Friday, November 7, 2008

POWER

Apparently, some people make jokes about Mr. Obama winning the election. hhhmmm... *speechless* Mr. Zacharias's notes in his Facebook reminds me that Kingdom of God reigns in far different ways and systems with our fallen world... Since I lived in SG, I do understand more how most people in this country are highly thirsty of acknowledgement ^_____^ as meritocracy is applied in all aspects of life here. Manusia melihat apa yang di depan mata, tapi Tuhan melihat hati...
Parables of Power Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 9:00am [Facebook]
In 1744 commissioners of the territory of Virginia were settling the terms of a treaty with the American Indians of the Six Nations. As part of the proposed treaty, the commissioners presented the tribes with the offer of education for six of its men at the college in Williamsburg. The elders of the tribes took an evening to consider the offer, politely declined the gift, and then proposed a counteroffer. Though grateful for the proposal, the tribal leaders had already experienced the kind of learning valued by these commissioners. When some of their own young men had returned after being educated in white colleges, they brought back new knowledge, but they also returned having lost knowledge vital to their communities. "They were instructed in all your sciences, but when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, neither fit for hunters nor counselors, they were totally good for nothing.”(1) The tribal leaders then proposed a counteroffer: "To show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them."(2) It is easy to read a story like this one from early American history and fail to see the dynamics of power. We might see an interplay between interesting characters or an exchange between cultures--two groups of men both convinced they have the best way, or maybe even a comical moment between two vastly different worlds. Many of the parables Jesus told in ancient Israel can be read similarly. We can be readily occupied with the interchange of the prodigal son and the loving father, the master of the great banquet and the guests that cruelly shunned him, or the owner of a vineyard and a group of disgruntled laborers. But in each of these stories, we are remiss not to consider the dynamic of power at work amidst the characters. That is to ask, who is in a position of superiority and who holds the status of inferiority? Which is the in-group and which is the out-group? In other words, who holds the power and who is considered more or less expendable? The tribal leaders had already experienced education in white colleges and were now offering a similar encounter for the sons of the Englishmen. Their counteroffer exuded a spirit of both hospitality and reciprocity. Yet sadly, there is no indication that the Virginian commissioners considered the offer of the tribes with any degree of sincerity. The offer was disregarded, indicating that the men of the northern territory had very little to learn from the tribes of the American Indians. This story, among many others, depicts the sad dynamic of power and superiority in our unfortunate relations with the American Indian. But this is also just one people-group in a world of stories of inclusion and exclusion, all of which call out for our attention to the storyteller who reforms our ideas of belonging. Jesus fashions many of his parables with dynamics that challenge our very notions of power, social order, status, and expendability. The parable of the landowner and the vineyard, for instance, sets before us the highest of the social classes of Israel and the very lowest. With a few bold strokes, Jesus sketches a wealthy landowner with a harvest so large that he must return repeatedly for more day-laborers--men who are in turn understood as the most expendable of society, the desperate and unemployed workforce of the surrounding villages. While this parable no doubt yields countless lessons with its intricate storyline, one dynamic of the story in particular plunges us further into a well of meaning and sets us up to drink deeply of what it might mean that this is what the “kingdom of heaven is like” (Matthew 20:1). In the society who first heard this story, it would have been altogether strange to hear of such a wealthy landowner going out among the day-laborers. There were stewards who typically did the visible work within the marketplace, hired by the elites so that they could avoid the type of hostility and resentment the parable describes over wages. Yet in Jesus’s parable, it is the landowner himself who converses all day long with the laborers. “Why are you standing here idle all day?” asks the owner of the vineyard. “Because no one has hired us,” they reply. So he says to them, “You also go into the vineyard” (20:6-7). As such, Jesus creates a confrontation between social extremes, the elites and the expendables, the first and the last, two groups who might never have encountered each other in real life. What might it mean that this describes the kingdom of God? The Greek word for parable literally means "a placing beside." It is a comparison of one thing beside another, an association of pictures that teaches, a story full of extremes and reversals of these extremes. In this parable, the dynamics of power and social status bid us to reexamine the ways in which we find ourselves superior, the arguments we use to justify our status over one group or another, and the very groups in which we place ourselves and subsequently displace others. The kingdom of God and the one who reigns within it are indeed at work among us reversing social hierarchies and turning status symbols upside down. The concluding remarks of Jesus remind us what will one day be so: “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (20:16). The question is whether we will fight it or fight for it. Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. (1) Unnamed Indian chief in Peter Nabokov, ed., Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992 (New York: Viking, 1991), 214. (2) Ibid.

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