Biblical Reflections

by Dr. Levi Oracion

Exodus 3:1-19
Leviticus 25
Isaiah 53
John 1:1-18

[These Bible Studies were presented at the 13th URM Committee Meeting which was held in Korea from 19-24 April 1982]

 

I. EXODUS 3:1-19

"One day as Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, out at the edge of the desert near Horeb, the mountain of God, suddenly the Angel of Jehovah appeared to him as a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw that the bush was on fire and that it didn’t burn up, he went over to investigate. Then God called out to him, ‘Moses! Moses!" "Who is it?" Moses asked. "Don’t come any closer," God told him. "Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." (Moses covered his face with his hands, for he was afraid to look at God.)

"Then the Lord told him, "I have seen the deep sorrows of my people in Egypt, and have heard their pleas for freedom from their harsh task-masters. I have come to deliver them from the Egyptians and to take them out of Egypt into a good land, a large land, a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ — the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites live. Yes, the wail of the people of Israel has risen to me in heaven, and I have seen the heavy tasks the Egyptians have oppressed them with. Now I am going to send you to Pharaoh, to demand that he let you lead my people out to Egypt.

"But I’m not the person for a job like that!" Moses exclaimed. Then God told him, "I will certainly be with you, and this is the proof that I am the one who is sending you: When you have led the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God here upon this mountain!"

"But," Moses asked, "If I go to the people of Israel and tell them that their fathers’ God has sent me, they will ask, ‘Which God are you talking about?" What shall I tell them?" "The Sovereign God," was the reply. "Just say, I Am has sent me!’ Yes, tell them, ‘Jehovah, the God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has sent me to you. (This is my eternal name, to be used through-out all generations.)

"Call together all the elders of Israel," God instructed him, "and tell them about Jehovah appearing to you here in this burning bush and that he said to you, ‘I have visited my people, and have seen what is happening to them there in Egypt. I promise to rescue them from the drudgery and humiliation they are undergoing, and to take them to the land now occupied by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, a land "flowing with milk and honey.’" ‘ The elders of the people of Israel will accept your message. They must go with you to the king of Egypt and tell him, ‘Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us and instructed us to go three days’ journey into the desert to sacrifice to him. Give us your permission.’

"But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go except under heavy pressure."

 

This is a passage familiar to all of us, it is about the call of Moses. I would like to inject a little note of conservatism into URM by discussing the call. We demand that theological students who come to us should have experienced a call. Nowadays, people do not speak much of the call. They would rather speak of the decisions they would like to make for themselves in their own lives. Moses, in this particular instance, was enjoying a life of relative ease, security, and comfort.

You would recall the earlier passages that describe how Moses got into trouble by killing an Egyptian. Someone had seen him and this report had reached Pharoah who started to look for Moses and kill him. Moses fled to the Land of Midian. There he assisted some women by drawing water at the well and was later requested for by the father of these girls. Eventually he married one of them and begets a son. So now, he is a family man, settled very nicely and comfortably in Midian. He must have enjoyed that particular phase of his life very much. It was out of this situation that God called him.

One of the things that we see is that God calls us when we are usually in a situation of ease, comfort and security. Everything is very nice, then suddenly the call comes. It is not easy to answer the call because of the baggage that we have with us. Moses had with him a growing baggage - the sheep that he was caring for, the wife, the child, plus all the other things that are probably not described here anymore. So, it was not easy for him to answer that call. In any case, it came when he was having things growing for him in a very nice way.

We do not bother with God’s call very much any more. We are very scientific, rational people. We would rather determine things through feasibility studies; through our ability to deal with facts; even the future is a matter of scientific management for us. There is a new science called the science of futurology. It is man’s management of the future.

I think theologically, we can distinguish two ways of understanding the future. One is the future which we bring about by our own planning and decisions. But I think the Bible speaks of another kind of future — a future which God Himself brings to come to past. I think they are two different things. One is the future of man, the other one is the future of God. It is to God’s future that we are called. Perhaps we may ask the questions: Who is the caller? What is the call?

In the case of Moses, it is very clear because it is written down very plainly here in Exodus. But what is it for us. Again, I guess it would profit us a bit if we take a look at what has happened here.

The caller is of course, God. He is holy and His call is a holy one. It is described here that the ground on which He stands is holy - there was a bush which was burning and it was not being consumed. These are strange things which do not fit into the scheme of things that we understand.

Again, this is an attack on our devotion to factuality, our commitment to scientific technology. It doesn’t mean that we should throw these things out of the window, but what it says is that God’s reality is much larger than our own rationality. The holy that comes to us is not given to us for our own scientific management. We have to be open and listen to the call.

The call is a holy one because the caller is holy. Here, there is a little bit that is very much familiar to us. The call is a call to serve people who are afflicted. The Lord says, "I have heard the cry because of the taskmasters. I know their sufferings." It is interesting to note that the story of exodus is a historical one. I suppose the stories before this may not be so historical and may be suffused in mythology, even perhaps in theological speculation. When God bursts into human history, he comes forth as a liberator. This is how God appears in this particular passage. This is how God appears, in fact, in the whole Bible. He is so different from the God that we know in philosophy books. In other traditions, He is a God who is a subject of much speculation. He is served by meditative acts and theologians and philosophers seek to determine his being by making an analysis of things around Him.

But not so the God of Isaac, or Jacob, or Abraham. He comes as the liberator of the oppressed. This is the kind of call which Moses heard, and the call has not changed since then. It is still the same. We know for a fact that at this time in Egypt, there were many racial and ethnic minority groups which Egyptian rulers had gathered into Egypt in order to work on her great monumental projects. The pyramids, the sphinxes; these great projects which are still around that were built by the Egyptians were built because of forced labour that Egypt had collected around her.

This was not only the tribe of Israel, there were many other peoples in Egypt at that time. There were the minorities — the oppressed people of the land. They were valuable only because of the work they can do. They were non—persons. They had no rights, they had no dignity, they were not free. They were just as good as slaves. And it is to these people whom God has come and promised a deliverer — Moses. I do not see any difference between the call of Moses and the call that God gives to us now. Because it is very much the same. We have mighty nations of the earth which have gathered in her midst, minorities who are being oppressed. Even their very own people are pushed to the peripheries of her political and economic life. They are made to work, and to live miserable lives. The cry that they give is God’s call. It is futile and senseless to think of God’s call as coming out of some strange mystified experience like a bolt out of the blue. But it is very definite, very concrete, and a very historical call, which we hear from the lives of our own people.

 

 

II. LEVITICUS Chapter 25

While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the Lord gave him these instructions for the people of Israel:

"When you come into the land lam going to give you, you must let the land rest before the Lord every seventh year. For six years you may saw your field and prune your vineyards and harvest your crops, but during the seventh year the land is to lie fallow before the Lord, uncultivated. Don‘t sow your crops and don’t prune your vineyards during that entire year. Don ‘t even reap for yourself the volunteer crops that come up, and don‘t gather the grapes for yourself; for it is a year of rest for the land. Any crops that do grow that year shall be free to all - for you, your servants, your slaves, and any foreigners living among you. Cattle and wild animals alike shall be allowed to graze there.

"Every fiftieth year, on the Day of Atonement, let the trumpets blow loud and long throughout the land. For the fiftieth year shall be holy, a time to proclaim liberty throughout the land to all enslaved debtors, and a time for the canceling of all public and private debts. It shall be a year when all the family estates sold to others shall be returned to the original owners or their heirs.

"What a hapy year it will be! In it you shall not sow, nor gather crops nor grapes; for it is a holy Year of Jubilee for you. That year your food shall be the volunteer crops that grow wild in the fields. Yes, during the Year of Jubilee everyone shall return home to his original family possession; if he has sold it, it shall be his again! Because of this, if the land is sold or bought during the preceding forth-nine years, a fair price shall be arrived at by counting the number of years until the Jubilee. If the Jubilee is many years away, the price will be high; if few years, the price will be low; for what you are really doing is selling the number of crops the new owner will get from the land before it is returned to you.

"You must fear your God and not overcharge! For I am Jehovah. Obey my laws if you want to live safely in the land. When you obey, the land will yield bumper crops and you can eat your fill in safety. But you will ask, ‘What shall we eat the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ The answer is, ‘I will bless you with bumper crops the sixth year that will last you until the crops of the eighth year are harvested!’ And remember, the land is mine, so you may not sell it permanently. You are merely my tenants and sharecroppers!

"In every contract of sale there must be a stipulation that the land can be redeemed at any time by the seller. If anyone becomes poor and sells some of his land, then his nearest relatives may redeem it. If there is no one else to redeem it, and he himself gets together enough money, then he may always buy it back at a price proportionate to the number of harvests until the Jubilee, and the owner must accept the money and return the land to him. But if the original owner is not able to redeem it, then it shall belong to the new owner until the Year of Jubilee; but at the Jubilee year it must be returned again.

"If a man sells a house in the city, he has up to one year to redeem it, with full right of redemption during that time. But if it is not redeemed within the year, then it will belong permanently to the new owner - it does not return to the original owner in the Year of Jubilee. But village houses are like farmland, redeemable at any time, and are always returned to the original owner in the Year of Jubilee.

"There is one exception: The homes of the Levites, even though in walled cities, may be redeemed at any time, and must be returned to the original owners in the Year of Jubilee; for the Levites will not be given farmland like the other tribes, but will receive only houses in their cities, and the surrounding fields. The Levites are not permitted to sell the fields of common land surrounding their cities, for these are their permanent possession, and they must belong to no one else.

"If your brother becomes poor, you are responsible to help him; invite him to live with you as a guest in your home. Fear your God and let your brother live with you; and don‘t charge him interest on the money you lend him. Remember — no interest; and give him what he needs, at your cost: don’t try to make a profit! For I, the Lord your God, brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

"If a fellow Israelite becomes poor and sells himself to you, you must not treat him as an ordinary slave, but rather as a hired servant or as a guest; and he shall serve you only until the Year of Jubilee. At that time he can leave with his children, and return to his own family and possessions. For I brought you from the land of Egypt, and you are my servants; so you may not be sold as ordinary slaves, or treated harshly; fear your God.

"However, you may purchase slaves from the, foreign nations living around you, and you may purchase the children of the foreigners living among you, even though they have been born in your land. They will be permanent slaves for you to pass on to your children after you; but your brothers, the people of Israel, shall not be treated so.

"If a foreigner living among you becomes rich, and an Israelite becomes poor and sells himself to the foreigner or to the foreigner’s family, he may be redeemed by one of his brothers, his uncle, nephew, or anyone else who is a near relative. He may also redeem himself if he can find the money. The price of his freedom shall be in proportion to the number of years left before the Year of Jubilee — whatever it would cost to hire a servant for that number of years until the Jubilee, he shall pay almost the amount he received when he sold himself; if the years have passed and only a few remain until the Jubilee, then he will repay only a small part of the amount he received when he sold himself. If he sells himself to a foreigner, the foreigner must treat him as a hired servant rather than as a slave or as property. If he has not been redeemed by the time the Year of Jubilee arrives, then he and his children shall be freed at that time. For the people of Israel are my servants; I brought them from the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God."

 

YESTERDAY we took a look at the call of Moses and saw that the God who called him is the God who liberates. God is He who comes to free His people. Here, God is not only the liberating God, He is also the God of order and justice. He does not simply set His people free, in order to do what they like upon the land. He imposes an order whereby God’s justice acts as a restraining force upon God’s people so that they will not become tyrants. It is fascinating to see how the Hebrite faith had such a comprehensive scope, so much so, that it embraces everything in the lives of God’s people. Here, we have the land being discussed. There is a basic relationship between land and faith. Land, of course, is part of creation, and faith arises from the covenant. Between these two realities — creation and covenant — oscillates the life of the Hebrew community.

A noted theologian said creation is the external basis of the covenant, whereas covenant is the internal basis of creation. You cannot have a tighter relationship between reality and faith such as what you find in the faith of the Hebrews. The land is to be understood entirely from the perspective of faith, and faith becomes somewhat useless, some kind of a mockery, if man does not have his land.

Here, even the land is given a year of rest, a sabbath. It did not arise from any understanding of the organic or physical ability of land to yield produce, but this arises out of a perception of faith that everything must be given rest. To rest is to re-create. To rest allows both land and people to gather themselves together and celebrate the goodness of God. The identity of a people is closely tied up with the land. There is no more miserable community than a landless community. There is no covenant by which it will be implemented if you have no land. It is very important that one should have a specific, geographical space that one should call one’s own. That particular space which allows one to give expression to one’s relationship with God. Without that, man becomes almost nothing.

A deeper look into the passage would indicate that the Hebrew faith has a very profound understanding of man, in relation to property, the whole question of economics. It allows for the industry, the vision, the enterprising character of some people, so that it is possible for them to increase the land that they own. On the other hand, it also allows for people who are slothful and idle. They may lose their patrimony. You do not have a very rigid, social and political economy. There is much room for freedom. One can go up, one can go down, but there are limits set by the covenant. Man is not allowed to go on a rampage of greed so that he would own everything in perpetuity.

Neither is a man allowed to simply lose his patrimony altogether. The covenant also restrains that, because of the Year of Jubilee. In the 50th year, the trumpet is blown and everyone returns to his land. His property and inheritance goes back to him, and justice is once more restored. We have been seeking for some form of economy by which we can ensure both justice and freedom in our societies. I think here is an instance of that. Its physical arrangement may no longer be applicable to modern life because our existence today has become very complex indeed. There are basic principles in the passage from which we may learn.

There is a careful and dynamic interwining of justice and freedom in society. I think if we try to look deeply into his formula, arising as it does from a very profound understanding of man, we may be able to arrive at a more just solution to our economic and political problems.

Another thing is that there is no institution of absolute property. The land is mine, said the lord, and it cannot be sold in perpetuity. One of the evils of liberal democracy is the institution of property, especially of absolute ownership, and that with this concept, one can sell one’s property, one can give it away, one can let it stand idle, or one can destroy it. These are all possible under the concept of absolute ownership of property.

Here, there is no such idea because it is the power of God that prevails. He is the owner — the land we occupy is His. The Israelites are reminded that they are strangers and sojourners with God. That too, is an interesting idea because it breaks with the concept of being tied to the land. In a sense, man is identified with his land, in another sense, he is sojourner — one who goes from one place to another, so that man breaks away from a point in geography in order to realize his authentic being with God. In this sense, one can see the futural character of the Hebraic faith. God is always in the future which is ahead so that it does not allow us to stand at one particular place and become stagnant. We have to move. I believe that this passage has some very important things to say to us. Perhaps I have not said them all. There may be other things here — I am sure there are many other things which I have not seen. But I think the close intertwining of faith, economics and politics can be seen so that faith is not simply man’s affair with God. It is his affair with the totality of existence and of reality. We see also the sanctity of land in relation to people who have been assigned to till it. There is the notion that no one should be alienated from his land. There is the understanding that man can only fulfill his religious vocatiop (or humanity) in relation to a particular geographical space. Then, there is the notion of justice that man should always return to his property, that he should never be entirely alienated from it. Then there is the understanding that in the end, God is all and in Him, man finds his future and his total property.

 

 

III. ISAIAH Chapter 53

"But, oh, how few belive it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal his saving power? In God’s eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him - a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised and we didn ‘t care.

"Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was chastised that we might have peace; he was lashed - and we were healed! We are the ones who strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us!

"He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he stood silent before the ones condemning him. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people of that day realized it was their sins that he was dying for — that he was suffering their punishment? He was buried like a criminal in a rich man ‘s grave; but he had done no wrong, and had never spoken an evil word.

"Yet it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. But when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again and God’s program shall prosper in his hands.

"And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant before God, for he shall bear all their sins. Therefore I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he has poured out his soul unto death. He was counted as a sinner, and he bore the sins of many, and he pled with God for sinners."

 

JEREMIAH 31,31-34

"The day will come, says the Lord, when I will make a new contract with the people of Israel and Judah. It won’t be like the one I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a contract they broke, forcing me to reject them, says the Lord. But this is the new contract I will make with them: I will inscribe my laws upon their hearts, so that they shall want to honor me; then they shall truly be my people and I will be their God. At that time it will no longer be necessary to admonish one another to know the Lord. For everyone, both great and small, shall really know me then, says the Lord, and I will forgive and forget their sins."

 

It is the fashion among conservative theologians and most of our church people, to interpret the passage in Isaiah as a literal prediction ie that Isaiah was gifted with a special vision in the future to see exactly the details of the coming savior. There seems to be much to be said for that kind of interpretation because there is an uncanny similarity between this passage and the life and ministry of our lord, Jesus Christ. There is almost a one-to-one correspondence between this passage and the gospel accounts. To say, so; to simply believe that this is the case, would take away from Isaiah his profound theological struggles with his own historical situation. Besides, as we have seen, revelations in the Bible does not normally occur that way. Revelation is always a revelation in history. It does not simply come as a sudden, instant enlightenment. I would like to think that the prophet, in looking at his own people and trying to understand the covenant that God had made with them, has zeroed in on the remnants which had remained faithful to God and yet were the ones who bore much of the oppression, exploitation and wickedness of the powers that be. By looking at the remnants, I am supposing he had perceived both the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of those who ruled over them. In seeing that, he begun to perceive the remnants as having some predemptive qualities. It is out of this that he personalised and individualised his reflections upon the remnants into the Suffering Servant, and thus we have now the passage in Isaiah.

This is not a very original interpretation. I am sure there were others who had interpreted thus. I am sure Isaiah had asked the question: Why does God not liberate His people now? Why is He taking so long? Isaiah must have reflected upon the liberation that God was to bring to His people. Must we think of liberation as taking the form of releasing people from bondage, such as economic or political liberation, or liberation holding to the categories or terms of the potentates of the earth, or is there a deeper kind of liberation which is now happening among God’s people? I am sure that the prophet in his struggle with the problem had seen that there was a deeper, spiritual kind of freedom that God gives to His people, which would be the basis of a more comprehensive, total freedom. So, the Suffering Servant is an expression of this kind of liberation. It may have everything the world abhors and would never wish to be. But it is free from all forms of bondage that bind the world. To see the cleansing, the explosive power of its tragic condition is to experience the freedom that it knows. I would like to reiterate that by looking at the Suffering Servant, we are exposed into things that we so seriously lack. The bankruptcy of our spiritual and moral life, especially for those who are responsible for the suffering of the Servant. We receive this kind of judgement. But to those who are attracted to the seeming beauty of the Suffering Servant are given the power to make conquest of the suffering, which is the beginning of the authentic liberation. The fact that God’s people are directed to liberate the worthless elements of our society says something very profound to us. We should not think of liberation primarily in terms of the wisdom of this world but in terms of God’s justice and righteousness. The oppressed of the earth have also a liberating power. To be able to identify with the cry redeems us from our inhumanity and bestows upon us a new valuation of things that can undermine the powers of this world. It is thus that the wretched of the earth becomes our liberators. They allow us to plunge into that spiritual depths of our humanity.

At this juncture, Jeremiah 31 acquires a special significance for us. This passage speaks of God making a new covenant with His people. The old one would no longer be effective. It was written on tablets of stone. It was something objective, external which God imposed upon His people. But the new covenant would be something quite different. It will no longer be external because it will be written upon the hearts of men. There are various ways by which men will relate to the will of God. There are those who say that we have nothing to do with it, and we will live by our own will. Still, there are those who say that God’s will is something that is outside of us, external to us. Therefore if we receive it, it is with an act of submission. It is some kind of slavery also, even if it does come from God. There are those who say that there is what the prophet Jeremiah is saying. I think Jeremiah had basically the same profound insight that Isaiah had. When God’s people began to hear His call in the cry of the oppressed and exploited elements, God no longer directs them from the authority of the old covenant but from the new - the one written upon the hearts. When they give obedience to it, then they are the manifestation of God’s spirit among the ranks of fallen humanity. URM is therefore justified when it says "struggling with people is living in Christ". One must go about the identification with people and throw oneself in this struggle in the spirit of Christ.

 

 

IV. JOHN 1:1-18

Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. He created everything there is — nothing exists that he didn’t make. Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness — and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent John the Baptist as a witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the true Light. John himself was not the Light; he was only a witness to identify it. Later on, the one who is the true Light arrived to shine on everyone coming into the world.

But although he made the world, the world didn’t recognize him when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, the Jews, he was not accepted. Only a few would welcome and receive him. But to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust him to save them. All those who believe this are reborn! — not a physical rebirth resulting from human passion or plan — but from the will of God.

And Christ became a human being and lived here on earth among us and was full of loving forgiveness and truth. And some of us have seen his glory — the glory of the only Son of the heavenly Father!

John pointed him out to the people, telling the crowds, "This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming who is greater by far than I am — for he existed long before I did!’ " We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us — blessing upon blessing heaped upon us! For Moses gave us only the Law with its rigid demands and merciless justice, while Jesus Christ brought us loving forgiveness as well. No one has ever actually seen God, but, of course, his only Son has, for he is the companion of the Father and has told us all about him.

 

JOHN makes a very bold departure from the theological traditions, even from the basic theological principles of his own people. The fundamental element in Hebrew theology is that God is God and man is man. There is nothing in the world or reality that could bring them together as one. Yet, John in one bold stroke brought God and man together in this passage before us, and his whole gospel is an elaboration of this declaration. This was not easy for the Jews to understand. In fact, this was blasphemy. One of the charges brought against Jesus was the fact that he claimed he was the son of God, or that he accepted that confession pertaining to his person. Now, it is quite common for Christians to accept the incarnation. We do not have any problems with it. It is the basic article of our faith. But there is a distortion that takes place because we simply regard it on the level of a universal principle that God became man, that He identified Himself with man.

Here, man is taken in a universal sense. But historically, this was not what happened. What happened was that God identified Himself with a particular man - a poor man who comes from a poor family, who was a member of a poor and insignificant country. I think that this should be insisted upon in order that the sharpness of the meaning of the incarnation would not be lost to us.

For a long while, theologians debated as to how this passage is to be understood. In fact, courses are still being given in theological seminaries only on the first 18 verses of John. I took one of this in the University of Chicago. We are closer to the truth these days when we speak of the meaning of incarnation as signifying that God has identified Himself with man. At this point, I would like to say that one must not make an immediate universalisation of God’s identifying Himself with man but it must be insisted upon that it is with the oppressed, with the poor. This was the case with Jesus Christ.

When Christ came upon the scene, the structure of society was pretty much the same as what we have in our own days, especially in Asian countries. For instance, in His time, there was the establishment also — the high priests, the Sanhedrin, the Roman Governor, they all belonged to the establishment. There were also those who did not belong to the establishment but wanted to accommodate them in their own understanding of things. So, we have accommodators also in our own day. These are the hierarchy of our churches who would want to cling to the faith and at the same time would want to provide justification for whatever power in their midst. The Sadducees, the Scribes, the Pharisees, tax collectors — all faithful members of the Jewish faith belonged to these.

Then, there was the group who wanted to immigrate out of society. I believe that John the Baptist was a member of this group. If you read the Bible, you will find out that John the Baptist makes an appearance every now and then. He comes out from some forest and from there makes his denunciations upon society. And a fourth group was the revolutionaries. We also have the revolutionaries in our own day. This was the Zealots who also wanted to take the Kingdom of Heaven by force and establish it here on earth. Jesus did not identify himself with any one of these groups. There is a fifth group — whose existence was hardly countenanced by the system of the day. This was the poor, the outcasts. People who did not even have the privilege of being religious — therefore, in the understanding of the society of the day, people who could not even hope and thus, had no participation in the coming Kingdom of God.

The structure and stability of society, in a way, was provided for by its religious beliefs. The high priests, the Sanhedrin and those who belonged to the top of Jewish society were considered as the central elements of God’s kingdom, and when the kingdom comes, they would be the first ones to go in. The others that followed the train would go in according to their religious importance in their own society. The outcasts and the oppressed could not even be admitted at all because they could not practice the basic essentials of their religion. How can a poor man offer sacrifices? He has nothing to sacrifice. He has no time to go to the synagogue and pray. He is simply left alone by his own society. And Jesus identified himself with this group. And when he made a declaration of the gospel, It came as a thunderbolt because he made a radical reversal of the valuation of society because he said the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor, and that a camel has a better chance to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I think that is why they killed Jesus. He proclaimed a highly subversive gospel and therefore the rulers of society could not withstand his presence and the only way by which they can have the cake and eat it also is to eliminate Jesus immediately.

It is thus that Jesus identified himself with the poor. It is with this kind of incarnation that you have to contend with a non-philosophical understanding of the incarnation. When we say today God is with us, what we are affirming is that this is the God which directs us always to the poor. We are given strength and being and the reason for our existence. It is simply directed to that. I don’t see how we can escape this powerful theological logic that is embedded at the very heart of our faith — the faith of the incarnation.

The basic realities of faith that we have in the Bible — the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, even the second coming — are all of a piece with this movement of God in the direction of the poor. It was the incarnation that led Jesus to his crucifixion and it was the redeeming logical God that is embedded in this too, that was proclaimed as the power of God in the resurrection. Those who are hopeless in this world continue to have hope because of the second coming of Christ.

I think this particular passage has a very wide compass, and it provides the basic theology for URM. We do not have to go to peripheral passages in the Bible to justify our reason for being and the kind of work we are doing, but we have to go right into the very center of our faith to find out that this is what gives us basic motivation — the form as well as the process of our involvement in society, because Jesus identified himself with the poor out of love. Identification is the basic form of communication but it is not that which would allow the identifier to be carried to the excess of those with whom he identifies. Because there is an element of justice in God’s incarnation and that is his love for the other. That was why Jesus was willing to lose his own life that others may have it. May all of us have this sense also as we go about our work.