Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: India

The unnoticed value of the quiet time

835822_reading_the_bibleYears ago Phil Collins sang a song which talked about the fact that we often don’t realise the good we have until we lose it. I found that with my daily quiet time in India last year. I had been having quiet times every morning for about seven years and have, over time, realised the benefits of them.

Soon after arriving in India however, as we had been getting up early and going places, I had not taken the time to spend with God in quietness and contemplation, however short. But once I did start it again, it hit me how ‘un-relaxed’ I had been over the previous week or so. Just sitting here doing some reading and taking in what is before me made me see again what I had missed. I felt somewhat more relaxed, and able to think a little more clearly, and, most importantly, to realise again the importance of being loving and not letting my emotions dictate my actions, especially as I was pretty tired most of the time.

The day the mining magnate met Jesus

Here is a modern Australian reading of Luke 19:1-10:

Jesus entered Western Australia and was passing through. A man was there who was a very wealthy mining magnate. He had heard about Jesus and wanted to see who he was.

When Jesus saw him he said to him, I must stay at your house today. The mining magnate couldn’t believe his ears and welcomed him gladly.

All the people, especially those who were strong social justice activists, saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a mega-rich mining magnate. If he really cared about the little people, he would know what sort of character this person was.”

But the mining magnate stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my wealth and earnings from my mines to the poor, and if my mines have been detrimental to the lives of people or to the environment, I will close them and pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too has a high place in my kingdom. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus always surprises us. My wife and I have spent the last 12 years in a poor inner-suburban church which is doing well if it has $1,000 in the bank. We are social justice types who also have a passionate concern for the environment. Call us hippie lefties if you like, but I would rather be known as a follower of Jesus who struggles and many times fails to live up to the life that he calls us to.

I get angry when the mega-rich whinge about their rights and how they’ve got it so difficult. When I hear them say such things, I wish they would get a dose of reality. But then I read the story of Zacchaeus and see my own reverse snobbery. We love to pin the rich up against the wall – and most of the time they deserve it – but we have no right to judge them as if we are somehow better.

Jesus never does this. He always pulls the rug out from underneath us and exposes our character flaws. That’s why you can never put Jesus in a box. If you try to paint him as someone who is more left-leaning than most, he reminds you of how he related to Zacchaeus. And if you try to place him amongst the moral majority who decry the declining values of our culture, he reminds you of the woman who knelt at his feet and poured expensive perfume on him whilst those standing around condemned her for not spending the money on the poor.

You see, Jesus is never about issues; he is always about relationship. The kingdom is never about values; it is about relationship. Jayakumar Christian, National Director of World Vision India, has spent 30 years working amongst the poor of that vast land, and he says that the thing he sees the most is that the gospel is about relationships. It is not about causes or values or issues; it is personal in every way, including in its take on social justice. Real justice is personal, it is never separate from relationship.

One of the reasons I love Jesus – and one of the reasons I sometimes want to avoid him – is because he can never be pinned down. Whenever we think we know what he is on about, he surprises us. But in doing so he never condemns us, never condemns anyone. That’s why I can trust him, and that when I am challenged by him. I don’t have to run away, because all he wants to do is show me what is best, show me that his ways are not my ways, and that he is ultimately trustworthy. We can read the gospels a hundred times over and still be shocked by the outrageous, counter-cultural, unconditional, life-affirming, comfort-shattering love of Jesus. Our response to such actions of Jesus as is seen in the story of Zacchaeus or its modern equivalent of a mega-rich mining magnate says more about us than it does of Jesus or the mining magnate, or whoever else you want to put in the story.

Kenneth Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, also makes the crucial point that in offering to spend such intimate time with Zacchaeus, a hated Roman collaborator, Jesus turns the hatred of the crowd from Zacchaeus onto himself. This is one of the real points of this story. Jesus always shows his love and grace at his own expense.

Bailey also points out that, once again, the transformation Jesus gives is complete. It is not just about the transformation of Zacchaeus from a wealthy money-grubbing hoarder into a beautifully generous human being; the transformation also has wider implications for the village he lived in. The people there would no longer be oppressed and ripped off by this former Roman collaborator. God’s grace came to everyone that day, not just to Zacchaeus’ house.

Jesus’ love is real; it is costly and it is sacrificial, as real love always is. By calling out to a hated tax collector, Jesus took the crowd’s hatred of this despised person onto himself. In the process, both Zacchaeus and the villagers are all freed. How would we respond today if Jesus wanted to share an evening in the lavish home of a wealthy mining magnate, enjoying their company over a nice meal and a few red wines? Would the social justice types among us question whether or not this was the real Jesus – friend of the poor – or just an impostor? Would others of us be smug in our seeming affirmation that God really is about prosperity? Or would we question ourselves instead, suddenly realising that we assumed we had Jesus all to ourselves?

Jesus caused a crisis everywhere he went. Just when we think we have him right where we want him, he shocks us, and reminds us again that we can never paint him into a corner. If a well-known multimillionaire walked into your church, how would they be received? Would we welcome them with open arms, or would we think, “what are those rich *&%^/*%&%^ doing here?” Jesus loves the mega-rich just as much as he loves you and me and the poorest people on the planet. God help me to be the same.

India article 4 – In the Delhi of night

This fourth and final article on my time in India last year is a reflection of what were some memories that will be embedded in my being forever. As I have mentioned, India is a land like no other. It is a combination of ancient and modern, it is in danger of being overrun by Western consumerist madness, and it has produced some of the most wonderful people to have ever walked this good earth.

Read the post here.

India article 3 – India and the gospels

This third post on my time in India last year looks at some of the similarities between current Indian society and what we see portrayed in the gospels. Such similarities make the Gospel come alive in a place like India, moreso than in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

Another issue that was highlighted to me in India was the plain falsity of the idea that our Western version of Christianity is what the world needs to hear. Most of the Bible was written by people who were under oppression. When we view it in that context, it is simply incomparable to our own interpretation. This is where a book like Robert McAfee Brown’s Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes is so helpful. We need to read the Bible through the eyes of the poor, but more importantly, through the eyes of those who wrote it, because they were mainly poor, but also because they knew their own culture better than we ever will thousands of years later.

Read the post here.

India article 2 – Jesus’ approach to poverty

In this second post on my reflections on India, I discuss how being in India reminded me of some stories from the gospels which came more alive to me after being there. What really struck me was how Jesus treated everyone with such complete dignity, and the transformation he gave was in every way – social, emotional, spiritual and personal. Read the post here.

India article 1 – Keeping the poor in their place

In May last year my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit India. My brother and his family are currently living there, and we thought it would be a good chance to see some World Vision projects as well. We spent 10 days there, which included a day in Chennai and the rest of the time in New Delhi. India had quite a profound effect on us, and I wrote some articles to share our thoughts about what is a fascinating place. The articles are being posted onto the Micah Challenge blog. The first one, called ‘Keeping the poor in their place’ can be read here.

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