This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with aheadline from world news:
NORTH TO SOUTH KOREA CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, “WE WILL ATTACK YOU WITHOUT MERCY”
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
11-14 For the grace of God, which can save every man, has now become known, and it teaches us to have no more to do with godlessness or the desires of this world but to live, here and now, responsible, honourable and God-fearing lives. And while we live this life we hope and wait for the glorious denouement of the Great God and of Jesus Christ our saviour. For he gave himself for us all, that he might rescue us from all our evil ways and make for himself a people of his own, clean and pure, with our hearts set upon living a life that is good.
15 Tell men of these things, Titus. Urge them to action, using a reprimand where necessary with all the authority of God’s minister—and as such let no one treat you with contempt.
Instructions for the Christians of Crete
3 1-2 Remind your people to recognise the power of those who rule and bear authority. They must obey the laws of the state and be prepared to render whatever good service they can. They are not to speak evil of any man, they must not be argumentative but gentle, showing themselves agreeable to everybody.
3-8a For we ourselves have known what it is to be ignorant, disobedient and deceived, the slaves of various desires and pleasant feelings, while our lives were spent in malice and jealousy—we were hateful and we hated each other. But when the kindness of God our saviour and his love towards man appeared, he saved us—not by virtue of any moral achievements of ours, but by the cleansing power of a new birth and the moral renewal of the Holy Spirit, which he gave us so generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. The result is that we are acquitted by his grace, and can look forward to inheriting life for evermore. This is solid truth.
A man is writing in the name of Paul, to a younger man with responsibility for a Christian community, whom he calls Titus, after the disciple of Paul. This was not considered a deception at the time, but rather a way of honouring the memory of the great missionary by continuing his work, doubtless after his death. We know this is not by Paul because it contains none of his typical vocabulary or unique theology. The first era of Christian mission has passed ; it’s probably into the second century CE and the young Christian communities are beginning to organise themselves for survival and growth within the Roman Empire. Christianity, unlike Judaism, was not a “permitted religion” in the Empire, which explains the care taken here to urge quiet citizenship, which would gain the new religion a good name. “Responsible, honourable and God-fearing” are terms that maybe lack the excitement of the first days of Christian belonging but they show a desire to live in society rather than simply hoping that the “Great Denouement” will arrive very soon.
The most powerful section of this passage is the one that begins, “For we ourselves have known….” The author reminds his colleague of the selfish, careless, hate-filled lives they all once led. What has transformed them? The KINDNESS of God in Jesus, who rescued them by his love and transformed their hearts by his Spirit. The”cleansing power of a new birth and the “moral renewal of the Holy Spirit” point to the expectation that Christian faith will involve a complete change of behaviour. This modest trust in the goodness of God and in the promise of eternal life is the means by which the Christian communities overcame the sometimes vicious opposition of Imperial Rome. It is a virtue which may continue to strengthen the church amid the brutalities of current capitalism.
And if such a trust is needed in the world’s democracies, how much more in North Korea, where the population is expected to worship the Great Leader and his family. Amongst
other tiny hidden opposition groups, there are Christians, Catholic, Protest ant and Orthodox, who suffer the most cruel persecution. Reading a bible can mean summary execution. This extreme example shows the limitation of the “responsible citizenship” commanded in the Titus letter. There are times when the state has to be identified as an enemy, and silence, courage and cunning added to an unbroken trust in the kindness of God.