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?

1 comment:

Christina said...

because we do not see the message that way, I doubt we could ever expect any other to. a fundamental realignment of our perception would have to happen before the rest of the world will respond in kind...perhaps that is the exact point of christ's statement. we have to be faithful in the little things (even in the realignment of our perceptions) and if we are not, we cannot expect others to be.