When I was studying at Columbia Theological Seminary, we were required to complete a course on contextual theology. The main emphasis of the course was to challenge us to be reflective when considering our contexts for engaging in ministry. One day our professor used an analogy which I have never forgotten. When we are asked to consider our contexts for living or ministry, it is a little like asking a fish to describe the water in the fishbowl where he lives. It is a difficult thing to do! I share this because as we stay at home, this is an opportunity to consider our social, political, religious and economic contexts. What about our contexts are good and life giving, and what is life diminishing and sinful?
I have been reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ last week of life. Matthew succinctly describes what Jesus thought was life giving and what was sinful. In fact, Jesus does not mince words.
The first thing Jesus does, after entering into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, is head to the Temple. It was a place of worship for the Jews, but during this holiday week of Passover, the city is full of foreigners, who are also headed to the Temple for prayer. Jesus becomes irate with what he sees is going on in this religious, holy place of worship. Sales people have set up tables in the courtyard, peddling animals to be used in the sacrifice of worship. What is infuriating to Jesus is the economic injustice he sees – those with more money are able to buy the bigger animals for sacrifice. Its how the religious elite made money for their institutional maintenance and to line their pockets. Jesus wasn’t critical of having money; he was critical of how money was being used to divide. This is Jesus’ first encounter after entering Jerusalem.
The last thing Jesus does before he is betrayed and arrested is preach a sermon, one of my favorites – in Matthew 25. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people like a shepherd separates goats and sheep. And he will say to the sheep, ‘Come, you are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” He goes on to say that whenever we do this to the least of these, we do it to Christ himself. These are Jesus’ final words to his followers before his betrayal and arrest.
Holy Week, as we call it, is bracketed, according to Matthew, by Jesus’ absolute criticism of the misuse of money so that it creates a divide between those who have special privileges and those who are simply trying to survive. He closes the bracket with a call to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, provide water for those who thirst, clothe and visit.
Perhaps, during this stay at home time, we might reflect about how, in our culture today, we have misused money to separate people. All those institutions which give privilege to those who have money and overlook the needs of those who have none. And we might also consider how we are doing with Jesus’ admonitions to feed, clothe, welcome, care for and visit. Apparently, these were important issues for Jesus, given that this is what he was doing and teaching in the final days of his life. And when our stay at home time ends, how will the church of Jesus Christ be a voice for the issues which Jesus considered to be of most importance?
It is difficult to do contextual theology, but it affords us an opportunity to live as God intended for us to live.
Reverend debbie osterhoudt
I am very excited to join in the ministry at Peace Presbyterian Church as interim pastor! I graduated from Vanderbilt University and received my Master of Divinity from Columbia Seminary in Decatur, GA. Before serving at Peace Presbyterian, I served in Triangle area churches as pastor, associate pastor and interim pastor for 33 years. I have a passion for my ministry and study, travel, walking, sailing (which I learned from my father) and gardening.