Searching for a future waiting to be born: metanoia, ministry and mission into the third millenium.
In 1994, the Bishop of Cape Coast in Ghana took me to visit the British fort that still stands intact on the palm-fringed shoreline. Within, a sign read "Slave Quarters," and I began to walk into the dark tunnel leading to chambers where up to a thousand slaves were held in darkness. Beyond the cells was another tunnel, which led to a keyhole gate. Through this exit slaves would be pushed into the sea and pulled by ropes to the ships anchored in the bay. The chambers were a starvation block, a place where captives were slimmed down to be thin enough to pass through the keyhole gate, and docile enough to be contained on the long voyage to the Americas and the West Indies.
"Be in the dark," shouted a man from Jamaica, who had returned to discover his roots. "See how it really was for them. They didn't have any electric light, nor room to move." My hosts tried to protect me from his attention, saying "Cool it man. It was a long time ago and we must forgive and forget." For my own comfort I wanted to agree, but the Jamaican was right. There is a need for reminder and a challenge about such a past.
Being in Codrington reminds me of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel's (SPG) past, and its involvement in slavery. Codrington was left to SPG in 1710, a mere eight years after the society had been founded. In the deed of transfer, the following is written: "My desire is to have the plantations continued entire, and three hundred negroes at least, always kept thereon; and a convenient number of professors and scholars maintained there; all of them to be under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience." The society maintained its plantations, albeit not very well. For a time too it had its own brand, and the Rev. Arthur Holt, writing in 1732, to question its continued use, wrote "These letters SOCIETY in large letters are Brandished with a Red Hot Iron upon the naked breasts of the New Negroes as If they were So many Beasts, a Cruelty which I believe the Society will think it proper to discourage."
The society did not think it proper to discourage, and eventually Holt took things into his own hands. This attitude reflected in its own way the view of the society that its task was to win over the slave holders rather than the slaves.
In the sermons and discourses that it distributed in the colonies, therefore, the society urged that Christianity would not undermine slavery but strengthen it. The Christian slave would be more docile and diligent than the heathen Negro. Christianity would leave West Indian society undisturbed. The Christian slave would look for his reward in heaven, and in this life would "abide in the same Calling wherein he was called."(1)
As late as 1823, SPG, while making its policy towards slaves progressively more humane, nevertheless followed a policy that was "coincident with colonial interest." The American historian J. Harry Bennett observed, "Because it was an ecclesiastical body, and one closely identified with the hierarchy of the Church of England, the corporation was highly vulnerable to humanitarian attack." By 1832, the society accepted that the slaves would ultimately be freed, and in due course invited William Wilberforce to be one of its trustees.
The title and sub-title of this lecture seek to express a deeply held belief that contemporary Christianity, approaching the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, needs to re-discover metanoia - repentance at its heart, and apply this to the place where we are, the life we are living and the destination we hope to achieve. My present position as general secretary of USPG is a privileged one: It takes me around the world and enables me to witness first hand the human reality that one normally one experiences only through the press, radio and television. I speak more as a pastor than a theologian, a missionary than a missiologist. I am passionately committed to those the gospel regards as the excluded, or the poor, and I long to be part of a church that is unequivocal in its hospitality towards the world's little ones.
It is in this spirit that I want to respond to Codrington College's generous invitation to give this historic lecture. To understand our task today we must recognize our past - with all its mistakes as well as its glories - and set our minds in the present to criticize both our faith and its practice, for the sake of the world God loves, in order that we may be a sign of hope for generations as yet unborn.
It will not surprise you therefore that in introducing this theme of "Metanoia, ministry and mission into the third millennium" I begin with a short examination of metanoia in the context of the history of Christian involvement in slavery. Metanoia is not simply acknowledging past wrongs and saying sorry. A great deal is said today about reparation to peoples for the violations they have suffered in history through enforced exile, slavery, ethnic cleansing and holocaust. This is a complicated matter, and undoubtedly some public gesture for crimes committed against humanity by imperialist powers would at least recognize the gross nature of our inhumanity. But metanoia from a Christian perspective is at least as much about the future of hope as it is about the failure of the past. Metanoia is a life-giving yet demanding virtue. Metanoia invites us out of the past into the future. It invites us to change, and if we understand the root of the word meta to mean opening up like the chrysalis transformed into the butterfly, then there are a number of inter-related possibilities: opening up to love is one that finds its roots within the Old Testament. Jesus uses the same idea when he invites to "repent, the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15). He is bidding his hearers to open up to a new worldview. Or, put more prosaically, an end to "business as usual."
Metanoia from a theology of slavery
Undoubtedly we still need to emphasize those elements of repentance that we normally associate with that grace, expressing sorrow, practising forgiveness and making reparation. The challenge for us in metanoia today is to discern how to be open to love. Nothing we can say or do today can change the past, but through repentance and forgiveness, and discovering new perspectives upon it, we can be open to a new worldview. Recognizing the need for a new worldview is tacit admission that the old worldview is inadequate. When we look at the history and perceptions I referred to earlier, in respect of colonialism and slavery, this becomes obvious. We need to recognize, as an integral part of repentance, that for there to have been slavery that Christianity could endorse, there had to be a theology of slavery.
As a pre-cursor therefore to our consideration of ministry and mission, we need to question something of the theology that led to Christians' accepting and practising slavery in the years of western imperialist expansion. You will have noticed in my earlier remarks about the Christian slave that I made reference to a phrase in I Corinthians 7:20, that "in this life he would 'abide in the same Calling wherein he was called.'" St Paul has been widely held responsible for providing the theology for slavers. He has been called in for support in the oppression of women, various forms of racism, including anti-semitism, and in the cause of violence. Many of the texts in the New Testament ascribed to St Paul are so ascribed in order to obtain the apostle's support for whatever calmuny as yet imperfect Christians have sought to commit. Two texts, however, more than any other have formed the basis of a theology of slavery - I Corinthians 7:21, and the short letter to Philemon, a slave owner.
I shall quote I Corinthians 7:21 in full: "So, if when you were called you were a slave, do not think it matters - even if you have a chance of freedom you should prefer to make full use of your position as a slave." On this text, and its juxtaposition with verse 20, slavery has been justified. But is that what Paul meant? Was he the theologian of slavery? The whole of the seventh chapter is an argument about calling, and how different people respond to it. Paul speaks of only one calling - "the calling to belong to Christ." The essence of the chapter is that "Christians may change their status without sinning (7:28,36), or transgressing God's "call to peace" (7:15).(2)
eturning to the text in question, it is more accurately translated, "So if when you were called (to belong to Christ) you were a slave (do not think your position as a slave affects your acceptability to God) - if you have the opportunity to become free by all means take it." If that rendering is more within the spirit of the whole chapter, verse 22 confirms it. Paul here uses the word freedperson - describing slaves as "freedpersons in the Lord." This is a freedom gained rather than one received at birth.
Forgive me for labouring the point with this work on the texts, but it is important in the process of metanoia - moving to a new worldview. I shall comment briefly on Philemon. Neil Elliott in his seminal work Liberating Paul, the Justice of God and the Politics of the Apostle, argues that Philemon, far from being a "slavers charter," is in fact the reverse. By using various rhetorical techniques called insinuatio, the "speaker approaches a topic expected to meet resistance through an indirect route" (vs. 1-7). Paul then appeals to Philemon's sense of honour, in achieving Onesimus, the slave's freedom. If this fails, Paul hides the mailed fist of his authority in the velvet glove of rhetoric. Paul has a further line of attack in that he has prepared the letter to be read by "Aphia, our sister and Archippus . . . and the church in your house." The moral pressure is irresistible; Paul does not need to write in graffitti "Free Onesimus" - he as good as has!
Effective repentance then, must be to disclaim the past worldview and embrace the new. But it will not be comfortable, for when we revisit scripture in this way and we allow for St Paul, who has been disempowered by the canon attributed to him, much else swims to the surface. Feminist theology has exposed the oppression of women, but also their distinctive, yet often hidden role in the history of God's people. St Paul has often been held responsible for this, as indeed he has for the kind of political theology that has permitted violence, even to the degree of authorizing nuclear destruction in obedience to the demands of the nation state. One is thankful that there are signs in modern biblical scholarship of a re-habilitation, if not a liberation of Paul from much that is falsely ascribed to him. Much of Paul's authentic message has been interpreted in the light of later pseudo Pauline writings. Integral to metanoia in our theology then, must be a willingness to re-discover our theology, in the light of new understanding of the contemporary realities of the times of Jesus and the early church. When, for instance, we understand the political significance of crucifixion, can we imagine for one moment that Paul, agitator and martyr, could privatize such an event, so that it had little or no political content?
This re-examination of theology, and the place of the excluded, is part of the "search for a future waiting to be born."
Metanoia in ministry
A short time ago, at the College of the Ascension in Birmingham, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a Jamaican now living in Britain, asked "What can we get rid of in the Caribbean and still be Anglican?" She was expressing, at least in part, a desire to see the Anglican Church in the Caribbean being opened up to new possibilities. Moving from the trappings of an imperial theology to a theology of the people, or a theology of life. Here in Codrington people continue to be trained for the ministry of the church in these islands and elsewhere. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the training, and it is profoundly threatening to most of us who are ordained in ministry to have too critical an evaluation of our ministry. But let me pose a question. What is our commitment to the people on the margins of society? How is our ministry and mission perceived? Does it include or exclude? Is it elitist or egalitarian? How do clergy perceive themselves? How do those who teach perceive the task of ministry and mission? How do ordinands perceive themselves? How do the people see us?
Robert Coles, who taught for many years at Harvard, offers a telling story from one of the cleaners in a hall of residence: "I see lots of good folks here, kids trying to learn all they can, and teachers trying to teach the best they can, but there's lots of big shot, stuffed-shirt folk here, and boy, do they sell themselves hard, and boy do they do lots of strutting, and conniving, and boy, are they the worst to go near and try to serve."(3) It is sad to say, but such an observation can be made in all too many areas of training and ministry today.
Some years ago, when I was experiencing particular confusion and frustration in my own ministry, coupled with a great deal of anger, I fell upon some words from Henri Nouwen, and they spoke directly.
Anger seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry; pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading, and their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming, and they are angry at those who come without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open blatant roaring anger but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, a smiling face and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger which settles into biting resentment and slowly paralyses a generous heart, and if there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull it is this dark insiduous anger of the servants of Christ.(4)
Does this find echoes in the ministerial lives of people you know - starting with yourself?!
During a visit to India in 1994 I spent a little time with the Jesuits. As we we discussed criteria for selecting and preparing candidates for ordination, they reflected on the decline in number of suitable candidates, together with the increasing disillusionment with the practice of ministry. Much of what was said echoed the experience of Anglicans around the world. We began discussing together some of the causes and concluded that there are four factors that need to be faced. First, ambiguity about leadership; second, questions about motivation for ministry; third, issues of status and vocation; and fourth, the extent to which the structures and processes of the church undermine the ministry itself.
Ambiguity about leadership
I was not a good boy at theological college. I questioned, took initiative, and sought out those experiences and people I believed would deepen my understanding, raise my awareness and heighten my perception. I take heart that in this I was aided and abetted by none less than Archbishop Trevor Huddleston! Institutions thrive on conformity and obedience. "You don't ask why," commented a tutor, "you just do it." Such attitudes do not produce leaders! A good leader needs to be "self assertive, innovative, and decisive, with the ability and willingness to take risks."(5)
How are people being enabled to be good leaders? Training people to lead calls for a different environment from one that insists on conformity. Leadership is not about being authoritarian and dominant, but about empowering others, bringing to light hidden gifts, and developing their effective use. At times it means an ability to envision something as yet non-existent. "I believe in a world," exclaimed Nikos Kazantzakis, "which does not exist, but by believing in it, I create it. We call 'non-existent' whatever we have not desired with sufficient strength."(6) There is a need to review, in the Caribbean, in Britain, India and elsewhere, the extent and degree to which our training for ministry produces leaders.
Motivation for ministry
Simply, why be ordained? Many people equate ordination with status. (I will return to this later.) For others ordination is the pinnacle of service. To be in the ordained ministry is seen to be where ministry in the church is really at; everything else is perceived as second best. This I believe is a result of a ministry that is disempowering of people, because it has not understood the function of leadership as empowering, and risk-taking. When I was an examining chaplain, I would be asked to interview potential candidates for ordination. I always looked for that extra something that went beyond the criteria of the Advisory Board of Ministry - the spark that would ignite some new thought or possibility. Occasionally I was lucky, but all too often my report would read something like this: "I cannot find any good reason why this person should not be recommended on the basis of the criteria, but I wish I was a little more excited at the prospect." Of course, I wanted to see a mature spirituality, together with an understanding of the faith based on knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. But along with this there needs to be evidence of good communication skills, ability to build community, commitment to justice and plain simple good old-fashioned liking and getting on with people. Vocation is as much about what a person can do, as who a person is.
Status and vocation
When I was a teacher, one of my colleagues, whenever I spoke to him about my aspiration to become ordained, would always ask me, "What's in it for you?" It was a challenging question then, and now. A story is told of a king who had only one son, of whom he was very proud. The son was always unhappy, and the king, desperate to make him happy, consulted his wise counsellors. They told him to send his courtiers into the towns and country and when they found a genuinely happy man, to exchange one of his son's shirts for his. A priest was taken to the king. "Are you happy?" asked the king. "Yes indeed, Majesty." "Fine. How would you like to be my bishop?" "Oh! Majesty, if only it were so!" "Away with you," said the king, "Get out of my sight! I'm seeking a man who is happy just as he is, not one who is trying to better his lot." Of course, in the end, the happiest man in the kingdom turns out to be the one without a shirt!
In modern societies it is no longer enough to claim the right to lead or be influential in society on the basis of a "call by God." We live in age of achieved status, rather than ascribed status. The way in which status is achieved is by demonstrating competence or compassion, or both. There are still too many clergy who live with the idea of ascribed status, and too many ordinands who believe that by simply turning their collar they will receive adulation and respect. The question, "What's in it for you?" still needs to asked. Sadly, the image of the clergy often does not inspire confidence and trust in and of itself; those who have it, have earned it through competence, caring and humility.
Structures and processes of the church that undermine the ministry
I mentioned earlier that these reflections began with the Jesuits in Delhi. At the time they were recording some of their thoughts in their journal Vidyajyoti. I am grateful, because this point is not one that I would have made in quite the way that I now wish to explore. So I quote: "In medical language, illnesses which are inadvertently induced in the patient by the physician himself through his diagnosis or treatment are termed iatrogenic." The author of that remark, Paul Parathazham, goes on to ask, "Does priestly life perhaps tend to attract people who suffer from adjustment problems in life? Or could it be that the adjustment problems and other personality disorders of the clergy are iatrogenic in the sense that they are induced by the structures and processes of formation itself?"(7)
This is a serious question. To what extent are the structures and processes of clergy formation the cause of many of the disorders, both personal and communal, within the church? Are we more concerned with ecclesiastical order and function in both episcopacy and priesthood, than we are with the task of what Leonardo Boff calls "the diakonia of reconciliation and unification in the community"?(8) If the priestly and episcopal task is to bring about unity in the community, seeking one-ness and a love that is a mutuality in relationship is the calling for all the human community. The place of the service of bishop and priest, the observance of the sacrament of holy communion, all serve the primary goal of the mission of God, that "all be one." Boff has again reminded us that "correctly analyzed, ordination does not confer a power for worship. It is not the priest who consecrates, baptises or forgives. It is Christ who forgives, baptises and consecrates. Priests lend their person and their faculties in order that the visible Christ may become sacramentally visible."(9)
The chief purpose of the priest then is not to be the administrator of the sacrament, but the procurer of unity within the community. It is to continue "the mission of Christ combining in him/herself the roles of prophet of God's Kingdom, animator and builder of the community and servant of the worshipping community."(10) The eucharist serves this task because it provides a visible sign of the grace of unity being established through the discernment in others, and practice of gifts from others within the community for the common good (I Cor. 12:8). Metanoia, which means always being open to the grace of God who is community and seeks community, becomes the means through which the community repents, celebrates and works for an assured future.
My experience in the world church leads me to conclude that the problems of contemporary ministry are not due primarily to individuals, but are rather problems of structure, as well as unrealistic and inappropriate expectation. Nouwen's analysis of clerical anger is an indicator of that. Simply, we must return to the community of the neighbourhood and the calling to be animator, builder and servant in a way that is prophetic, discerning both the times and the nature of human society. It is in the community that we must do our theological reflection, and adapt our patterns of ministry and our spirituality in order to discern God's presence in the lives of members of that community. We must recognize that "what takes place in the world of everyday life is already an encounter with God with persons who live their lives unselfishly for others."(11) Only those who are immersed in the community can encourage and develop the gifts of others; or undertake the heavier task of warning those who risk the unity of the community. As we have observed, the confidence of the community has to be earned through competence and compassion. Status, too, is not conferred by the laying on of hands; it is rather through the ability to unify the community.
All this has implications for ministerial education as much in Codrington as elsewhere. When I joined USPG, people important to me were unanimous in their advice: "Keep close to the ground," they said. It was wise and good advice. If we are to experience metanoia in the formation of people for ministry, we need to heed that advice. To be open to recognizing that "the past cannot serve us, but we still have to continue searching for a future waiting to be born."(12) Part of that future includes examining whether those who are to enter the ministry of the church in the Caribbean should continue living in their neighbourhoods, doing their daily work as others do, and, by keeping close to the ground, discern a theology of life that, to quote Karl Rahner, sees "sacramental grace not as a movement from the Church to the world but the opposite."
Let me illustrate this as I move into my final theme:
Metanoia and mission
So often it is the small things that provide the greatest hope and encouragement. During a recent visit to South Africa, I visited Vlakfontein, a shanty town on Johannesburg's north side. Fr Jeremy Platt, formerly of the Community of the Resurrection, had died the previous year, having lived for several years by the roadside, talking, listening, providing bread and peanut butter for children, and encouraging simple sewing projects among the women, while maintaining a simple life of prayer and dialogue. The fading photograph of Charles de Foucault, his ikon and founder of the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, still hangs in the pre-fabricated building that doubles as church and centre for those self-help projects. Before Fr Platt's death signs of unrest between the ANC and the IFP had flared in the community; there was danger of fragmentation, factional fighting, killings. On the day of his funeral, the coffin was brought to the neighbourhood. One community leader spoke for many, "I am not a Christian, nor a church man. But this man made our community. He didn't live and die here for people to fight each other." Fr Platt's life is commemorated by a memorial slab placed in the midst of what is a slum, but what is above all in a community at peace.
In his book, Age of Extremes - the Short Twentieth Century 1914-91, Eric Hobsbawm, the political philosopher, wrote,
We do not know where we are going. We know that history brought us to this point - and if readers share the argument of this book - why? However, one thing is plain. If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past as the present. If we try to build the third millenium on that basis we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say, the alternative to a changed society, is darkness.
As Christian people we hold onto a vision of a new world, which is called the kingdom of God. "What can we say that the kingdom of God is like?" is the rhetorical question that Jesus posed, and which many, without using that particular language, continue to ask today. When the question was posed in Mark 4:30, it was being raised in a specific context. Mark, chapter 4 contains the first of two extended sermons on the theme of Revolutionary Patience.(13) (The second sermon is in chapter 13:4-37). The sermon is part of the reflection that Jesus and his fledgling community of disciples are making following his early months of ministry.
In Mark's gospel Jesus began his ministry with a direct action campaign against the scribal establishment. By his use of miracle, demonstrated through the symbolic actions of healing and exorcism, he reveals that the kingdom of God is a new social order based upon social reconciliation and economic justice. His challenge to the religious authorities was over their legislation, which discriminated against the diseased, paralysed and mentally disordered on the one hand, and on the other created outcasts in professions as varied as tax collecting, shepherding, hairdressing, tanning and doctoring - let alone women in general, and prostitutes in particular. By his acts of healing and exorcism; his sitting at table with outcasts, and the public breaking of religious law by picking corn on the sabbath, Jesus acted out his manifesto promise of bringing "good news to the poor."
While on his campaign Jesus had been accused of being inspired by the Devil. Jesus had riposted his accusers by arguing that a "kingdom divided against itself cannot stand." Then he goes on to make an astonishing assertion: that the real task is to break into the strong man's house - i.e., the Devil's house - and plunder his goods. Jesus then likened himself to a strong-armed intruder. "No one," he said, "makes his way into a strong man's house and plunders his property unless he has first tied up the strong man. Only then can he plunder his house" (Mark 3: 27). We are accustomed to hearing Jesus described as the "Good Shepherd," the "Light of the World," and even as "The Way, the Truth, and the Life," but I suspect that we would not easily describe him as "The Strong-Armed Intruder." Yet this is what St Mark does, and it is important that we understand why. Certainly his family understood the danger he was putting himself into, and the authorities from early in his ministry determined that he should be neutralized.
I have chosen Mark's revelation of Jesus in mission as a strong-armed intruder because I believe it provides us with a paradigm for mission as we enter the twenty-first century. That is not to dismiss other paradigms, and I sense that there is still much work to be done on understanding "Shepherd," "Light," "Bread," and other ikons of Jesus in mission. But we face particular challenges now and we need a mission model to meet them. "All of us," wrote Raymond McAfee Brown, "would like the world to be a better place. We may not agree on just how bad it is or exactly what remedies are appropriate, but we know that many people get a raw deal, that it's not always their fault, and that many things should be different."(14)
We may, without too much contradiction, believe that God too "would like the world to be a better place," and Jesus demonstrates it. Much has been said in Latin America and elsewhere about the "preferential" option for the poor. The gospel writers each in their own way show Jesus as having a preference for those excluded by the socially, politically and economically powerful. Luke pictures the "little ones" (anawim, literally "those who cringe"). Matthew uses his gospel to call affluent house churches to remember the primary calling to re-ordering resources in favour of the economically poor. John brings us Jesus' concern for those made powerless by money, or lack of it, class, gender, race, education, or the ability to influence the politically influential. Mark seems to provide a catch-all by recounting Jesus' encounter with what one Korean commentator has described as "the confused majority."
In Britain I work from time to time with Fr Jose Marins, who for over twenty years has travelled the world with a small team encouraging the growth of small Christian communities. He describes evangelization as an "announcement by actions, gestures and by words of the presence of Jesus Christ the Saviour in the history of human beings." To me, that exemplifies the task of mission in our time. In the early days of Christianity, when hostility from authorities was strong, conversion was expressed in everyday things, "the conversion of husband to wife, rich to poor, of parents to their children". . . . Christianity stressed living the 'little virtues' of home and family in the midst of a hostile environment that demonstrated no sensitivity for such virtues.(15)
People who are excluded can understand simple things like learning how not to be anxious about tomorrow, the struggle with laziness, and the need to persevere when everything seems futile. Gestures of sincerity, kindness, pleasantness, being on time - it is amazing how much waiting people on the edge have to do. Of course there is the need for salvation in what might be described its classical sense, but in order for people to understand it and be able to access it they need to see it lived out. "For all the missionary efforts of two thousand years of Christianity," says one writer, "whether the violence of the Crusades and conquistadores or the hard sell of today's television preachers and Bible beaters, no 'strategy' would be as successful in bringing people within Jesus' sheepfold as the concrete witness of communities of mutual love."(16)
We do not have to walk far to the edges of our society. When we do we find people oppressed by forces that are at once spiritual, political, economic, social, we find ourselves close to violence, superstition, fear and inhumanity. As a church we can "look but not touch," or we can return to our preoccupations, or we can seek what McAfee Brown calls "Creative dislocation; (and) go to the oppressed, stand with them, see the world from their view point, then figure out what God is saying to you." Jesus began his ministry by confronting the powers, and by laying out the vision of a social order based on reconciliation and economic justice. In that he was not significantly different from many others in history. What makes Jesus unique, and the task of a church engaged in mission significant, lies in the practice whereby such a vision comes to birth. It is the way of the cross.
We are at the edge of paradox here. The only way that Jesus can envisage the bringing in of the new order is through the laying down of life - martyrdom. This, he says in Mark 10:43-44 and in 12:1-12, is the lot of the slave, the servant. It is through that very act of laying down of life that the justice of God is revealed, for it is the bringing to reality the shalom, the harmonizing of God with humanity, humanity with itself, and humanity with creation. He reminds the status-seeking disciples that he has come to be the "slave of all," and to "give his life as a ransom for many." He refuses to "save his life," but chooses rather to lay it down. And for most of us today, that is the crunch. It is easier to take refuge in outworn theology, status, and a gospel of individualism - a sort of selfish realism. What will we have to lay down in order to engage with a Jesus "who is crucifed as the justice of God?"(17)
Searching for a future waiting to be born then is to revisit our theology, ministry and mission in a spirit of metanoia, recognizing that, like God's people in every generation, we are in transition. We hold the promise of a kingdom coming but not yet fulfilled. The first Christians marked their commitment by locating in the community, and being community. Here they "were looked up to by everyone" (Acts 2:42) practicing benevolence, sharing their goods with the needy, breaking bread together, and undertaking their daily tasks with joy and patience, and striving not to be anxious about tomorrow. It was the discipline of common courtesy and gracious behaviour that marked them as people having something worth embracing - "day by day the Lord added to their community" (Acts 2:47). If we are to be agents of metanoia in contemporary ministry we must return to everyday life discerning where there "is already an encounter with God among persons who live unselfishly for others."
Similarly we must re-visit our mission, learning how, through concrete identification with people in their alienation and exclusion, like Fr Platt in Vlakfontein, to bind the strong man in the name of the Stronger One, addressing the powers and principalities that continually exclude and oppress, making powerless "the little ones," "the confused majority." To them Christ must come as friend, not stranger.
A young man asked "Where does the Messiah come from?" His master replied "He doesn't come from anywhere, he's never been away. In fact he's been here all the time." "But where?" asks the young man. "You'll find him among the beggars at the gates of Rome." "But how can you tell it is him?" "All the beggars," says his master, "have clean clothes to wear at the end of the day, and this is how they do it: they get undressed, go down to the river, wash their clothes, dry them and put them on again. But not the Messiah. He removes one article of clothing at a time, washes it dries it, puts it back on again, and begins on the next one." "Why?" asks the young man. "Because he wants to be ready to come at anytime," says his Master. "And when's that?" " When enough people want him to."(18)
1 J. Harry Bennett, jr., Bondsmen and Bishops, Slavery and Apprenticeship on the Codrington Plantations of Barbados 1710-1838. San Francisco: University of California Publications in History, vol. 62, 1965.
2 Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul, The Justice of God and the Politics of the Apostle. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995.
3 Robert Coles, A Harvard Diary. New York, NY: Crossroad, 1992.
4 Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1981.
5 Paul V. Parathazam, "Issues in Priestly Formation: A Question of Credibility," Vidyajyoti, Journal of Theological Reflection. vol. 58, no. 11, November 1994, pp. 701-715.
6 Nikos Kazantzakis, Letter to Greco. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.
7 Parathazam, op. cit., p. 714.
8 Leonardo Boff, Ecclesiogenesis. London: Collins - Flame, 1986, p. 91.
10 Errol D'Lima, "Priestly Formation and Seminary Structure," Vidyajyoti, op. cit., pp. 692-700.
12 D'Lima, loc. cit.
13 Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man - a Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988.
14 Raymond McAfee Brown, Unexpected News, Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984, p. 127.
15 Eduardo Hoornaert, The Memory of the Christian People. Tunbridge Wells: Burns and Oates, 1986.
16 Wes Howard-Brook Becoming Children of God, John's Gospel and Radical Discipleship. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994.
17 Myers, op. cit, p. 472.
18 Marcel Moring, The Great Longing. London: Flamingo, 1986.
PETER B. PRICE is general secretary of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG), London, UK. This article was a public lecture given by Canon Price on the occasion of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Codrington College, Barbados, in September 1995. All biblical quotations are from the New Jerusalem Version (NJV).
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|Author:||Price, Peter B.|
|Publication:||International Review of Mission|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1996|
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