Good News for the Poor and Marginalised

Bible Studies by Rev. Pervaiz Suntan

1. Good News for the Poor in the Context fo the Birth of Jesus
2. Good News for the Poor in the Context of the Mission of Jesus Christ
3. Good News for the Poor in the Context of teh Mission of the Church

[These Bible Studies were presented at the 25th URM Committee Meeting held in Karachi, Pakistan from 22-30 January 1994]

January 24,1994

Good News for the Poor in the Context of the Birth of Jesus

Text: Luke 2:1-41

Good news of the Kingdom of God is for the poor. Most Christians in Pakistan read the Book of Psalms for their devotion but hardly note that God hates oppression of the poor in any form. He hates oppression equally as he hates other social evils like divorce, etc.

Psalm 1O:14b. The victim commits himself to you, you are the helper of the fatherless. Psalm 15 contains the qualifications of the one who lives in the sanctuary. Who is poor? Psalm 22:26. Those who seek the Lord, they will praise him and will eat and be satisfied. (paraphrased) The Lord is the deliverer of the poor. (Ps 35:10) Those who respect the poor, they are blessed people. (Ps 41:1)

The Greek word equivalent of Hebrew words for the poor in Septuagent is ‘Ptokhos’ which means one lacks resource. He who stands blessed when he looks to God for his redemption. Poverty in itself does not make people blessed but trusting in God makes the poor blessed. One who respects the poor definitely is blessed.

a. The birth of Jesus - A Historical Event (Luke 2:1-7): The mystery of incarnation is that God of heavens identified with the poor of the earth. Jesus Christ was born in a human situation to the extent that all events regarding his birth portray a picture of divine intervention to redeem the oppressed.

Verses 1-7. Roman censuses: Ruler’s activity to count people to put taxes and to apply forced military service on people. Jews were exempted from forced military service so in Palestine, it was an issue of taxes.

Joseph traveled about 80 miles of distance to obey the emperor. Young wife about to give birth to the her first baby needed extra attention and care. No room for the pregnant woman even at her last stage of pregnancy. Human ignorance of the poor. The only place where there was room for Him was on cross (Barclay). Child was born, wrapped in cloths (not clothes). Manger - a substitute for bed and cradle. The use of most humble resource by the poor parents.

b. Good News for the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-21): Shepherds: Poor and despised by the religious pharisees on account of ritual uncleanliness. Their odd timing of work prevented them to worship and observe rules and regulations of the religion.

William Barday records that these shepherds were the group to provide unblemished lambs for the daily sacrifice in the temple. They were poor but special people. They had the knowledge of the lamb for God and now they experienced the Lamb of God. They were poor but diligent in their work. They were doing their duty honestly and were given good news.

For the new born in Palestine, the traditional musicians will sing songs. For this poor child born to poor parents, no musician would come to play the musical instruments but the angels from heaven sung a very meaningful song: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men. Qualification of men - those whom God’s favour rests. In this context, it were the shepherds, the poor. v 16 They found Mary, Joseph and the baby. This is contrary to Herod who wanted to see Jesus but to kill and not worship. The shepherds came to worship. v 20 The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God. Why? This is because of their experience of visiting Jesus, their God. The poor will rejoice because of their experience of God.

c. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple - Salvation experience of Simeon and Anna: God’s son is born in human situation. God identified with men and women. This is important to note and learn. On the 8th day, he was circumcised. Deedat laughed and said, "was God being circumcised when Jesus was circumcised." God identified with people. Jesus was born under the law. He became man. On the 40th day of his birth he was presented in the temple.

Sacrifice which his parents brought was a poor parents’ sacrifice - a pair of doves or two young pigeons. Simeon saw them sacrificing the poor parents’ sacrifice of purification. He was righteous and devout and waited for the consolation of Israel. The rich and authoritarian people did not wait for the consolation of people. It were the poor and marginalised of Israel who were suffering in terms of economic and political rights, social status or even in religious realm. The rich were enjoying by way of compromising with the Romans and other exploitative powers. Simeon, moved by the spirit, recognised the Messiah in the context of poverty. v 30 My eyes have seen your salvation. Salvation is an adjective and not noun. An intimate experience of the Salvation of God in the Saviour. v 38 She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Church in Pakistan is a tiny religious community. Poorest of the poor. Least in resources. Most Christians in Pakistan are from a very poor background and yet they do not realise that poverty is both a social and theological problem. The Lord identifies with the poor. He identified with poor of undivided India in the last century during mass conversion of schedule caste Hindus. But now the offspring of that generation feels ashamed of calling the scheduled caste converts in the Southern part of Pakistan their fellow brethren in Christ. It is a small thing. No, it is a big challenge. We have forgotten our past. We need to remind ourselves that the Psalms we read for our singing and devotion are for the rights of the underprivileged.

May God give us courage to face the realities and confess our sin of becoming indifferent to the real situation.

January 24, 1994

Good News for the Poor in the Context of the Mission of Jesus Christ

Text: Luke 4:16-20

Mark 1:15. After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe." Good News of the Kingdom of God was the motto of the mission of Jesus. Who is this God whose kingdom Jesus proclaimed about? The God of Israel who came down from heaven to redeem people from their suffering. (Ex 3) Jesus was God Son and God was well pleased with him. (Lk 3:22)

Chris Sugden in his famous book, Radical Discipleship, thanks God for the Bible and says, "Thank God for the Bible. It prevents us frow believing that a particular expression of Christianity is the only possible expression of the teaching of Jesus." He has quoted Michael Eastman for saying, "What is the gospel for urban, industrialised secular men and women? What is God’s purpose in sending his servants into the world as it is? What kind of Christian community is flexible, open, adaptable and courageous enough to embody the gospel and express this purpose? What is meant by the kingdom of God and how in his reign expressed? What is God’s intention for man in society both now and in the future?" (Radical Discipleship p 22)

Good News the Good News which Isaiah links with coming of God. (Isaiah 35:1-7); vv 1-2 is the description of the rejoicing situation of the redeemed on the coming of God to them; vv 3-4 is the input in the kingdom by the Messiah and his people; vv 5-7 is the description of the accomplishment of the mission and ministry of the Messiah and his people.

We can pose another question. What was the purpose of God sending his Son to the world. This question can be answered in three possible ways:

1) To save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21); 2) To reveal God to the world (John 1:18); and, 3) To preach the good news to the poor (Luke 4:18b).

1. The Mission of Jesus finds its basis in the purpose of his coming. The Angel said to Joseph, "You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matt 1:21) Who are Jesus’ people? Israel and Judah. He came to his own (Isaiah 5:7 John 1:11) What were the sins of Judah and Israel? It may be a long list. Isaiah records: "She once was full of justice, righteousness used to dwell in her but now murderers!" (1:21)

Amos 2:4-5 Judah had turned their God into idols; 2:6-8 Israel had exploitad her own brothers and cheated God. These were the sins Jesus came to save Israel from.

2. Jesus’ mission was to reveal God in his fullness to the world. He came to reveal God’s love in his glory. (John 3:14-16)

3. Jesus’ mission was to preach Good News to the poor: Luke 4:16 - He went to the synagogue which was his custom; 4:17 - He chose the passage for reading; 4:18 -The confidence of being chosen to preach the good news. Jesus read from Isaiah 61 and Luke quoted a portion of that chapter. All that account comes as the hope in God. God’s comfort and healing is the agenda of the mission of Jesus, the Christ of God. Isaiah 61:4 gives and indication of a future for God’s people. This brings a very concrete hope for God’s people. Hope leads people into the area of courageous attitude.

We need to identify the prisoners, the blind and the oppressesed of our society today. If we do that, only then can we take the meaning of the mission of Jesus. There are some very real prisoners in Pakistan who have been thrown into prison because of their faith in Jesus. They are the victims of the blasphemy law. The blind are physically blind whom the Lord gives sig ht through the healing and medical ministry of the Church. But there are millions of children who are prevented from schooling. In the interior of Sindh, you can do evangelism but cannot open a school without the consent of the landlords. The oppressed and the marginalised people who are prevented from the opportunities of faith and progress.

Pakistan is a Third World country. It is a basic disadvantage for the country. We are the exploited part of the globe. The layer of feudal society, primitive custom, occult practices, social evils like bribery and discrimination is killing the poor. The sacred ministry like education is to maintain elitism and a society based on class system. We do not have caste system but a very strong class system in Pakistan. Who is going to redeem us from the bondage of this sin of exploitation? Christ Jesus our Lord. But how? Through the ministry of his saints. Which saints? Those who are committed for the kingdom principles of sacrifice and love. Are we ready to work for the kingdom?

January 26, 1994

Good News for the Poor in the Context of the Mission of the Church

Text: Galatians 2:6-10

Good news for the poor is a challenging theme in connection with the mission of the Church. All that we do is a reflection of our beliefs. All that we do and do not believe is hypocrisy. All that God wants us to believe and do in the fellowship of believers is the mission of Christ. The foremost ministry of the Church is that of reconciliation.

Paul says: "All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." 2 Cor 5:18 My definition of reconciliation is recognising someone other than you as yourself. The calling of the Church is to love our neighbour as ourself. This is only possible when the church live out her faith without any discrimination, biases and reservations. This includes avoiding all reservation based on status because of wealth and otherwise.

Read James 2:3-7 and note:

1. The elders of the early Church had a very clear understanding with respect to the poor and their honour. This was on the basis of their theology and experience of the rich. They warn others not to have false hopes from the rich of the society.

The pillars of the early church which included Peter, James and Paul were aware of the fact that there was nothing good in them. It was the poverty of Jesus which made them something. They had a realisation that the "Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich." (2 Cor 8:9)

Paul’s argument in this section comes in the context of his authority to preach the good news of the kingdom of the gentiles. James and Peter had already recognized the grace given to Paul and Barnabas. The churches’ mission is under the grace. It is nothing on its own.

They agreed that the gospel he preached to both the Jews and the Gentiles. the hidden requirement to be included in the preaching (proclamation) was not to forget the poor. To remember the poor means sharing the good news of the kingdom with them by way of respecting their integrity and honour. This was to be done as spontaneous action and not something different from proclamation. It is not charity but an attitude of loving the poor. Paul, the grear preacher, says that before he started any evangelistic task he had already been remembering the poor. If the poor is the church at Jerusalem, then Paul had already been raising funds for them.

2. Sharing good news with the poor requires an understanding of poverty. The early church had an understanding of poverty. Acts 2:42-47~ 4:32-35 Rene Padilla says that it does not matter how much we give but it does matter how much we keep for ourselves. The early church developed an attitude of sharing all that they had. As the need arose, they kept on bringing in the

resource. They werep with one mind and heart. And there was no needy person among them. The agape feast ended by class distinction but Paul did warn very sternly that the poverty of the poor should not be taken as a basis of his or her humiliation. (1 Cor 11:21, 22)

Peter Cotterell in his book, "Mission and Meaninglessness", says: "What is encouraging, however, is that neither Paul, in writing to Corinth nor James, in his more general letter, surrenders the essential position. Discrimination is wrong. The humiliation of the poor by the rich is wrong. Within the church of Jesus Christ there should be sharing and mutual concern arising from a common devotion to the one Lord..." (p. 206)

3. The mission of the church can be accomplished by: a.) costly discipleship to go in the footsteps of the Lord and follow the example of those who worked for the cause of the underprivileged. Call to costly discipleship by Bonhoeffor is a torch for us today who says: "Grace is costly because it calls to follow... It is costly because it costs a man his life... Grace is the incarnation of God." Call to commitment for the poor by Gutierrez means to remain with them in their situation.

The church in Pakistan has identified with the brick kiln workers who lived in a form bonded labour. The Church was also in forefronts with regard to the situation of refugees. But still there are hundred and one avenues where we need to feel more committed and participating in the plight of the poor. One is the plight of the sweepers who live in bastis and the average pay of the whole family does not exceed 2000 rupees.

In Pakistan, fatalism is very strong among all sorts of people. The poor have been heard saying that God made them to serve the rich landlords and it is His will. The Churches’ mission is to give confidence, dignity and power to the poor. It is the question of empowerment which will give confidence to the poor. Education is the most important tool in this regard.

Eschatology is the most attractive and the most observed discipline of theology in Pakistan. Every deed is revolving around the fear of the judgement day. The hope of the future with reference to present experience of God needs to be elaborated.

In the area of liturgy we need to emphasize that we are one body of Christ because we all share one bread. We do not believe in the lion’s share in any form and are ready to challenge the situation.

Salvation is another area that interest people. The reformed theology with all its blessings have given a wrong emphases that we are saved by faith alone. People just forgot all about their holiness which leads them to the issues of true worship, genuine spirituality and right ethics. Someone has said that we are saved by faith but are judged by our deed. (Matthew 25)

Our deeds include our concern for the poor. This is the mission of the church. There is every hope for the poor in the historical mission of the church. How are we going to exploit our potential for doing the mission which the Lord has assigned to us. While addressing the need of hunger Jesus said to his disciple: "You yourselves give them something to eat." (Luke 9:13) Food sustains life. The whole disorder of life needs to be corrected. The hunger and lostness of people like sheep without a shepherd are great challenges for the church in contemporary situations. Are we faithful in our calling?