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Identifying Assumptions in Christian Approaches to the Poor

Today with the George Fox Discovery Team, we discussed the assumptions of different Christian approaches to the poor.

We looked at:

– Evangelism leads to social change

– Social action is pre-evangelism

– Transformational ministry

– Christian presence

– Microfinance

For each approach we asked the following questions:

What are causes of poverty for this approach?

What are the assumptions of this approach?

What would this approach use for scriptural support?

What are other examples of this approach?

What are positives? What are negatives?

How would you answer these questions?

How do we understand “advocacy?”

What is the goal of advocacy? We have said it’s “raising awareness.” Others who advocate say “to create change” or “to acquire justice.” I think we are saying, “to create relationships.” This is not “networking” – as I don’t really like the mechanistic language – but it is connecting people. We are a channel that connects the non-poor to the poor; we help create space where the voice of the poor is heard. Here too advocacy implies justice, but we understand justice as a relational category.

Here is a brief sketch of what I think is a good trajectory for the kind of advocacy we’re talking about:

The OT word for redeemer is “Go-el”. We read this word today as “personal Savior”, the One who has purchased us by His blood and given Himself as a ransom for all. That’s fine and good, but it’s bad exegesis to impose contemporary usage on concepts formed in a different historical context.

Go-el meant “kinsmen redeemer”. It means that the next of kin, the closest family member, is obliged to buy back property or to buy out of bond-slavery. See Leviticus 25:25ff. The whole chapter is about the jubilee, the context of redemption, reconciliation and redistribution. See also Lev. 27:13ff.

Justice isn’t just positive for the poor; it is negative for the perpetrator. So, Go-el also means “avenger”. If your family member was murdered, the kinsmen redeemer would kill the murderer. If the murder was not intentional, the kinsmen redeemer would still seek compensation for the family. See Number 35:18ff and Deuteronomy 19:6ff. This is not, then, simply legal justice but relational justice that seeks restoration.

The word “Go-el” is close to the verb “ga-al” which means to liberate, to redeem, to ransom. The Go-el, then, is the one who pleads justice and does justice; he/she is the avenger, arbiter and redeemer. The goal is familial freedom and restoration.

If there is no kinsmen redeemer, then the Lord is the kinsmen redeemer. See Numbers 5:8.

In Job, he calls God his Go-el (19:25). “I know that my redeemer lives and that he shall stand on the latter day upon the earth.” Here there is a hint of resurrection and new creation.

Ruth is the best narrative on kinsmen redeemer because Goaz plays this role and redeems Ruth. Read chapter 4.

God is also called the kinsmen redeemer in Exodus. He hears the cries of His people and redeems them.

We can draw a lot from this and I think it fits well within the frame of awareness, worship and action.

–       Family – We cultivate community among the poor, creating familial relationships, and take on the obligation of kin. God also calls the poor family and names Himself as their kinsmen redeemer. If He is our Father, then His family is our family. So, we also are kinsmen redeemers. It’s about being family to one another.

–       Justice – We put justice in relational categories not legal ones. Raising awareness means creating relationships. We work towards modeling communities of liberty, restoration, reconciliation, and redistribution. Doing justice might be hard and even ugly, as the cross is hard and ugly, but it beautifies.

–       Voice – The vulnerable are not voiceless; their voices are marginalized and silenced. We hear the cries of the poor and respond.

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).

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.


Ador icoana, mă închin Prototipului

Ador icoana, mă închin Prototipului.

Embezzlement in the Church

This is an excellent article on tithing in the Church by my pastor, Ray Mayhew. He compares contemporary Christian giving to the generosity of the Church in history. Embezzlement: The Corporate Sin of Contemporary Christianity?

Is this class warfare?

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Children as Metaphors of Hope

Jurgen Moltmann writes:

For me, children are metaphors of hope for three reasons:

(1) With every child, a new life begins, original, unique, incomparable. And while it seems that we always ask, who this or that child looks like (apparently because we seem to think we can only understand the new in the comparison with what is already known or similar), we also encounter the entirely different, the entirely dissimilar and unique in each child. It is these differences that we need to respect if we want to love life and allow an open future.

(2) With every beginning of a new life, the hope for the reign of peace and justice is given a new chance. It is important to see children in their own transcendent perspective and so to resist forming them according to the images of our world. Every new life is also a new beginning of hope for a homeland in this unredeemed world. If it were not, we would have no reason to expect anything new from a beginning.

(3) The last reason to see “a new beginning” or a “beginning of the New” in the beginning of a child’s life is the fact that, for me, children are not only metaphors of our hopes, of that which we want, wish for and expect, but also are metaphors of God’s hope for us: God wants us, expects us, and welcomes us. Humanity is God’s great love, God’s dream for God’s earthly world, God’s image for God’s beloved earth. God is “waiting” for the “human person” in every child, is “waiting” for God’s echo, resonance, and rainbow. Maybe that is the reason God is so patient with us, bearing the ruins of human history, inviting one human generation after the other into existence. God is not silent, God is not “dead”—God is waiting for the menschlichen Menschen the “truly humane human.” “In all of the prophets, I have waited for you,” Martin Buber has the Eternal One speak to the Messiah, “and now you have come.”

With this kind of transcendental expectation placed on every newborn child, it becomes the task of parents, siblings, and teachers to hold open the doors to this future and to walk with these children into this future.

The Word is Spoken: A Christmas Meditation

We have heard the story so many times that we have grown used to it. The story of Jesus’ birth has become cozy legend and plastic myth. To counter the transplanting of the manger of the 1st century cow barn to the 21st century “live nativity,” let us try to hear the story as if for the first time.

Let’s try to imagine the situation.Israelis in exile. They are estranged in what was once their Promised Land. The winds that blow through the dusty streets whisper echoes of the Psalmist: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

The signs of exile are all around. The Jews pay taxes to their king, Herod, and he builds a wannabe temple that is void of the “shekinah” glory. There is the House of God, but not God’s presence. The furniture is in place, but no one is home. The building is in business, but the Proprietor doesn’t claim ownership. The priests do their service, but their noisy motions are muted by God’s deafening silence. This is the covenant people of God, but God is strangely absent from their midst.

The greatest sign of exile was the Roman soldiers patrolling the streets and the Roman crosses mocking any hope for change of power. How can the elected people of God be ruled and oppressed by a heathen nation? How can the chosen nation retain identity and hope when the triumph of the pagans meant the defeat of the God of Israel?

We hear of a young Jewish woman and man forced to traverse the country. Because of a strange pre-marital pregnancy, this young couple is at risk of excommunication from their communities and families. Hardly reaching the age of citizenship, they are called for the census. What is the purpose of the census? What is the purpose of the dangerous journey during the delicate period of pregnancy? Taxation. The Jews were being numbered so that they could be exploited. They were being counted for their tribute.Israelis in exile in her own country.

But more agonizing than the mock ruling of Jewish despots and more excruciating than the persecution of a foreign people is the fact that God is not speaking. It would all be bearable if there were purpose. It would all be supportable if God were near. But He wasn’t. It was a situation of violence, fear, confusion and hopelessness.

The status ofIsraelis reflected in the lives of the two young Jews, Joseph and Mary. They are poor, tired, dirty, and cold. As if being forced away from their home as conquered vassals was not degrading and dehumanizing enough, they are also denied tenancy. The vacancy in theTempleis transposed to “no vacancy” inBethlehem, not even a place for an expecting mother. There is no refuge, no place for rest and no one hospitable. They must have felt abandoned with the miracle Child in the womb. They must have felt alone, insecure, and scared. In a soiled barn and amidst malodorous animals, the cold wind whispered: where are you God? From within the silence that amplifies the dirty surroundings of desperation, God speaks His Word.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His “shekinah” glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John1:14).

Not in the temple, but in a cowshed, the glory of God comes. Not from the priestly podiums, but at the edge of the splintery manger, God’s Word addresses Himself to us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). But the Word is not past tense. It speaks ever present and ever new.

This isn’t word as symbol, like letters that symbolize sounds. This is Word as language: God is communicating Himself and is inviting humanity to speak with Him. This is not monolog: God speaks and we listen, or, inversely, we speak and God listens; this is dialog: God wants to interact with Him, speaking His language.

The Word is the language of God. “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (1:18). Jesus is the exegesis of the Father. This language sounds foreign, but familiar. It is foreign in that we don’t understand it. We are unsure that we have heard it. Yet, it is familiar in that it rings true in the depths of our beings, as if it has been speaking to us from the inception of our existence. “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (1:3).

We come clumsily and inarticulate to the conversation, but we are lead by our “interior teacher” (as Augustine refers to Christ’s indwelling us in the Word). The Word is implanted in our hearts (James1:21).

Let us not let the abstractness remove ourselves from the reality of the story; we must remember that the Word is spoken in the midst of fear, pain, disappointment and insecurity. The Word is spoken in sleepy silence and baby cries. Wrapped in poverty and fragility, God discloses Himself.

Let us resist our tendency to refuse the Word because it is not adult and authoritative. Let us resist affirming that the baby represents Jesus’ humanity, stripped of His godliness. Let us resist affirming that this is Self-condescension, as if God just needed to come down and fulfill a pre-established set of criteria in order to save us. No, this is the Word “who although He existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be exploited, but emptied Himself…” (Philippians 2:6, 7). The Word is God – the Word spoken through the delicate, dependent baby.

“It has been traditional to see this Self-humbling as God in some way hiding or suspending or adding to or relinquishing his divinity in order to become man. But what if he was in Jesus, actually uncovering his divinity? Does the baby of Bethlehem not reveal God rather than obscure him? Is God’s nature not seen in the powerlessness (to human estimation) of the baby?”

The divinity of God is not hidden in the child; rather the baby is the revelation of God. This is the power of the baby. Isaiah prophesied with astonishing precision: “For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given.” The Son is not born but begotten. The Son is given; the child is born. In a messianic annunciation, Isaiah describes the coming of the Christ Child.

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb… and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little boy will lead them. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6, 8-9).

The child is the metaphor of hope: hope for new beginnings, for renewal, and for the acceptance of the Reign of God.

This is where the Christ Child touches the street child. Since God was incarnate as a Child, every child has become a metaphor of hope. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me…” (Mark9:37). Whoever takes in a child, also takes in God. In children, God is waiting for us to take in God. In helpless children, God is waiting for our compassion. This is the spontaneous impression that the image of the Child in the manger awakens in us (Jurgen Moltmann). As a Baby in a barn the Word speaks to us, calls to us, and invites us.

The Word made flesh becomes Good News. “…there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over the flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the shekinah glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12). The Word is announced. The audience is shepherds – not nobles, not learned, not religious, but shepherds – those in solidarity with smelly animals and dirty beds. The Good News is born; the great joy is the Christ Child. The Word is heard and the shepherds entered the dialog of God: “the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen…” (2:20). The sign is a Child, wrapped in a diaper, and lying in a manger. This should baffle us. This should make us speechless. The sign is not the angel, not the proclamation, but the Baby and His poverty.

Let us now return to our 21st century lives. Yet let us find ourselves in the Story. In our estrangement from the world, from our families, from all that offers security; in exile, Diaspora and wilderness; in the oppression, confusion, violence and depression; in the loneliness, rejection, fear and disappointment; in the hopelessness, powerlessness and exploitation; in our dirty, cold corner of the world; in God-forsakenness, we find the precise and necessary conditions for God’s coming. The silence becomes Word; the “no room” becomes presence; the loathsome becomes great joy.

And Mary said, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his decedents forever’ (Luke 1:46-55).

In the Child, in the Word, God invites us to intimate communication, to secret sharing, and to unceasing prayer.

Dumnezeu Îşi rosteşte Cuvântul: o meditaţie despre nașterea lui Isus

Noi am auzit povestea atât de mult încât ne am obişnuit cu ea. Povestea naşterii lui Isus ni se pare o legendă comodă şi un mit plastic. Ca să ne opunem transplantării ieslei din hambarul de vaci la sceneta visionată în secolul 21, hai să încercăm să ascultăm povestea ca şi cum ar fi pentru prima oară.

Hai să încercăm să ne imaginăm situaţia. Israelul este în exil. Poporul este înstrăinat în ceea ce era odatăŢaraFăgăduinţei. Vântul care bate pe străzi prafuite şopteşte ecouri ale cuvintelor psalmistului: “Cum să cântăm noi cântările Domnului pe un pământ străin?” (Psalm 137:5).

Semnele de exil erau pretutindeni. Evrei plăteau taxele Împăratului, Irod, şi el legitimează domnia lui prin construirea unui pseudo-templu, lipsit de slavă “şekina.” Există Casa lui Dumnezeu, dar lipseşte prezenţa Lui. Mobila este montată, dar nu e nimeni acasă. Clădirea este deschisă pentru afacere, dar Proprietarul nu pretinde patrimonie. Preoţii îndeplinesc slujirea, dar acţiunile lor zgomotoase sunt amuţite de tăcerea asurzitoare a lui Dumnezeu. Aceasta este poporul cu care Dumnezeu a făcut legamant, dar în mod curios, El este absent din mijlocul lor.

Cel mai mare semn al exilului era soldaţii romani care îşi făceau rondul şi crucile romane care batjocoreau orice speranţă pentru o schimbare de putere. Cum putea poporul ales să fie domnit şi asuprit de un neam? Cum putea naţiunea alesă să-şi reţină identitatea şi speranţa când triumful păgânilor înseamnă înfrângerea lui Dumnezeu luiIsrael?

Auzim de o tânără fată şi un domn evreu care erau constrânşi să traversezeţara. Din cauza unei sarcinei premaritale, acest cuplu tânăr se afla în riscul de a fi excomunicat de comunităţile lor sociale şi familiale. Abia împlinind vârstă de cetăţenie, ei sunt chemaţi pentru recensământ. Care era scopul recensământului? Care era scopul acestei călătorii periculoase în timpul perioadei delicate a femeii însărcinate? Taxarea. Evreii erau numeraţi pentru a fi exploataţi. Erau socotiţi pentru tribut.Israeleste în exil în propria-iţara.

Dar o agonie mai mare decât pseudostăpânirea despoţilor evrei şi un chin mai mare decât prigonirea de către un popor străin este faptul că Dumnezeu nu vorbeşte. Totul ar fi suportabil numai dacă era un scop. Totul are fi fost posibil de îndurat dacă Dumnezeu ar fi fost aproape. Dar nu era. Domnea un climat de violenţă, frică, confuzie şi deznădejde.

Starea luiIsraeleste oglindită în vieţile celor doi evrei tineri, Iosif şi Maria. Ei sunt săraci, obosiţi şi mizerabili. Le este foame şi frig. Nu era destul de degradant şi dezumanizator ca vasalii cuceriţi sa fie forţaţi să-şi părăsească casa, le era refuzat până şi dreptul de a închiria. Spaţiul gol în Templu este transmutat la “nu este loc” în Betleem, nici loc pentru o femeie aflată în pragul naşterii. Nu era nici un refugiu, nici un adăpost pentru odihnă, nici un ajutor. Trebuie să se fi simţit abandonaţi cu Copilul miraculos în pântece. Trebuie să se fi simţit singuri şi înspăimântaţi, intr-o totala nesiguranţă. Într-un hambar zoios şi în preajma animalelor rău mirositoare, vântul rece şopteşte: unde eşti Doamne? Din cadrul tăcerii care amplifică mediul murdar care îi înconjoară, Dumnezeu Îşi rosteşte Cuvântul.

“Şi Cuvântul S-a făcut trup şi a locuit printre noi, plin de har şi de adevăr. Şi noi am privit “şekina” slava Lui, o slava întocmai ca slava singurului născut din Tatăl” (Ioan1:14)

Nu la Templu ci la grânar se manifestă slava lui Dumnezeu. Nu de la amvonurile preoteşti, ci de la ieslea de aşchie, Cuvântul lui Dumnezeu ni se adresează nouă. “La început era Cuvântul şi Cuvântul era cu Dumnezeu şi Cuvântul era Dumnezeu” (1:1). Dar Cuvântul nu este în timpul trecut; El vorbeşte în timpul prezent, omniprezent.

Nu este un cuvânt ca un simbol, ca şi literele care simbolizează sunete. Acesta este Cuvântul ca limba: Dumnezeu comunică şi invită umanitatea să stea de vorbă cu El. Nu este un monolog: Dumnezeu vorbeşte şi noi ascultăm, sau invers, noi vorbim şi Dumnezeu ascultă; acesta este un dialog: Dumnezeu vrea să interacţionăm cu El, vorbind limba Lui.

Cuvântul este limba lui Dumnezeu. “Nimeni n-a văzut vreodată pe Dumnezeu; singurul Lui Fiu, care este în sânul Tatălui, Acela L-a făcut cunoscut” (1:18). Sau ca în alte traduceri, “Acela L-a explicat.” Fiul Îl explică pe Tata. Isus este exegeza Tatălui. Limba această sună străin, dar familiar. Este străină încât n-o înţelegem. Nu suntem siguri dacă am mai auzit-o. Dar este familiară întrucât răsună cu adevărat în adâncimea fiinţelor noastre, ca şi cum ne vorbea de la începerea existenţei noastre. “Toate lucrurile au fost făcute prin Cuvântul; şi nimic din ce a fost făcut, n-a fost făcut fără El” (1:3).

Noi venim neîndemânatic şi nearticulat la conversaţie, dar suntem călăuziţi de “învăţătorul interior” (precum Sfântul Augustin s-a referit la sălăşluirea Cuvântulului în noi). Cuvântul este sădit în inimile noastre (Iacov1:21).

Hai să nu ne pierdem în abstracţia cuvintelor; trebuie să ţinem minte că rosteşte Cuvântul în mijlocul temerilor, durerii, dezamăgirii şi insecurităţii. Cuvântul vorbeşte prin liniştea somnului şi plânsul Pruncului. Învelit în sărăcie şi fragilitate, Dumnezeu se descoperă.

Hai să rezistăm tendinţei noastre de a refuza Cuvântul pentru că nu este adult sau autoritar. Hai să respingem afirmatia conform căreia Pruncul reprezintă doar umanitatea lui Isus, dezbrăcat de dumnezeirea Lui. Hai să ne opunem afirmaţiei că Bebeluşul este doar condescendenţa de Sine, ca şi cum Dumnezeu trebuia doar să coboare şi să împlinească o listă de sarcini că să ne salveze. Nu, acesta este Cuvântul “măcar că avea chipul lui Dumnezeu, totuş n-a crezut ca un lucru de exploatat să fie deopotrivă cu Dumnezeu, ci S-a dezbrăcat pe sine însuşi…” (Filipeni 2:6, 7). Cuvântul este Dumnezeu – Cuvântul rostit printr-un Bebeluş delicat şi dependent.

“Este tradiţional să se privească la smerirea de sine ca modul lui Dumnezeu de a ascunde, de a suspenda, de a adauga sau de a renunţa la divinitatea Lui ca să devină om. Dar dacă Dumnezeu prin Isus de fapt, descopera divinitatea Lui? Oare Pruncul din Betleem nu Îl descopera  pe Dumnezeu mai degrabă decât de a-L face obscur? Nu este natura lui Dumnezeu văzută în neputinţa (după estimarea umană) a Pruncului?”

Divinitatea lui Dumnezeu nu este ascunsă într-un copil; mai degrabă, copilul este revelaţia lui Dumnezeu. Aceasta este puterea Pruncului. Isaia a proorocit cu precizia uimitoare: “Căci un Copil ni s-a născut, un Fiu ni s-a dat” (9:6). Fiul nu este născut ci dat; Copilul se naşte. Într-un anunţ mesianic, Isaia descrie venirea Copilul Hristos.

Atunci lupul va locui împreună cu mielul, şi pardosul se va culca împreună cu iedul; viţelul, puiul de leu, şi vitele îngrăşate, vor fi împreună, şi le va mîna un copilaş… pruncul de ţîţă se va juca la gura bortei năpîrcii, şi copilul înţărcat va băga mîna în vizunia basilicului. Nu se va face nici un rău şi nici o pagubă pe tot muntele Meu cel sfînt; căci pămîntul va fi plin de cunoştinţa Domnului, ca fundul mării de apele cari-l acopăr. (Isaia 11:6, 8-9)

Copilul este metafora speranţei: speranţa pentru începuturile noi, pentru înnoire şi pentru acceptarea Domniei lui Dumnezeu.

Aici este unde Copilul Hristos atinge pe copilul străzii. De când Dumnezeu s-a întrupat ca un copil, fiecare copil a devenit o metaforă a speranţei. Isus a spus, “Oricine primeşte pe unul din aceşti copilaşi în Numele Meu, Mă primeşte pe Mine…” (Marcu 9:37). Oricine îl primeşte pe un copil, Îl primeşte pe Dumnezeu. În copii, Dumnezeu aşteaptă să-L primim pe Dumnezeu. În copiii fără speranţă, Dumnezeu aşteaptă compasiunea noastră. Aceasta este şi impresia spontană pe care o trezeşte în noi Copilul din iesle. Printr-un Copil aflat într-un hambar, Cuvântul ne vorbeşte, ne cheamă şi ne invită.

Cuvântul care se face trup devine Vestea Bună. În ţinutul acela erau nişte păstori, care stăteau afară în câmp, şi făceau de strajă noaptea împrejurul turmei lor. Şi iată că un înger al Domnului s-a înfăţişat înaintea lor, şi slava (şekina) Domnului a strălucit împrejurul lor. Ei s-au înfricoşat foarte tare. Dar îngerul le-a zis: Nu vă temeţi: căci vă aduc o veste bună, care va fi o mare bucurie pentru tot norodul: astăzi în cetatea lui David, vi s-a născut un Mîntuitor, care este Hristos, Domnul. Iată semnul, după care-L veţi cunoaşte: veţi găsi un prunc înfăşat în scutece şi culcat într-o iesle” (Luca 2:8-12). Cuvântul este anunţat. Audienţa este constituită din nişte ciobani – nu nobili, nu învăţaţi, nu religioşi, ci păstori – cei aflati în solidaritate cu paturi soioase şi cu animale care miros urât. Vestea Bună s-a născut; mare bucurie este Copilul Hristos. Cuvântul este auzit şi ciobanii întră în dialog cu Dumnezeu: “păstorii s-au întors, slăvind şi lăudînd pe Dumnezeu, pentru toate cele ce auziseră şi văzuseră… (2:20). Semnul este un Prunc, înfăşat în scutece şi culcat într-o iesle. Asta ar trebui să ne conşterneze, să ne lase fără cuvinte. Semnul nu este îngerul, nu este anunţul glorios, ci un Prunc în sărăcia Lui.

Hai să ne întoarcem la vieţiile noastre în secolul 21.  Haideti să ne regăsim în Poveste. În înstrăinarea noastră de lume, de familiile noastre, de tot ce înseamnă siguranţă; în exil, Diaspora şi pustiu; în oprimare, depresie, confuzie şi violenţă; în singurătate, respingere, frică şi dezamăgire, în deznădejdie, neputinţă şi exploatare; în colţul nostru murdar şi rece al lumii; în părăsirea de Dumnezeu, noi găsim condiţiile precise şi necesare pentru venirea Domnului. Tăcerea devine Cuvântul; “nu era loc” devine prezenţa; ceea ce era insuportabil devine o mare bucurie.

Şi Maria a zis: Sufletul meu măreşte pe Domnul, şi mi se bucură duhul în Dumnezeu, Mîntuitorul meu, pentrucă a privit spre starea smerită a roabei Sale. Căci iată că deacum încolo, toate neamurile îmi vor zice fericită, pentrucă Cel Atot Puternic a făcut lucruri mari pentru mine. Numele Lui este sfînt, şi îndurarea Lui se întinde din neam în neam peste cei ce se tem de El. El a arătat putere cu braţul Lui; a risipit gîndurile, pe cari le aveau cei mîndri îninimalor. A răsturnat pe cei puternici de pe scaunele lor de domnie, şi a înălţat pe cei smeriţi. Pe cei flămînzi i-a săturat de bunătăţi, şi pe cei bogaţi i-a scos afară cu mînile goale. A venit în ajutorul robului săuIsrael, căci Şi-a adus aminte de îndurarea Sa, cum făgăduise părinţilor noştri, – faţă de Avraam şi sămînţa lui în veac. (Luca 1:46-55)

În Copil, în Cuvânt, Dumnezeu ne invită la comunicare intimă, la împărtăşirea secretelor şi la rugăciune neîncetată. Cuvântul vorbeşte.

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