. It is observed that the workers live in shacks, most of which have not been renovated since the 1920s, while managers live in luxurious mansions with all the modern amenities, including golf courses, and receive huge salary.[6] It is also noted that the company dumps toxic waste directly into the Farmington River which is used by the local community for fishing and bathing.

Another report on labor conditions at US-owned flower plantations in Colombia (approximately 60 percent of all flowers sold in the United States come from Colombia), and Ecuador, observes that flower workers in these countries earn poverty-level wages, work long hours, and suffer significant health problems due to pesticides. Over half of women workers in the flower industry in Colombia and Ecuador have been subjected to sexual harassment.[7]

The transnational corporations in the poor countries not only cash in on cheap labor, in some cases by violating human rights, but also expect workers to be “voiceless productive machines”. When workers try to form unions, they are subject to severe reprisals.[8] Nora Fern, Program Director at International Labor Rights Fund, and co-author of “A Valentine’s Day Report: Worker Justice and Basic Rights on Flower Plantations in Colombia and Ecuador” gives an example of how a US transnational flower company called Rosas del Ecuador in Ecuador tried to suppress the voice of the workers.[9] When the workers of this company were not paid salary for several months, they went on strike. They had to be on strike for more than two years and were not allowed to leave the plantation. If they had left the plantation, they would have been accused of abandoning the workplace and would not have been able to receive the money that the company owed them. So they stayed in shifts on the plantation, growing lettuce and other vegetables to allow themselves to survive and filing legal complaints with the Ministry of Labor. Finally, in 2006 they received a ruling in their favor and the employer was asked to pay back their wages. The employer had since disappeared. And so, the workers were left with the land. During the period of legal battle, since the workers themselves don’t have access to the exporters or the retailers, they weren’t able to continue the functioning of the plantation and exporting. So the greenhouses have fallen down, the plants have all died, and the workers are left with a totally dysfunctional plantation, which doesn’t really serve to compensate them for the thousands of dollars the company owed them.[10]

The expansion of the domain and domination of the transnational corporations in the world is also facilitated by the respective governments of the economically rich countries. The international trade agreements are mostly influenced by the transnational corporations.[11] A trade agreement between the United States and India, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), was backed by Monsanto[12] and other transnational corporate giants. This allows for the seize of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, its trade sector by Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart. This amounts to a war against India’s independent farmers and small businesses, and a threat to India’s food security.[13] The United States is one of the two countries refused to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, an international convention for the abolition of child labor.[14] Often the economically rich countries use their economic and political clout to influence the governments in the poor countries in order to have unrestrained control over the natural resources and the markets. According to a report “the Group of Seven (G7) most industrialised nations — Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Britain and the United States — lent money to regimes they knew to be corrupt or repressive in order to buy political allegiance.”[15] They even try to choose the rulers of the poor countries. In an interview to democracynow Evo Morales[16], the president of Bolivia, said: “In 2002, former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, said, “Don’t vote for Evo Morales”…And a number of things were said about what would happen if I came to the presidency, that international cooperation would be reduced, we would no longer have access to markets.”[17] He further said: “The head of US AID for Latin America stated that they were going to finance a political counterbalance opposition.”[18]

The record of predatory capitalism and heartless, absolute greed is consistent. It leaves mass human wreckage everywhere. The US and the Western economic neoliberalism and the shock doctrine of deconstruction and chaos can be seen around the world. For example, the capacity to control natural resources in Africa is enhanced by spreading terror, uprooting people, destroying families, and sowing distrust and hatred.[19] Since 1990 twenty-two of the thirty-two countries in the lowest economic development category have experienced armed conflicts and the deadly arms have been supplied (either directly or indirectly) by weapons producing and supplying countries.[20] The armed conflicts in countries cause political chaos, destroy the infrastructure and make a huge dent on their economies, which make them vulnerable. This, in turn, provides an easy access for the transnational companies to their markets and natural resources.[21] The interconnectedness between wars and control of natural resources and markets is aptly expressed by the former US General Smedley Butler, who participated in many wars in the Central and the South America: “I was an errand boy for Wall Street.”[22] In late October 2006, the United Nations has proposed a resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty[23], which is aimed at curbing arms transfers to major human rights abusers and areas of conflict.[24] The treaty also urges weapons suppliers to limit weapons sales likely to undermine development in poor nations. 139 countries voted in favor of the resolution, while 24 countries (including many major weapons suppliers) abstained and the United States was the only country voted against the resolution.[25] Frida Berrigan comments that without the active participation of the world’s largest weapons producer and exporter, this important resolution “will not be strong enough to counter the perfect storm of profiting from war.”[26]

Regarding the foreign aid to the poor countries, it usually works hand in glove with transnational corporations. It funds construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the poorer countries:  ports, highways, and refineries. The aid given to the latter governments comes with strings attached. It must be spent on the products of the donor countries. The recipient country is required to give investment preferences to the companies of the donor countries, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods to the imported ones. This creates more dependency, hunger, and debt.[27] The US and the West-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that lend money to the poorer countries believe strongly in the principles of free market: unfettered free trade, privatization of local economies, and decreased spending on social services in exchange for lending money.[28] When the International Monetary Fund (IMF)[29] grants economic aid, it “imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.”[30] The debtor countries are also made to cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments.[31] Instead of helping in the economic development in the receiving country, these loans worsen the existing poverty and debt situation.

Similarly the World Bank loans to the poor countries pave the way for the transnational corporations to take control and exploit local markets and natural resources. In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open its seed sector to transnational corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill. As a result of this adjustment, traditional farm saved seeds have been replaced with genetically engineered seeds which are non-renewable. So the farmers have to purchase seeds for each growing season, which is a costly investment for them. In most cases this has led to poverty and severe indebtedness. In order to relieve themselves of debt, some farmers have even sold their own organs. When these attempts have failed to rectify their financial situations, many farmers committed suicide.[32] Similarly in Indonesia the World Bank loan has encouraged a land administration programme (LAP), which pushed for the titling of peasants’ land. This has facilitated the seize of their land at cheap prices.[33] Achmad Ya’kub, a human rights activist, deplores that the World Bank approved a loan to change the law on water to a new law protecting transnational corporations to control the water resources. This paved the way for water privatization through a project called Watsal (Water Resources Structural Adjustment Loan).[34] He laments that because of land privatization and land conversions the social cost of the marginalization of farmers and peasants, the main victims, is huge, ranging from loss of livelihoods, arrests, and even deaths.[35]

Thus, investments, loans, and most forms of aid from the economically rich countries and the international loan agencies (IMF, World Bank) are designed not to fight poverty (contrary to the claims of the leaders of the economically rich countries (the right question that need to be asked and answered is: how did these countries have become rich?), the transnational corporations, and the corporate-controlled media) but to enhance the wealth of transnational companies at the expense of local populations. Evil is always parasitic of good and must masquerade as good in order to continue to maintain the order of exploitation and oppression. General welfare is not the objective and the highest social good of the greed-based capitalistic system. Profit is no longer the means, but the ultimate goal. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of the economically poor peoples, monopolize their markets, lower their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these countries from emerging as trade competitors by strangulating the local economy.[36] In essence they are aimed at solidifying the feudal system, forcing the poor countries into a perpetual bondage to the rich.

Unrestrained corporate greed-based capitalism has also entered religion. The “faith statement”: “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the “Mighty” Dollar,[37] and the prayer: “Bow your heads and drop to your knees, brothers and sisters! Feel the power of the Holy Dollar coursing through your being as you humbly offer your prayers, exaltations and gratitude to Mighty Mammon!”[38], though ironic, reflect the reality, that is, the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs”, particularly megachurches and televangelists, subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves”. Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of dollars annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”.

The number of God’s millionaires is on the raise. The owners of the Megachurches and televangelists “receive” enormous salaries.  For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report[39], among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores.[40] It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

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

2. Patronage System

The patronage system (patron and client) formed the economic backbone of the Greco-Roman society. It was based on an asymmetrical exchange relationship.[41] Patron and client were “unequal in control of resources, and so differ in terms of power and status.”[42] In the Greco-Roman world “the greater part of the property, wealth and power was concentrated into the hands of the few, and access to these goods was through personal connection….”[43] Under the patron-client relationship, the rich patron offered his client such benefits as protection in law-suits, food, and money. In return the patron received the client’s political support and an open show of loyalty and respect whenever the two met, which was equally valuable in a Greco-Roman society. In order to be a successful client, the latter “had to follow the golden rule, that is, to please the patron and try to accommodate oneself to his (patron’s) opinion.”[44] Through paying visits to the patrons and observing the ritual of morning salutation to them, clients could get limited economic help from the patron to support their lives. The clients had to address their patrons “master”. A mistake in the observance of proper respect to their “masters” would cost them that day’s payment. The patron-client relationship was inextricably involved with matters of politics and economics. Conqueror was patron of the conquered (today the economically rich and militarily powerful countries), wealthy patronized artists and writers (today corporate companies control the media), and the noble and influential in the provinces were patrons of their towns. The patron-client relationship also formed the basis of many social clubs and provided the wealthy with an entourage to follow them through the streets. Thus, “the basis of patronage system is power and authority, so that a patron might stand to gain power and position in a vertical hierarchy by giving to a client and client became bonded to the patron out of necessity and compulsion, and the patron maintained that relationship through further giving.”[45]

The patronage system also defined the relationship between the Roman emperor and his subject societies. Whenever a society was conquered by another or what Price calls it “an intrusion of authority” into its world, a system of adjustments had to take place in the subject society in order for the local people to come to terms with the new situation.[46] Generally, the official policy in the subject society was that of accommodating the new power relations. The local people were either inclined or forced to follow this official policy. For the allegiance to the emperor, subject society was guaranteed “freedom” from external and internal threats. It was also assured “conveniences” of the Roman state. This “beneficial ideology” was perpetuated by the local elites in the subject societies, hailing the imperial (Roman) “freedom” and “security” and the promise of their continuance in the subject society through military force. The intension was to make the bondage more acceptable to the local populace and to justify the external rule in their eyes. Richard Horsley rightly says that “a successful colonization includes cultivating the acceptance of the colonial relationship among the colonized.”[47] In a way the client society was caught in the web of patron-client system, where it would owe honor and loyalty to the Roman emperor, and the latter would in turn owe protection or guarantee “freedom” from both internal and external threats to the former.[48] In the client societies the political ideals of autonomy and independence that had defined the classical Greek polis (city) were replaced in the Roman civitas by “two aims that were both functional and ideological. One was to use cities as administrative centers for supervising the production and distribution of local and regional resources. That also…meant taxation flowing back to Rome. The other one was to build communities by creating for the empire’s urban populations a common form of civic life (and) a common set of civic buildings…That…meant loyalty flowing back to Rome.”[49] Thus, “benefaction” had become an ideological concealment to the exploitative relationship between the emperor and the subjects. Emperors used “gifts” also to bolster their power and the power of the local elite classes whose support they needed. Thus, the patron-client relationship between the emperor and the subject societies increased social differentiation. Local wealthy aristocracy was also involved in “benefaction”. However, the major purpose of the “benefaction” of the local elite was not to relieve poverty, but to register and naturalize the inequalities of the social system in the society, just as the emperor’s patronage and “generosity” marshaled and orchestrated the overall hierarchy of the system as a whole. The “gifts” objectified the relations of respect, dependence, authority and power upon which the entire system rested. Thus, the culture of “benefaction” not only provided a rationale that justified the dominance of the internal (in the form of the local elites) and external (in the form of the Roman emperor) powers, but also concealed the exploitation in this exchange relationship. 

B. Paul’s Counter System of Equality and Nonacquisitiveness

Paul, in the narratives of “collection” to the “saints” in Jerusalem, promotes a system of equality and nonacquisitiveness as a counter to the dominant, oppressive, and exploitative systems of inequality and acquisitiveness. He considers “remembering the poor” as an integral part of his apostolic mission. This can be seen in his repetition of the “collection” to the believers in need in Jerusalem in Galatians 2.10; I Corinthians 16.1-4; II Corinthians 1.15-16; II Corinthians chapters 8-9; Romans 15.25-32. In Romans 15.25, Paul says that he is going to Jerusalem on a “ministry” (diakonia) to the “saints” in Jerusalem. The Greek word diakonia is also used for the ministry of the gospel in Rom. 11.13 and II Cor. 4.1, 5.18. That means, for him, “helping the poor” is not diverse from the “ministry of the gospel”. Therefore, Paul is encouraging the Gentile churches to participate in the ministry to the “saints” in the Jerusalem church. Interestingly, he uses the Greek verb leitourgein in II Cor. 9.12 and Rom. 15.27. This verb has a secular sense (“to serve the need”) and a cultic sense (“to serve as a priest”). In Philippians 2.30 he employs leitourgein in the secular sense of “serving one’s need”. It is used to Epaphroditus (leitourgos) as he brought the “gift” sent by the Philippian church to serve Paul’s need (Phil. 2.25). In this service Epaphroditus even risked his own life. In II Cor. 9.12 leitourgia refers to the “collection” itself. Leitourgein in Rom. 15.27 may be understood in secular sense when seen in the light of Phil. 2.25, 30 and II Cor. 9.12.[50]

On the other hand, Paul in Phil. 2.17 uses leitourgein in the cultic sense. Also in Rom. 15.27 it may be understood in cultic sense if seen in the light of leitourgos of Rom. 15.16. Paul employs the cultic language in connection with his taking the collection raised among the Gentile churches to the “saints” in Jerusalem (Rom.15.15-33): “priest of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles”, “perform a priestly function with regard to the Gospel of God”, “the offering of the Gentiles, sanctified by the Holy Spirit might be acceptable” (Rom. 15.15-16). The “offering” mentioned in Rom. 15.16 can be taken as the object of Gentiles. This is supported by Phil. 4.18, where Paul describes the Philippians’ “gift” to him as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Thus, Paul is depicting the economic relationship with a cultic metaphor of “offering”. “Offering” in the cultic context points to an exchange between God and the offerer(s), where the latter offers “an innocent and defenseless sacrificial victim” as a sacrifice to God. Rene Girard calls this “scapegoat mechanism”.[51] 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 the “victims” as a sacred act. On the other hand, it conceals the plight of the innocent and voiceless “sacrificial victims” and transforms the “violence against the victims” as a “good violence”. Thus, the cycle of scapegoating the “weak and vulnerable” continues. Raymund Schwager says that “according to its basic structure, the sacrificial cult is a ritual repetition of the scapegoat mechanism.”[52] The OT prophets were opposed to all of the sacrificial rites in Israel. Amos denounced the cultic practices of the people: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon” (Amos 5:21-22). The prophets demanded, rather to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Aligning himself with this prophetic tradition and depicting the sharing of resources with the needy as an “offering to God”, Paul is providing a counter system where “offering” required by God’s justice is not “sacrificial violence” against “an innocent and voiceless victim”, but serving the need of “the victim” or sharing God’s resources with the “victim” of the structural violence. Dominic Crossan calls this “God’s distributive justice”.[53] Far from demanding “victims”, God not only identifies with the “victims” but also addresses the situation of their “victimization”.

1. Equality  

Paul presents the Macedonian believers as an example of those who were pleased to participate in “God’s distributive justice”. In Romans he repeats twice that they were pleased to share their resources with the needy in Jerusalem (Rom. 15.26,27). The Macedonian Christians even “begged” Paul and his colleagues to allow them to be partners in this ministry of sharing their resources with the “saints” in Jerusalem. Testifying about them, Paul says: “(D)uring a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (II Cor. 8.2). Notice the contrast between the external situation and the character of the Macedonian believers: “a severe ordeal of affliction” and “abundant joy”, and “extreme poverty” and “a wealth of generosity”. The sharing is clearly not from “plenty” to “want” but from “want” to “want”. Their sharing is not a “charity” or a “free giving” of what is “extra” or “useless” (or even “free giving” of tax money). It clearly challenges the existing stereotypes of the “rich” and the “poor” or “giver” and “receiver” in exchange relationship in the patronage system that assumes and assigns superior and inferior status to all participants in that structure.

Paul also informs the pure intent of the Macedonian believers in their sharing of God’s resources. He employs the Greek word haplotēs for the “generosity” of the Macedonian (and Corinthian) believers (II Cor. 8.2, cf. 9.11). Haplotēs does not mean merely “generosity”, but “generosity arising out of purity of mind”. In other words, this “giving” to those in need arose from pure intentions (unlike economic aid, loans, and investments of economically rich countries and transnational companies in the poor countries) without any ulterior or malicious motives as in the Greco-Roman patronage system and the greed-based capitalist system. It is sharing with pure intent of what God has given them with their fellow brothers and sisters who are in need.

Being conscious of the “obligatory” relationship between the “giver” and the “receiver” present in the existing patronage system, Paul is cautious not to give it a foothold in the counter system. One thing that is not emphasized in I Cor. 16.1-4 and II Cor. 8-9 is the economic hardship of the “saints of Jerusalem church”. Even though one could speculate that the Gentile churches already knew about the situation of these believers in the Jerusalem church (cf. II Cor. 9.12), one wonders why Paul did not repeat this important information to gather sympathy from the Gentile churches, since the issue was a matter of urgency for him. In II Cor. 9.11-12, just as in II Cor. 8.13-14, by avoiding the mentioning of the economic hardship of the needy in the Jerusalem church in the context of “collection”, he is careful to see that the Jerusalem church would not be placed in a direct obligatory relationship to the Gentile churches as a result of receiving the economic contribution.

Rather, Paul is emphasizing two things: the principle of equality and the source of wealth. Paul speaks of “their need” in connection to equality or “fair balance” (II Cor. 8.13-14): “I do not mean that there is relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” The common interpretation of “their need” is “the material need of the Jerusalem believers”.[54] If that is the meaning, what about the phrases “your need” and “their abundance”? The reference to Corinthians’ “need” is ambiguous here. It can not be understood as referring to material need because Corinthian believers are considered to be relatively rich and that is why Paul is writing this letter to share from their material riches, nor can it be taken as referring to “spiritual poverty” because in II Cor. 8.9 it is already said that Christ has made them rich.[55] Also Paul in II Cor. 8.15 cites Exodus 16.18 which refers to the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness when they gathered manna for themselves: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” The implication is that it was God who made “equality” to happen. In other words, God is a God of “fairness” or “equality”. Here it is appropriate to take it as a general illustration of the principle of equality.[56] Thus, Paul directs the focus of the Corinthian believers to God’s principle of “fairness” or “equality”. This should become the motivation for them to share their resources with the needy in the Jerusalem church. For Paul, it is a concrete demonstration of the God’s community of the new creation: “This is divinely distributive justice, a necessary sharing of God’s resources….Loving as a fair and equitable sharing of a world that belongs to a just God is what gives content to Paul’s assertion to the Galatians that “a new creation is everything” (Gal. 6.15) and to Paul’s claim to the Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (II Cor. 5.17).”[57] Crossan wonders: “What better deserves the title of a new creation than the abnormalcy of a share-world replacing the normalcy of a greed-world?”[58]

Paul also focuses their attention to the source of their wealth, God. In II Cor. 9.11-12, Paul says that the Corinthian church is in a position to give because God the supplier has provided them with wealth (both spiritual and material, II Cor. 8.9, 9.10).  The ultimate purpose of their giving is to render thanksgiving to God (II Cor. 9.11,12). In other words, their “generosity” is out of their gratitude to the Source of their wealth. Thus, by linking the generosity of the Corinthian church to God and not to the economic poverty of the Jerusalem believers, Paul has consciously disconnected the Jerusalem church as the “receiver” from the patronal power of the “giver” and dissuaded the economically rich from using their economic contribution to advance their patronal power.    

2. Nonacquisitiveness

Paul gives two examples of “generosity” to the Corinthian believers: Macedonian believers and Jesus Christ (II Cor. 8.1-6; 8.9). He praises the voluntary “generosity” of the Macedonian believers: “(B)egging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry”(meta pollēs paraklēseos deomenoi hēmōn tēn charin kai tēn koinonian tēs diakonias tēs eis tous hagious (II Cor. 8.4)). This is linked to the “generous act” of Jesus Christ: “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ” (tēn charin tou kuriou hēmōn Iēsou Christou (II Cor. 8.9)), by the common Greek term charin. In these two examples Paul is emphasizing their nonacquisitive character and their focus on the welfare of the “other”. The nonacquisitive character of the Macedonian believers is depicted by the paradox of “a wealth of their generosity” in “extreme poverty”. As explained above, the Greek word haplotēs denotes “generosity out of pure mind”, that is, without any malicious and hidden intent. That means, their “generosity” is purely for the welfare of the believers in the Jerusalem church. The nonacquisitive character of Jesus Christ is expressed in his act: “though he was rich…he became poor” (II Cor.8.9), and the focus on the welfare of the needy: “for your sakes…so that…you might become rich.” Paul further says that the “generosity” of Jesus Christ exemplifies the “genuineness of love” (II Cor. 8.8-9). In other words, the “generous act” of Jesus Christ, which is nonacquisitive, is the expression of the “genuineness” of love. Thus, the model for agape love is Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 2.20). Paul in Gal. 5.6 exhorts that faith in Christ manifests itself through loving service, or “it erupts into communal life as love” (Gal. 5.6 “faith working through love”).[59] Believer in Christ mimes the nonacquisitive desire of Christ, that is, the agape love, and thus breaks free from the system of greed and acquisitiveness and becomes a part of the community of the new creation, whose concrete pattern of life is based on agape love (Gal. 5.13-14). It is the love modeled on Christ that becomes the distinctive character of the community of the new creation. It becomes evident, then, that the community of the new creation becomes a critique and subversive of the Greco-Roman patronage system and the present greed-based capitalism.























[1] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 54.

[2] Quoted by Manning Marable in a speech given at the Fifth Annual Michael Manley Lecture sponsored by the Michael Manley Foundation, Sagicor Life of Jamaica Auditorium, Kingston, Jamaica, 10.12.2006.

[3] Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 109.

[4] Michael Parenti, “Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World,”, 16.2.2007.

[5] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[6] Tim Newman, “Child Labor behind Firestone Tires,” 12.6.2007.

[7] “Valentine’s Day: Labor Conditions at US-Owned Plantations Show Hidden Realities of Flower Industry,”, 14.2.2007.

[8] Two US corporations in Colombia – Chiquita Brands International, a banana company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Drummond Company Inc, a major coal producer based in Birmingham, Alabama – are facing charges in two separate suits filed in US courts for aiding far-right paramilitary groups having close ties to the Colombian pro-US government. Chiquita Brands International is being sued for its role in the murder of hundreds of Colombian workers killed by paramilitary groups. Drummond Company is facing similar charges in the murder of three trade union leaders. It is estimated that 4000 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in the past two decades alone. Barin Masoud, “Rights-Colombia: US Firms Face Charges for Aiding Paramilitary Killers,”, 22.6.2007.

[9] US has ratified only 14 of the 184 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and 2 of the 8 Conventions the ILO has identified as fundamental to the rights of human beings at work. Only by ratifying Conventions a country is subject to regular scrutiny of the ILO. Oilo.html

[10] “Valentine’s Day.”

[11] A Powerful lobby in the US wants the India-US Nuclear Deal sealed. According to The Wall Street Journal it opens the way for nuclear power business and massive arms deals worth an estimated $25,000 crores. The US Chamber of Commerce and companies such as General Electric and Boeing are lobbying for the deal.

[12] During the Vietnam War the US war planes sprayed about 18 million gallons of Agent Orange (a poisonous chemical toxin) on the land of Vietnam. As a consequence of this, over 3 million Vietnamese are disabled. The victims are suing over three dozen US chemical companies that have supplied this poisonous chemical. The list of companies being sued includes Dow Chemical (parent company of the Union Carbide, which is responsible for Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India) and Monsanto. These two companies are still involved in poisoning the land and the water with their byproducts in India. 

[13] “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More,”, 13.12.2006.

[14] “The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989,” Article 32 states:  “Children have the right to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, has been ratified by 192 countries, except by the United States of America and Somalia.

[15] Emad Mekay, “Rich Nations Prodded on “Illegitimate” Lending,” Inter Press Service , 13.2.2007.

[16] Evo Morales, a farmer’s son, grew up in extreme poverty and rose to power leading Bolivia’s long-marginalized indigenous majority. Morales has said that his election marks the beginning of the end to hundreds of years of discrimination and repression of Bolivia’s indigenous majority. He has promised to lift one of Latin America’s poorest countries out of the misery it has endured since the 16th century Spanish invasion. He has nationalized the natural gas industry and ordered land handouts for peasants. He has also slashed government salaries, cutting his own by more than 50 percent, to fund more teachers and health care workers, and secured an increase in the price Argentina pays for natural gas. Morales avoids the lifestyle of the European-descended elites who long ruled and exploited South America’s poorest country. Rather than sitting down to sumptuous banquets with the wealthy, he prefers hosting traditional lunches where peasants eat communally, with their hands, on the marble floor of the palace’s great hall.

[17] “Bolivian President Evo Morales on Latin America, U.S. Foreign Policy and the Role of the Indigenous People of Bolivia,”, 22.9.2006.

[18] “Bolivian President Evo Morales.”

[19] This phenomenon of death, destruction and plunder is glaringly evident in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Glen Ford, “A Tale of Two Genocides: Congo and Darfur,” in, 18.7.2007; Keith Harmon Snow, “Over Five Million Dead in Congo? Fifteen Hundred People Daily?” in, 4.2.2008; Jim Lobe, “Global Businesses Profit from Congo War, Groups Charge,” in, 28.10.2003.

[20] Recently it has been reported that weapons are supplied to pro-government and anti-government forces of Sudan, an oil-rich country (where civil war is going on), by China and Russia, and the United States (through Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) respectively. 

[21] Read “Human Development Report 2005: International Cooperation at a Crossroads: Aid, Trade and Security in an Unequal World,” Published for the United Nations Development Programme.

The ongoing illegal war in Iraq is a perfect example for the link between wars/conflicts, and control of markets and natural resources. The United States of America is pressurizing the Iraqi government to pass a new law on oil and gas (this is one of the bench marks set by the US for the Iraqi government to fulfill). Under the proposed law, Iraq’s immense oil reserves would not only be opened to foreign oil exploration, but the executives of the transnational oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum and the other Western oil giants would actually be among the board of directors of the new Federal Oil and Gas Council that would control all of Iraq’s reserves. The Iraq’s own national oil company would become just another competitor. The new law would grant the council virtually all power to develop policies and plans for undeveloped oil fields and to review and change all exploration and production contracts.

[22] Howard Zinn, “Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me about the American Empire,”, 3.4.2008.

[23] Relatively inexpensive and readily available small arms and light weapons can be used to destabilize countries, creating political chaos and economic devastation, thus undermining their economic self-sufficiency and making them vulnerable for exploitation.

[24]A 2005 report by the World Policy Institute found that of the largest U.S. arms recipients in the developing world, over 70 percent were undemocratic regimes, major human rights abusers or both. A recent report by the research group Saferworld found that in 2005 the United Kingdom provided weapons to 19 of 20 nations that had been singled out by its own government as “major countries of concern” for human rights abuses. The Control Arms Campaign has found Russian, Greek, Chinese and U.S. origin bullets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is engaged in one of the deadliest civil wars.

[25] “The question remains, why is the United States opposed to taking measures to stop this deadly trade? The first answer is strategic. The executive branch wants to preserve its “freedom of action” to arm U.S.-allied groups like the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghan mujahadin, Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement in Angola, (warlords in Somalia)…and (militant) groups opposed to the current regime in Iran.” William D. Hartung, “We Arm the World,”, 27.10.2006. According to the ABC News, America is funding Jundullah, a Pakistan-based terrorist group, to undermine Iran government.

However, there is also an economic dimension (i.e. control of markets and natural resources) to the US and West sponsored wars, civil wars and conflicts. It is known that the recent occupation of Somalia by Ethiopia and the subsequent appointment of Somalia government have been orchestrated by the United States of America. Now the US-backed Somali prime minister wants to pass a new oil law to encourage foreign oil companies to return to Somalia. Royal Dutch Shell, Conoco Phillips, Chevron Corporation once had exploration contracts in Somalia, but the companies left the country in 1991. Salim Lone, a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya and a former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq says: “Somalia itself and the region, the Horn of Africa, is newly oil-rich. Kenya has some oil. Oil is the key to domination for the United States — global domination, I mean. But it is going about, you know, the wrong way to get that oil. The US is also worried that its welcome in the Middle East is diminishing, and they need to make sure — both they want to encircle the Middle East with the oil field, and they want to make sure they have Somalia and other countries handy for the oil.”, 27.4.2007.

[26] According to an analysis done by the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center, the United States provided countries in the developing world with more than $1260 crores in arms in Fiscal year 2005. According to the Congressional Research Service’s “Conventional Weapons Transfers to Developing Nations” report, the United States led in global arms deliveries for the eighth year in a row. The United Kingdom trailed in second with $310 crores and Russia was a close third at $280 crores in arms deliveries. Together, these three weapons exporters were responsible for almost 70% of arms delivered worldwide. Frida Berrigan, “United States Rides Weapons Bonanza Wave,”, 16.11.2006.

[27] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[28] Ashifa Kassam, “South Americans Wage Battle against Economic World Order: Continent’s People Optimistically Continue Fight Largely Abandoned by Western Activists,”, 29.5.2007.

[29] Traditionally a European heads the International Monetary Fund, and an American is the president of the World Bank.

[30] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[31] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[32] According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data record, there have been 1,66,304 farmers’ suicides in a decade since 1997 in India. Of these, 78,737 occurred in five years between 1997 and 2001. The next five years – from 2002 to 2006 – proved worse, seeing 87,567 take their lives. This means that on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002., 31.1.2008.

[33] Anil Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists,” Inter Press Service, 21.5.2007.

[34] Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists.”

[35] Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists.”

[36] Parenti, “Mystery.”

Along with the transnational companies aided by their respective governments, and the international financial agencies, “vulture funds” are the “vultures” vying for the “flesh” of the poor. “Vulture funds”, defined by the International Monetary Fund, are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off and then sue for the full value of the debt plus interest, which might be ten times what they paid for it. On the 24th April 2007 the London High Court gave a verdict that Zambia should pay $155 lakhs to a British Virgin Island-based “vulture fund” company, Donegal International, whose director is an American. In 1979 the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors. When Zambia was unable to keep up the payments, in 1999 Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $30 lakhs. At that moment Donegal International stepped in and bought the debt at $32 lakhs and had been seeking $550 lakhs from Zambia. More than two-thirds of the cases brought by “vulture funds” occur in the US or UK jurisdictions. Some other countries that have faced legal actions by commercial creditors and “vulture funds” include: Angola, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Tanzania, Uganda, and Yemen. “Testimony by Neil Watkins, National Coordinator, Jubilee USA Network, to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, May 22, 2007,”, 23.5.2007.

[37] “IN GOD WE TRUST” is printed on all American dollar notes.

[38] Jason Miller, “Blind Obedience to the Canons of Capitalism: Of Sick Societies, American Dalits, and a Nation of Lady Macbeths,” www., 26.11.2006.

[39] Carolyn Tuft, Post-Dispatch, 30.4.2005.

[40] Observer, London, 23.5.1999.

[41] John K. Chow, Patronage and Power: A Study of Social Networks in Corinth (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), p. 41.

[42] Chow, Patronage and Power, p. 41.

[43] David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 96.

[44] Chow, Patronage and Power, p. 74.

[45]Sze-kar Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act: Implications for Paul’s Ethic Reconstruction,” in Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl, ed. by Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg, Penn: Trinity Press International, 2000), p. 214.

[46] S.R.F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 274.

[47] Richard Horsley, “Krister Stendahl’s Challenge to Pauline Studies,” in Paul and Politics, p. 30.

[48] There is a parallel in the present day world where monetarily and militarily powerful countries strangulate the “weaker” ones by claiming to promote “democracy” and “freedom”.  Imperial wars on other countries are portrayed as liberating ones, humanitarian interventions, and spreading democracy by the propaganda of the dominant media, thus, concealing the imperial power and economic interests.

[49] John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom: A New Vision of Paul’s Words & World (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), p. 185.

[50] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 399.

[51] Some of the bibliography: Girard, Rene, Violence and the Sacred, Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1977; The Scapegoat, Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1986; Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G. Sacred Violence: Paul’s Hermeneutic of the Cross, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992; The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994; Schwager, Raymund, Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

[52] Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 83.

[53] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

[54] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Waco, Texas: Word, 1986), p. 267.

[55] Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act,” p. 211.

[56] Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act,” p. 211.

[57] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

[58] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.


[59] Sam K. Williams, Galatians (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 144.