Doing Christian Theology with Jesus in Asia

By Song, Choan-Seng | International Review of Mission, January-April 1995 | Go to article overview
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Doing Christian Theology with Jesus in Asia

Song, Choan-Seng, International Review of Mission

For Jesus faith is a matter of life rather than doctrine. For him it is not so much how you worship God in heaven as how you live with your neighbour in the word. Faith for Jesus is not a set of principles but the power of life. It is not even a creed to be recited but the moral power to do what is right and compassionate. It must be this kind of faith that compelled Jesus to concern himself with how we human beings ought to be related to one another and to reflect upon what we mean to God and God to us. And it is that faith of his which enabled him to respond to the distress and hope, pain and love in the hearts of women and men around him and to be in deep communion with God in trust and love.

If this is his faith, this must also be his theology. Theology for Jesus could not have been something he did behind the back of his faith. Nor did he engage himself with faith as an object of theological reflection, an object that he could handle and manipulate at will, an object that he could mold to please the whims of his audience. Theology for him must have been his faith in action, faith that makes non-sense of much that makes sense in the word, and faith that makes sense of much that makes no sense in the world. How did he do it? How did he go about it? We must now turn to these questions, doing theology with him and learning to do our theology from him, that is, not theology in general, not theology in abstraction, but theology tested and developed in relation to particular issues in particular situations.

To save life or to kill on the sabbath? (Jesus' theology of the sabbath)

It was the sabbath day. Jesus, according to Mark's gospel, had been in the town of Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The whole town, with Jesus among them, were gathered at the synagogue for worship. There was nothing unusual in what they had to do on that particular sabbath day. By putting aside all their work and coming to the synagogue, they were doing what their forebears had done for centuries. It was their religious tradition and social custom. But they knew it was more than that. It represented the essence of their faith. It was the heart of their devotion. And it was the test of their loyalty to the community of men and women with unique history and special relation with God.

No one had anticipated that this particular sabbath would be different from all the previous ones. Everything they should know and believe about the institution of the sabbath was to be found in the Torah (Law), their sacred scriptures. This is what is said about it in the second book of the Torah, called Exodus:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or alien residents in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.(1)

Those gathered together in the synagogue, including Jesus, knew by heart this injunction on the sabbath. This was the "theology of the sabbath" in its most fundamental form. The sabbath had a deep theological root, going all the way back to God who created heaven and earth in the beginning of time. In their faith and theology, the sabbath was as old as God's creation.

The sabbath is holy because it has its origin in God. This is theo-logy in a literal sense of the word. Theology of the sabbath is an inalienable part of the theology of creation. As God created heaven and earth and all things in them, so God "blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it." This "sabbath command," of course, is inspired by the story of creation in the first book of the Torah. "So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it," as the story goes, "because on it God rested from the work that God had done in creation.

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