Sunday, February 26, 2006

Session #6: "Cancelling Debts" - The Business Model of Jesus

What we discussed last Thursday warrants much further consideration. Jesus' vision for winning others through personal and financial integrity offers a very convicting and relevant message for our times. Anthony's discussion of the Missio Dei and Bruce's redefinition of the "Tsadik" as the just person who actually produces a "righteousness" that "the city rejoices" in (Proverbs 11:10) are, in a way, perfectly encapsulated in Jesus' elaboration of the Missio Dei through the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1ff).

I would like to open up by recapping Jesus' vision of proselytism.

When we think of proselytism, we normally think of evangelists and missionaries (the bearers of Good News). Successful evangelists are esteemed in America, but when we consider the pious and humble evangelists whose family photos accumulate on our refrigerator - our missionaries, such esteem seems wanting. Typically, these photos remind us our duties to support our dutiful expatriates in love, prayer and financial support. Although not different from other members of our clergy, whose financial support goes unquestioned, missionaries are unfairly thought of as something close to beggars...even those that are "tentmakers", social workers and Bible translators whose work (in scope) brings materialistic as well as spiritual rewards to their host cultures. Missionaries are evangelists on two fronts, in their host country and back home, where they must proselytize for support. While they are thought of admirably by the majority of us, there is still a certain kind of social stigma in evangelical circles associated with their work because of the fact that they must constantly justify our support with what often comes down to a crude head count. Part of the answer, I believe, is in the way the modern evangelical church has calcified a rigid missiological structure that (in its narrowness) has promulgated a tacit economy of (wordly) pietism...we want our missionaries to be beggars, so that when we reward them financially, we get to share in their piety. Unconsciously, thus, they absolve us of our duty to missionize in our own lives. The structure, truthfully, is a system of indulgences...only we're not buying salvation, but a pardon from our evangelical guilt. Something is off kilter here,...What is it?

The answer, I believe, is in our grossly narrow definition of the "Good News" (insert Anthony's and Bruce's comments here). When one studies what Jesus' view of mission work was, a picture emerges (not surprisingly) of a very different view of proselytism. Interestingly, in Christ's "economy", the missionary (laborer) would be supported not by us or even by the personal means of the missionary himself, but by those who hear the message of the Good News, the proselytized! As David Flusser pointed out, "Jesus instructed those whom he sent into the world to eat and drink what was provided for them, 'for the laborer deserves his wages' (Lk. 10:7). In another passage this command is explained as follows: 'You have received without paying, give without charging. Do not take any gold, silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food' (Mt. 10:8-10)."

...In other words, those whose debts were being cancelled would cheerfully repay the bearers of Good News for their services. That, to our modern ears, sounds like a truly idealistic model for missionary support, but it is one that actually has a dramatically higher estimation (to speak in understatement) of the redemptive mission of the Good News.

The question and indictment is this:

What would the message of redemption look like if the receivers of the Good News saw it as something unquestionably worth their financial support? What would happen if missionaries did not patronize, but instead brought home funds (as Paul did for the poor of Jerusalem) for our own poor and our own widows and our own marginilized?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Session #5: "Like a Bridegroom Coming Out of His Chamber"

"And he is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoicing to run his course." Psalm 19.5

A Huppah (wedding canopy)
The attendants of the bridegroom would stand guard over them. Kings would have three erected for their wedding. Apparently, the first couple enjoyed ten, according to an ancient Rabbinic tradition. God Himself and the angels were the attendants on that occasion.

What does this have to do with John's prologue? That my friends, begins in an interesting fact, at the (second) giving of the ten commandments, when God restored the tablets, in an interesting way: by pointing to His Lovingkindness. The commandments are restored with words of Lovingkindness. Let's go to that passage:

Exodus 34: 4 And he hewed two tablets of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in Lovingkindness and Truth; 7 keeping Lovingkindness unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.'

Now, my friends, let us enter into a Rabbinic excursus:

Two tablets, what two tablets? "Like unto the first (Ibid)." What was written on these tablets? “What was written on the first (Ibid).” With ten sayings the Holy One, blessed be He, restored them:

On the One:

1) The LORD (I am the LORD thy God)
2) The LORD (Only I--no other gods)
3) God (nor shall you swear by My name—see, even I show deference to My name)
4) Merciful and Gracious (the Shabbat was given to you)
5) Long-suffering (as your father and your mother)

On the Other (that you be in solidarity with your neighbor, who is made in My image):

6) Abundant in Lovingkindness and Truth (Don’t murder—for thy neighbor is like thyself)
7) Keeping mercy unto the generations (Therefore don’t mess up a generation through adultery)
8) Forgiving iniquity (stealing)
9) …transgression (bearing false witness)
10) …and sin (covetousness).

Two tablets, what two tablets? The one with the words “(I am) the LORD (thy) God, etc” (the Torah), and the one with the words “Lovingkindness and Truth” written therein, as it is written:

Proverbs 7:2 Keep my commandments and live, and my Torah as the apple of thine eye 3 Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the tablet of thy heart


Proverbs 3:3 Let not Lovingkindness and Truth forsake thee; Bind them about thy neck, write them upon the tablet of thy heart

When does one observe Lovingkindness truthfully? When one shows kindness to a bridegroom, as the Holy One blessed be He bestowed upon Isaac. [Gen. 24--Gen 24:27 is the first appearance in the Bible of the words “Lovingkindness and Truth” together. Read Pirke de Eliezer, Ch. 16 “The Service of Lovingkindness”, describing the service of Lovingkindness to bridegrooms. Note how the rabbis read between the lines to ingeniously “unpack” all the often subtle and hidden ways God shows this the service of Lovingkindess to Isaac. God does not like to advertise His good deeds—a token of “Lovingkindness in Truth”, chesed b’emes—so the Rabbis have to do a brain number just to spot them.]

When else does one observe Lovingkindness truthfully? When one shows kindness to the deceased and their mourners, as the men of Jabesh-Gilead bestowed upon Saul. [1 Sam 31:12-13; see 2 Sam 2:6 where David blesses these men with the words “Lovingkindness and Truth” another rare appearance of these words together. Read Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Ch. 17 “Loving Service to Mourners”. Note how important the Rabbis make Saul’s burial out to be.]

Note John 2, how the first “sign” shows Jesus bestowing Lovingkindness to a bridegroom, and John 11, how the last “sign” follows the scene of Him mourning in solidarity with the mourners…Accidental? Well, when the gospel opens up with a theophany that describes the Word as the very “fullness of Lovingkindness and Truth” (John 1.14), what do you think?