Thursday, January 5, 2017

Christianity is a religion of the Gospel and is open to others


1. The challenge of theology is how to BE OPEN to pluralism while STAYING IN OUR OWN FAITH. The approach of "theocentrism"may be attractive because it is open to the pluralism of religions but it has the risk of making us move away from our faith.

2. As Christians we are in the world and we have a mission to be present in the world. We witness to the gospel. We announce Christ. The world is plural, it has many religions. The Christian is in the midst of all that plurality of religions. The Christian engages in DIALOGUE with others. This is not easy in countries where Christians are a minority and they are marginalized; their right to religious freedom is not respected. Let us recognize this difficulty. It can be so difficult for the Christian to engage in dialogue.

3. Talking about dialogue, we can consider two basic principles, namely, the RESPECT OF DIFFERENCES and the sense of EQUALITY AMONG PARTNERS IN THE DIALOGUE. Let us discuss the two.

Respect of Differences

1. To respect differences means to really be interested in who others are. What are their beliefs and convictions? We are interested in them EVEN IF THEY ARE SO DIFFERENT FROM US.

2. To respect differences is to also WATCH OUR OWN BIASES AND PREJUDICES ABOUT OTHERS. We may have been so influenced by certain biases that it is not easy for us to remove them from our speech and behaviour. But in respect of differences we need to be vigilant about how we see and treat others. We cannot let our prejudices rule in dialogue.

3. To respect differences is to also be careful in MAKING OTHERS LOOK LIKE US. Sometimes we try to see where others show similarity with us. We feel alright if others are showing signs of similarity with us. We feel more comfortable in resemblance. But others can be so radically different and we do not see much similarities with us. In dialogue it is not our task to make others look like us. It is not our task to base positive feelings on resemblance. We need to admit that OTHERS CAN REALLY BE SO DIFFERENT FROM US...AND IT IS ALRIGHT.

4. We respect differences; we are no longer the same Christianity that was imposing itself--the Christianity of the colonial times. This respect for others has always been deep in our Church tradition. The respect has biblical roots too. The style of mission during the colonial days is not anymore accepted today. That is finished. Today the Church does not promote forcing others to change religions to become Christian. The Church even calls us to RESPECT DIFFERENCES. Other religions have their values and dignity, respect them.

Equality of religions

1. We do not want to say that we are superior to others. We do not say that today. We want to approach other religions on equal grounds. BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT WE HAVE TO DROP OUR OWN FAITH AND RELIGION. Our Christian history may have been marked by exclusivism and a condescending attitude towards oter religions. We say l that it should not be repeated and we then refrain from being Christian. We are afraid that our Christian presence will only provoke upsetting others.

2. But then again, today, our Christianity is not anymore imposing and condescending. THERE IS NO NEED TO GIVE UP OUR CHRISTIAN POSITION in dialogue. In dialogue we stay fithful to who we are while being open to others. Even if we say that our religion is true, it does no have to mean that other religions are false. It does not also have to mean that Christianity is superior.

3. People of other religions can be different, so very different from us. We do not take that against them. We do not criticize others for being different. Nor do we try to look for where others are similar to us. There is no obligation for resemblance. Others can be so different; that is alright.

In the Church today

1. The Church today promotes diaogue. The Church respects other religions. The Church has stopped the strategy of proselitizing and forcing others to change religions to become Christians.

2. In the Church today there is OPENESS TO PLURALISM...but it is a pluralism that has to be healthy. Even if there are major differences among peoples and religions, the Church still believes that THERE IS A COMMON TRUTH TO ALL HUMANITY. An unhealthy pluralism is sceptical about anything commonly true. The Church would rather be hopeful in the fact that IN OUR DIFFERENCES AND IN PLURALITY THERE ARE STILL THINGS WE ALL HOLD AS TRUE AND COMMON TO US ALL. All of us can WORK TOGETHER IN SEEKING FOR OUR COMMON TRUTH. If we drop this hope and if we say we cannot work together, then we cannot have dialogue.

3. In the Church we all hold the faith in Christ as the definite revelation of God. Our faith is that God has definitely AND HISTORICALLY revealed in Christ. We also believe that the "Seeds of the Word" are in other religions. This is our faith. We hold on to it.

4. As we hold on to faith, how do we look at other religons? Today we are more open to the religions; we do not condemn them. Maybe traces of previous thinking still mark us. We might have the hesitation to accept the validity of other religions BECAUSE MAYBE WE RE AFRAID THAT GOD WILL GET ANGRY IF WE BE "FRIENDLY" AND ACCOMODATING.

5. Let us dare make a stand. GOD WANTS PLURALISM. It is ok for God that there are many religions. In fact, GOD WILLS THAT THERE BE RELIGIOUS PLURALISM. Let us try to establish this.

6. Ok, so we still hold on to our faith and we say that God definitely revealed in Jesus Christ. That revelation happend through the whole HISTORY OF SALVATION FROM ABRAHAM TO JESUS. God entered into covenant with Abraham and with the whole of Israel and finally revealed fully in Christ. What about in the history of the tribal animists? What about in the history of oceania or mainland China or South Asia? Those histories have A DIFFERENT FLOW.

7. God may have revealed in and through the line of Abraham to Jesus. But this did not stop God from ALSO REVEALING IN OTHER WAYS THROUGH OTHER HISTORICAL FLOWS. Simply because God revealed in the line of Israel to Jesus it does ot mean that God never revealed in other ways. God revealed in Israel and in Jesus Christ; AND HE ALSO REVEALED IN ALL HUMANITY. Yes, the revelation in Christ starting with Abraham is a definite revelation, BUT IT IS NOT EXCLUSIVE. God's revelation in Christ does not stop him from revealing in other ways.God may have been at work in the flow of Israel to Jesus. He must also have worked in the flow of Oceania, Asia, Africa, etc.

8. If we insist that God revealed exclusively in the Abraham-to-Jesus line, then we will be excluding other religious traditions and other people. We will say that they have been outside God's saving work. But IF WE ACCEPT THAT GOD WAS ALREADY AT WORK IN ALL HUMANITY THEN WE CAN ALSO SAY THAT GOD WAS OK WITH THE EXISTENCE OF THE MANY OTHER RELIGIONS. The wealth of Revelation is pursued not just by the Jewish-Christian line but BY ALL RELIGIONS.

9. A close reading of Vatican II documents will make us feel alright with this thinking. Nostra aetate and Gaudium et spes show how open the Church is to the possibility of God recognizing the existence of other religions.

A Christology

1. God revealed definitely in Christ. This is our faith. Jesus Christ is the SUMMIT OF GOD'S REVELATION. We have no rejection of this at all. Yet we can say that even if God definitely revealed in Jesus Christ, we Christians do not have a monopoly of God's revelation. God can decide to reveal i many other ways that are not in and through the same historical revelation in Christ. In fact today we agree that IN OTHER RELIGIONS IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE A DEEP RELIGOUS EXPERIENCE OF GOD. This deep spiritual experience is not our monopoly.

2. Yes, we say that God definitely revealed in Christ. THAT REVELATION HAPENED IN A SPECIFIC TIME AND PLACE, THE FIRST CENTURY PALESTINE. Jesus Christ was a revelation in that time and place--NOT IN JAPAN DURING THE 5TH CENTURY, NOT IN MELANESIA, NOT IN CANADA....

3. Jesus Christ was a revelation of God in first century Palestine and we continue to believe that IN JESUS CHRIST IS THE FULNESS OF GOD (see Col 2/9). NOTE THAT WE ARE NOT DROPPING OUR FAITH.

4. This concrete historical revelaion in Jesus Christ, however, DID NOT STOP GOD FROM BEING GOD. God continued to be God even if he historically revealed in a definite way in Jesus Christ. THE DEFINITE REVELATION OF GOD IN CHRIST DOES NOT STOP GOD FROM REVEALING IN MANY OTHER WAYS.

5. This then opens the door to dialogue. Why? If we say that God definitely revealed in the concrete first century Palestine in Jesus and if we accpet that God may reveal in other ways, then we can look outside the historical revelation in Christ AND SEE HOW GOD WORKS IN OTHER CONTEXTS. We can look at other religions and discern God there. God's revelation is so rich we can seek in other religions.

6. Now, Jesus Christ himself allows us to go in this direction. Let us explain this.

7. We have studied about Jesus Christ in our Christology class. We said that Jesus Christ came to tell the world about the love of God expressed in the Kingdom. All humanity is God's beloved; nobody is outside God's love. Jesus took this mission seriously. In full confidence in God whom he called his Father he went all the way with his mission even if he was threatened by the rejection of people. Jesus died on the cross, proving how serious he was with his Father and his love for us. The cross did not stop Jesus from his mission. Jesus picked up the cross and took seriously the love of God, his Father.

8. We do the same. We too pick up the cross. The threats and challenges telling us to stop love, justice, fraternal living, peace do not stop us from following the same footsteps of Jesus. This is who we are, "Christians". We have the courage because we know that Jesus himself won. The Father rose him from death. There is the resurrection.

9. The HISTORICAL JESUS WAS REVEALED ALSO AS THE UNIVERSAL CHRIST. The particular historical action that happened in first century Palestine HAS BECOME THE UNIVERSAL ACTION OF ALL HUMANITY. Jesus Christ has universally revealed confidence in God, seriousness with love and truth and justice (the Kingdom), and the promise of the Resurrection. It is WHAT IS WHAT ALL HUMANITY DESERVES.

10. Our Christianity is rooted in this. We base our faith on the Gospel truth of what Jesus Christ has revealed. The Christian does his/her best to reject whatever destroys humanity--a picking up of the cross. Knowing how Jesus won, the Christian also knows that FINALLY LIFE WILL WIN. Our religion is will win and Jesus Christ has revealed it.

11. Now pause for a minute and note HOW UNIVERSAL THIS IS. Christianity is about victory over death, victory over dehumanization. This is what we present in dialogue. Jesus Christ, in his mystery, has made us opento other people and other religions because we hold something that is universal for all humanity. WE HAVE SOMETHING TO DIALOGUE WITH. We have somethingo share with other religions, SOMETHING THAT CAN BE SO TRUE IN THEM TOO AS GOD WORKS IN THEM.

12. Which religion professes death and human destruction? Which religion professes hatred and the desire to ham and destroy others? Which religion does not live according to God's own love? We, Christians, go on dialogue with our experience and perspective taught to us by Christ.

13. Following Jesus IS NOT OUR MONOPOLY. Jesus taught us, thanks to his Incarnation, about the value and honor OF ALL HUMANITY. His message was FOR ALL HUMANITY. His message then was dialogical meant to be shared with and presented to others.  

14. Christ taught us that others are not rivals but neighbours. To be a disciple of Christ is to say YES TO DIFFERENCES. Christian identity is a consent to differences. Our faith DOES NOT TAKE AGAINST OTHERS THEIR DIFFERENCE FROM US. So we self-limit ourselves and we say that others have THEIR OWN WAYS that must be respected and recognized. We are not the exclusive people loved by God.

An ecclesiology

1. Maybe during the colonial times the Church was defining mission. Mission meant "saving souls" and pulling people out of their religions. It is different today. Today IT IS MISSION THAT DEFINES THE CHURCH. The Church adjusts to the demands of the Gospel and the Gospel tells the Church about the honor of differences. All humanity is encompassed by the Incarnation of Christ and so all humanity is "in Christ". The Incarnation has accepted differences--people can be who they are and in whatever religion they have.

2. Just like Jesus the Church is engaged AGAINST WHAT DESTROYS HUMANITY AND PROMOTES LIFE. Just like Christ the Church is involved with the basic questions of all humanity.

3. The Apostles and the early Christians have seen the glory of Jesus  Christ. They were in touch with the deep person and message of Jesus Christ. They had the joy of sharing about Jesus Christ. That was how the Church started. It was not about competing ad proselitizing and imposing. it was the sheer joy of sharing what the Apostles and the early Christians felt as what all humanity needed to hear. The sharing was done with respect. That was how mission was at that time.


1. Let us try reading the story of the so-called "Three Kings" (in Matthew) from the perspective of space. Hmmm...well, two points in space, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Then we can add a third space in the end.


2. First there is the opposition of two kings: Jesus and Herod. Jesus is born during the reign of Herod. The Magi show up and ask King Herod, "Where is the King of the Jews?" But wait a minute, is it not Herod the King? Hearing this, Herod is troubled (together with everyone else in Jerusalem.) This Herod, as we know, is a nasty bloke who has had relatives killed. He is known to be cruel and fearful. (That's what the historian, Flavius Josephus, reports.) 
Regarding the birth of Jesus, it has nothing of fireworks and drums rolling. Yet, as Matthew tells us, the birth of Jesus has "political relevance", so to speak. He is "King of the Jews" according to the Magis. 

3. Matthew then tells us that Herod consults his chief priests and scribes and wants to know where the Christos can be found. This Christos is, of course, more than just another King. He is the way of salvation; his yoke is easy, his burden is light. He is so different from Herod. The scribes tell Herod that the Christos will be from Bethlehem. Micah 5/1.3 is mentioned here with modification. Bethlehem connects Jesus with King David, the "shepherd of my people" (2 Samuel 5/2). Matthew is here emphasizing the royal identity of Jesus, this Christos is from the davidic line, the expected "Son of David". 

4. Herod, cunningly, calls the Magi in secret. Herod asks for three things: information about the time of the star's appearance, the seeking for the child born there in Bethlehem and a bringing to him--Herod--word about the finding. Herod lies about his plan to give homage to the child. Of course what Herod wants is to "destroy" the child. In fact, as we know the story, Herod orders the massacre of two year old boys (and younger) in Bethlehem. 
Of course this is a narration, a "narrative account". The historicity of the massacre is never proven historically. Yet, might we admit that Herod is nonetheless capable of such massacre? 

5. So the point in space, "Jerusalem", is presented by Matthew as a point of deception. It may be rich in religious tradition--it has high priests and scribes--but it is a religiosity in the service of power. Jerusalem represents a stiffened world incapable of setting itself in motion. It is a world that refuses to be inspired it has gone routine with repeated recitation of texts and catechism. As we say in class, it is stuck in its "ek-eks and tralalas".

Now let us go to Bethlehem. 

6. Now the Magis leave the city of Jerusalem and see again the star. They must have seen it already in their own nations. (This, of course, deserves a theological discussion too...But for some other time.) Matthew tells us about the emotion of the Magi, "They were overjoyed at seeing the star" (2/10). Herod never has shown the same emotion. The joy of the Magi may have a theological meaning, as showing the joy of non-Jews welcoming the Good News. Take the example of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts, who "continued on his way rejoicing" (Act8/39). 

7. The star then leads the Magi to the "manger"; there is the child. The Magi are not disturbed by the simplicity of the place; they prostrate themselves and do the child homage. Bible experts will notice that this is Matthews way of suggesting that the Magi, being "pagans", NOW RECOGNIZE THE AUTHORITATIVE DIVINITY OF JESUS. Priests during their homilies about this story often say that the Magi are the "first converts". Priests continue to tell us, during their homilies, that the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh represent the royalty, the divinity and the humanity of Jesus.

8. The narration here is brief--in fact, quick. But the picture we are given is a more calm picture. Compare that to the Jerusalem scene with Herod. Now, a dream leads the Magi far from Herod. They depart for their country by another way. 

9. Matthew also tells us about Joseph's dreams, leading him to bring the family out to Egypt and then return to Palestine. Biblical experts tell us that this is Matthew's recapitulation of the Exodus story. One thing is interesting here. Jesus, the little baby, may be a "weakling" and vulnerable in a hostile world. But he is protected; his destiny is assured. The "mythological" style of Matthew makes use of the role of dreams. 

10. Bethlehem represents the calm space. The space of confidence and even protection. It is the space where the foreign--represented by the Magi--welcomes the Saviour, in all serenity and peace and joy. 

A third space

11. Possibly there is a third space involved. Matthew, as we know, wrote his account sometime 80-85 AD. He wrote for his community composed of many Jews who moved to discipleship of Christ. Those Christian-Jews were excluded from Judaism and yet they were hesitant to include in their community the foreigners, the non-Jews. Excluded from their own origins they were also separating from the new-comers, those Gentiles who had closer affinities with foreign, non-Jewish ways. The Christian-Jews of the matthean community were showing signs of getting stuck in the habits of their traditions. But the foreigners were JUST LIKE THE MAGI of foreign origins. Matthew may have been emphasizing that the salvation brought by Jesus Christ is universal. If it is welcomed by the Magi, so too is it welcomed now by the Gentiles. Let the Christian-Jews take note; do not be lukewarm to the in-coming presence of the Gentiles. 

12. This may sound strange for us today. Who cares about origins, be it Jewish or non-Jewish, in the Church? Matthew had to face the issue, however. His narrative of the Magi suggests the question of frontiers, the blurry Church frontiers. Matthew tells us something today.

13. There are people in search of God. They come from different places and maybe even from different religious traditions. Their paths may be so radically unknown to us, so strange. They are "not like us". They do not know our traditions and their points of reference may look bizarre. They believe in what the stars say, for example. But even if the welcome they receive is lukewarm, they continue with their quest. Matthew tells us to have confidence in the involvement we make with people of paths quite different from ours. Let us not be hesitant in sharing space with them. Also, Matthew tells us to be calm if they decide to pursue their quests through paths. Stay calm if they choose some other space. Their quest is always a quest for God. They will be alright. As Matthew reports what Jesus said, "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (6/26).

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