… to serve …
The word “serve” seems so worn and dented in the history of Christianity that it seems best to replace it with another.
“The greatest among you must be your servant”, tastes like Sunday speeches or a sermon at the inauguration of the new bishop. Everyone can guess: he wants to determine and will have to decide. Even the so humble title “Servant of the Servants of God”, one of the many titles of the Pope, has been linked to the undisguised claim of primacy and prestige over the centuries. The Ethiopian prince Asfa Wossen-Asserate writes in a book about manners: The problem today is not so much that nobody wants to serve, but that no one wants to be a master, because it means living and acting responsibly and exemplary. The greatest, the rabbi, the teacher, the father, the mother … they do not have to make themselves small artificially. They just have to know that only one is the teacher, master, father – the one in the heavens – and they therefore bear all of the responsibility on earth, the responsibility for the world, that is: to serve. acb
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Are words superfluous?
One of the most frequent delusions in connection with the reformation of the church is probably the assumption that people need to talk more about and get better informed about the faith. What was it like in apostolic times?
Paul, undoubtedly a man of words, tells the parish in Thessaloniki: There is nothing more to say about this – namely about the faith. Why not? Because it is visible, yes, even seizable with bare hands. The parish in Thessaloniki lives the faith in a way that is visible far and wide. They live as a community where everyone vouches for each other. One person's behavior turns the world upside down by serving the others instead of searching honor, reputation and power for himself. That's how Paul lived, following Jesus' example and the surprised ones followed his example. “Evangelization”? Everywhere, people tell each other how the parish has taken in Paul, how they follow his example of service and are of one mind with him. Indeed, there is nothing more to say about it. The facts speak for themselves. bek
Brothers and sisters: You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.
A question of property
When someone speaks the truth openly without paying heed to the other person's reputation and position of power, they live dangerously. Politically persecuted people know that. Jesus is confronted with the question if it is allowed to pay taxes to the Roman emperor in the occupied Israel.
If he says yes, he is considered an enemy of religion, if he says no, he is considered an enemy of the state: in all cases, he is definitely going to be reported. The first part of his answer, to give the emperor what belongs to him, is a steppingstone to the second part: the request to give God what belongs to God – but: what is that? Following the convictions of Israel, it is no less than the world, the, man and especially the people belonging to him. This realization and its consequences coin Israel's whole history: The struggle for a free answer. hak
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Knowing their malice, Jesus said, Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax. Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, Whose image is this and whose inscription? They replied, Caesar's. At that he said to them, Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
Paul, deprived of his freedom by the power of the state, thanks his supporters in the Philippi community for the gifts he has received, which he appreciates but does not really need. Here, Paul shows an unusual anchoring in the midst of his existence.
Just as he no longer recognizes the differences between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, men and women as a reason for fighting and hostility among the faithful, he also leaves behind all normal categories of well-being: whether he lives in deprivation or in abundance, even elementary things like satiety or hunger are simply no longer important to him, the hunger is not even an ascetic ideal. Contented in these matters, he names what he longs for: the unanimous community. This is his strong center, his reward and wealth, his glory, and the visible splendour of God. tac
Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
“A man laid out a vineyard ...”
With the image of the vineyard, the Old Testament prophets expressed the miracle that had come into the world with Israel: God and man work together to bring forth the fruit that “pleases man's heart”.
Criticism pointing out that actually only “sour berries” grow there, is directed towards Israel. But it also affects the Church, which rightly speaks of the “true vine”, which does not prevent a large portion of theology and practice of tasting like spoiled wine. But there are some who still have the taste on the tongue and don't give up the search for the good drop. mim
Let me now sing of my friend, my friend's song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes. Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard: What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it. The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry!
The blind spot
The blind spot is the spot in the eye on which the exit point of the optic nerve is projected. Since there are no light receptors there is a blind spot. This knowledge has moved from biology to psychology. The prophets already had this knowledge about man as early as the 6th century BC, when they mentioned Israel's ‚blind spot‘:
“You say the Lord's behaviour is not right.” Guilt is repressed and projected onto the other. Israel has the Chuzpe, to blame God – and He even accepts this dispute. In defense of his own cause, He becomes an enlightener of justice and self-righteousness, of denial and repentance. acb
Thus says the LORD: You say, The LORD's way is not fair! Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Everything that is just
The following principle already applies since Aristotle: Just is what is proportionate, that is, the proportional correspondence of action and retribution, of effort and reward. The other justice, giving more than expected, is surprising.
In provocative stories such as todays, the Gospels depict Jesus' action as a manifestation of the intangible goodness of God, which has a different goal: to gather the most varied persons in the vineyard, not to evaluate them in terms of effort. Most of all, the pious ones are annoyed by this. They are enviously comparing and thus losing the joy of effort and reward. By unmasking the wrong view towards God and the others, the parable seeks agreement to the new measure, the gathering of Israel. hak
Jesus told his disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o'clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just. So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o'clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o'clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, Why do you stand here idle all day? They answered, 'Because no one has hired us. He said to them, You too go into my vineyard. When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first. When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat. He said to one of them in reply, My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?
‚No tinc por‘ – Have no fear
“Everyone lives for themselves and everyone dies for themselves,” says the attitude of many contemporaries at demure moments. For those who belong to the Lord their living and dying are no longer their problem.
At the Sinai, Israel hears the word of God: “The whole earth belongs to me, but you should belong to me as a holy people.” This is the antithesis to the ‚mortal fright‘ for one's life. Because, based on this demand, Israel is developing the awareness of asking fearlessly what is right in any situation. Thus a great collection of examples emerges, putting in concrete terms what ‚godly‘ means. Again and again this was misunderstood as a religion of laws, and yet it gave Israel freedom and security in all imaginable circumstances. For the scribe Paul, this creative freedom of Israel is embodied in Jesus' life and death. He reminds the church in Rome: “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” mim
Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Freedom to do the wrong
Only because there is truth as a measurement, distinction is possible. The entire biblical history of salvation and mischief is a struggle for this prophetic distinction. For truth is not revealed in theses and theories, but in the complicated human conditions.
Its measurement needs to be recognized and named, because in principle, people want to be left alone, and don't want to know the consequences of their actions. The ungrateful responsibility of the prophets and the prophetic people consists in standing in for the truth despite this unwillingness. Just the prophetic warning opens up to the people, in their beloved state of ignorance, the freedom to do the wrong, or to repent. tac
Thus says the Lord You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die”, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.
About Christian logic
“Revaluing all values” is a catch phrase that hardly anyone would connect with Christianity. And yet, in his letter to the community in Rome, Paul is radically transforming central terms:
“sacrifice” – for the religious person this is a slaughtered animal, for Paul it is the man who lives in the community and helps establishing it. “Worship” – according to the general understanding, a gathering with prayer and singing, for the apostle it means rational handling of the concrete details in the life of the individual and the community: social and economic questions, illness and death, education of the children and care of the elderly, reception of guests and introduction to the common life, consideration for the weaknesses of others and learning from mistakes. In this “logical worship”, no piece of the world must be missing, and yet everything follows a different measure. mim
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.