archives

Archive for

What Do We Bean By ‘The Kingdom of God?’

This article originally appeared in The Cry: The Advocacy Journal of Word Made Flesh vol. 11, no. 2 (Summer 2005). Ten years ago we were struggling to understand what it meant to be a sign of the kingdom of God, while serving among those who were promised that theirs is the kingdom of God. Those like Tom Wright, Jurgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf helped us find some bearings. Although we continue to struggle with seeking first the kingdom of God, and although an article written today would look a bit different, I hope that this article may help others to find their bearings and provoke the ceaseless prayer: May Your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.

In recent years Christians have become increasingly familiar with the phrase “kingdom of God”, but because its definition is rarely articulated, we do not always know what it means. Many equate “the kingdom of God” with an ethereal heaven for disembodied souls in the afterlife, building earthly utopias, or the expansion of the Church. Recently, “kingdom” has become a trendy adjective to indicate anything “truly” Christian: kingdom community, kingdom persons, kingdom culture, etc.1 But when a word is used without a clear and common consent of terminology, it loses its semantic value and leads to confusion.

The use and misuse of “the kingdom of God” means that we need to rearticulate the phrase if it is to carry any real meaning. In this short article, we will ask: what did the kingdom of God mean when Jesus said it, who were the primary recipients of His message, what is the nature of the kingdom of the Triune God, and what are some implications for us today?

The Kingdom of God in the First Century

“After John the Baptist had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel'” (Mk. 1:14-15).2Thekingdom ofGod was the central motif of Jesus’ mission (Lk. 4:43). When Jesus preached thekingdom ofGod, He was not introducing a new concept that had to be explained in first centuryPalestine. Rather, Jesus was evoking the burning expectations ofIsrael.

For a Jew in the first century, the kingdomof Godmeant the restoration of the shekinah glory3, the return from exile, and the defeat of Israel’s national enemies.4 But Jesus scandalously redefined these expectations. When Israel was taken into exile and Solomon’s temple destroyed, the dwelling of God’s shekinah glory was displaced from the Holy of Holies. The promise of the coming kingdom meant the restoration of the glorious presence. But when the second Temple was built, the shekinah glory never came. Jesus asserted that Herod’s construction was redundant, affirming that His own body was the true temple (Mt. 12:5; 26:61). The shekinah glory tabernacled among us (Jn. 1:14) and continues to inhabit the earth through God’s people (17:22), moving towards the consummation of filling the earth as the waters cover the sea (Rev. 21:23; Hab. 2:14).

Israel was exiled as a sign of judgment for her iniquity. In the first century, only a remnant of Israelhad returned to Palestinewhile most remained in Diaspora.5 Even those who had returned to Palestine were painfully aware of their exile because the Roman soldiers were patrolling the streets. The prophets had prophesied that the return from exile (the real or new exodus) would come through the renewal of the heart, the internalization of the Torah and the forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:24-33). Therefore, when Jesus says “your sins are forgiven” and brings sinners into fellowship, it is another way of saying “you have returned from exile.” When Jesus summoned people to repentance and offered forgiveness of sins, He was inaugurating the kingdom of God (N.T. Wright, JVG, 269-72).

Jews believed that the coming of the kingdomof Godmeant the ousting of Israel’s national enemies. The Promised Land was being ruled by the Romans, who kept Israelin bondage to feed its empire. The battle cry for exiled and subjugated Israelwas “there is no king but Yahweh” (N.T. Wright, NTPG, 302). However, Yahweh’s kingdom was not made manifest through the ousting of Rome, but rather through the defeat of humanity’s real enemies: namely, sin, Satan and death. Jesus said, “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11:20). This indicates that Israel’s God is becoming king and that the enemies – sin, Satan and death – that have held Israel captive, are being cast down. The kingdom of God denotes the coming of Israel’s God in person and power, and this, through forgiveness, deliverance and resurrection, is happening now. He will do again what He did in the exodus: come and dwell in the midst of His people. The kingdom is the fulfillment of Israel’s destiny. Israel’s God becomes king through Jesus’ work, life, death and resurrection. The people of God are summoned to follow Jesus as king. “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace…who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God is king'” (Is. 52:7)

The Recipients of the Kingdom of God

The message of the kingdomof God was proclaimed to the poor because the poor suffer the most from exile. In the absence of God’s reign, they are most vulnerable to subjugation by worldly powers; they endure the greatest loss when marginalized or cast out of fellowship; and they are the first to bear the effects of sin and death. That is why the Magi did not find the king in Herod’s palace but among poor shepherds; that is why the shekinah went out to the outcast and touched the untouchable in the person of the King; and that is why death is crushed through the King’s death and resurrection. Jesus’ welcome of the poor and outcast was a sign that the real return from exile – the new age, the resurrection – was coming into being in the present time (Is. 35:1-10) (N.T. Wright, JVG, 255).

Jesus affirms that the poor are blessed because theirs is the kingdomof God(Lk. 6:20). The poor are given the inheritance of the King. They are made princes and princesses because the kingdom belongs to them. The kingdom is at hand and the primary point of its entry is among the poor:6 sick are healed, demons are cast out, lame are made to walk, deaf are restored to hearing, and Good News is preached to the poor (Lk. 7:22; Is. 61:1-4). God did in the middle of time through Jesus what the Jews expected He would do through Israel at the end of time (N.T. Wright, What St. Paul Really Said, 36).

In Mark’s gospel, the word for “people” or “multitude” that follow Jesus is ochlos, which denotes sinners, the excluded, the impoverished, and the disinherited. This is the preferred audience of the message of the kingdom. Jesus calls the people to the way of the cross (8:34), teaches them (7:14), has compassion for them (6:34), heals them (1:34), and identifies with them (3:34). The ochlos is the primary addressee of Jesus’ gospel, and the kingdom is revealed among them.

Jesus also says that the kingdom of God belongs to the children (Mt. 19:14). He takes the first and makes them last, and He takes those that cannot compete and makes them greatest in the kingdom (18:1-3). Sometimes we refer to the “upside-down kingdom”, since Jesus subverts the ways of the world, but really nothing is more right-side-up than thekingdomofGod.

The kingdom of God is a gift; it is not imposed. We are invited to ask for it: Let Your kingdom come and Your will be done! (Lk. 11:2). In the Lord’s Prayer, we release our rule and our will and ask the Father to give us His. Lesslie Newbigin calls this an open secret. The kingdom is a secret revealed as a mystery through weakness, but it is open in that it is to be proclaimed to all (The Open Secret, 35-37).In Luke’s gospel, the invitation to the kingdom is made, but those bidden do not come. The master reacts by inviting the poor, the maimed and the blind (14:15-24). The King’s banquet table is made for fellowship with the poor. Those that are crushed by the worldly empires are particularly enthused by the promise of the coming kingdom, but those with vested interests in worldly empires, like the excuse-filled invitees, are not open to God’s reign or His will being done. The invitation is also a demand: all are invited to leave everything, to follow Him and to receive theKingdom ofGod (Lk. 12:32).

In John’s gospel, the kingdom of God is synonymous with life. Jesus says, “But a man be born again, he cannot see thekingdomofGod” (Jn. 3:3). ThekingdomofGodis a totally new reality represented as new life and as the true way of being human. All opposing kingdoms mean death – especially for the poor – and their beneficiaries cannot see or enter into this new reality. The only way to see, taste and experience eternal life in God’s kingdom is by receiving new birth from God’s life-giving Spirit.

The Kingdom of the Triune God

The kingdom of life is the kingdom of the Trinity. This is where the analogies between worldly kingdoms and God’s kingdom reach their breaking point. The kingdom of the Triune God confers a reciprocal loving relationship, not hierarchical power. The kingdom of the Trinity offers liberation, not domination. The kingdom of the Father, Son and Spirit is where justice and peace kiss (Ps. 85:10) and where all things are renewed (Rev. 21:5).

The kingdom of the Triune God ushers in the reign of love. God is lover, beloved, and love. The kingdom of the Trinity is not revealed as power but as love (I Jn. 4:8); His power is exercised only through His love. The Father loves us so He gives His Son. The Son loves the Father so He gives His life up. In the New Testament, Jesus is not Lord by virtue of His sovereignty, His power, or His rights as Creator over His creation; He is Lord by virtue of His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus says, “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative” (Jn. 10:17-18). Here power means surrender. The power of powerlessness is depicted on the cross labeled “King of the Jews”: nail-pierced hands outstretched and a brow crowned with thorns. Christ reigns from a tree. Powerlessness takes the place of power. In John’s Revelation, we see the slain lamb on the throne (Rev. 5:6). Worthy is the Powerless to receive all power (5:12).

Empires of this world divide and conquer; any resulting freedom is the luxury of the minority at the expense of the majority. The rule of the Triune God is translated as freedom for all. The Trinity reigns by creating community. St. Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). In God’s kingdom, lordship means liberation, not domination. Through our obedient submission, God’s reign liberates us.

The consummation of the kingdom of God is the New Creation, which is already taking place. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). That ‘already’ signals that which will be in full. The fulfillment of the kingdom of God is where the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of the Triune God (Rev. 11:15), where heaven and earth are renewed (21:1), and where humanity comes home and is filled with the shekinah which radiates from throne of God (22:3-4). The Spirit and the bride say to the Bridegroom, “Come! On earth as it is in heaven!”

The Kingdom of God Today

“Yahweh has established His throne in the heavens and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). Christ is Lord and He challenges and ultimately defeats any other claim to His rule. The kingdom is manifested where Christ’s rule is accepted. It is revealed in the remnant through which God has worked and is working. It was Elijah during Jezebel’s reign (I Kng. 19:18), David’s ragamuffin band under Saul (I Sam. 22:1, 2), Daniel and the three Hebrew boys exiled in Babylon(Dan. 3:12), Jesus and His disciples (Lk. 6:12ff.), and small, often hidden, pockets of faithful today in what we call the church.

The kingdom of God is not equated with the church, nor is the expansion of the church equated with the building of the kingdom. The church is not the custodian or possessor of the kingdom. The kingdomof Godis not contained by the church but presses it beyond its frontiers (Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, 22). “The meaning of the church does not reside in what it is but in what it is moving towards. It is the reign of God which the church hopes for, bears witness to and proclaims (Hans Kung, The Church, 96). The mission of the church is not the globalization of the church or the extension of a denomination’s programs. These agendas are submitted to the mission of the kingdom, which is to return humanity from exile and to fill the earth with the glory of the Triune God (Is. 6:3).

The Kingdom is not simply God’s own activity but His activity worked out through His people. Therefore, “we are receiving an unshakeable kingdom” as God’s gift and God’s initiative (Heb. 12:28), but we are also “seeking first the kingdomof Godand His justice/righteousness” (Mt. 6:33). Seeking entails surrendering our allegiance to the King and to His justice. In our surrender, God doesn’t make us His subjects, but active participants in His kingdom. God calls us co-heirs with Christ (Rm. 8:17), destines us to reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12), and sets us on thrones in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). The church is made a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6; I Pet. 2:9). Through participation, we co-labor with the King in establishing His kingdom.

In service of God’s reign, the church “is the supreme manifestation of the kingdom in any generation” (Dewi Hughes, God of the Poor, 76). But the church only serves the kingdom when she serves and identifies with the recipients of the kingdom, that is to say, with the poor. The people of God drop their nets, leave all, and follow Jesus in declaring the kingdom of God to the poor. It is only to the church of the poor that the King will say to her: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:31ff.)

We do not, however, need to wait until the Last Judgment to know where we stand in the kingdom, for Christians are socialized into the culture of God’s reign. Dr. Samuel Kamaleson has taught us that in the kingdomof God, culture means values. He describes five non-values of the kingdom: pride (enthroning the self), prestige (elevating status), parochialism (finding corporate identity through exclusion), possessions (consumerism and prizing things more than persons), and passion of the flesh (gratification of oneself at the cost of another). This does not mean that the kingdomof Godis a moral code (Rom. 14:17), or that these are private values chosen by individual whim (Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season, 196).7 The values of the kingdom follow the historical life of Jesus, reflect His purposes, and clash with all opposing values. “The coming of the kingdom stands in combative relation to the anti-kingdom. They are not merely mutually exclusive, but fight against one another” (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator, 126).

On the cross, Jesus confronts, challenges and triumphs over all contesting powers. On the cross Jesus disarms and unmasks the powers and principalities (Col. 2:14-15).8 That means that thekingdom ofGod confronts political, economic and religious powers.

The kingdomof Godis political.9 Throughout history the church used the “kingdom of God” to justify its political power and reign. More recently, the church has aligned with political ideologies to bring its version of the kingdom of God.”10 But this sinful misuse should not justify the church’s retreat from the political sphere. Though modernity tells us to keep ‘religion’ private and to not meddle in public affairs, Scripture tells us that Christ is Lord and will put everything under His rule. When the early church said that Jesus was Lord, they said literally that Jesus is Caesar, which was a defiant affront to the imperial cult and which resulted in persecution and martyrdom (Acts 17:7). That is why Paul said, “No one can say that Jesus is Caesar but by the Spirit of God” (I Cor 12:3). It is only by the Spirit that the church can courageously challenge political powers and call them to accountability before the cross of Christ. The people of the Crucified God offer their ultimate allegiance to Christ’s rule, meaning that they represent a subversive force to any other claim to power.

Likewise, the kingdom of God contests economic powers: the god of Mammon. In Revelation, John describes the economy of Babylon(18:9-13). At the top of Babylon’s system of values is gold; at the bottom is humanity. The kingdoms of the world are built on the backs of the downtrodden; their wealth is financed by the souls of mankind. In the economy of the kingdom of God, humanity is on top and gold on the bottom. In the New Creation, the streets are paved with gold. That is to say that gold equals dirt and asphalt and takes its proper place under humanity’s feet (21:21). Though it is dangerous and risky, the church must call worldly economic powers to submit to the lordship of Christ.

The kingdom of God also calls religious powers to account.11 Religions challenge God’s reign by claiming exclusive access to God, by holding the “keys of knowledge” about God, and by controlling forgiveness. Religious power is used to subjugate people to their control (Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 83). Jesus condemned the Pharisees and priests for “tying up heavy loads and laying them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Mt. 23:4-25). The church must denounce any religious justification for the use of power and resist the temptation to employ religious power.

Amidst sin, death, exile and distance from God, we see signs of the defeat of humanity’s enemies, the glorious presence of God, and just fellowship. The kingdom of the Triune God is breaking in. It is like a treasure buried in a field (Mt. 13:19): in a field of inhumanity, a woman, dying in her own blood and excrement on the train station floor, is embraced and held. It is like leaven (13:33): a multi-colored dragonfly dances over the open sewers leading to a slum. It is of a child (19:14): dozens of smiling children, forgetting their malnutrition and nakedness, skirt around, grab fingers or pant-legs and lead us forward. It is the welcome of the prostitutes (21:31): in the dark, worn brothel rooms, door after door opens, not to service usual clients, but to receive God’s radiating, pure love and other options for life. It is the pearl of great price (13:46): moving from the wealthy American suburbs to a hidden third-world slum to share in sufferings, to discover beatitude blessing and to live out the gospel among the poor. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed (13:31): though the world is broken, impoverished and in despair, an insignificant seed of hope and compassion falls to the ground; slowly and secretly it forces its way deep through the soil and grows up into the greatest of trees in which all will find life.

1. See popular works like Experiencing Godby Henry T. Blackaby and The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey as well as the Lausanne papers.
2. ‘Kingdom of God’ is synonymous with the Matthean ‘kingdom of heaven’. In this article, I also use the synonyms ‘reign of God’ and ‘rule of God’. See N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, 203.
3. Shekinah, rooted in the word ‘tabernacle’, is the descent and indwelling of God’s presence in space and time at a particular place and era in history (Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 47; Gustavo Gutierrez, The God of Life, 75).
4. In this section, I am following N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God (NTPG) and Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG).
5. The dispersed Jews living outside Israel.
6. The theological ‘ultimate’ is the kingdom of God, and the ‘primacy’ is the liberation of the poor. This does not reduce the whole of the kingdom of God to the liberation of the poor, rather it sees the whole of the kingdom of God from the point of view of the poor (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator, 122).
7. See Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue.
8. “It is not that structures can sin…but structures demonstrate and actualize the power of sin and, in this sense, make people sin and make it supremely difficult for them to lead the lives that belong to them as children of God” (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator, 123). See also Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers.
9. See John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus.
10. The church in the USA has often aligned itself with conservative political parties and lobbies and has recently lent itself to the rise of religious nationalism. For a concise description of the church’s workings with American politics and its link to dispensationalists, see Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
11. In The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann speaks of the “royal consciousness” that exploited the poor by the “economics of affluence” (I Kngs. 4:20-23), the “politics of oppression” (I Kngs. 5:13-18, 9:15-22), and the “religion of immanence (I Kngs. 8:12-13).

Advertisements

Ce ințelegem prin “Împărăția lui Dumnezeu”?

Am scris acest articol acum 10 ani. Încercam să înțelegem felul în care noi putem fi un semn al împărăției lui Dumnezeu, slujind în mijlocul celor care au primit făgăduința că „a lor este împărăția lui Dumnezeu”. În mijlocul acestei frământări, am fost ajutați să dezvoltăm înțelegerea noastră de înaintași noștri ca Tom Wright, Jurgen Moltmann și Miroslav Volf. Cu toată că un articol sris astăzi despre această temă ar arăta diferit, cred că acest articol poate fi încă de ajutor pentru alții care se frământă cu căutarea împărăției lui Dumnezeu.

In ultimii ani, crestinii s-au familiarizat cu expresia “Imparatia lui Dumnezeu” insa din cauza ca definitia conceptului este doar rareori articulata in intelesul ei real, nu se stie exact intelesul acestuia. Multi asociaza acest concept cu cerul diafan in care lucuiesc sufletele dupa ce isi parasesc trupul in viata de dincolo, pentru unii acesta inseamna locul unde se pot construi utopii lumesti iar altii inteleg prin asta expansiunea Bisericii. Recent, cuvantul “imparatie” s-a transformat intr-un calificativ ultramodern care atribuie trasatura de autenticitate a orice este crestin: comunitate a imparatiei, individ al imparatiei / spiritual, cultura a imparatiei etc. Atunci cand un termen este folosit in afara unui acord clar si comun in ce priveste terminologia, isi pierde valorile semantice si aduce confuzie.

Folosirea acestui termen in mod corect si incorect impune redefinirea ei. Avem nevoie de aceasta daca vrem sa isi exprime intelesul real. In acest scurt articol vor fi adresate cateva intrebari: Ce insemna “imparatia lui Dumnezeu” ca expresie pe care a folosito-o Isus? Care erau recipientii primari ai mesajului? Care este natura imparatiei Dumnezeului Triun? si Care sunt implicatiile pentru noi astazi?

Împărăția lui Dumnezeu în primul secol

“Dupa ce a fost inchis Ioan, Isus a venit in Galilea si propovaduia Evanghelia lui Dumnezeu. EL zicea: S-a impinit vremea si Imparatialui Dumnezeu este aproape, pocaiti-vă si credeti in Evanghelie” (Marcu 1:14-15) – acelasi inteles cu Imparatia Cerurilor (Matei).Imparatia lui Dumnezeu era motivul primordial al misiunii luiIsus (Luca 4:43). Mantuitorul nu a introdus un nou concept care sa aiba nevoie de explicatii in contextul Palestinei din primul secol arunci cand a propovaduit Imparatia lui Dumnezeu. Mai degraba, El evoca asteptarile inflacarate ale lui Israel.

Pentru un iudeu din primul secol, Imparatia lui Dumnezeu insemna trei lucruri: revenirea gloriei in intelesul de “șechina” – cuvant care vine de la “cort al intalnirii” si care reprezinta coborarea si locuirea prezentei lui Dumnezeu intr-un anumit spatiu si timp, localizat specific si intr-o anumita era a istoriei, intoarcerea din exil si infrangerea dusmanilor natiunii Israel. Isus vine cu o redefinire scandaloasa a acestor asteptari. Atunci cand Israelul a fost luat in exil si cand templullui Solomon a fost distrus, prezenta lui Dumnezeu, gloria “șechina” a incetat sa se manifeste in Sfanta Sfintelor. Promisiunea venirii Imparatiei insemna restaurarea prezentei gloriei lui Dumnezeu. Dar cand al doilea Templu a fost construit, gloria “șechina” nu s-a mai coborat. Isus afirma ca templul construit de Irod era de prisos, si ca trupul Sau era adevaratul Templu. (Matei 12:5, 26:61) Șechina a locuit printre noi (Ioan 1:14) si continua sa traiasca printre oamenii luiDumnezeu (Ioan 17:22) mergand spre umplerea pamantului asa cum apele marii acopera pamantul. (Apoc 21:23 Habacuc 2:14).

Exilul lui Israel era un semn al judecatii lui Dumnezeu pentru nelegiurile savarsite. In primul secol, doar o ramasita a lui Israel se intorsese in Palestina in timp ce cei mai multi ramasesera in Disapora. Cei intorsi erau dureros de constienti de exilul lor traind alaturi de romanii care le patrulau strazile. Profetiile spusesera ca intoarcerea din exil (cel adevarat sau noul exod) avea sa vina odata cu innoirea inimii, cu intiparirea in inima a Torei si cu iertarea pacatelor lor. (Ier. 31:31-34; Ezech. 36:24-33).

Prin urmare, atunci cand Isus spune “iertate iti sunt pacatele” si cand aduce pe pacatosi in cadrul  partasiei, El exprima un alt fel de “intoarcere din exil”. Cand Isus le poruncea oamenilor sa se pocaiasca de pacatele lor, El inaugura Imparatia lui Dumnezeu.

Isus stia ca venirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu insemna alungarea dusmanilor natiunii lui Israel. Pamantul fagaduintei era acum stapanit de catre romani care tineau pe evrei in robie pentru a-si hrani proprul imperiu. Strigatul de lupta al Israelului exilat si subjugat era: “nu exista nici un rege in afara de Iahve”. Totusi, imparatia lui Iahve nu se manifesta prin inlaturarea Romei ci mai degraba prin infrangerea dusmanului real al umanitatii – pacatul, Satan si moartea. Isus a spus “Dar daca EU scot dracii cu degeteul lui Dumnezeu,Imparatia lui Dumnezeu a ajuns pana la voi” (Luca 11:2)

Aceasta arata ca Dumnezeul lui Israel se introneaza si ca dusmaniilui, pacatul, Satan si moartea, care il tinusera captiv, erau acum alungati. Imparatia lui Dumnezeu arata venirea Dumnezeului luiIsrael intrupat si plin de putere si acesta se intampla acum prin iertare, eliberare si inviere. El va face din nou ce a facut in timpul exodului: va veni si va locui in mijlocul poporului Sau. Imparatia este implinirea destinului lui Israel. Dumnezeul lui Israel este facut imparat prin lucrarea lui Isus, prin viata, moartea si invierea Lui. Oamenii luiDumnezeu sunt chemati sa Il urmeze pe Isus ca Imparat. “Ce frumoase sunt pe munti picioarele celui ce aduce vesti bune, care vesteste pacea

…care vesteste mantuirea! Picioarele celui care zice Sionului: Dumnezeul tau imparateste!” (Isaia 52:7)

 Recipienții mesajului Împărăției lui Dumnezeu

Mesajul Imparatiei a fost proclamalt saracilor pentru ca ei erau cei care sufereau cel mai mult in timpul exilului. Fara imparatirea luiDumnezeu, ei sunt cei mai vulnerabili la puterile lumii, ei indura pierderile cele mai mari cand li se ia partasia sau cand sunt marginalizati si tot ei sunt primii care suporta urmarile pacatului si ale mortii. Acesta este motivul pentru care magii nu l-au gasit pe Isus in palatul lui Irod ci printre pastorii saraci, acesta este motivul pentru care șechina s-a indreptat catre cei dati afara si a atins pe cei de neatins prin persoana lui Isus; acesta este motivul pentru care Moartea este zdrobita prin moartea si invierea Regelui. Primirea de catre Isus a celor alungati si a celor saraci a fost un semn ca adevarata intoarcere din exil – noua era si invierea se infaptuiau chiar atunci. (Isaia 35:1-10)

Isus afirma ca saracii sunt binecuvantati pentru ca “a lor esteImparatia Cerurilor” (Luca 6:20) Lor le este data mostenirea Imparatului. Ei sunt transformati in printi si printese pentru caImparatia le apartine. “imparatia lui Dumnezeu este aproape iar centrul intrarii in aceasta imparatie este acolo, printre saraci” Jon Sobrino, Jesus, the Liberator (Isus ,eliberatorul). Afirmatia nu reduce intreaga Imparatie a lui Dumnezeu la eliberarea saracilor ci mai degraba, vede Imparatia prin perspectiva lor.  “Orbii vad, schiopii umbla, leprosii sunt curatitti, surzii aud, mortii inviaza si saracilor li se propovaduieste Evanghelia.” (Luca 7:22 Isaia  61:1-4) La mijlocul vremurilor, Dumnezeu a facut prin Isus ceea ce asteptau iudeii ca EL sa faca prin Israel la sfarsitul vremurilor.

In Evanghelia dupa Marcu, cuvantul pentru “oamenii” sau pentru “norodul” care Il urmau pe Isus este “ochlos”, cuvant care denota pe pacatosi, pe cei exclusi, impovarati, si renegati si dezmosteniti. Aceasta este audienta preferata pentru transmiterea mesajului Imparatiei. Isus cheama oamenii la calea Crucii (8:34), le da invatarura (6:14) are compasiune pentru ei (6:34), ii vindeca (1:34) si se identifica cu ei (3:34). Ochlos ii reprezinta pe recipientii primari ai Evangheliei lui Isus iar Imparatia este descoperita printre ei.

Isus spune de asemenea, ca Imparatia lui Dumnezeu apartine copilasilor. (Matei 19:14). El ii ia pe “cei dintai” si ii face “cei de pe urma”, ii ia pe cei smeriti si ii face cei mai mari in Imparatia luiDumnezu. (18:1-4). Uneori facem referire la ceea ce se numeste “imparatia rasturnata a lui Dumnezeu” pentru ca Dumnezeurastoarna caile lumii desi, nimic nu e mai ne-rasturnat si mai corect pozitionat pe scara de valori cum este Imparatia lui Dumnezeu.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este un dar, nu este impusa. Suntem invitati sa o cerem. “Vie imparatia Ta, faca-se voia Ta” (Luca 11:2). In rugaciunea domneasca, noi renuntam la domnia noastra si Ii cerem Tatalui sa ne-o dea pe a Lui. Autorul Leslie Newbigin, numeste aceasta “secretul descoperit” in cartea sa cu acelasi nume. Imparatiaeste un secret, o taina revelata ca un mister prin insesi slabiciunile noastre, iar revelarea consta in faptul ca trebuie proclamat tuturora. In Evanghelia dupa Luca, se face invitatia dar cei poftiti nu vin. Stapanul raspunde la acesta invitand pe saraci, pe ciungi si pe schiopi (14:15-24). Masa Regelui este facuta pentru partasia cu cei saraci. Cei care sunt zdrobiti de stapanitile lumesti sunt  in secial entuziasmati de venirea Imparatiei dar cei care au investit deja in stapanirile lumesti, cei care gasesc scuze nu sunt la fel de deschisi la domnia Regelui sau la “faca-se voia Ta”. Invitatia aceasta reprezinta in acelasi timp si o cerinta: toti trebuie sa lase totul, sa-L urmeze pe El si sa primeasca Imparatia lui Dumnezeu (Luca 12:32).

In Evanghelia lui Ioan, Imparatia este sinonima cu viata. Isus spune: “daca nu se naste cineva din nou, nu poate vedea Imparatia luiDumnezeu (Ioan 3:3). Aceasta Imparatie este o realitate cu totul noua reprezentata ca viata noua sau ca modul adevarata de a fi uman. Toate imparatiile opuse inseamna moarte – in special moarte pentru cei saraci, iar beneficiarii acestor imparatii nu pot vedea si nici intra in aceasta noua realitate. Singurul mod in care cineva poate vedea, gusta si experimenta viata vesnica in Imparatia lui Dumnezeueste prin acceptarea nasterii din nou din Duhul datator de viata al luiDumnezeu.

Împărăția Dumnezeului Triun

Imparatia vietii este Imparatia Trinitatii. Acesta este punctul unde analogiile intre imparatiile lumesti si Imparatia lui Dumnezeu ajung laun punct exploziv. Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun confera o relatie de iubire reciproca si nu ierarhica in putere. Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun ofera eliberare si nu dominare. Imparatia Tatalui, a Fiului si a Duhului Sfant este in locul unde “dreptatea si pacea se saruta” (Ps 85:10) si unde toate lucrurile sunt facute noi (Apoc 21:5).

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu imprima in om domnia iubirii. Dumnezeueste iubitorul, iubitul si iubirea insasi. Imparatia Trinitatii nu este descoperita ca putere si ca dragoste. (1 Ioan 4:8) Puterea Lui se exercita numai prin intermediul dragostei Lui.

Tatal ne iubeste si pentru asta, ni-L da pe Fiul lui. Fiul Il iubeste pe Tatal si pentru asta renunta la viata Lui. In Noul Testament Isus nu este Domn pentru suveranitatea Lui, pentru puterea Lui sau pentru drepturile lui de Creator peste creatia Sa; El este Domn pentru intruparea, crucificarea si invierea Lui. Isus spune: “nimeni nu mi-o ia (viata) cu sila ci o dau Eu de la Mine” (Ioan 10:17,18). Aici puterea inseamna renuntare. Aceasta putere a neputintei este zugravita in imaginea crucii pe care scrie “Isus, Regele Iudeilor”, si anume: maini strapunse care se intind si o frunte incununata cu spini. Hriostosul domneste de pe lemn. Neputinta ia locul puterii. In Apocalipsa vedem Mielul junghiat pe tron (Apoc 5:6) “Vrednic este Mielul care a fost junghiat sa primeasca puterea…(Apoc 5:12).

Imperii ale acestei lumi se divid si cuceresc iar singura libertate care rezulta de aici e luxul minoritatii pe spinarea majoritatii. Domnia Dumnezeului Triun insa, inseamna libertate pentru toti. Trinitatea domneste prin faptul ca ea creeaza comunitati. Pavel spune: “unde este Duhul Domnului, acolo este slobozenia” (2 Cor 3:17). In Imparatia lui Dumnezeu domnia inseamna eliberare si nu dominare. Prin supunerea noastra constienta, Dumnezeu ne elibereaza.

Desavarsirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu este Noua Creatie, care deja se implineste. “Daca este cineva in Hristos, este o faptura noua (2 Cor 5:17). Timpul prezent al verbului arata ca acesta deja este implinita. Implinirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu este acolo undeimparatiile acestei lumi devin Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun (Apoc 11:15), unde cerul si pamantul sunt facute noi (21:1) si unde umanitatea se reintoarce acasa si este umpluta de șechina care straluceste de pe tronul lui Dumnezeu (22:3,4). Duhul si mireasa spun Mirelui: Vino! precum in cer asa si pe pamant.

Împărăția lui Dumnezeu astazi

“Domnul (Iahve) Si-a asezat scaunul de domnie in ceruri si domniaLui stapaneste peste tot.”(Ps 103:19). Hristos este Domnul si El provoaca si in cele din urma si intr-un mod fundamental invinge orice revendicare sau asertiune la domnia Lui. Imparatia este manifestata acolo unde este acceptat domnia lui Hristos. Este descoperita in ramasita prin care Dumnezeu a lucrat si lucreaza si anume Ilie in timpul Iszabelei (I Imp. 19:18), ceata de zdrentarosi care il urmau pe David in timpul lui Saul (I Sam. 22:1, 2), Daniel si cei trei tineri evrei exilati in Babilon (Dan. 3:12), Isus si ucenicii Sai (Luca. 6:12ff.), si buzunarele mici de credinta, de obicei ascunse numite de noi astazi biserica.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu nu este egal cu biserica dupa cum nici cresterea bisericii nu este egal cu zidirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu. Biserica nu este tutorele sau proprietarul Imparatiei. Imparatia nu poate fin continuta in interiorul bisericii pentru ca Imparatie ii preseaza granitele acesteia, dupa cum spune Moltman Jurgan in Christ for Today’s World, sensul bisericii nu sta in ceea ce este ci in acel ceva spre care biserica se indreapta. Este domnia lui Dumnezeu in care biserica spera, fata de care este martora si pe care o proclama (Kung, The Church, 96). Misiunea bisericii nu este globalizarea acesteia si nici extinderea programelor denominationale. Aceste programe sunt subordonate misiunii Imparatiei si inseama intoarcerea umanitatii din exil si umplerea pamantului cu gloria Dumnezeului Triun. (Isaia 6.3)

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu nu este doar actiunea lui Dumnezeu ci actiunea Lui prin poporul Lui. Prin urmare, “am primit dar o Imparatie care nu se poate clatina” (Evrei 12:28) ca dar al Lui din initiativa Lui, dar de asemenea, cautam “mai intai Imparatia lui Dumnezeu si neprihanirea / dreptatea Lui” (Matei 6:33). Cautarea implica supunerea loialitatii noastre fata de Rege si de dreptatea Lui. In supunerea noastra, Dumnezeu nu ne face subiecti ai Lui ci participanti la Imparatia Lui. El ne cheama sa fim imppreuna mostenitori (Rom 8:17), ne ofera domnia impreuna cu El (2 Tim 2:12) si ne invita sa sedem in locuri ceresti (Efes 2:6). Biserica este o imparatie de preoti (Apoc 1:6, 1 Petru 2:9). Prin participare, suntem impreuna lucratori la intemeierea Imparatiei Lui.

In slujirea fata de Domnia lui Dumnezeu, biserica este manifestarea suprema a Imparatiei in orice generatie (Hughes, God of the Poor). Dar biserica implineste aceasta slujire numai cand slujeste si  se identifica cu recipientii Imparatiei, ai anume cu saracii. Oamenii lui Dumnezeu isi lasa navoadele, totul si Il urmeaza pe Isus in prolamarea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu printre cei saraci. Numai prin biserica celor saraci va spune Regele: “Veniti, binecuvantatii Tatalui Meu de mosteniti Imparatia care v-a fost pregatita de la intemeierea lumii (Matei 25:34).

Totusi, nu trebuie sa asteptam pana in ziua judecatii ca sa aflam daca suntem in Imparatie, crestinii traiesc impreuna in cultura Imparatiei. Dr. Samuel Kamaleson ne invata ca in Imparatia lui Dumnezeu, cultura inseamna valori. El descrie cele cinci non-valori ale imparatiei: mandria (intronarea sinelui), prestigiul (ridicarea statutului), marginirea sau gruparea (gasirea identitatii de grup prin excludere), posesiunile (consumerismul si pretuirea lucrurilor mai mult decat a oamenilor) si poftele carnii (satisfacerea de sine sacrificand pe altii).

Aceasta nu inseamna ca Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este un cod moral (Rom 14:17) sau ca acestea sunt valori alese de fantezii individuale Newbigin ( A Word in Season). Valorile Imparatiei urmeaza viata istorica a lui Isus, reflecta scopurile Lui si sunt in conflict cu toate celelalte valori opuse.  Venirea Imparatiei este intr-o relatie de lupta cu anti-Imparatia. Cele doua nu sunt primordial si reciproc opuse dar se afla in lupta” (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator).

Pe cruce, Isus infrunta, provoaca si triumfa asupra tuturor acestor puteri opuse. Pe cruce, Isus dezarmeaza si demasca puterile domniilor si stapanirilor (Col 2:14, 15) si aceasta inseamna caImparatia lui Dumnezeu infrunta puterile politice, economice si religioase.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este politica. De-alungul istoriei biserica a folosit expresia de “Imparatie a lui Dumnezeu” pentru a-si justifica puterea politica si domnia. Mai recent, biserica s-a aliniat cu ideologiile politice pentru a-si proclama propriile versiuni ale notiunii de Imparatie. In ultimii ani, biserica din SUA s-a aliniat cu partidele conservatoare si s-a pus recent la dispozitia cresterii nationalismului religios. (Pentru o descriere concisa a lucrarilor bisericii cu politicile americane si a legaturilor cu dispensationalismul se poate citi Mark Noll’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.) Totusi, aceste pacate nu trebuie sa justifice retragerea bisericii din sfera politica. Desi modernismul ne spune sa ne tinem “religia” ca personala si sa nu o amestecam in activitatile publice, Scriptura ne spune ca Hristos este Domnul si ca va pune totul sub stapanirea Lui. Cand biserica primara a afirmat ca Hristos este Domnul, au afirmat de fapt ca Hristos era Cezarul – ceea ce era un afront sfidator la adresa cultului imperial, fapt care a dus la persecutie si martiraj. (Fapte 17:7). De aceea Pavel spune “ Nimeni nu poate zice ca Isus este Domnul decat prin Duhul Sfant” (1Cor 12:3).

Numai prin Duhul poate biserica sa provoace puterile politice si sa le traga la raspundere in fata crucii. Poporul Dumnezeului crucificat isi delcara loialitatea absoluta domniei lui Hristos si aceasta inseamna ca ei reprezinta o forta subversiva in fata oricarei puteri.

In acelasi mod, Imparatia lui Dumnezeu contesta puterile economice: Mamona. In Apocalipsa, Ioan descrie economia Babilonului (18:9-13). In varful sistemului de valori babilonian sta aurul, la baza sta umanitatea. Imparatiile lumii sunt construite pe spatele robilor, bogatiile lor sunt finantate de sufletele oamenilor. In economia Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu umanitatea sta in varful sistemului si aurul sta jos. Pe pamantul Nou si in Cerul Nou, strazile sunt de aur curat (21:21). Desi este periculos si riscant, biserica trebuie sa porunceasca puterilor economice ale lumii sa se supuna domniei luiHristos.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu cere socoteala de asemenea, puterilor religioase. Religiile provoaca domnia lui Dumnezeu pretinzand acces exclusiv la Dumnezeu, tinand “cheia cunostintei” despre Dumnezeusi controland iertarea. Puterile religioase sunt folosite pentru a subjuga oamenii (Walter Bruggemann , The Profetic Imagination). Isus ii condamna pe farisei si pe preoti pentru ca “leaga sarcini grele si cu anevoie de purtat si le pun oe umerii oamenilor dar ei nici cu degetul nu vor sa le miste” (Matei 23:4-25). Biserica este chemata sa denunte orice justificare religioasa pentru folosirea puterii si sa reziste la tentatia de a angaja puterea religioasa.

In mijlocul pacautului, mortii, exilului si departarii de Dumnezeu, vedem semnele infrangerii dusmanilor umanitatii – comunitatea.Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun se declanseaza.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca o comoara ingropata intr-o tarina. (Matei 13:19): intr-un pamant al inumanitatii, o femeie care moare in propriul sange si in propriile murdarii, pe peronul unei statii de tren, este imbratisata si iubita.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca un aluat (Matei 13:33): o libelula in mii de culori danseaza deasupra unei guri de canalizare care duce intr-o mahala murdara.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu  este ca un copilas (Matei 19:14): zeci de copii care zambesc si care uita ca sunt subnutriti si goi si care ne agata de maini conducandu-ne inainte.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca acceptarea prostituatelor (Matei 21:31): intr-o camera putrida si intunecoasa de bordel, o usa se deshide nu pentru a servi clientii ci pentru a primi dragostea luminoasa a lui Dumnezeu care ii va da femeii alte sanse de trai.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca un margaritar de mare pret (Matei 13:46): alegand sa paraseasca suburbiile Americii ca sa mearga in mahalalele si cocioabele murdare ale lumii a treia pentru a impartasi suferinta, pentru a descoperi fericirile si pentru a trai Evanghelia printre saraci.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca o samanta de mustar (Matei 13:31): desi lumea este zdrobita, impovarata si in disperare, o samanta minuscula de speranta si compasiune cade pe pamant, se inradacineaza in taina in adanc si creste in cel mai mare copac in care toti gasesc viata.

 

Creative Protests in the City (part 2)

A few weeks back, we were led through a series of reflections on Creative Protests in the City by our friend David Clark, the pastor of the Steeple Church in Dundee, Scotland.

A CRITIQUE THROUGH ART

Robert Montgomerie

READING: Psalm 115:8

Those who make them (idols) will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

 READING: John 2:13-20

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.

“Dislocated” Rafael Barrios

TIME TO REFLECT

What do you discern as the impact of consumerist idolatry on people’s lives in Galati?

Are there ‘dislocated sections of society’ within Galati’s city community? Who are they? What characterises their lives?

Can you identify any obstacles that prevent you (as a community) being more effective in responding to Jeremiah’s command – “seek the peace and prosperity of the city”? (Jeremiah 29:7)

May Update

Dear Friends,

I wanted to give you a brief update on how life is in Galati so that you can know specifically how to continually pray for us.

Spring is here and our lives and schedules are fuller as the weather warms. Sadly, the person we employed to coordinate the new Day Center in the village resigned, but we have seen God’s hand at work. Within days another person, who volunteered with us a few years back, expressed interest in coordinating the Center. Her name is Mariana and we are so thankful that she is now involved with us. She’s getting to know the kids and figuring out the role.

We celebrated Easter this year as we have in years past. The kids prepared a performance of songs and poems, Lenutsa explained the reason for the holiday, and then we had a big meal together with the kids and their families. Afterwards, the kids tried to break a Romanian version of a piñata. It was a struggle, but they eventually broke the candy out.

It was a huge blessing that our friends Frank and John came out from England to help us build a playground at the new Day Center in the village. We also had a group from New Hampshire that were with us for a few days and helped us plant grass both in Galati and in the village.

We also received David Clark, a pastor from Scotland, for a few days. He led us in some reflections and discussions on what it means to do ministry in, with and for the city. It really helped us to start thinking about our ministry and our community in a larger context. We are now thinking and praying about some different activities to better engage our urban context.

Last month our community in Galati took two full days to create a one-year tactical plan. It was a time that helped us evaluate the positives and the negatives from the past year and focus our energies for the year to come. Each month we will come together to analyze our implementation of the plan. Please pray that we would continue to seek God’s heart for the vulnerable in Galati and that we would have wisdom in prioritizing our activities.

After lots of preparation, we are getting ready to take our community on a retreat. This year it is a regional retreat, which means that some of our staff from Sierra Leone and from Moldova will be participating with us. Sadly, three of our Sierra Leonean and one of our Moldovan national staff did not receive visas and are unable to come. So, our time of building and rejuvenating community is also mixed with grieving the kingdoms of this world that divide and try and keep us divided. The theme of our retreat is Reconciliation. We do pray that God would do a work in us personally and communally and a work through us towards reconciling all of creation to God. Please do pray with us and for us.

I would ask you to especially pray for our teenagers. Most of them have been with us since they were very young. But, as with most teenagers, they are struggling with the major decisions that will give direction to their futures. And they face struggles much more difficult than I did. For example, one of our teens has an older brother who was never sent to school and never learned to read or write. As you can imagine, it is difficult for him to get a job. Yet, he comes back from Italy with a  car (that he has to hire someone to drive) and money to buy an apartment. The way he gets money is through stealing or through pimping girls. Although our teens do not think that this is a “good” way to make money, they do see it as a viable job. This is the model that they see at home. And it is a spiritual battle to help them seek God and reject the things and the ways the world values.

I continue to write some reflections on my blog: davidchronic.com.  In March, Lenutsa and I were in Assisi with the other Regional Coordinators and the US co-executive directors of WMF where we had a great time together and were able to walk in the same place where Francis and Clare started the mendicant movement. A number of the recent posts are about the Franciscan movement. I have attached a short reflection below.

Thank you for standing with us in prayer,

David and Lenutsa

Creative Protest in the City (part 1)

A few weeks back, we were led through a series of reflections on Creative Protests in the City by our friend David Clark, the pastor of the Steeple Church in Dundee, Scotland.

He began by talking about the Occupy Movement and how it touched his city of Dundee. Rather than ignoring or bad-talking the movement – which sadly has been the response of many Christians – David Clark went out and spoke with them and asked them about their concerns. This wasn’t very difficult as they were camping next to the church property. He was able to identify the concerns that they shared and discussed ways in which they could respond together.

This really challenged our community to start to think about our participation in the city and the church’s task of prophetic engagement.

READING: ISAIAH 65:19-25

I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

“Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
They will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.

Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD.

“The three big problems in Dundee are homelessness, disaffected youth, and economic instability.”  Alessandro (Leader of Occupy Dundee).

TIME TO REFLECT

What would the citizens of Galati say are the top three problems in their city?

What do we mean by ‘presence of God’? How should Christian communities (churches +) make more visible the ‘presence of God’ in the city?

What do you observe are the consequences of the present recession in Galati?

The Story of the Tucum Ring

Listen to the audio of Esdrianne Cohen and Rich Nichols sharing the story or read the story below as told by Ben Miller.

Several years ago Lilia Marianno gave the WMF Brazil community simple black rings made from the fruit of a palm tree. With her gift, she shared a story.

She told of a bishop, who in a meeting with the leaders of the Tapirapé people, an indigenous tribe, was awed by their faith and resilience.  He asked for their forgiveness for the treatment of their people by his, and more importantly, for forgiveness for the church’s complicity in the oppression of their people over the centuries.

The bishop took off his gold ring, the symbol of his office, and presented it to the chief, saying “We cannot return all the gold we took, or restore all the lives we destroyed.  But we long to try and make things right.  Take this ring as a symbol of my desire for what the church will be – no longer taking, but giving.”  The Tapirapé chief accepted the ring, and reciprocated by removing his black tucum ring and giving it to the bishop as a symbol of their forgiveness and solidarity.

The ring, made from the fruit of the tucum palm tree is a difficult plant to cultivate due to its long, thin, sharp thorns.  The rings, made from the fruit’s hard shell that surrounds the seed, are made by hand – typically taking over an hour per ring.  The sawing, cleaning, and polishing are done by family members, creating opportunities for work for those who would not normally have it.

The symbolism of the black ring has changed over the years – in the 1800s the ring was a symbol of marriage for the slaves and natives, who could not afford to buy gold.  The ring was also a symbol of friendship, and of resistance to the established order – the freedom fighters.

In the words of the bishop, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga:  “… This ring is made from a palm tree in the Amazon.  It is a sign of alliance, of solidarity with the indigenous peoples and with the lives of the people (the least of these).  Anyone who wears this ring, normally, is saying they will accept the weight of this struggle, and also its consequences.  Will you accept the challenge of the ring?  Many, because of this commitment, were faithful until death …”

Today, the black ring of tucum has come to symbolize solidarity with the poor – a pledge to defend the Gospel on the path with the poverty-stricken – engagement with the poor and excluded of society – defending the poorest – aligning oneself against the rich and powerful and with the poor, marginalized, and forgotten – those who cast their lot with the poor of the earth – those who long for the freedom of Christ to reach into the lowest depths and most broken places, and are willing to sacrifice their lives for Him and the least of these.

Now, many of us in WMF wear these rings as a symbol of our solidarity with the poor. We hope to wear it well and this is the charge and prayer we offer when passing it on to others.

The TAU Cross

The TAU cross, a common symbol of the Franciscan Order is encountered all over Assisi.

In the year 1215, Pope Innocent III called for a great reform of the Roman Catholic Church – the Fourth Lateran Council. The Pope opened the Council by recalling the Old Testament image of the TAU as taken from the Prophet Ezekiel (9:4):

‘Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ (NRSV)

“We are called to reform our lives, to come into the presence of God as righteous people. God will know us by the sign of the Tau on our foreheads.” (Wycliffe)

Although the Pope was probably recalling the Hebrew text of Ezekiel from a Greek translation of the Bible, the allegorical imagery as taken from the two different sources, was powerfully significant all the same.

In Old Testament times the image of the TAU, as the last letter for the Hebrew alphabet, meant that we were admonished to be faithful to God throughout our lives, until the last. Those who remained faithful were called the “remnant of Israel,” often the poor and simple people who trusted in God even without understanding the present distress or hardship in their lives.

This symbolic imagery, used by the Same Pope who commissioned the Order of Friars Minor a brief five years earlier, was immediately taken to heart by Saint Francis, who was in attendance at the Fourth Lateran Council.

The TAU, shaped like the letter “T” in the Greek alphabet could easily be identified with the cross of Christ and therefore, instead of signing his name, Francis would use the sign of the TAU as his signature and he painted in on the walls and doors of the places where he stayed. It was a further external gesture of his complete immersion in the passion of Christ. Francis honored and embraced the TAU cross as a reminder of his Crucified Lord and of his love for us. He instructed them to not only let that serve as a reminder, but also as an active symbol for them to be a walking crucifix in their lives.

Saint Bonaventure in his Legenda Major 4-9 sees the connection between the text from the prophet Ezekiel and the mission of Francis: “…according to the text of the prophet, in signing the TAU on those men who cry and weep as a sign of their sincere conversion to Christ.”

Another connection of Francis with the sign of the TAU is his service to the lepers and the Brothers of St. Anthony the Hermit who administered the lazzaretos. From the 3rd century, St. Anthony is known for carrying the TAU cross and  is often pictured as having a staff surmounted by a TAU and on their habit was sewn the emblem of the TAU. The TAU of the Antonians, servants of the lepers, reminded Francis of that special moment in his conversion when he embraced the leper and he was devoted to that symbol of the “love of Christ, who willed to be considered a leper for our sake” (Fioretti 25).

Today, followers of Francis, as laity or religious, would wear the TAU cross as an exterior sign, a “seal” of their own commitment, a remembrance of the victory of Christ over evil through daily self-sacrificing love. The sign of contradiction has become the sign of hope, a witness of fidelity till the end of our lives.

Crucea TAU

Crucea TAU este un simbol cunoscut în ordinul franciscan și, de aceea, este văzută peste tot în Assisi.

În anul 1215, Papa Inocent III a convocat o reformă majoră în Biserica Romano-Catolică prin Sinodul Lateran al patrulea. Papa a deschis Sinodul prin reamintirea imaginii TAU din Vechiul Testament, găsită în proorocul Ezechiel 9:4. Papa a spus, „Suntem chemați să ne reformăm viețile, să intrăm în prezența lui Dumenzeu ca fiind oameni neprihăniți. Dumnezeu ne va cunoaște prin semnul  TAU care este semnat pe frunțile noastre”.

Ezechiel 9:4 – Domnul i-a zis: „Treci prin mijlocul cetăţii, prin mijlocul Ierusalimului, şi fă un semn pe fruntea oamenilor, cari suspină şi gem din pricina tuturor urîciunilor, cari se săvîrşesc acolo. (traducerea Cornilescu)

Ezechiel 9:4 – Şi i-a zis Domnul: Treci prin mijlocul cetăţii, prin Ierusalim, şi însemnează cu semnul crucii (litera “tau” care în alfabetul vechi grec avea forma unei cruci) pe frunte, pe oamenii care gem şi care plâng din cauza multor ticăloşii care se săvârşesc în mijlocul lui”. (traducerea bisericii ortodoxe române)

Cu toate că Papa folosea textul ebraic al lui Ezechiel pornind de la o traducere greacă a Bibliei, imaginile alegorice luate din cele două surse lingvistice diferite au totuși o semnificație puternică.

În Vechiul Testament imaginea TAU, fiind ultima literă din alfabetul ebraic, ne îndeamnă să fim credincioși lui Dumnezeu de-a lungul vieților noastre, până la sfârșit. Cei care au rămas credincioși erau numiți „rămășița din Israel”, de multe ori fiind oamenii săraci și simpli care s-au încrezut în Dumnezeu chiar atunci când nu înțelegeau strâmtorarea și greutățile prezente în viețile lor. Imaginea această simbolică, folosită de același Papă care a consacrat Ordinul Fraților Minori cu doar

cinci ani mai devreme, a fost preluată imediat de Sfântul Francisc care a participat la al patrulea Sinod Lateran.

TAU-ul, care are forma literei „T” din alfabetul grecesc, a fost identificat ușor cu crucea lui Cristos și, de aceea, de atunci, în loc să dea o semnătură, Francisc folosea semnul TAU-ului ca semnătură. De asemenea, a pictat-o pe pereții și pe ușile locurilor în care a stat. A fost un gest exterior al cufundării lui în pasiunea lui Cristos. Francisc a cinstit și a îmbrățișat crucea TAU ca o amintire a Domnului Răstignit și a dragostei lui pentru noi. Francisc i-a îndemnat nu doar să o ia ca o amintire, ci și ca un simbol activ pentru ca ei să fie un crucifix viu prin viețile lor.

Sfântul Bonaventure, în Legenda Majoră 4-9, vede legătura între textul din Ezechiel și misiunea lui Francisc: „conform textului proorocului, prin semnarea TAU-ului pe cei care plâng și jălesc ca un semn al convertirii lor sincere la Cristos”. O altă legătură cu Francisc și semnul TAU era slujirea celor cu lepră. La lazzaretos, unde slujeau frații Sfântului Anton Pustnicul, Sf. Anton, care în secolul 3 purta crucea TAU, este pictat cu un toiag încoronat cu un TAU și emblema TAU este cusută pe îmbrăcămintea fraților. TAU-ul fraților Antonieni, slujitorii celor cu lepră, îi aminteau lui Francisc de clipa aceea deosebită a convertirii lui când el a îmbrățișat un lepros și s-a devotat acestei imagini a „dragostei lui Cristos, care a voit să fie socotit un lepros de dragul nostru” (Fioretti 25).

Astăzi, urmașii lui Francisc, cei laici și cei religioși, poartă semnul crucii de TAU ca un semn exterior, un „sigiliu” al angajamentului lor, o amintire a biruinței lui Cristos asupra răului prin dragostea care se sacrifică  zi de zi. Semnul contradicției a devenit un semn al speranței, o mărturie a fidelității până la sfârșitul vieților noastre.

Franciscan Revolution and Renewal (part 3)

As I mentioned in the last post, another important revolutionary reform that still affects the church today is the basis for individual rights.

The idea of individual or subjective rights arose from the social conceptions of feudalism. The landholders had ‘rights’ which were coextensive with their ‘dominion’. These were not only individuals. Not only barons, but monastic secular chapters, city corporations and guilds, all with their estates, asserted their several rights and looked to royal and papal government to uphold them.

But the Franciscans subverted the grounding of subjective rights in property. Through their commitment to poverty, the mendicants, though owning nothing, could still eat and drink and claim the necessities of life. They grounded subjective rights on the ‘right of natural necessity’ (Bonaventure) or on a ‘right of use’ (Ockham). Thus, individual rights were claimed by a broader segment of society.

Although rights were dissociated from real property, as O’Donovan points out, these subjective rights still carried proprietary overtones. Gerson invoked the term ‘dominion’ to describe this right of self-preservation, and, indeed, initiated the tradition of conceiving freedom as a property in one’s own body and its powers.

It is not difficult to see the trajectory from the Franciscans to liberation or feminist theologies. But even to these post-modern movements, Francis has a prophetic witness as Francis based his subjective right in God’s affirmation of his person, body and power. His path or relinquishment and renunciation for the sake of others challenges any claim to rights for oneself without the other.

Franciscan Revolution and Renewal (part 2)

The Porziuncula is a good symbol of Francis’ revolutionary impact on the church – though the word “revolutionary” might not be the most precise. Contrary to revolutions that change regimes or constitutions, Francis led a revolution of the identity and essence of the church. And because this revolution happened in and with the church, it may be better called a “reform.” Two important revolutionary reforms that still affect the church today are the basis for authority and the basis for individual rights.

Drawing on Augustinian thought about the ‘two cities’ and on the Aristotelian influence regarding the ‘nature-grace’ duality, medieval theologians spoke of two distinct realms that wield authority: the sacral (spiritual) and the political (secular). The church held that spiritual authority (for example, theories and claims to justice) had to have priority over secular authority (for example, the application of justice).

In Francis’ day, the basis of authority for both realms was property. In the sacral realm, the Pope, it was claimed, owned all property, not ‘in particular’ but ‘universally’; we might say, all property rights that others exercised were grounded in his authority. The chain of equivalences that legitimized authority went like this: property meant power; power meant jurisdiction; jurisdiction meant authority; and authority meant a determinative role for the church in shaping society under the law of Christ (O’Donovan, The Desire of Nations, 206).

Franciscan friars confronted Papal authority with the possibility of absolute poverty. This provoked some intense questioning of what it meant to possess ‘spiritual authority’. The threat which the Franciscans posed to current doctrines of the papacy was far more serious than that vague discomfort which poverty always poses to wealth. By vowing to poverty, Francis subverted the traditional claims to authority, which risked unraveling the whole garment of Christian society.

Out of the long controversy came an attempt to articulate a different concept of spiritual authority, one based on the authority of the word. This was the work of the imperialist theologians who took up the Franciscans’ cause. Their role was, of course, ambiguous, serving at the same time the church’s interest in recovering a truly spiritual authority and the secular rulers’ interest in having an uncontested field. Their most important contribution lay in the principle that a word of Gospel truth has its own distinct authority, different from the authority of threat or command (O’Donovan, The Desire of Nations, 207). In this, it is easy to identify Francis’ influence on the Reformation.

Of course, today the authority of the word is debated and contested. Retreating to modern propositional stances and risking fideism, the church attempts to root its authority in the infallibility word of the Pope (Roman Catholic), the inerrant word of the Bible (Protestant) or the infallible word of Tradition (Eastern Orthodox). And those outside the church attempt to root authority in the doubting subject (Descartes) or “erase” any claim to authority altogether (Derrida). Francis points to a different way. In his commitment to absolute poverty, he detaches intrinsic authority from extrinsic power. He grounds authority in love, dependence and brotherhood rather than domination, coercion and prestige. Authority is offered, not imposed. It speaks to Augustine’s notion of authority as “trustworthy.”

Ultimately, the authority promoted by Francis was not rooted in word but in God, God who communicates to humanity not only in human language but also in human flesh. He who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,  taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11).

Francis grasped that this high authority, as Jesus shows us, is revealed at the bottom. Following this authority, Francis sold his possessions, begged his bread, and, with the stigmata on his hands and feet, he died naked on the ground at the Porziuncula.

%d bloggers like this: