Truth and social reform

Download 0.58 Mb.
Size0.58 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8


The discovery of truth is explosive, because it calls for major changes in our outlook and service. I hope that will be a liberating, not a frightening, experience. One basic assumption of the Protestant Reformation - one of the greatest reform movements of all times - was that because the Bible is God’s objective revelation to man, each individual can read it and know the truth, without blind submission to the Church’s in fallible interpretation and traditions. If my interpretations appear to be iconoclastic, it is because (a) I am going away from some of our traditional understandings, back to the Word of God and (b) because I assume that the Bible speaks not to our souls, to give us some religious experience, but to the real world. A world that is really fallen, but can be reformed.

Three trillion dollars have been spent, since the Second World War, in the effort to ‘develop’ the poor of the Third World. The results, however, have been minimal. Since 1976, my wife, Ruth, and I have had the privilege of being involved with the development scene on the front line. This experience both shattered our illusion that there is any easy answer to poverty, and gave insights into the application of Scriptures to socio-economic realities.
Truth and Social Reform discusses poverty in the context of the supernatural dimension of reality. It presents biblical insights gained in the heat of experience, in the hope that it will enrich the reader’s understanding of Christian faith and service wherever he or she may live and serve.

Vishal Mangalwadi

March 1989




Compassion for the suffering individual and concern for the glory of God were undoubtedly the prime motives of Christ's service. But if compassion had meant for Christ merely what most Christians understood by it today, then Jesus would never have been killed. He would have been a fit candidate for a Nobel prize, not the cross.
Christ's compassion was prophetic. Instead of being a gut-level response to pictures of starving children, it grew out of a prophetic insight into the root causes of human misery. In His response, therefore, Jesus went to the source of suffering and dealt with it. In this chapter we shall look at three facets of Christ's compassion and service which led to His death. In an earlier age, when Protestants still believed in social protest, such a commentary would have been redundant. But today? Well, we have drifted so far from our Biblical and historical heritage, that it may seem too radical to some people.

Service: A Stirring of a Stagnant Pool

In John 5, Jesus healed a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years. The lame man was lying near a pool of water. When the waters of the pool were stirred, therapeutic powers went into action and the sick who entered the water were healed. This was not superstition, but something the man had been witnessing for decades. If he hadn't seen the healing powers of those waters, he wouldn't have stayed by the pool for all those years. He was sick. The treatment was free and within his sight, yet he could not get it. Why not? He explained to Jesus that he did not have anyone who would put him into the water when it was stirred. No one cared for him.

Jesus asked this man who had not stood for almost four decades to pick up his mat and walk. He did. And it was the Sabbath. In Israel, you could forget whether it was Tuesday or Thursday, but no one ever forgot it was the Sabbath.

Their society was so well organized that in no time the Jewish authorities knew that this unknown man had dared to break the Sabbatical rule; he had picked up his bed and was walking. An on-the-spot enquiry began. How efficient ! Was it the beauty of that society? No, an establishment which didn't care for a man for thirty-eight years was prompt in caring for its own inhuman rules. I find it hard to believe that they were so keen to enforce the Sabbath legislation because they wanted to please God. I am more inclined to think that their real interest was to impose a fine and collect a little extra revenue! The sick man had complained to Jesus that his problem was that the Jewish society had no compassion. It hadn't even bothered to enforce a basic etiquette of civilised behaviour: first come, first served. The resourceful came late, but got healed first.
It was not by mistake that Jesus asked this powerless man to challenge an inhuman society by a deliberate act of defiance of it’s rule. God had provided the stirred-up pool of water for the healing of this man. It was the social pool of a stagnant, selfish society that needed to be stirred up for his healing. That was precisely what Jesus did. He not only healed the man, but also asked him to break the Sabbatical rule, which stirred up the Jews and led to an attempt by the Establishment on Jesus' life (John 5:18).
Does the healing ministry of the Church today, even its community health work, lead to such retaliation from society? No, because our service does not touch the real issue at all. Many sick men, women and children in the villages and slums of my country die daily, not because treatment is not available or is expensive, but simply because no one cares to take the treatment to them. In some of the villages in my district, young women die during childbirth, simply because their villages are marooned for two to three months during the monsoon. We do not even know that they exist until they migrate in desperation to turn our cities into slums.
The Establishment can send satellites to the sky; but it cannot take simple sanitation to the dying destitutes in its slums. The Church says it cares, yet so often it does not dare to expose the selfishness of the elite which is the real cause of the hundreds of basic diseases which should have been wiped out by now, if only clean water, basic sanitation, adequate nutrition, health education and immunisation were made available to the poor masses. The technology and financial resources are available in abundance for taking these services to the poor. Yet they starve, suffer and die because the powerful have other priorities. The World Health Organization estimates that the annual loss in India due to sicknesses caused by contaminated water alone might add up to twenty thousand crores of rupees. Christ's mercy did not touch the individual alone. It sought to touch the heart of a society. It sought to awaken the sleeping conscience of society. It troubled the stagnant waters which brought about a torrent of retaliation from vested interests.

Service: A Judgment of a Blind Society

After He opened the eyes of a beggar who was born blind (John 9), Jesus did not suggest He was a 'servant', He said, 'I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see and those who see should become blind' (John 9:39 GN).

The disciples asked Jesus, 'Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'

This question seems to have hurt Jesus. It is hard to believe that the disciples were asking a sincere question about the cause of an inexplicable suffering. Certainly Jesus did not think that they had a profound philosophical interest in the problem of suffering which deserved an answer. (For a detailed discussion of suffering see the chapter “Making Sense of Suffering” in my book “Missionary Conspiracy: Letters to a Postmodern Hindu” published by Nivedit Good Books.) Were the disciples really asking, `Rabbi, could you kindly provide us with some good rationale to justify our indifference to the suffering of this man?'

True, the man was born blind. But did he have to be a beggar? True, both he and his parents were sinners. But was Israel justified in ignoring the fact that he was also a human being made in the image of God, worthy of love and care? He was begging, neither because he was blind, nor because he was a sinner, but because Israel was blind to the fact that he was an image-bearer of God, the crown of God's Creation. He was a beggar because Israel had sinned by not caring for him. Instead of seeing their own sinful indifference the disciples were more keen on finding out his sin and that of his parents.
Jesus, therefore, sought to open their eyes by His brilliant act of civil disobedience.
The incident in John 5 was not an isolated happening. It was part of Christ's pattern. On that occasion Jesus had simply asked the sick man to break the Sabbath law. Then in chapter 9 He did it Himself. In order to open the eyes of this blind man, He did not need to spit on the ground and make mud with the spit, especially on a Sabbath day when He knew that it would be seen as `work’ and therefore a deliberate act of defiance of the Establishment's laws. Yet, He did it. It was a deliberate provocation of the Establishment. Jesus also asked the blind man to break the law, `Go and wash your face in the pool of Siloam' (John 9:7GN). Jesus did not need to do this in order to heal him, but healing him was not the only objective of Christ’s service. His objective included exposing the blindness of the self-righteous Establishment and condemning it publicly. Had not God commanded Israel in the Old Testament to have mercy on its poor? If Israel was righteous and obedient, why did this man beg on the streets in order to live?
Civil disobedience is a deliberate and courageous act of a reformer to expose and condemn the institutionalised evils of his day. That is what Jesus was doing. And the Establishment was blind enough to be thus exposed. Instead of containing Christ's service by patronising it, they condemned the healing of a blind man, simply because it was done on a Sabbath. They excommunicated the man from the synagogue and thereby further exposed their own blindness. The word was able to see that a mighty prophet had arisen among them who could open the eyes of a man born blind, yet the Establishment could see nothing more than the violation of its own petty rules. Its values, its ideals, its attitudes, its priorities all stood exposed and condemned. The world was able to see that its rulers did not care for their people, but Christ did. The sheep were able to perceive that Jesus was their true shepherd who dared to stand against the wolves pretending to be their custodians.
Jesus made the blind man pay a heavy price for his healing. He was excommunicated from the synagogue because he chose to speak the truth. No doubt, he would have been welcomed into the community of Christ's disciples, yet his excommunication must have helped many sincere Jews to make up their minds against their own rulers whose own blindness had been exposed.
Such service, which judges the world, is not pleasant. The authorities not only excommunicated the man; they also made it known publicly that Jesus was persona non grata. Whoever said that Jesus was Christ would be excommunicated. It became harder to associate with Jesus; being seen around Him could land someone into trouble.
The Association for Comprehensive Rural Assistance (ACRA) was the community with which I served the rural poor in Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh from 1976 till April 1983. We were involved in service which stirred the social pool, which judged the blindness of the Establishment. When you judge the world, the world retaliates by judging you. During May 1982, thirty of us were arrested on four different occasions, because we not only helped the victims of a hail-storm, but also through our service exposed the insensitivity of the politicians towards the victims of this natural calamity. It is joked in our area that we get three crops a year: the winter crop, the monsoon crop and the relief crop. The last is always a “bumper crop” for the political and civil servants. The politicians not only had us arrested, but they also tried to have me murdered. The superintendent of police himself threatened this. Many Christian leaders were frightened, and disassociated themselves from me. Such treatment hurts. It makes you lose friends. They choose not to associate with you, lest they too, get into trouble. Yet, one has to decide whether he wishes to walk in the footsteps of his Master and serve the oppressed, or please his friends. Jesus' mercy did not touch a blind beggar alone. How many blind people could He heal in three years anyway? How many blind people can the church heal through its hospitals and eye centres? We must have compassion for the individual. But we must also understand that he is a beggar not because he is blind, but because the society in which he lives is blind to his need. A blind man can be happy and fulfilled if society cares for him.
Karl Marx rightly understood that true compassion calls for dealing with the social context which makes men miserable. Marx, however, defeated his own purpose by trying to build a case for compassion on atheistic premises. If the individual man is merely a product of random chance in an impersonal universe, then there is no meaning in caring for him, especially when he is too weak and powerless to be of any use to us. But if man is a created being, then he is special to his Creator. If he is created as the image-bearer of the Creator Himself, he is even more special. If each individual is to relate to the Creator in an intimate personal relationship and to carry out His will for Him in this world, then he is very special indeed. That is how Jesus saw this blind beggar. `He is blind so that God's power might be seen at work in him' (John 9:3 GN).
Because an `unknown' blind beggar is special to God we must have compassion for him individually. This compassion must be visible in specific acts of mercy, but our compassion for him must go deep enough to create a society which can see that a beggar is a special person of God; he ought not to be allowed to destroy his self-respect by begging. He should not have to live a hand-to-mouth insecure existence, until one day he falls sick, becomes too weak to beg and rots by the roadside to be eaten by beasts, birds and worms.
If our society cannot see that a blind beggar is a special person, then we are blind to truth. And if we do not acknowledge our blindness, then we are hypocritical, self- righteous and sinful. We should condemn the blindness of our society, and work to build a more humane and compassionate community within it.

Service: An Alternative Power for Social Change

It is not enough to stir a society or to judge a blind Establishment. If the leadership does not repent, if it does not decide to fulfil its responsibility, then it becomes our task to seek to provide an alternative. Servanthood is the Biblical motive and means of acquiring morally legitimate power to lead. However, if it becomes known that the purpose of our service is to change the status quo, to change the leadership, then we are in trouble. The final decision to kill Jesus was made by the Jewish authorities after He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11), and when He began to be seen popularly as a shepherd, Messiah and king.

Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. These sisters sent word to Him that Lazarus, His beloved friend, was sick. Jesus could have healed him by a word from wherever He was and saved the sisters from much agony. But no; His healing ministry had purposes other than mere healing. He waited till Lazarus died. He waited till the Jews in Jerusalem heard of his death and had assembled in his village, Bethany, to comfort his sisters. Then, in front of a crowd, Jesus displayed His love for the dead man and his sisters. Jesus displayed His sorrow social force that stood for the smallest of men in contrast to the Establishment which protected the interests of the powerful exploiters such as the traders in the temple whom Jesus called robbers (Mark 11:15-18). Jesus called His followers to serve 'the least important ones', the hungry, the naked, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners (Matt.25: 31-46).
Third, this alternative power was a courageous force. It required a determination to stand for the protection of the harassed and helpless sheep to the point of the laying down of one's own life (John 10:1-12). This was a contrast to the Jewish Establishment, which was concerned primarily for its own safety and well-being, and the in face of the Roman threat was prepared to sacrifice the interest of the common man (John 11:45-8).
Jesus intentionally built up His following, His Church, as a power structure to withstand the mighty forces of destruction and death. He said to Peter, ' are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it' (Matt.16:18). The destructive forces of death will fight against Christ's new society, but will not prevail against it. The Church was meant to stand against the forces of oppression and death because it was asked to 'feed my lambs' and 'take care of my sheep.' In an unjust, oppressive society when a group stands up for the smallest of lambs, it automatically stands and anger at sickness and death which caused such anguish to His beloved. Jesus displayed His unique relationship with God, His Father, and He displayed His authority and power to give life to the dead.
This display of love, sorrow, anger and power were the means of exhibiting who He really was, so that people could make an intelligent choice for or against Him. Jesus' prayer in John 11:41-2 makes it abundantly clear that even though Jesus could have healed Lazarus and raised him from the dead without exhibiting who He was, He felt it necessary at that point to enable the world to see His heart, His being and His power.
The miracle had the intended effect: many people believed in Jesus. Their choice of Jesus was an automatic rejection of the Establishment (John 12:9-11). Jesus had provided an alternative to Israel and people began to accept it. The Establishment was aligned to the exploitative Roman regime (John 19:15). It existed because it not only allowed but also enabled Rome to continue its exploitation of the people. The chief priests knew that if Jesus was allowed to extend His influence over the people, a new centre of mass power would be created which would be in the interest of the common man. Rome obviously could not tolerate a leadership, which defended the interest of the people. Therefore, it was inevitable that `The Roman authorities will take action and destroy our Temple and our nation' (John 11:48). Therefore, if the nation was to be 'saved' the shepherd had to be eliminated (John 11:49-50). ‘Slavery is better than destruction’ was their rationale.
The healing ministry of Jesus not merely healed individuals but to it also built up a mass following, just as His preaching not only educated but also drew out a whole-hearted dedication to follow Him. The separation of evangelism and church planting has created a mentality among Christians all over the world which leads to preaching and serving, but not to building up a faith-filled following. Because of this mentality many people cannot even see in the Gospel the obvious fact that Jesus was building up a disciple-based movement through His teaching, preaching and healing.
However, a fresh look at the Gospels will convince the reader that Jesus carefully built a large following which was not just another religious sect, but was an alternative centre of power in Israel. It was a threat to the status quo not only naturally. but also intentionally, because it was the very antithesis of all that the Establishment represented.
First, this alternative centre of power was a moral force in contrast to the immoral Jewish Establishment. Jesus had not only healed men but also called them to 'stop sinning' (John 5:14). He called His disciples to righteousness which 'surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law' (Matt. 5:20).
Second, it was a social force that stood up for the smallest of men in contrast to the Establishment which protected the interests of the powerful exploiters such as the traders in the temple whom Jesus called robbers (Mark 11:15-18). Jesus called His followers to serve ‘the least important ones’, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners (Matt. 25:31-46).
Third, this alternative power was a courageous force. It required a determination to stand for the protection of the harassed and helpless sheep to the point of the laying down of one’s own life (John 10:1-12). This was a contrast to the Jewish Establishment which was concerned primarily for it’s own safety and well-being, and in the face of the Roman threat was prepared to sacrifice the interests of the common man (John 11:45-8).
Jesus intentionally built up His following, His Church, as a power structure to withstand the mighty forces of destruction and death. He said to Peter, ‘…you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ (Matt. 16:18). The destructive forces of death will fight against Christ’s new society, but will not prevail against it. The Church was meant to stand against the forces of oppression and death because it was asked to ‘feed my lambs’ and ‘take care of my sheep’. In an unjust, oppressive society when a group stands up for the smallest of lambs, it automatically stands up against the mighty vested interests which grow fat on their flesh (see Isaiah 61:1-2).
Jesus and His new community were naturally and intentionally a threat to the Establishment then. When Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem and precipitate a confrontation, the Establishment had to choose between its own survival and the status quo on the one hand, and a titanic socio-political change and transfer of power to another group on the other hand.
Even though it is true that, in many cases, the 'Sunday-school Jesus' confines Himself only to the changing of men's hearts, the Jesus of the Gospels aimed at changing both human and human society. He prepared shepherds to replace wolves from the leadership of Israel. He made His intentions explicit. For example, in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Mnatt. 21:31-46), He concluded by telling the chief priests, `And so I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce the proper fruits' (v.43).
Here was an explicit statement of a radical social transformation, of change of political power. The Jews understood Jesus and tried to arrest Him on the spot, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet' (v.46). Jesus announced His intention of a social change to the Establishment itself after He had carefully built up His mass support, even though the wise men had announced His Kingship at His birth and John the Baptist had announced some of the changes that Jesus was to bring about before Jesus began His work. Jesus asserted His royal authority over Zion, through the dramatic events of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, only after the raising of Lazarus, which had created an excitement in the masses.
Power was not an accidental by-product of service. It never is. The Church has no real competitor in the field of service in India today. But it continues to be powerless. This is because our service is very different from Christ's. He consciously cultivated a mass following. Jesus was a man of the masses and in part He built up His massive following by His service. Look at His strategy following the raising of Lazarus in John's Gospel (John 11:45-12:33).
First, He brought a dead man back to life. He allowed the story of this fantastic miracle to spread to the point when it started ringing alarm-bells in the ears of the Establishment (John 11:45-53). Then, He withdrew to a desert town, Ephraim (v.54). It was near the time of the Passover festival, when many Jews poured into Jerusalem. They naturally gossiped about Jesus (11:55-7); after He had become the hot topic of debate, He returned to Bethany, to Lazarus' home, just two kilometres from Jerusalem; the word spread in Jerusalem and crowds flocked, to see not only Him but also Lazarus (John 12:1-11). Then, when a large enough crowd had gathered about Jesus, He asked for a colt and allowed His disciples to organise a procession. They marched into Jerusalem proclaiming Him to be the King of Israel. The whole city was stirred up, until the authorities sat up and said to each other, 'You see, we are not succeeding at all! Look, the whole world is following him' (John 12:19).
The result of this strategy was that the Jews decided to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (John 12:9-11) Christ knew that this would be the consequence of what He was doing, but He had no choice. The Establishment had refused to repent; it had refused to believe the truth and had decided to continue in its evil ways. Either Jesus had to give up His call for repentance and change or He had to precipitate a confrontation to give a last opportunity to the Establishment either to repent or to kill Him. Jesus was prepared to pay the price of such a confrontation.
Jesus did not heal the blind man or raise Lazarus from the dead merely to make them live comfortably. He was paying a price for the world and His followers had to pay a price, too. Our service to the poor fails to produce a following often because it is funded from abroad and therefore it does not ask the beneficiaries to pay a price. When Jesus sent the twelve apostles to preach and heal in Israel, He prohibited them from taking money with them (Matt.10:5-10). The beneficiaries of their healing ministry had to pay for their upkeep and thus become participants if not the owners of His movement. Jesus accepted His death, the price which He paid as a criminal, as His glory, and He carefully chose the time and manner of His own death so that His cause could receive the maximum benefit from His crucifixion.
The purpose of cultivating a mass following was not to gain a selfish crown. Satan had offered the kingship to Jesus at the very beginning of His ministry (Matt.4:8-10). But He refused to have the kingdom for Himself. He wanted the kingdom for the poor (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20), the sorrowful (Matt. 5:4), the meek (Matt. 5:5). The poorer masses saw Him as their Messiah and began to follow Him, which naturally threatened the existing leadership. The Jewish authorities had perceived: 'The whole world is following Him; therefore He has to be eliminated'. The crucifixion, not international recognition, was His real glory, laying down His life for the poor of His nation, the harassed and the helpless lost sheep.
The totality of Jesus' ministry gave Him a mass following which in turn gave Him power. This seriously threatened the Establishment and meant death, which was the final proof of whether Jesus was really serving others or only Himself. An all-out love for God and for one's neighbours has to be tested. Jesus was prepared to be tested by fire.
When people are so committed to changing the unjust social structures in favour of the enslaved, exploited and oppressed that they will lay down their lives for the cause, they are bound to create ripples in history that never cease.
Neither the Jews nor the Romans killed Jesus in order to make Him a sin-offering. The historical cause of His death was that He was a serious troublemaker as far as the Establishment was concerned. Their charge against Him was that He had claimed to be the legitimate king of the Jews, which meant that their rule was illegitimate.
Yet this is not to say that the theological meaning of the cross, that Jesus died for man's sin, is false, less true or historically untrue.
As Jesus hung upon the cross of Calvary, it was literally the sin of the world that was hanging there at that moment of history. The people who physically saw that crucifixion, whether or not they were Christ's followers, saw that it was not the justice but the injustice of man that was being carried out that day. In the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Christ, man's sin was more than visible: man's disobedience to God, man's rejection of truth, man's cruelty, his lies, his hate, his greed, his vested interest, his oppression, his exploitation, his abuse of power, his deliberate choice of evil were all there on the cross for everyone to see, hear and feel. That is why the Biblical statement that Jesus became the sin of the world, is not some theological mumbo-jumbo, but a statement of historical fact. It was not Jesus who was judged on that cross, but the sin of mankind that was judged and condemned.
The eyewitnesses, such as the dying thief, could see that man's evil was hanging on Jesus’ cross. That is why (*The act of proclaiming forgiveness for sin through Jesus’ death on the cross is described in legal terms as “witnessing” because it is first a historical statement and only then a theological statement.) the Bible declares that God has now decreed, that since Jesus loved sinners so much and became the sin of the world Himself on the cross, man can find forgiveness for his sin through faith in the death of Christ, as the final and complete sin-offering. But conversely, if a man does not personally accept the death of Christ as a means to his salvation from sin, then he cannot be saved; he will himself have to take the full consequences of sin before a perfectly Holy God. Many people find it hard to accept that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the only means of finding forgiveness for one's sin. But who else ever became sin for the world? In the whole of human history Jesus is the only one who took man's sin upon Himself.

The Jews did not crucify Jesus to make Him a sin offering for the world, but since He did become sin on the cross by His own choice, God declared that 'there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12). Indeed, the New Testament focuses on the theological meaning of the cross, i.e., Jesus as the Saviour from sin, far more than it focuses on the immediate meaning of the cross, i.e., Jesus the troublemaker. One of the reasons for this is that the meaning of the cross was obvious to the contemporaries of the New Testament writers, whereas the theological meaning needed exposition, defence and practical application. We can ignore the theological meaning of the cross only at eternal cost to ourselves.

However, the contemporary assumption that the historical meaning of the cross in its own immediate context is irrelevant is equally mistaken. Jesus not only carried His cross, but He asked His disciples to carry their own crosses, too. One cannot be a disciple of Christ unless one takes up one's cross and follows Him (Luke 9:23).
What does it mean to carry one's cross?
The capital punishment of crucifixion was the weapon used to perpetuate Rome's reign of terror. Those condemned to die had to carry their own crosses to a public place where they were crucified. Jesus asked His disciples to fight Rome with its own weapon, instead of trying to fight it with the sword.
Mahatma Gandhi well understood and imitated Christ on this point. Some Indians wanted to fight British colonialism with guns and bombs. But Gandhi asked his followers to fill the British jails and accept the British stick-blows and bullets. When the British threw Gandhi in jail, it was not Gandhi who was judged and condemned but the British themselves. When they beat and killed the peaceful protesters, they in fact destroyed their own kingdom. That was what Jesus had invited His disciples to do. To 'take up your cross' means to become a rebel, to fight a corrupt establishment with moral weapons, to be a troublemaker and take the consequences of that.
Historically, the cross was the strategy of Christ and His followers in their battle against not only the heavenly, but also the secular powers, principalities and rulers of His dark age. During the day the Jews could not arrest Jesus in Jerusalem in that week of festivity, because the crowds revered Him as a prophet. They could not arrest Him at night secretly, because He didn't spend the nights in Jerusalem. There was no way they could have arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, even with the help of Judas, because the darkness was to His advantage. A group of soldiers with torches, searching for a man in the woods, face an impossible task. He can slip out in any direction. In our districts of Madhya Pradesh, bandits have dodged whole battalions of police for as many as thirty years in the jungles. Jesus said that no one takes His life from Him (they couldn't), but that He lays it down Himself. Under His Father's guidance, He chose to die, at a time which best suited His purposes or strategy.
On His cross, the Scripture says, He made a mockery of powers and authorities by disarming them, i.e., by making their weapon - the cross - redundant (Col. 2:15).
Today, in many countries of the world where evil, corruption and tyranny reign, heaping untold miseries on the weak and the poor, Christ calls His disciples to a practical compassion for the sheep. He calls His followers to take up their cross and follow Him in the path of service, protest and confrontation.
A man whose perception of Christianity is conditioned by the contemporary image of the Church is very likely to dismiss this interpretation of the historical meaning of the cross as a heresy. But Gamaliel, a respected Jewish rabbi, who watched Jesus and His cross-bearing community closely and sympathetically, saw them as well intentioned political rebels. He naturally classed the apostles with Theudas and Judas the Galilean who 'also' led revolts against Rome. The entire Jewish Sanhedrin both critics and sympathisers of the apostles-agreed with Gamaliel's perception of the Church as a band of rebels (Acts 5:33-40).
Through His service Jesus deliberately became a champion of the masses. But this does not mean that He went after cheap popularity with the masses. He demanded costly discipleship. Only by creating disciples who are prepared to care for the sheep at the cost of their own lives, can we hope to stand up against the gates of Hades. The Lord Jesus created a mass following, a power base, to disrupt the structures that had kept the blind man a beggar.
Our service today lacks power because it is often marked by self-love, or it is produced by compassion which does not understand the social roots of human misery and gives no answer to them. When we choose to live for others in such a way that we are willing to lay down our lives for them, we shall produce fruit for God, because we shall have power. This will bring honour to God and to us, though through the cross.

A Story from Indian Church History

Indian society has experienced enormous change and improvement during the last two hundred years. Many people forget that this process of social change was initiated by the Gospel because it was understood that Christian compassion called for a crusade against those social institutions and practices which oppress and dehumanise man.

The battles against sati (burning of widows), untouchability, child marriage, female infanticide, bonded agricultural labour, drunkenness and opium addiction, were often initiated and led by missionaries. Hindu reformers took up the battle following the missionaries. However, we must admit with shame that when reform began to touch the evil of colonialism itself, the Church backed out, leaving the leadership in non-Christian hands. Nevertheless, there is much we can learn from the nature of the early Protestant movement in India. One good example was a crusade against the exploitation of forced labourers by the indigo planters in Bengal.
Indigo is a plant from which dye is made. After indigo plantations ceased to be very profitable in the West Indies and America, many European planters came to Bengal and joined the Indian landlords in the indigo plantations. They leased or bought large estates which were rented to Indian peasants for cultivation. Peasants were given initial loans which landed them and their children in virtual slavery. According to the terms of the loan and cultivation rights, they had to grow a fixed quantity of indigo for their landlords' factories, whether or not they could grow any food for themselves.
For decades, when the cost of other agricultural produce doubled or tripled, the price of indigo was kept fixed. The result was that production cost was often higher than the selling price. This kept the peasants on the point of perpetual starvation. If anyone protested he was kidnapped, locked in a factory and beaten up by the muscle-men of the landlords. The police and judiciary were bought off by bribes. Any honest officers and magistrates could do little because no peasant dared to witness against a landlord or his muscle-men. It was a reign of terror.
These cruel European landlords were a great help to the evangelists whenever they went on their preaching excursions among the peasants. But when the evangelists heard the peasant's tales of woe, they realised that these men with empty bellies could not possibly pay attention to the Gospel. Even if they could hear it, they could not accept it, because the evangelists were patronised by their oppressors, the landlords.

The Rev. F. Schurr, a CMS missionary, was among those who were deeply grieved by the cruelties of the indigo planters. Like Moses long ago, he chose to reject the patronage of the planters in order to participate in the sufferings of the peasants. He exposed the cruelties of the indigo plantation system by reading a paper 'On the influence of the system of indigo planting in the spread of Christianity' in September 1855 at a conference of Bengal missionaries held in Calcutta.

This sparked off a controversy. Some “Protestants” initially opposed the idea of getting involved, but gradually as the facts became known most joined the battle. The Hindu intelligentsia and the secular press played helpful roles. A powerful appeal was made to the Government to appoint a commission of inquiry and change the system of forced labour. The planters predictably fought back, blaming the missionaries for leaving religious matters and meddling in political and secular affairs and creating class conflict. The Government sided with the planters and turned down the appeal for a commission of inquiry without even giving a reason.
The missionaries were infuriated and moved the matter in the British parliament and aroused public opinion in Britain and in Bengal. Among the means used were art and drama. Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the Hindu convert whose poetry gave birth to Bengali nationalism, translated into English a Bengali drama, Mirror of Indigo which was a satire on the indigo system portraying the effects of the system on a labourer’s family.
For tactical reasons (it would seem) the English version of the drama was published in the name of Rev. James Long, another CMS missionary. A criminal case for libel was started against him for this and he was finally imprisoned for serving the oppressed.
Here was a service that stirred up a society, exposed and condemned the cruelty of a blind Establishment and brought the cross, power and honour to Christian servants. An Australian historian, G.A. Oddie, wrote thus about the results of Long's imprisonment:
“Long's apparent willingness to suffer for the sake of others and in the cause of peace with justice for the ryots [peasants] of lower Bengal, his lack of bitterness and self-regard and his cheerful acceptance of what he believed was an inescapable duty made a profound impression. Indeed, his attitude and stand on the indigo issue probably did more to commend his faith than any amount of preaching could ever have accomplished and at least for the time being affected Hindu and other non-Christian perceptions of Christianity. It reinforced the impression created by the missionaries' earlier participation in the indigo controversy that they totally rejected the racial arrogance of fellow Europeans and were not 'partakers of other men's sins'. `The Rev. J.Long', wrote the editor of the Indian Mirror, ‘has acted manfully and precisely in the manner a true Christian missionary should have done when placed under the same circumstances.’ Dr Kay of the S.P.G., who visited Long in prison, remarked on the tone of vernacular newspapers and quoted one as saying that, if this be Christianity, then we wish Christianity would spread all over the country. Duff, Wylie , Stuart and others believed that Long's imprisonment was creating a very favourable impression for Christian missions and catechists informed Long that as a result of his imprisonment 'people have listened...more willingly to their preaching'.”* (Footnote: See What Liberates A Woman: The Story of Pandita Ramabai - A Builder of Modern India by MacNicol and Mangalwadi, published by Nivedit Good Books Distributors Private Limited.)
It will no doubt be argued that Long lived in British India and thus was able to speak boldly against 'his own system'. Modern missionaries in India are prohibited from such interference. It may be true that as guests they do not have the right to interfere with our socio-economic system. But the problem comes when the missionaries (and even Indian church leaders) prohibit the Indian Christians from being true to their “Protestant” tradition which has to mean involvement in such daring acts of compassion. The missionaries keep the Indian Church away from the mainstream of national life, and prevent us from cultivating a feeling that this is 'our system', and we have not only the right but a responsibility to love it and make it just.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Jesus had become the central issue in India, primarily because the Church not only evangelised but also led the action for social reform and upliftment of the down-trodden. J.N. Farquhar, in his classic study, Modern Religious Movements in India (published at the beginning of this century) shows that Christ was then the central factor in the ferment in Indian consciousness. All the movements were either responding to Him or reacting to Him.
However, when Indian leadership began to feel that the greatest social evil in India was colonialism, the Church generally withdrew from the arena. Therefore the initiative and leadership of the reform movement passed out of Christian hands. In the 1920s and '30s Jesus became a side issue in India. Missionary statesmen such as E. Stanley Jones realised what great damage a short-sighted Christian leadership was doing to the cause of Christ by not participating in the national struggle for independence. Stanley Jones, therefore, vigorously supported the independence movement. The British Government retaliated by banning his entry into India for five years.
It was most unfortunate that at that time the Indian Church neither stood up for independence, nor even for Dr Stanley Jones who had served the Church as few others had. The result of this non-involvement was that by the 1940s and '50s Jesus became a non-issue in India, Christianity appeared to be a tool of Western imperialism, and Christians began to be perceived as those whose loyalties did not lie with India. This popular misconception continues to make evangelism ineffective. If Jesus continues to remain a non-issue much longer, we shall certainty wipe out the tremendous legacy of the two hundred years of missionary service in India.
Take the issue of freedom for women to develop as full human beings. A century ago, when Christians first started admitting girls to school in our district, the Hindu pundits said, 'You might as well educate the cows.' Pandita Ramabai, a brilliant high-caste woman, who founded the Ramabai Mukti Mission (Mukti means liberation), was converted to Christ because she saw Jesus as the true liberator of women (e.g., His dealing with the Samaritan woman in John 4).

Today, Jesus is no longer seen as a liberator of women, even though the evils of female foeticide, female infanticide, child marriage, dowry, bride-burning, forced prostitution, 'flesh trade' (or selling of women as slaves), continue unabated. (As the Christian influence declines in India, even the most horrifying ritual of sati has been revived.) It was banned one hundred and fifty-eight years ago primarily due to the efforts of the first British missionary in India, William Carey, who was supported by the British reformer William Wilberforce and the Indian reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy. (*Footnote: See
Carey, Christ and Cultural Transformation by Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi, published by Paternoster Press, England.)
In such a situation where evils continue to be institutionalised, Jesus could be brought back into the centre of the debate by compassionate Christian interaction with the mainstream. Why are we uninvolved? For some it is a matter of lack of compassion - religious service has become a means of self-aggrandisement. For others, it is a theological problem. The action for social reform, they feel, would take them away from their calling to be witnesses. We shall take up this latter problem in the next chapter. We can conclude this chapter by reminding ourselves that Christ’s conflict with the religious system of His day was focused substantially on this point: their religiosity lacked mercy and compassion. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Jesus brushed aside the self-righteousness of the Pharisees with an exhortation from the Old Testament, “But go and learn what this means: (God says) ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:13). He explained to them that their spiritual blindness was rooted in their lack of understanding that unlike the pagan gods, their God demanded from them not animal sacrifices for Himself, but compassion for their fellow-beings who suffered (Matt. 12:3-7). Jesus equates lack of compassion with wickedness (Matt. 8:33). The most sobering feature to remember is that Jesus said that at the Last Judgment, our relationship with God will be judged on the grounds of our life of compassion or lack of it (Matt. 25:31-46).

Download 0.58 Mb.

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8

The database is protected by copyright © 2023
send message

    Main page