Overcoming The Paternalism of The Informed: Calisto Odede on Luke 5

24 Aug 2011 21:05

This weekend, I'm at Urbana, a gathering of Christian students interested in the work of the church worldwide. Over the next few days, I will be blogging two kinds of sessions. Sessions like this morning's gathering are intended to inspire and challenge Christian students to consider international service. This afternoon, I'll be blogging more focused seminars, where smaller groups discuss specific issues.

Today, I'll be blogging seminars on the theology of immigration and the place for graduate students in the global church.

Last night, Calisto Odede unpacked the mission statement of made by Jesus in Luke 4. Today, we consider the story of Simon in Luke 5, who Jesus asks to leave his nets, follow Jesus, and become a "fisher of men."

The session begins with a musical drama based on the story of Luke 5.

Next, Andy Kim, leads an "Asian-American style" set of worship songs:

Attendees responded to the sets on Twitter. Christian organisational accounts took photos and tweeted the kind of response that they hope Christian students online and in the dome will give to the worship session:

Next up, Karen Ngooi talks about an experience she had living in a slum in Thailand. "I had a choice to swallow the hardship for a summer, or admit my weakness and run to Jesus." Watching the injusice and poverty around her, she learned that following Christ is a process-- saying Yes to Jesus is just the first of many such choices. There, Karen saw that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor; she learned from the poor what it means to deny one's self and trust in God. Looking back, she found it incredibly difficult, but she has now chosen to tie her destiny with the poor.

Calisto now begins his talk by reading Luke 5:17-36, the story of a paralyzed man whose friends bring him to Jesus. When Jesus sees him, he verbally forgives the paralyzed man's sins. The surrounding crowd, which includes prominent theologians, is surprised at this. In the story, Jesus surprises them further by healing the man's inability to walk.

Luke 5 shows cases where Jesus overrules the ideas of experts, according to Calisto. In the fishing story, Jesus uses a miracle to exceed Peter's expectations of a meager catch. In the story of the paralytic, Jesus exceeds the expectations of the theologians who have gathered to hear him.

Sometimes, when we look at Christianity, Calisto tells us, we only see the pastor, staff workers, and musicians. Ultimately, we should be looking for what God is doing. In this story, the power of God is set against the doctors of the law, the gatekeepers of what the people should learn and do. None of us should dismiss what God is doing on the grounds of our tradition, background. We should avoid the paternalistic arrogance of the informed and be open to what God might want to do in our lives, he says.

This paternalism has often infected Christian missions. Calisto tells us the story of John Ryland, who silenced the aspiring missionary William Carey with the line, "sit down young man, you're an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me."

Why does Jesus forgive this man? Might his paralysis have resulted from some greater sin? We do not know, Calisto says, telling us that the man's greatest need was to be forgiven. Calisto complains that we don't discuss "sin" any more, that contemporary culture has cauterised its conscience with words like "preferences" and "lifestyles." Calisto tells the audience that as some of us consider a longer term career of service, we should deal with our sin.

Calisto tells the story of a man who came to his church in Kenya and became a Christian. The man's life was transformed. He stopped taking drugs and started to pray for the wife that had justly left him. What happened to this man? Jesus had become his friend.

Christians should aspire to be like the paralytic man's friends, who carried him to see Jesus. Do our friends know that we're Christians? Why not, he asks. Most people become Christians because someone told them about Jesus. Calisto tells us about "shoe shine evangelism" by Christian students at the University of Nairobi. They set up a shoe shine station and talked to their friends about Christianity while shining their shoes.

In Luke 5, the religious experts are horrified by Jesus's claim that he could forgive sins. Surely only God could do that. Their theology was correct, Calisto argues, but they failed to realise that Jesus was in fact God. When Jesus healed the paralytic man, he demonstrated his power to do both.

An age of pluralism which puts Jesus on a similar level to other religious teachers. "I want to put Jesus above all of them," Calisto intones. In Luke 5, Jesus demonstrates his power to change and transform the lives of people. "Let us go out

Recently while speaking in Mombasa, Calisto met with teenage girls from WEMA, an NGO which supports street children. One of the girls read a poem, which I excerpt here...

I was nothing but a piece of rubbish,

sitting idly by the side of the road

I lay there desperate, I cried
no one stopped passing by
some looked with scorn and disgust
I was nothing but a piece of garbage
I was a prostitute, I am destitute
I am a gambler, I am a leper,
I am a drug addict, I am a convict,
I am a murderer, I am a drug dealer,
I am handicapped, I am dying,
I am a sinner

one day, I met a man...
oh, his face so different from any other man,
so full of love, mercy, and compassion
he held his stick, looking into the dust.
He saw me, smiled, and picked me up, tears in his eyes
he pressed me into his heart
At last I have found you
It was Jesus Christ, the garbage collector who found me

"You and I are just pieces of garbage which Jesus Christ picked up," Calisto intones, raising his voice to an urgent pitch:

"Where would you be if it wasn't for those words that have been uttered to you, "your sins are forgiven you?" Our friends, neighbours, relatives out there are waiting to hear that word, an the only way they will hear it will be if we press in against every kind of force and obstruction to bring them the message that they too can receive forgiveness.

"Are you enlisted in his service?" Calisto asks and walks offstage.

The session ends with a song from the official Urbana album.