Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lamb and Lion, God and Man- Jesus Christ the Meek and Mighty

About 10 years ago my friend Philip gave me a copy of the book 'Truth and Social Reform' by Vishal Mangalwadi. He'd been working with Mangalwadi, researching for some of his projects and recommended his works to me. I took a long time to read it, as Mangalwadi seems to be more of a scholar and researcher rather than a parable-teller, but certain things stood out. The cover illustration showed a painting which showed Jesus driving out the money changers and the shopkeepers from the temple at Jerusalem with a rope-whip, his face set by determination and a stern look in his eyes. The content of the book, among other things, was about the role of the church in creating Christ-life reform in its ecosystem, which has been long ignored by believers who placed the verbal sharing of the Gospel much more important than living it out for the world to see.

It's interesting that the facet of Jesus' personality- the divine anger for righteousness- has been recorded in the chronicles of his earthly life only once, perhaps to help us understand that this too is his nature, but to not overdo the point. There have been many explanations for this. The temple was meant to be a place where worship was to be conducted in a manner prescribed by God, where people took animals without blemish from their homes for sacrifice over long distances. The new markets at the temple made it easier for them and this wasn't what God wanted- just sacrifices that fulfilled the letter but not the spirit of the Law. At the very least we know that Jesus in his earthly example is not the sweet sacharine push-over some have thought him to be, but a man of righteousness that drives him to action.

I just thought about this a while ago when my Dad (who is now staying with us on vacation) told me about problems in his neighbourhood in Kerala. Driven by greed, some neighbours have ignored the safety and security of their once peaceful neighbourhood and built warehouses or "go-downs" on their properties. Trucks move in and out of these warehouses all day long and the truck drivers spend hours talking long into the night, speaking coarse and often foul Malayalam, loudly enough for neighbours catch snippets of their conversation. They are often a menace to the homeowners' cars when their trucks scrape past the smaller vehicles. As it happens, most cars in the area have been at least a bit damaged by these trucks. Most neighours have been passive and let these events pass without comment. Dad hasn't been passive and has several times clashed with them, threatening legal action and calling the police once. Unfortunately the neighbourhood is not united with him and things have not changed much. Some neighbours are moving out o the area while some others- my Grandma among them- prefer to close all windows afterhours and shut out all noises, despite the sweltering, humid heat! To be fair to the neighbours, most people in Kerala behave this way- they are the most non-confrontational people I have seen when it comes to defending their own against those blue-collar workers who use their muscle to make a living (head-load workers, truck drivers and so on). The governments in power in the state have always favoured them. But I think a little leadership would have helped unite the neighbourhood- if only someone who had charisma enough to pull people together, someone who had the diplomacy, level-headedness and knack for tact and negotiation, could rise to the occasion!

What would Jesus have done? I don't believe he would have shut the windows and remained there. I don't think he would have simply shouted at the truck drivers. I doubt he would simply have thrown up his hands and moved out. I think he would have driven them out with force, but with the support of people and never losing his legitimacy, i.e., never going overboard. He wasn't against sinners, but he was against sin.

Let's take another example. When President Bush won the last elections against John Kerry, there was a cartoon strip that portayed a son asking his father about global warming, the US soldiers dying in Iraq and myriad other problems the US was facing, and why in the face of all this Bush was elected. The father tells the son, "Yes, son- but we can be happy now that the gays can't marry!" Certainly Bush could be told off for several policy decisions that have been failures, but simply trashing his opinion against gay marriages does not cut it.

While I don't want to go into a discussion about gay rights, I do want to assert one point- people who oppose gay marriages are not necessarily being bigots. They believe that giving social sanction to gay behaviour is not simply allowing a group of people to do what they like, but to influence society as a whole with a thinking that any moral choice is legitimate. That's why I'm puzzled by John Edwards who claims that he opposes gay marriages personally but in official capacity would do nothing about it. Does being in a democracy mean that an office bearer can do nothing to influence society and the nation with his or her won values? If the righteous do not influence society with their values, wherever the values come from - the Bible, the school of hard knocks, wherever- then the unrighteous will. And they are clever enough to turn the argument around and say that to oppose their point of view is to prevent democracy itself from functioning. If your personal conviction doesn't inform your public policy then how good are you as an office bearer? Would I permit bigamy to be legitmized? No- though I know some people would, although they don't practise it.

In other words, is virtue simply the absence of vice? Isn't it also a real Presence? C S Lewis offers in The Weight of Glory:

"If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive...."
If Love isn't simply Unselfishness then we had better be careful of how we view Love. Love binds, as they say- and free love is a contradiction in terms. If Love says Yes to something or someone, then it follows that Love could say No to someone else or something else. The nature of truth is to exclude falsehood.

I think God left out some of Jesus' harsher sayings or doings for a reason. I don't think it was because he was rarely harsh. In fact we see some hints here and there, especially when He is juxtaposed with a shoot-from-the-hip Peter who got to hear both bouquets and brick bats aplenty from Him. I do think it's because God wants us simply to understand that righteousness is a deeper matter and needs to be displayed in many ways. We need His wisdom and His Spirit to understand when to use which.

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