31 August 2011

stones into bread

Well known within the church are Jesus' three temptations in the wilderness just prior to the start of his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). They are devilish challenges to what type of Messiah Jesus will choose to be. Using the decisions of his faithfulness, these temptations make God the central issue . . . and whether divine authority will become secondary.

"If you are the Son of God" does not imply doubt on the part of Satan, but places the conversation in the context of challenge, simultaneously mocking and questioning Jesus in the messianic role. The first issue is to turn stones into bread in order for Jesus' to satisfy his own hunger from fasting. Jesus' response is to quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." This clearly places the spiritual need above the physical, and sets God's will above human desires.

An interesting note to this comes from Pope Benedict XVI who writes, "The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God" (Jesus of Nazareth, 33). This is particularly interesting given Jesus' later example of God's love, "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" (Matthew 7:9).

I will not voice a blanket decry the efforts of the West (particularly the somewhat popular anti-American-involvement) that brings much needed political, physical and social need and recovery to many in the world that desire to have it. However, I will agree that the loss of true holistic (most notably spiritual) assistance is missing from much of the aid given to the world. Is this what is happening through our churches as well? Have our missions organizations and outreaches become content with throwing money and supply at various problems rather than investing in lasting and significant change?

Perhaps one way to evaluate this would be to examine local missional movements - how we are doing in transforming our local communities through the work of the church. Of course, the difficult first step here is to get congregations to recognize their missional activity as a way of life for all believers, not just something that happens in other cultures. (And to this is the tendency for individuals to act as 'model missionaries' while on short-term trips, but who then fail to make any significant impact on their homefronts. This is because is it easier to be Christ among people who don't really know you.)

If we are not taking an opportunity to spread the gospel and build the kingdom, are we sharing with the world the Bread of Life that Jesus self-identified as? Pope Benedict XVI continues with this as well, "The idea was that we could turn stones into bread; instead, our 'aid' has only given stones in place of bread. The issue is the primacy of God" (Ibid., emphasis mine).

So it would appear that we can give people the methods to live, but simultaneously we strip our message of any reason why people would want to live. Our churches can be architecturally appealing, they can enhance property and neighborhood values, they can open up their playgrounds as parks, and even have a pastor who is well-known and liked. But all of this community-connection fails without an active missional movement which seeks to transform lives, families and communities.

I am not advocating a return to church-community-relations that is defined by the church's Bible-beating of its community's sins. Neither am I interested in that relationship becoming so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly good. That is the point exactly. There needs to be a proper balance of the two, so that the active mission of the church is not stripped in the name of good barbecues but is found embedded in such activities for the true Bread of Life to come and feed those who are hungering most.

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