By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“My word that I speak will not fail to do what I plan for it; it will do everything I send it to do” — Isaiah 55:11
National Bible Week
The celebration of National Bible Week this month of January is an affirmation of the power of God’s Word to renew life and transform society. Prophet Isaiah declared that whenever God’s Word is spoken we would never be the same again. We read in Isaiah 55:11 God saying, “My word that I speak will not fail to do what I plan for it; it will do everything I send it to do.”
No doubt God’s Word is spoken almost every day in different pulpits throughout our land. Access to the written Word of God – the Bible – is available almost everywhere today, which we never had before. However, the apparent success of the wicked makes us wonder whether or not God’s Word is really yielding any effect in our society and in people’s lives. Our inclusion among the most corrupt nation in Asia despite our claim to be the only Christian country in this part of the world cause us to raise questions on the transforming power of God’s Word.
Parable of the Sower
Similarly, during Luke’s time, the Gospel writer had observed the slow growth of the Jesus Movement. God’s Word seemed to have lost its transforming power. Luke tried to explain this phenomenon by using one of Jesus’ parables. It is a simple parable taken from an ordinary event in Palestine. It is called the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15).
The story is about a man who went to sow grain. The seeds sown carelessly, or in poor soil, or on land infested with thorns, were unfruitful. But the seeds sown in a fertile soil produced abundantly and assumed a good harvest.
Jesus originally used this parable to encourage his disciples in the faith that his proclamation of the good news of God’s Kingdom would prove fruitful in spite of the strong opposition of the religious and political powers of his day.
In explaining the Parable, Luke reflected the missionary problem of the Early Church that he had been dealing with. He saw the slowness of the Jesus’ Movement that rendered God’s Word seemingly powerless. Some of those who hear the Gospel message never had faith because of the machinations of the devil. Others gave up their faith in trial. And still others had their faith submerged by the cares and pleasures of this life.
But nevertheless, Luke firmly believed that the Jesus Movement will go on, and that God’s Word will manifest its power in and through those who listen to the Gospel message and retain it in a good and obedient heart.
Paradox of Faith
Through the Parable, Luke is saying to us, first of all, that the power of God’s Word is revealed in terms of its opposite. This is one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian faith.
God’s Word manifests its power not in the thrones and crowns of the mighty, but rather in the degradation and humiliation of the lowly. The good news of God’s Kingdom Jesus preached triggered a strong opposition from the powers-that-be that led him to the cross. The cross is the deepest manifestation of the powerlessness of God’s Word.
Hence, a Christianity founded on the cross is a suffering, powerless Christianity in the eyes of the world. Those who took seriously the cross of Christ ended helplessly in the prison cells or in a cruel death. Indeed, the Early Christians were a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire.
However, it is a divine mystery that out of this powerlessness, God’s Word has shown its might. Out of the cross of Christ, authentic possibilities are revealed to us. Out of the blood of countless martyrs, there emerged a strong movement ready to shake the very foundation of the powers and principalities of this world for the sake of Him who died on the cross.
We are living today in dangerous times. Most of our people live below the poverty line. Those who translate the Gospel message into concrete expressions of love and concern are branded as “leftists”, “communists”, “subversives”, etc. They are imprisoned or even killed. Telling the truth in these critical times is a matter of life and death. God’s Word of truth appears to be powerless, indeed.
But nevertheless, this should not lead us to despair, for out of this powerlessness, the power of God’s Word is revealed. This is our hope; this is our courage to be.
Refusal to Listen
Moreover, Luke is also saying to us through the Parable of the Sower that the apparent powerlessness of God’s Word is due primarily to our refusal to listen to what God is saying to us in our present time and situation.
Filipino Christians today are caught in the crossroad of a so-called identity-involvement dilemma. The more they become relevant to our time, the more they lose their traditional identity. The more they cling to their traditional identity, the more they become irrelevant to our time.
This is a serious problem that is polarizing Filipino Christians today. On one hand, we have the so-called religious radicals or progressives who try to translate the Gospel message into flesh and blood. But in the long run, they lost their identity with the institutional church. They soon realize that they are not only fighting the political status quo, but also the established church. Hence, their fellow Christians ostracized them, especially the institutional church that is collaborating with the political powers.
On the other hand, we also have the so-called guardians of traditions or conservatives as popularly known. They also try to relate the Gospel to present realities, but when they are faced with the advancement of the people’s movement, they retreat to their dogmas and traditions that are divorced from the harsh realities of life. And when they try to assert their relevance, they drop it at the middle of the journey because they become more concerned with the preservation of their own institution and identity.
Our God is the Lord of history. He could never be imprisoned in our dogmas and traditions or in our self-made efforts to bring about radical changes in our society. God speaks to us in many ways, sometimes in ways that are surprisingly new, something our finite minds could not fully understand. Hence, we need to be open always to new possibilities of God’s encounter with us, and to new dimensions of God’s Word for our time and situation.
Obedience to God’s Will
Finally, Luke is also saying to us through the Parable of the Sower that the power of God’s Word is manifested in and through our obedience to God’s will.
One of the greatest commentaries of Christian discipleship is the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer lived during the heyday of Nazism in Germany. He became a leader of the underground confessional church. He was captured in connection to an aborted assassination plot against Hitler. He was imprisoned and later on executed by the Nazis.
Before he was captured, he went to the United States to strengthen the contacts between the Confessional Church and American Christianity. His friends advised him not to return to Germany because his life was at stake. But he did not listen to their advice.
On the eve of his departure, he wrote a letter to his American friend, Reinhold Niebuhr, saying: “I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and therefore destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make this choice in security.”
God’s Word is very hard to love, especially in our time. For at the center is the cross. Our commitment to God’s Word is oftentimes tested. We are sometimes lured by comfortable positions and security. Jesus should have abandoned the cross. Bonhoeffer should have remained in the comfortable classrooms of American universities. But it is not their will, but God’s will be done. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will… but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).
The call of the hour is for us to offer our lives in obedience to God’s will, for it is only in this way that the transforming power of God’s Word is truly manifested in our time and place.# nordis.net