We have no problems, only difficulties!
The plight of the world’s pooris made worse by modern economic conditions.
Is this the sort of situation which would have made Jesus angry, asks Tara d’Souza?
Two phrases jump out at me when I read Mark 11,15-19:He drove them all out of the Temple... and Stop turning my Father’s house into a market… Clearly, Jesus was angry. The Temple markets and moneychangers of the time were approved by the Jewish authorities because they provided an important service for pilgrims from distant places. Yet, Jesus drove them out of the Temple. Just why was Jesus so angry?
Perhaps because the economic exchanges in the Temple had become the Important Business of the day. Maybe because this commercial activity had become so much a custom, so normal a part of the Temple, that no one had thought to challenge its centrality or question its true purpose. Most significant, is it possible that those who profited were those who permitted it to flourish?
J esus Christ’s cry in the Temple was a challenge for change. What are the economic and social systems that we need to challenge and change? I have recently returned from a visit to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Caritas’ partners in those countries work with the poorest of the poor, remote communities isolated by lack of access to roads, schools, hospitals and even water.
I sat cross-legged on the wooden floor of the meeting house on stilts in Atsaithong Village in southern Laos and said “Sabaidee” to a gathering of villagers, “Can you tell me about your problems?”
“ We have no problems,” they replied, “Only difficulties.”
For six months of the year, when the rainy season sets in and stocks of rice have run out, families forage in the forests for food. Bamboo shoots, roots, tubers and leaves, fish and small animals become the primary food source. These foods are fresh, natural and rich in protein: they do not pose a problem. The difficulty arises out of the fact that logging companies are swiftly causing those forest resources to dwindle.
Another difficulty: this is also the sowing season. However, food security must come first, so the rice fields must wait. In addition, when the rice is finally sown and harvested, it cannot compete with the highly subsidised imported rice that is now the legacy of globalisation in developing countries. Over the years, the families in Atsaithong have becoming increasingly poor, victims of systems over which they have little control. Stop turning my Father’s house into a market! Like Christ, should we not become angry?
Caritas’ partner in Laos, an NGO called Cidse Lao, has assisted the Atsaithong community to build a rice bank, hand dig two wells and set up a primary school. A corner has been turned. The use of the word “difficulty” rather than “problem” reflects the inner strength of the community, its spirit.
Not so in another community, one in Bantey Meanchey Province in northern Cambodia. Here, for people living with AIDS, access to retroviral drugs for their treatment is an ongoing economic struggle. Ten percent of all families have been affected by HIV/AIDS; 200 children in 14 villages have been orphaned. Should we be asking ourselves, viewing the situation through the eyes of Christ: do economic concerns prevail over all other matters in today’s world?
I believe Jesus Christ’s anger spilled from a well of compassion. The compromising of human dignity by commerce was so deeply offensive that his response is one of passionate outrage. In explanation, a third phrase from John’s gospel is especially appealing: He was speaking of the sanctuary that was His body. By extrapolation, we are that sanctuary because we are His body. We allow our own dignity to be diminished on every occasion of social injustice and economic neglect?
Tara d’Souza,is officer in charge of Asian programmes for Caritas Aotearoa
By slow boat to wisdom - Paul Oestreicher
Eating people is wrong, sang Donald Swan to a delighted audience. But if killing them isn’t wrong, why shouldn’t hungry people eat people? After battle, the Maori proudly did. They were never savages but had a highly developed culture. We Europeans simply imposed ours on them, called it Christian, made the maidens cover their breasts and stopped their warriors eating people.
I ask myself: what is and what is not Christian? The churches have never had a problem with killing people, provided it is held to be in the public interest by the religious and secular powers. When the church was itself in power, heretics no longer had a right to life. As the flames grew hotter, they might even repent in time to save their souls.
Execution for those threatening the establishment always had ecclesiastical blessing. The wrath of God demanded it. Caesar was God’s friend. What we call Enlightenment has changed that – often to the church’s dismay. But not now in America’s Bible Belt.
Maybe being an executioner is a dying profession. But not when it comes to dealing with collective rather than individual killing. Soldiering remains utterly respectable; so respectable that on solemn occasions royalty are decked out in military regalia. Being killed in the process of sanctified killing still has the status of martyrdom. “Greater love hath no man...” graces the war memorials – everywhere.
As the Second World War was drawing to a victorious close, hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians were still deliberately being killed by Allied bombing – to the lone protest of one Anglican bishop, who thereby ruined his chance of being made Archbishop of Canterbury.
How that fits with following Jesus, who counter-culturally taught his disciples to love their enemies and not repay evil with evil, has always puzzled me. Theologians did manage to produce a doctrine to justify war in very exceptional cases. So far pretty well every war seems to have been an exceptional case.
In this anniversary year of Wilberforce’s legislation, we all know about slavery. Its abolition was the achievement of a group of Christian reformers who were steadfastly opposed by the English bench of Anglican bishops. They could cite St Paul in favour of an institution they held to be a social necessity. It was not, so they lost.
When the Catholic lawyer Peter Benenson and a group of friends founded Amnesty International 45 years ago, the churches kept a polite distance. There was not a word about human rights in the Bible, said many Christians. Sure, getting Christians out of Communist prisons was fine, but not getting Communists out of Fascist prisons. Christian tradition had never championed the right to be wrong. But a new secular wind was blowing. Good Pope John steered his ship straight into that wind and before long the churches were preaching human rights as though it was their idea.
When I look at this scenario, I wonder what God’s Holy Spirit has been up to as I watch Richard Dawkins’ self-satisfied smile. Has the third person of the Trinity given up on religious institutions and put her eggs in the basket of secular wisdom? After all, in most of Christendom patriarchy still reigns.
What then of the present traumas of Anglicanism? As certainly as slavery was natural for centuries and soldiering still is, surely men loving men must be unnatural, says the voice of orthodoxy. As late as the 1960s a standard medical text book classified homosexuality as a disease. The place for such people was a psychiatric hospital or a prison. Our missionaries spread that message afar, when they dared to name it. “The Bible says so” – and other religions too.
What is so surprising is how quickly I and and many others, Christians included, have come to see how wrong we were. It will take time for the others, at home and abroad, to catch up.
That wind is blowing but overcoming psychological traumas is costly. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is paying part of the price as he prays for time. The price may prove too high for the structures of Anglicanism to hold.
Nor, I fear, does the Spirit’s wind blow strongly enough to persuade both world and church that killing people - en masse - is wrong.
Canon Paul Oestreicher is a counsellor of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and Quaker Chaplain to the University of Sussex, England