Aliens Within and Neighbors Without

I always enjoy reading Kenneth Bailey’s works, especially when he brings his life-long experience in the Middle East into his reading of the Scriptures. You may not like what he says but you cannot ignore his voice either. I’d like to share a piece from my reading, of whose subject I’ve been contemplating on for a long time.

I have been reading a fascinating piece written by Bailey about the inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry from Luke 4:16-31. This is the passage where Jesus reads the Isaiah scroll, interprets and edits it and at the end we see him trying to get away from a very angry crowd of Jews who wanted to cast him out of their community. Jesus, in return, gives two examples of Gentiles from the Old Testament and how God was more gracious to them than his own covenant people. Bailey suggests that what Jesus was saying to the congregation by giving these two examples was this:

If you want to receive the benefits of the new golden age of the Messiah, you must imitate the faith of these Gentiles. I am not asking you merely to tolerate or accept them. You must see such Gentiles as your spiritual superiors and acknowledge that they can instruct you in the nature of authentic faith. The benefits of the “acceptable year of the Lord” which I have come to inaugurate, are available to such people. (JME, pg 165)

Jesus wanted models of authentic faith. To find them he reached beyond the ethnic community of which he was a part and invoked these two stories of Gentile heroes of faith.

Now what strikes me as interesting is this following paragraph that I am going to quote word by word. The question is how much of our culture and the place we have been placed in determine our view of God and how much do we need someone else outside of our own space to come tell us what the real thing is and offer a credible critique. After all, we may not be the best judge of ourselves. After all, this is why Jesus’ message could not be contained in a small land in Jerusalem but now extends beyond those borders and reaches everywhere and everyone. This quote below made me realize the value of our liturgy when we say every week, “I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints” (Credo in sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem).

Here’s the quote:

“The gospel is not safe in any culture without a witness within that culture, from beyond itself. D.T. Niles the famous Sri Lankan theologian quotes James Matthews and writes, “”Because we have come to terms with our own society, the total word of God has to be declared to us by another. In every culture, the message of the gospel is in constant danger of being compromised by the value system that supports that culture and its goals. The stranger to that culture can instinctively identify those points of surrender and call the community back to a purer and more authentic faith. But such infusions of new life are usually resented or resisted. This very pattern of hostility emerges in this story, i.e Luke 4:16-31. (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, pgs 166-167).

If I am reading this right I can say that there’s no “one right” American Christianity, European Christianity, or African or Asian Christianity. We all need the other to tell us where we have gone astray and help us to get back on track. Just like we can’t live an individual Christianity and are in need of communities, we can’t live a national Christianity and are in need of other nations.


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