Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Musings on Acts 3

In my bible reading this morning I was reading Acts 3. It struck me very powerfully that this is a great example of integral mission. Luke tells us that Peter and John go to pray at the temple. As pious Jews, there was the morning sacrifice at 9am, the evening offering (3pm) and the sunset offering. So they were doing their spiritual duty. Breaking in on this is the crippled man appealing for charity (vss. 2-3). Peter and John don't do, as so many would have done, ignore the beggar but give him attention (vss. 4-5). Given the fact they didn't have any money to give him, this seems even more surprising. They are unable to give the man any money. We don't know if this is because they were poor or whether they just didn't have any money on them but because of this what they gave the man was empowerment rather than charity (vss. 6-8). They empowered him to make a living for himself by healing him. The man then accompanies them into the temple praising God and bearing witness to his healing. This empowering work is noted by the crowds around (vss. 9-10)and then Peter is able to communicate to the crowd the meaning of this act (vss. 11-16). He doesn't spare them the result of their actions in handing over Jesus to be crucified and he doesn't take credit for himself for the act of healing that they have just witnessed. This of course results in them being arrested and beaten (4:1-21). In reading this passage several things struck me very strongly. Firstly, Peter and John did not neglect their duty to pray. In integral mission the tendency is to be very professional about our work but not be very spiritual about our work. We tend to act but not pray. Peter and John gives a great example that we should be be in constant prayer in our lives. Prayer is not a substitute for action but our action should be predicated upon our prayer. Secondly, Peter and John give their full attention to the man. They did not think, 'we got to go and pray therefore we won't give this man attention', they looked at him. In many places in the world the tendency is to ignore beggars, or not give them eye contact at all. I saw this in Bolivia and Argentina and we see it in London, that people would just ignore the beggar as they went down the train or on the bus or on the street. This is a dehumanising act. Even though Peter and John did not have the money to give the man they did give him attention. this demonstrates, that our actions, as human beings, are very powerful. We do not need to have a lot of money in order to help people we simply need to act as Christians, giving the attention to people that they deserve. Again, our professionalism is all very well, but if we do not act in a humanising way there now mission is invalidated. Thirdly, Peter and John empower the man rather than giving him charity. There are a couple of things I would say about this. Firstly, charity leaves the man in the condition that he was in. He would have to continue to beg for the rest of his life. He would not be able to get up and work. By healing the man, Peter and John empower the man to work and to gain his life without begging. Our integral missionary engagement should empower people rather than give them charity. Charity is okay in an emergency situation but long-term people need empowerment. They need to be able to work for their own sustenance. Charity, does not empower. Secondly, if Peter and John had only given him some coins, nobody would have noticed this action. By healing him they created a situation where people would ask what was going on. Therefore the action preceded the word and the word explained the action. This means that if our mission is to be truly integral, then preaching, evangelism, and discipleship are essential parts of that mission. We cannot simply act and we cannot simply speak, the speech in the act together. Fourthly, Peter challenged the crowd to repent of their actions. They had handed Jesus over to be crucified by the Romans. Peter is quite willing to risk challenging his audience which may have resulted in them being stoned. Our preaching must challenge people as well as comfort them with the salvation that Christ gives. The preaching of the gospel is always accompanied by a call to repentance and faith. Repentance because we need to turn away from what we have done in the past and faith because we need to turn to the God who can forgive us through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. Finally, Peter and John are arrested, brought before the Sanhedrin, and eventually beaten and released. This reminds me that integral mission will leads to suffering. There is no mission without suffering. We need to be ready for the suffering that our actions and our preaching will cause. This is not be taken as something unusual or undesirable but a result of following Jesus Christ. So, at this Easter time, we have an example given to us by Peter and John and related to us by Luke of a truly integral way of engaging in mission. Peter and John were going to pray – they were not neglecting the spirituality. They gave the man the attention that he deserved as a human being. Then empowered him rather than just gave charity this made people question and Peter was able to preach the gospel to them and challenge them to repent. This led not only to the man being empowered; people coming to Christ but also to the apostles suffering Christ. And in this time when we remember Christ's suffering and his resurrection let us follow him.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Good Pope or bad Pope

There is a fairly heated and interesting debate going about the new Pope. Having spent ten years in Argentina, I am being asked what I think. Many in the Argentine are saying that he gave the military government of the mid 70s to early 80s information about two priests who were working in the shanty towns at the time and by withdrawing his protection he exposed them to the torture. They are supposed to have had links to guerrilla groups but this is unlikely. From 1976-1982 over 30000 were "disappeared" and murdered by the Argentine military. These two priests (Father Yolio and Father Yalies) were arrested in May 1976, detained and tortured for 6 months. Horacio Verbitsky, director of the Centre for Social and Legal Studies, wrote an articles accusing him of collaboration with the Argentine Military and not doping enough to advocate on behalf of those arrested and tortured by the military. However, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and well known social activist, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, has said that he (Bergoglio) did not have ties to the military. He is also known as a humble, simply living and quiet man always open to dialogue. He lives in a simple apartment, not in the palace; he cooks his own meals; he has spoken up on behalf of the poor, the sick and has even scolded priests who refused to baptise the babies of single mothers. He doesn't like Liberation theology--believing it to be tainted by Marxism--but is a strong advocate on behalf of the poor and concerned for justice. How will he turn out I wonder. It turns out this man It seems that the attitude people are taking depend on their already decided views.