By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
FIRST OF TWO PARTS
“The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.”- Matthew 9:37-38
Theological Education Sunday
The second Sunday of November is designated as Theological Education Sunday. Theological education is basically our task of equipping men and women for the Christian ministry. And Jesus Christ our Lord should always be our example in doing theological education.
Our Biblical text for reflections (Mt. 9:35-38) could help us understand better the kind of theological education patterned after Jesus Christ our Lord. This is about an incident when he went around, visiting all the towns and villages, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom of God, and healing people with every kind of disease and sickness. And as Jesus saw the masses of people his heart was filled with compassion for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
And so, Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest” (vs. 37-38).
Now, what do this incident in Jesus’ life got to do with doing theological education in our time? Is there something in this incident that would help us understand better what theological education is all about?
And so, let us therefore look more closely into our Biblical text, and try to draw out some valuable insights for doing theological education in our time.
Goes Out to People
Our Scripture Lesson is reminding us first of all that theological education following Jesus’ model is a theological education that goes out to people. Verse 35 says that “Jesus went around visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness.”
Jesus was not contented of just sitting down and waiting for people to come to him. He went around to where the people are and taught them, preached to them, and healed them. Jesus trained his disciples, not so much inside the Temple or inside the synagogues, but more so in the outside world as Jesus and his disciples walked with the people beside the sea, in the mountain side, or in the open fields.
Hence, a theological education patterned after Jesus Christ our Lord should not also be contented of just sitting down and waiting for people to come for theological training. A theological education following Jesus’ example should also be done where the people are. Since very few people could come to the Seminary for training, the seminary should go out where the people are and train them where they are.
One of the important features of our programs and services here at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary is the so-called Open Seminary Program. It is an attempt to bring our Seminary to the people. It is a way of doing theological education where the people are.
Of course, this is not an easy way of doing theological education, given our meager human and material resources. It is much easier and more comfortable to just sit down and just wait for people to come over to the Seminary to be trained, than to go out where the people are and face all the dangers and difficulties in the process.
Takes People’s Life Situations Seriously
But why do we follow this more difficult way of doing theological education? It is simply because our Scripture Lesson is also reminding us that theological education patterned after Jesus Christ our Lord should take people’s life situations seriously. Verse 36 says that “as (Jesus) saw the crowds, his heart was filled with compassion for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I do believe it was Jesus’ exposure to the realities of people’s lives that made him compassionate to people. It was Jesus’ compassion for people that motivated him to teach and preach about the Kingdom of God and to heal and restore people’s broken lives into wholeness. Taking the cause of people as human beings, worried and helpless as they are, is the very core of Jesus’ teaching, preaching, and healing ministries.
It is significant to note the difference between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees. While, on the one hand, the Scribes and the Pharisees emphasized “holiness,” Jesus Christ our Lord, on the other hand, emphasized compassion for people in his mission and ministry as well as in the theological training of his disciples.
The problem of emphasizing “holiness” in theological education is that it tends to make a person self-righteous and condescending towards other people. That’s the reason why the Scribes and Pharisees would easily condemn the poor, the tax collectors, and sinners, who, unlike themselves, could not follow the laws of holiness. That’s the reason why the Pharisee who prayed inside the Temple said, “I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there. I fast two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all my income” (Lk.18:11-12).
But, on the other hand, by emphasizing compassion, Jesus was also able to educate his disciples to be more understanding and forgiving towards other people, especially the poor, the sinners, the sick and outcasts of society, even those whom they considered enemies. Thus, Jesus said to his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt.5: 44). “Be compassionate as your Father (in heaven) is compassionate” (Lk.6:36). Indeed, Jesus taught his disciples to pray like the tax collector in the Temple saying, “O God, have compassion on me, a sinner!”(Lk.18:13). #nordis.net