FAITH AND FAMILY - SERIES 14
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the manifesto of a spiritual revolution. While the revolutions of the world seek to effect changes by force in the external world, the spiritual revolution of Jesus effects a paradigm shift in human nature with the power of love. Human nature, since the Fall, is driven by covetousness: the craving to get, complemented by the unwillingness to share. Out of this predatory mindset arise the mounting hostilities of the world. Hostility is innate in a sinful orientation of life. God’s healing response to this is the inauguration of a caring culture through Jesus Christ. Spirituality, in other words, is a re-orientation of human nature and culture from hostility to hospitality.
Hospitality marks the nature of God. God is love. The cultures of the world, however, are driven by power-orientation. So they abound in cruelty, injustice and oppression. History is the story of man’s cruelty to man, to which the Cross is a stark pointer. The mission of Jesus is rooted in divine hospitality. Jesus came as Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. He came to gather us to himself (Mtt. 11: 28-30; Jn. 15:4). He came to be with us. Hospitality is a celebration of this “being with,” which overcomes alienation. Indeed, hospitality is a spiritual engagement with alienation. It is a key strategy for nurturing a caring culture. Family is the universal and God-ordained means to safeguard our species against alienation and to orient us to hospitality. The Lord’s Supper is the foremost sacrament of hospitality.
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often,” said Patrick Henry, one of the Founding Fathers of America, “that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” A convincing proof of the foundational impact of the Gospel on American social and national consciousness is the fact that the people of America remain to this day the most generous givers in the world. Indeed, hospitality in its two-fold dimension of giving and accepting is the secret of America’s greatness. It was this Christian virtue, given effect through national policy, which transformed America into a glorious melting pot of humanity over the decades. Great thinkers and scientists from around the world sought and found refuge in this hospitable nation. In contrast, societies that remained self-enclosed inflicted intellectual and cultural bankruptcy on themselves. The readiness to give and the willingness to receive mark the genius and vitality of America.
It is not only material and financial resources that Americans shared with the rest of the world. America has shared some of its finest daughters and sons –authentic ambassadors of its Christian culture- with people around the globe. A young American lady, Ida Sophia Scudder, planted the Christian Medical College in Vellore (South India) a century ago. It is today the foremost institution of health care and medical education in Asia. “We are not building a medical college and hospital here,” declared Ida. “We are building the Kingdom of God.”
Today the Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, is not the only force that shapes the American society. Secularism plays an increasingly dominant and dogmatic role in defining the American outlook. Christians, especially the immigrant Christians in America, need to pay heed to this on-going dialogue between Gospel and culture. The duty to engage the secular scenario from the standpoint of biblical spirituality needs to be seen as an integral part of our Christian vocation at the present time. It needs to be asked, for instance, if American hospitality in its myriad expressions is adequately rooted today in a spiritual understanding and is informed by a concern to globalize the Kingdom culture of care and compassion.
What should it mean, to take an example at random, to wage war on terror? The epidemic of terror, gradually assuming pandemic proportions, needs to be seen as a spiritual danger signal. It implies and denotes a willful rejection of the spiritual way of life and the values on which it stands: love, compassion, truth and justice. Can the war on terror be solely a militaristic enterprise? It is a crucial challenge that needs to be engaged with all the resources at our command. The technological-militaristic resources are only a part of the resources available to us. The resources of spirituality are not any less relevant, as is implied in the intention to “win the hearts and minds” of the people of Iraq. But from an objective perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a good enough effort made to integrate the two: the campaign to secure the land from the hands of insurrectionists and the effort to win the hearts and minds of the people. The ethos, resources and strategies of hospitality are central to ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the people and eradicating the epidemic of terrorism. But how are we to blend these two approaches in a holistic campaign against global terror? Are Christians relevant to this campaign of the century, or are they to remain silent spectators, called upon to pray, from time to time, for peace in a world order from which God is willfully excluded?
Abraham: the exemplar of spiritual hospitality:
It is not to secure some material advantages that we must turn to God. It not even, primarily, to secure our berth in heaven that we must abide in Jesus. It is to imbibe the mind of Christ and to be baptized by his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of pure positivity. The foremost practical expression of spiritual positivity is a caring culture.
The insignia of a caring culture is the willingness to give; whereas the world is driven by the lust to get and, if need be, to grab by force. The wolf, rather than the lamb, is the emblem of the world (Mtt. 10: 16). That is why, as Jesus said, “the poor will be with you always.” (Jn 12: 8). The priority of a caring culture is to meet needs. Sin leads us to a quicksand of unending desires and blinds us to needs: our needs as well as the needs of others. From a spiritual perspective, there are only two possible approaches to life: (a) the one based on needs, which is the spiritual approach and (b) the one based on desires, which is the worldly approach. Covetousness is incompatible with the spiritual practice of hospitality. In covetousness too we may practice hospitality. Hospitality then becomes a sort of motivated transaction. We must not confuse the hospitality of covetousness with spiritual hospitality, of which Abraham is the earliest exemplar and the greatest, prior to Jesus. Hospitality of this kind is an integral part of the Kingdom culture: the culture of caring.
What are the pillars on which the caring culture rests, as seen from Abraham’s practice of hospitality?
This is of crucial importance in defining and sustaining a spiritual family culture. Without this, a home could remain an aggregation of virtual strangers who live together only for convenience. They may stay together without developing a sense of belonging, sharing and caring. The essence of a hospitable family culture is receiving and cherishing each other. Family is founded on the primacy of relationships, not of acquisitions. It must be marked not so much by hard work as by loving service, not by the extravaganza of ‘burning one’s body’ but by the stability of loving each other. Abraham is an early pointer to the spirit that must animate every family. His tireless efforts to overcome alienation, to turn strangers into guests and brothers, comprise a unique example that looks forward to its fulfillment in Jesus who came to call all people to himself. This leaves us with an awesome responsibility to transform the global village into a universal and God-centred family aptly described by Jesus as “one flock and one Shepherd”.
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