BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS

by
Dr. Raymond Fung , Dr. Levi Oracion and Rev. PARK Kyung Kyu

[These Bible Studies were presented at the 11th URM Committee Meeting held in Hong Kong from 3-6 February 1980]


Biblical Reflection by Dr. Raymond Fung

 

This is Paul writing to Timothy:

"As for you my son be strong through the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus. Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses and trust them to reliable people who will be able to teach others also. Take your part in suffering as a loyal soldier of Christ Jesus. A soldier on active duty wants to please his commanding officer and so does not get mixed up in the affairs of civilian life. An athlete who runs in a race cannot win the prize unless he obeys the rules. The farmer who has done the hard work should have the first share of the harvest."
II Timothy 2: 1-7 (TEV)

 

I would like to put special focus on verse 4 where Paul suggested to Timothy that a soldier on active duty wants to please his commanding officer so does not get mixed up in the affairs of civilian life. In RSV the phrase is "do not get entangled in civilian life". I think Paul is talking about things like singleness of purpose. I think he is talking about discipline. In the life of Paul it is a singleness of purpose which led to his suffering, which has become the style, or if you like, the methodology towards achieving his purpose. Paul is here pleading with Timothy, do not go back - do not give up your singleness of purpose. Do not multiply your purposes. Do not diffuse your purpose. Do not get mixed up. Take your part in suffering and persevere in it. I do not want to use morning devotion to push my ideas, especially in terms of our discussion last evening but I think it is good we think about this image of being loyal soldiers of Jesus and not to get mixed up in civilian affairs. What does this refusal to get "entangled" mean in URM. In my experience in sharing, fellowshipping with workers, with the poor people and at some points sharing with them the Christian faith we have developed, if you like, a formula for the communication, of the gospel, a formula which has been useful, and effective to solicit response. One of these so—called formulae is this. It is an attempt to summarize what Christian faith is about. It consists of these 2 lines.

1) A line from Psalms in O.T. "Hear my cry O Lord, those who suffer, those who are voiceless, those who are facing corrupt judges. The Psalm is "Hear to my cry O Lord, Judge us." It is something that is hard for us to imagine. No Christian in his sober mind would ask God to judge him for in our present mentality we know we all come short. But somehow we find the Psalmists, rather naive people. They ask God to judge, to hear to their cry. I suppose the only explanation is that in their opinion, God making judgement is better than their corrupt judges making judgements. But nevertheless, this is a very important part of the Gospel. Hear our cry O Lord we suffer, we have no where to go. What is God’s response to the man’s plea. 2) Then we find in Gospels, "Take up your cross and follow me." There 2 lines — 2 statements as a formula, have become a very effective formula. First hear our cry O Lord from the poor and oppressed, then the Lord responds "Take up your cross and follow me!"

That is one formula which we found to be responded to quite well by the poor. Now in this context, "Not being entangled" as a loyal soldier of Jesus Christ in civilian life, means that which prevents us from hearing the cries of the poor and oppressed. That is a barrier. That is a mixing up. Secondly it means that which prevents us from taking up our cross and follow him. We become mixed up in civilian life if we find we are no longer hearing the cries of the poor. We get entangled in civilian life if we find we cannot take up our cross and follow him. At this point I would like to borrow an insight from a person at a CCA meeting on Evangelism last November. This man said that when Jesus said take up your cross and follow him, that cross might not mean crucifixion. Nobody knew how Jesus was going to be crucified. In this nomadic situation, this cross is simply some sort of tool or instrument, a big nail that you drive into the sand to secure the tent. So to take up your cross means pull up your tent and move. I just borrow this insight.

So being entangled means we no longer hear the cries of the poor. Being entangled means we can no longer easily move. That we can no longer take up our tent, our belongings and move. But in a way, I think all of us will affirm that this has been the URM experience. Whatever credibility we have, we obtain from the ability to hear the cries of the poor, our ability to move at short notice without cumbersome furniture, without a lot of luggage.

In a way that is what the call of Jesus Christ is about. Taking up your cross not necessarily as the cross of Jesus and the crucifixion but pulling up what is your base and moving. It is the way of the minimally adequate. It is the way of suffering and insecurity. And it is not a way of security or maximally available. It is certainly not a way where suffering is absent. So I hope this will lend one perspective to our discussion on the URM style and operation in the 1980’s.

I would like to read to you, before I close, once again, Paul’s injunction to Timothy. "As for you my son ……."

 


Biblical Reflection by Dr. Levi Oracion

 

"After John had been put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and preached the Good News from God. ‘The right time has come,’ he said, ‘and the Kingdom of God is near. Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!’

As Jesus walked along the shores of Lake Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net, Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men.’ At once they left their nets and went with him.

He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called to them; they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus.

Jesus and his disciples came to the town of Capernaum, and on the next Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and began to preach. The people who heard him were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead he taught with authority.

Just then a man with an evil spirit came into the synagogue and screamed, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are you are God’s holy messenger!’ Jesus ordered the spirit, ‘Be quiet, and come out of the man!’

The evil spirit shook the man hard, gave a loud scream, and came out of him. The people were all so amazed that they started saying to one another, ‘What is this? Is it some kind of new teaching?

This man has authority to give orders to the evil spirits, and they obey him!’

And so the news about Jesus spread quickly everywhere in the province of Galilee."
Mark 1:14
28

 

This is Mark’s account of Jesus’ commencement of ministry. And as he puts it here, the message is a very simple one. The right time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, turn away from your sins and receive the Good News. That is a very compact statement, that has formed the central message of Jesus.

The key element here is the coming of the Kingdom of God. And that in turn descends upon man who all the time tries to run away from his sins and believe the Good News.

We normally associate repentance with something that is very personal. We think of repentance as happening inside a man. This is especially true of evangelicals who believe the Kingdom of God has come but inside a man who believes. It’s interesting that here we turn away from our sins which preceded any announcement of the Kingdom of God. What Jesus is saying is that the Kingdom has come with his coming. Because, with his coming, man can see a new reality has dawned. I further read the many verses after this declaration of the Good News of Jesus because they speak of the mighty works of Jesus immediately. The following of some of the disciples, people being amazed at his teaching, evil spirits recognizing Jesus as the holy messenger of God and Jesus ordering the spirit to come out of the man. People were amazed at everything that Jesus did, with news spreading rapidly. In other words, Jesus is a ready instance of the Kingdom which has come. He is living out the reality of the situation. The old situation is about to totter and fall and something must be done.

So people are called upon to repent. They have based their existence upon old assumptions and a new reality is here and that is the Kingdom. Of course we always debate as to how to take the Kingdom of God being here. There are those who say that those who believe have the Kingdom of God in their heart. And to those of you who are familiar with the various interpretations, there is the eschatology of Bultmann. There are various kinds of eschatologies that are presented to us. I think each of them has something to say to us about the reality of the Kingdom. But what we see here is that the act of faith is associated or is made by Jesus to happen not only in a personal way. It has to become a cosmic event. We have to believe it does not only turn the self inside out but also turn the world inside out. It is not just the self that has become new, but the whole reality must become new because one lives in the Kingdom. Therefore one is called upon to make a radical turnabout and it is not just the self that is turned about, but the whole world is also turned about.

I suppose this is where we get the urgency of evangelising, because those people who do not yet believe the Gospel are perceived by the eyes of the believer as one who is caught in the clutches an economic and political bind, and the whole world with it, and therefore the Christian is called upon to live out of new assumptions, to live out new values. This is precisely what Jesus did. That is why he had power.

If you go to read the gospel of Mark, Luke or Matthew you will find that Jesus expects a radical reversal of values and of the expectations of people. He made the first last and the last first, thereby posing a highly subversive element in the politics of Jewish society. That is why Jesus, very early in the Gospel of Mark, was the object of an assassination plot. Jesus died a political death. And this was because of this reversal which he effected in the world. The Kingdom is here. And therefore instead, of siding with the rich, he sided with the poor. Instead of listening to the wise, he listened to the mouths of babes. Instead of going up to highest riches of the society’s politics and economics, he decided to be with the downtrodden and outcast of society.

That seems to be the test, whether there is really a reversal of perspectives in our lives.’ I think this is something which is very important for us who are engaged in URM, to believe the Kingdom is the new reality perhaps not in the lives of the whole world, but at least in our own lives. But then it is also a reality that is true for the world. And if we see that, we can perceive that the world is on its way to death. This is our task.

 


Biblical Reflection by Rev. Park Hyung Kyu

 

"Then the Lord said to Elijah, ‘Now go to the town of Zarephath, near Sidon, and stay there. I have commanded a widow who lives there to feed you.’ So Elijah went Zarephath, and as he came to the town gate, he saw a widow gathering firewood. ‘Please bring me a drink of water,’ he said to her. ‘And as she was going to get it, he called out, ‘And please bring me some bread, too.’

She answered, ‘By the living LORD your God I swear that I don’t have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour in a bowl and a bit of olive oil in a jar. I came here to gather some firewood to take back home and prepare what little I have for my son and me. That will be our last meal, and then we will starve to death.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Elijah said to her. ‘Go on and prepare your meal. But first make a small loaf from what you have and bring it to me, and then prepare the rest for you and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The bowl will not run out of flour or the jar run out of oil before the day that I, the LORD, send rain.’

The widow went and did as Elijah had told her, and all of them had enough food for many days. As the LORD had promised through Elijah, the bowl did not run out of flour nor did the jar run out of oil."
I Kings 22: 8-
16

 

This text is frequently used by many Evangelical teachers. It, in a sense, exploits the poor congregation. The poor congregation is urged to offer even the last of what they have, like the widow who put in all she had and all she has to live on. So this widow’s offering is also used to urge poor congregations to offer. The main point in this story of the widow’s offering is not to urge offerings by the poor.

The story of the widow, is how God can recognize and use a pagon, poor widow in the divine struggle against the classic ruler, King Ahab. Ahab’s Kingdom at that period was rapidly developing. It was very rich, modernised and economically progressing. He was assisted by his wife, Jezebel. And through Jezebel, whose father was the King of Sidon, he used military technology and political manipulation. All these helped Ahab and his Kingdom.

In this story the prophet is pictured as more poor than the widow herself. The widow had something. The widow had at least water. The prophet did not have any water to drink. The widow had some flour to bake some bread, as their last meal, but the prophet had none. So this is the story. The key point is the readiness of the widow to serve even the last meal with others. First when asked by the prophet to give some water, she was ready to give a cup of water. The water must have been very precious because there had been 3 years of drought. But she naturally responded. We have to remember this widow is not a Jew and her allegiance must have been different to the prophet’s.

He then asks her to bring him food. This is the depth of sharing, the poor people sharing. In this process of sharing of poorness, there occurs the miracle; the bowl will not run out of flour.

At this point I remember the story of Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5000 people. We can recognize the same account of sharing in the miracle. In the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, there is a boy who had five loaves and two fishes. The boy was ready to share that bread and fishes. There occurs the miracle of feeding the 5000 men and maybe more with women there. Then we come to the story of the Good Samaritan. This story is also a story of sharing. The Samaritan also was a common man without any religious affiliation. But there is a natural readiness to share what he had — oils, wine and money. So also in the parable on the final judgement in Matthew 25. Here nothing is said of the religious affiliation. When I was in prison you visited me. When you cared for the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.

In all these stories there is a common feature. Sharing is not religious and clearly not related to religious affiliation. Sharing is beyond the religions. It is beyond ideology and nationality or race. The widow who shared water and bread with prophet Elijah was a pagan Sidonite woman. He was a Samaritan, the man who shared the suffering of the armed robbery. In all these stories there shows in human nature some natural goodness. So the theological idea of total corruption of human nature may not be right here. Of course I learned much of Barthian theology during my theological training. This emphasises the evilness or the corruption of human nature. But we have to look at the other side. There are some remnants of nobleness in all human beings.

URM work I think must presume the ability of compassion or sharing amongst the poor. We can reach the people as Elijah reached the widow, as the poorest of the poorest. We cannot reach the poor people as an authoritarian. Even in disguise we have to reach them as one of the poor and urge them to share what they have with other poor people. All people have something to share, if they open their eyes, they will find out what they have and can share it with others. People must know they are something. Many poor people say they are nobody. The widow is somebody. The widow is ready to die. But God uses her as a tool to fight against the militaristic corrupt King.

Yesterday we were reminded that God’s Kingdom has come. God’s Kingdom means that God is ruling and before the rule of God all men are equal, equally forgiven and equally loved by God. So Thy Kingdom Come means every man and woman are equal. In yesterday’s Biblical reflection we looked at this word "repent" as to turn away or change your attitude, a change of behavior. Repent means you are not what you think of yourself or what other people are thinking of you. You are something God says of you. God is going to use you as an instrument.

The first thing Jesus told to the people, the fishermen, you can be fishers of people. He always insisted that you are somebody. You have something to provide for others. Find out what this is. Can you inspire others to do community work before finding out what talents you have to deal with others? You must know that you are somebody. You have something to share with others who are poorer than you. Poor people have something.