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Lenten Reflections 2021: WWJD Do to the Religious Flea Market?

Giovanni Antonio Fumiani: The Cleansing of the Temple detail from Wikimedia commons

 @johnvinod | March 30, 2021

Today’s reading is Mark 11: 15-19. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it was the Passover Festival. The city was bustling with people from all over Israel, along with visitors from other nations.

In preparation for the Passover, every household was busy thoroughly and religiously cleaning their dwellings. The remembrance and celebration of the Passover were a serious business for the Jews. It was an opportunity not only to thank God for the liberation from Egyptian slavery, but also for passing on their religion to the next generation (Exodus 13). Therefore, they ceremonially searched every nook and even the tiniest bit of yeast, or food containing yeast, was wiped out of the house.

However, the only house that was overlooked year after year was the House of God. They had only one temple where sacrifices were accepted. Over the years, the temple and its sacrificial system became a symbol of a religion gone bad. It became a seat of corruption, exploitation, and commercialization of all sorts.  

When Jesus entered the temple, he was greeted by the clinking of metal coins, flapping of a bird’s wings, bleating of lambs, the stench of the animal dung and bird droppings, along with the irritating noise of negotiations. However, what made him really furious, to the extent that he made a whip and drove out the sellers and exchangers from the temple? It was the fact that it was all being carried out in the court of the Gentiles.

By design, the temple welcomed and provided a spacious court for the people of all nations to come and pray there. This court was now filled with stalls, tents, animals, and sellers engaged in a profitable commerce. This outraged Jesus as he recalled the prayer of king Solomon, offered at the dedication of this Temple:

“Likewise when foreigners, who are not of your people Israel, come from a distant land because of your great name, and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, 33 may you hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33 NRSV).

He also remembered prophet Isaiah’s powerful words:

“…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56: 7b-8 NRSV).

With all that Jesus witnessed in the Gentile’s court, there was hardly any room left for the foreigners to assemble. The commercialization was hindering the nations from seeking God and praying to him. Jesus knew that those who pushed prayer out of the temple, turning it instead into a religious flea market, must be driven out! Jesus finally cleansed the house of God, which the people of God had neglected for long.

May the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem lead us to look into our own churches. The institutionalization of a spiritual movement that Jesus started has been turned into a full-fledged profitable, professional, commercial enterprise. We are proud of running our churches like companies where prayers and missions…reaching out to the foreigners, the refugees, the vulnerable people, and those seeking God has been pushed out. We have become so inward looking and businesslike that the original mission of the church has been all but forgotten. Would we allow the Lord Jesus Christ to thoroughly search and clean us, and our businesses,…err…churches today?

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What Did Jesus Riding a Donkey Symbolize?

Image from Wikimedia

     @johnvinod | March 29, 2021

Today’s readings are Matthew 21: 1-11 and Zechariah 9: 9-11. All gospel writers refer to Jesus Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem during the passion week. They include a reference to a donkey, the animal selected for riding into Jerusalem. Matthew directly quotes the prophet Zechariah 9:9, who uses three different words for the animal. These words are difficult to render into languages such as English. I find that the new Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanakh translation renders it much better than others:

Rejoice greatly, Fair Zion; Raise a shout, Fair Jerusalem! Lo, your king is coming to you. He is victorious, triumphant, Yet humble, riding on an ass, On a donkey foaled by a she-ass (Zechariah 9: 9 NJPS).

The reason Zechariah used different words for a donkey is to distinguish the animal from other species. The prophets of Israel used symbols and symbolic language to convey their message to a mostly oral culture. The original readers of the prophecy would have understood the distinction Zechariah was at pains to convey with his choice of words. The Messiah will come riding an ass, not just an ass, but a donkey, which is foaled or birthed by a she-ass, that is, a purebred jackass. Thus, ruling out a horse, a mule, or a mixed breed.

For this reason, Jesus Christ deliberately rode a donkey, not just any donkey, but a purebred jackass as opposed to a royal horse or a mule used by the kings and princes for wars and conquests. As in the very next verse, Zechariah clearly associated horses with chariots and wars:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;

his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9: 10 ESV).

Therefore, Jesus Christ wished to signify once and for all that even though he is indeed the messiah and the king, he does not come as the conquering, colonizing, military ruler subduing everything and everyone under his power. The battles, wars, and conquests do not belong to his mission. People of his time expected such a messiah, especially as they suffered under the Roman Empire. Our history is replete with the examples of how Christian churches and missions misunderstood Jesus as the conquering messiah when they went about colonizing and civilizing places and people around the world. That is why in most cases; the cross followed the colonial flag. Alas! All in the name of Jesus Christ!

Our readings today remind us what Jesus Christ had already stated in no uncertain terms that he comes as the humble One. He comes riding a purebred jackass, representing humility and peace. And he comes with Shalom for all rather than the conquest of peoples and places! The Hebrew word shalom is not just peace or the absence of conflict and war. Rather, it means a holistic life full of freedom, health, peace, prosperity, and the presence of God for all who would follow him. May we follow this Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Discipleship is a Matter of Responding to God’s Call

Image by Falco from Pixabay

 @johnvinod | March 26, 2021

Today let us read Mark 3: 13- 18. Note that this key passage about the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ is different from the calling of his disciples earlier. Soon after Jesus Christ came out of his wilderness experience, he called the disciples, as seen in Mark 1: 16-20. We are not informed how many Jesus had called to follow him, but I believe, there were dozens of people. However, today’s incident of Mark 3 occurred some time later, when he had already gained a steady following. In this event, Jesus does something absolutely crucial for the church he was beginning.

As was his practice, Jesus accomplished this on a retreat at a mountain away from the lakeside to withdraw from the crowds. Luke informs us that Jesus spent a whole night in prayer there (Luke 6: 12). And then Jesus called to himself only the twelve men whom he “desired” or “wanted.” The original has it as ‘whom he would’ or ‘whom he himself would.’ Thus, it rules out anyone offering themselves to be his apostles! And they came to him without delay. Mark is providing a contrast here between the general crowds that flocked to Jesus on their own and those whom Jesus wanted, selected, and called unto himself, before he “appointed” or ordained/commissioned them.

Then he appointed and named them the “apostles” (Mark 3:14). The word means the sent-out ones with a specific purpose who maintain with Jesus a close relationship. They also received personal hands-on training from him. They were not merely to pass on the teachings of Jesus, but they were to represent and extend the Kingdom he had inaugurated.

In the whole process, the initiative is that of Jesus from the beginning. It was his sovereign idea, in calling, in choosing from among those he had called to follow him, and then in appointing those whom he had chosen. Therefore, discipleship in the sense of belonging to Jesus and following him is a matter of God’s initiative and his work in our lives rather than our choice. The missions or ministry of the Kingdom is not something we can select ourselves as one would undertake a profession. That is why, these words of Jesus must have always rung in the mind of these apostles, which Jesus said just before he was betrayed and arrested:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you (John 15: 16 ESV)

The Lord has not changed his mind or the process about calling and appointing. It is still his way for us. As I reflect upon my life and calling, I am amazed to see the hand of God in every step of the way…. how God picked me up from a tiny unknown hamlet and orchestrated everything for me to be equipped for His ministry. In the same way, the Lord knows from the beginning about everyone of us. He not only calls, but equally prepares and shapes everything in us toward the fulfillment that he has planned through us for His Kingdom.

On the other hand, down through the centuries, much irreparable damage has been done in the mission fields or in the churches by those who chose to dub themselves into missions. They often did so because they wanted to accomplish something great for themselves using the name of God. May the Lord help us today to ascertain his calling and purpose in each one of our lives. Amen!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Spiritual Sign of Restoration is the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit and His Gifts

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By @johnvinod  | February 26, 2021

Please begin today by reading from Joel 2: 28-32, which is the closing section of Joel chapter two. We saw in yesterday’s post that after their repentance, God blesses and satisfies his restored people. Having established this outward visible blessing, Joel now prophesized the oncoming spiritual blessing and renewal, which constitutes the true restoration.

This spiritual renewal will come in the form of something unprecedented and powerful: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh”! This is unlike what is described in the previous sections of this chapter. Those events came to pass in Israel during Joel’s time. This promise of the Spirit, on the other hand, is a prophecy in the more distant future and Joel links it with an apocalyptic event, “the day of Lord” (vs. 30-32). Notice that the prophecy is preceded by “Then afterwards” (v. 28) and “in those days” (v. 29). This is a common parallelism that Hebrew prophets and poets often employed for rhetorical effect and to emphasize the point they were making. And the point in Joel’s case is that it will come to pass sometime in the future.

The Spirit is understood as God’s Spirit, the Holy Sprit in the New Testament. The primary meaning of the outpouring of the Spirit on his people is a divinely inspired spiritual ecstasy which enables them to find a transient prophetic fervor and make prophetic utterances. We can also find examples of this in 1 Samuel 10:10 and 19:24 in the time of Judges in Israel. God had used this phenomenon earlier also with seventy elders of Israel under Moses’ leadership for the purpose of endorsing their calling and leadership:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. (Numbers 11: 25 NRSV).

However, quite unlike the previous occurrences, in Joel’s prophecy of 2: 28-29, notice here the promise is for “all flesh” irrespective of their age, leadership, social status, or gender. Primarily, it was meant for the people to whom Joel prophesied and their descendants. However, in God’s economy of salvation the promise has been extended to the whole humankind irrespective of our race, class, gender, or status in society.

The outpouring or pour out means to cause to flow freely and implies that God will give the Spirit in abundance, as he always does, without reservation.

The Apostle Peter unmistakably applied the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy to the events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Before his ascension, Jesus Christ had promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1: 8. So, in Acts 2 when the disciples along with the Twelve Apostles received the promised Holy Spirit, they were ecstatic and filled with a divine prophetic passion. Peter, one of the Twelve, addressed the astonished crowd of thousands who had gathered in Jerusalem saying:

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2: 15- 21 ESV).

However, this was just the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of a spiritual renewal that Joel prophesied. It did not cease with the Day of Pentecost. In the book of Acts and in the rest of the New Testament, the outpouring continued throughout Israel and then in the rest of the world until this day.

This Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, is the Spirit of missions. He is the Spirit of transformation of lives, institutions, and cultures. The renewal the Spirit of missions creates is evident throughout the world which has experienced the outpouring of the Spirit down the centuries. And God’s Spirit is still moving around the globe in the most unanticipated ways and in the most unexpected places and among the most amazing people groups, just as it was prophesied. The threefold signs of the spiritual renewal are evident wherever the Spirit is outpoured.

People are prophesying, that is, bringing God’s word to those unreached people groups who have never had the opportunity to hear it until now. Praise God that this noble calling is no longer restricted to a privileged few from a certain social class or people of certain color, but God’s Spirit is using ordinary people for the proclamation of the Word.  

People are dreaming, that is, dreaming of being and becoming what they have never been before. Dreaming and finding an identity as God’s own people, loved, lifted, and dignified. Dreaming of breaking off slavery, colonialism, and the fetters of oppression of all sorts throughout all cultures. And this is made possible today by the Spirit of God.

People are visioning, that is, seeing the possibilities and hoping for a liberated future that they have never envisioned before. They are reassured by the presence of the Spirit that it is now possible for their dreams and visions to become a reality by the power of the Almighty God who delights to abide with them. Praise be to the Holy Spirit! Despite the constant bad news of the pandemic and devastation, there is an extensive outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our day and age. Are you aware of it? Are you part of it? Does this excite you to participate in it?

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Lenten Devotions 2015: St. Patrick’s relevance for missions today.

5637776309_47f2a485e9_zSt. Patrick’s Day has just been celebrated in the western world in many different ways including parades, sporting greens, shamrocks, and Irish beer. There is nothing wrong with celebrating Patrick’s Day with such things. However, one must go beyond the popular traditions to ask: Why is Patrick significant as a Christian missionary?

Patrick was not Irish, rather he was born and raised in fifth-century Scotland where he grew up in a Roman Catholic household. Even though his grandfather was a Catholic priest, Patrick ignored his religion in his teen years. He was captured in a raid and taken to Ireland as a slave. While in captivity, he was appalled at the pagan religious practices of his captors and determined to cling to the religious teachings and practices he grew up ignoring as a teenager. Even though he did not know the true God whom he grew up learning about, he decided to engage in prayer to this God. Following a dream he once had, Patrick escaped from his captors and returned home to Scotland. However, his faith and an indubitable calling compelled Patrick, in his 40s, to go back to Ireland as a missionary. His faithfulness to the Lord coupled with his firsthand knowledge of the culture and customs of the Irish people made him quite successful in his missionary work. Celts of Ireland had a reputation for their brutal military and “barbarian” ways; therefore, it was a vital historical accomplishment that they could be evangelized without violence unlike other people in Europe. Therefore, the following are some of the lessons we can learn from Patrick:

1. To remember our God, the Creator, even in the midst of trying circumstances (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

2. To be faithful to the teachings of faith we have received in our childhood even though we may not fully understand them at the time (2 Timothy 1: 1-6).

3. To remain faithful to the calling we have received from the Lord even in the midst of challenging circumstances (Isaiah 8:11-22).

4. To be faithful in sharing our faith boldly and wisely even though the culture around us may be completely strange and hostile (Acts 4: 27-31).

5. Having a heart for the lost, answering the call to missions, and going where God sends us is just the beginning of participating in God’s mission. Knowing the culture and customs of the people we serve and identifying with them is a major step in evangelism. Even though Patrick was enslaved in Ireland, when he came back as a missionary he loved them and adopted their customs so much so that he almost became an Irish and was proud to be identified such.

6. For example, fully knowing the clan system of the Irish and how it practically worked in Ireland, Patrick adopted the strategy of first leading the chiefs of the clans to the Lord who would, in turn, bring their clan members to faith. Patrick understood the significant role the societal and familial ties play in accepting or rejecting a new faith in any culture. This principle holds true even to this day in almost all cultures and our evangelism must reckon with this fact.

7. The churches that Patrick planted in Ireland were rooted not only in a fervent faith and devotion to the Lord, but they were also relevant to their culture and ultimatly became self-evangelizing. That is why their faith could survive for so long. May we learn to establish the faith deep in our people and equip them to share it with others (Colossians 1: 1-8). Amen.

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