Freeing God from captivity

It seems to me that not a few people would like to place God in a familiar place, so that we can look him up when we need him.

Apr 22, 2016

By Anil Netto
It seems to me that not a few people would like to place God in a familiar place, so that we can look him up when we need him. That way, He would also be unlikely to challenge us to step beyond our comfort zones.

This was much like how the apostles were reluctant to step out of the security of their boat (a metaphor for the early Church) and tread treacherous waters to reach Jesus. They were so used to their boat, it must have felt like a second home, even when tossed and turned in a storm.

Sometimes, it is not easy to see the Spirit amidst the raging storms of the world. Or, perhaps, we are reluctant to look. For if we look hard enough, we might just about discern the presence of the Spirit in the world.

What then? Wouldn’t we feel compelled to participate in the work or mission in the Spirit, which might mean letting go of all the security we are accustomed to and stepping out of our comfort zones? What might that entail? Would the cost be too high?

As the mission statement of Jesus describes it in Luke chapter 4: 18

The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

Now, this is not easy stuff. It requires much courage and wisdom to step out of our comfort zones, to reach out to others and to speak out for those imprisoned (to proclaim liberty to captives).

It requires a major shift in our priorities to put the needs of the marginalised and the downtrodden first. Invariably, we will come across vested interests who will oppose or misinterpret such work.

One of the things that put Jesus on a collision course with the religious elite of his time was that the latter believed they had a monopoly of God and his power — and all the perks and adulation that came with it. Theirs, however, was a god that was unreachable, who couldn’t see or understand the suffering and oppression the ordinary people were experiencing So when Jesus set about showing the people another side of God — His love, His justice, and compassion — this challenged the status quo and the neat collaboration between the local military, the political and the religious elite. The religious elite squirmed, fidgeted and shifted in their seats.

The way Jesus described it, this heavenly Father struck a chord among the poor and the downtrodden, for He was passionately concerned about them and their lives — even whether they had enough to eat (the feeding of the multitude) or whether they were sick.

This was so different from the prevailing theology of the time which placed God behind the veil of the temple in the holiest of holies. Only reachable by the temple high priest, who was allowed to pass from the holy place, beyond the veil or curtain, to the ‘Holy of Holies’ — once a year.

When Jesus died, something significant happened, as described in Matthew chapter 27:

50 But Jesus, again crying out in a loud voice, yielded up his spirit.

51 And suddenly, the veil of the Sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked, the rocks were split...

It was as if God was releasing himself from ‘captivity’ so that His power, His Spirit could work with us to free all those held in various forms of captivity, and healing those who were sick or broken and needed reconciling.

Forty years after the tearing down of the veil, the temple itself would be destroyed.

This splitting of the curtain and the destruction of the temple itself may be seen as another metaphor: no longer would God allow himself to be shackled in a confined space. His Spirit is working everywhere in the world, not just in temples and holy places, important as they are, to remind us of the divine presence in the world.

But it is not just a physical breakthrough from a confined space. The challenge now is to break down our own mental blocks, the veils in our minds that try and confine God in our own comfort zones. These mental blocks condition us to the kind of places or communities where we can expect to find God and encounter Jesus.

But in reality, we could be missing out in encountering Jesus in the “distressing disguise” (as Mother Teresa put it) of the poor and the marginalised, and other ostracised groups, or among those working in so many different ways, no matter how insignificant, to bring about the kingdom that Jesus heralded all those years ago.

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