Genesis 45:1-7; 1Corinthians 9:18-27
Our text speaks one of the family battles in the Old Testament. Usually, when war or battle is waged, we come to think of two factors involved: the place of encounter and the persons in oppositions. In military expeditions they call the place as the battlefield, in other terms called mission-fields and the opponent as the target of the mission is called the enemy. I would like to invite you to a war, however; we are not going to Iraq. And if you come with me it is very important for us to join together in the identification of the enemy and mission-field. It is as significant as we want the certainty of our victory in this struggle.
I. Who is the ultimate enemy?
In twenty years, a painful experience could have been forgotten by anyone whether on the part of the offender or the offended. If it would not have been forgotten, somehow any feeling caused by the offense may have been lighter to deal with. In our story, it was at an unexpected time and opportunity, and in the call of need, for more or less two decades the painful experience among the brothers was recalled in a mysterious way.
To Joseph’s brothers, the long-lost had been found and the dead made alive, and the enemy had come to revenge. Joseph reveals himself saying, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” The secret concealed for many years was revealed.
Joseph now is the governor of Egypt endowed with political and economic powers humbly revealed himself in the atmosphere of the purest brotherly affection and grateful acknowledgment of divine goodness. It was a startling revelation to his lowly brothers. They could not believe it, but it was a fact despite all their expectations.
In recognition of him by his brothers that he, Joseph was real, they were terrified. Not only did Joseph’s present greatness overwhelm them, but the recollection of their former crimes against him, and the doubt whether indeed the past was forgiven combined to make them troubled at his presence.
The free gesture and manifestation of love Joseph wanted to convey when he said,” Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” What he said was hindered by their fears of their past for they expected punishment that would inevitably crush them. But they were wrong. It was an astounding experience that power that has all the chance to take advantage of the powerless has served as an instrument of the affirmation of a genuine personhood. Joseph was not their real enemy. More than a brother, he was a true friend.
I was reminded of the message delivered by our professor in Spirituality, Dr. Lillian Gallo-Seagren during one of the chapel hours at Union Theological Seminary. The title of her message was “Favorite Stories and Forbidden Tales.” I learned from her message that in human life, there is that unwanted side kept in secrecy and there is a side that can be exalted and magnified overtly. In my ponderings, how would I appreciate the forbidden tales of my life and make them my favorite stories and possibly serve them as turning points in my life in a community that does not know how to forgive? Suppose this is the only self I have? What happens if I am going to reveal it? Would the community where I belong understand me? Would the church, which I consider a family with parents, brothers, and sisters whom I could cling onto, not condemn me and label me as unethical and foolish? Probably the most secure stance in this kind of world is secrecy, it is against you; it’s shameful; just keep it. Nobody is trusted; everyone is an enemy.
But while I find secured from what I consider as an outward enemy, I could not resist the conflicts within me that provokes absence of peace. My private and public life do not authenticate each other; there is no harmony in my whole being. There were times I come to realize that my ultimate enemy is myself. I have not forgiven myself. Though how I want to hide it, people can discern that something is wrong with me.
In identical venture, the Church vigorously and unceasingly strives to identify individuals, organizations, structures, and systems that go against the Christian precepts and convictions. Its prophetic conquests in some ways displayed in arrogant victory, but the secular world in ceaseless cry shouts against her. The world continues to mock at us saying, “more holiness in the heart and life.” Our experiences teach us not just to go on for a mission but also to identify our ultimate enemy. The Church must learn to defeat herself before she can ultimately defeat her enemy.
In the encounter of the separated brothers, it was an experience of great confusion as to what the day would bring. Joseph’s brothers come to realize the whole of their being; their personhood in their own home with their family is just a part and parcel of their total personhood when they were in Joseph’s presence. Doubts and fears overwhelmed them, however, in their evident helplessness, words of encouragement and assurance “ It is me, don’t be afraid”, gave them hope to live and find meaning from that moment and their future.
God knows the totality of our own being. God affirms our personhood. From personal to corporate life, we have our own doubts. We have our fears because sometime in the past, we have sinned. But despite all these, God had overruled it for our welfare. God reveals himself to us and surrounds us more and more with the embrace of his love. Through this, we lose the constraint of our painful remembrance and rejoice with all our hearts in present peace and future glory.
God has empowered us to live confidently in Christ, and as members of Christ and children of God, not only for the doctrine to which one is familiar with each term but the practical reception of it.
II. Where are our Mission-fields?
Secondly, Dr. Denman said, “If you have Christ in your hearts you are evangelists, but if you don’t have Christ in your hearts, you are mission-fields.”
In military warfare, mission-field is where oppositions encounter and stage war. It is where victory and defeat take place. It is where the goal is directed, intended and accomplished.
Remembering our experiences in the early ’70s to late ’80s when the New People’s Army (NPA) entered Quirino and staged their mass campaigns in several barangays mostly in the forest regions including our own, recruiting new members and adherents of their ideology. They were accepted in the homes with warm hearts and hospitality. They ate with us, have fellowship with us and we even shared our common joys and burdens. Time had come that they have to flee. The military had deployed their men and built detachments in strategic areas, rendered operations in prospect hiding places of the NPA’s. Several places were identified as mission areas and for sure they were battlegrounds where lives have been shed.
During the presence of the NPA, the people claimed for justice and peace, justice in the share of providing subsistence. The people seem to be tired of hard work and contributions for the seemingly unending dependence. Peace and freedom for the community have been disturbed by the malady of insecurity. When the NPA is gone the problem lingered in the presence of the military. The event that happened did not matter; the mission-field that opened its breast, shed with blood remained a ground of brokenness because the people within are continually broken down. Thinking of the fact that the military had victoriously vanquished over their opponent thereby winning the battle is a deceitful display of the truth. The purpose of the mission to bring peace and justice in the community is not realized. The ultimate mission-field where the problem lies is wrongly identified.
On a Sunday, I was touched by the remark of our Sunday school class. We were sharing our experiences as individuals and a Church in our involvement in Christian witness and service. And we tried to identify those areas where we have participated in oppositions. One member said, “Well, it’s true that we can have those things in macro-level and we think of things in macro-level but we forget ourselves being involved in it in micro-level, and to cite one is consumerism.”
During our school days at Union Theological Seminary, the community is very much aware of the CALABARZON project. In the gentlemen’s dormitory, one of the hot discussions is all about pollution, the effects of the Industrial Centers presently operating in the CALABARZON. Some of the students who went to a rally against the project tend to look down on other students who were not able to participate, by saying, “Walang paki-alam sa nangyayari.” However, the person who uttered those words of a challenge was then unconsciously polluting himself at that moment. The other guy responded, “what about you, you advocate against pollution but you are polluting yourself and the dormitory with cigarette smoke.” The advocate said, “don’t you know that the equivalent of an industrial center is 1million cigarette smokers?” Then the other guy responded, “so if there are one hundred industrial centers and there are 50million smokers, that makes it a 150 industrial centers that would pollute the whole world.” “Who do you think of yourself and advocate against pollution or a perpetrator in disguise of advocacy?”
The story ended there and I am not certain if they had some time to deepen the concern. However, this reminds us to re-examine our convictions, our life as a Church and our practical responses to the call of the times and say to ourselves, have we fought the battle in the right battleground?
The presence of enemies and mission-fields are signs of brokenness in the human-nature relationship caused by sin. No one can deny it, we are all victims.
Illustration—The Need for Brokenness
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful garden. The Master of the garden expressed great pride in his plants. But he reserved a special place near his heart for the beloved bamboo tree.
One day the master went to the bamboo and said, “Bamboo, I would use you.” The bamboo was overjoyed, in his master’s words, all his hopes, aspirations, and dreams became flesh. Drawing himself to his full height, he replied, “Master, I am ready, use me.” Bamboo, the Master continued, “in order to use you, I must cut you down.” Cut me down? “Use me master, but please don’t cut me down.” Bamboo, explained the master, “unless I cut you down, I cannot use you.” The master continued, “in order to use you, I must also strip your leaves and branches from you.” Please, No! Bamboo exclaimed. “Cut me down, but please don’t deprive me of my adornment.” I can’t use you unless I do, replied the Master. “Then do it”, Bamboo said. The Master continued, Bamboo, “if I use you, I must also divide you in half and cut out your heart. Very submissive now, Bamboo only nodded his head.
So the Master cut down Bamboo, stripped his branches and leaves and cut out his heart. Then he took him to a very dry place in his field where a spring of cold, sparkling water bubbled up out of the ground. He laid one end of Bamboo into the pool and the other end into the water channel in his field. Soon, water gurgled along the Bamboo into the thirsty field. The days came and went, the rice was planted and grew, and finally the harvest came. Only then did once glorious Bamboo realized that his Master could only use him when he was broken. But then he became a channel of life to his Master’s world. (Merrill Williams)
To the youth, women, and men, and children alike, we only have one mission—the mission of God. God calls each and every one of us to participate in the healing of a broken world. We are already broken, but God in a special way is ever willing to break us again, mold us, and cleanse us in order to become new, and finally, use us as channels to give life.
Apostle Paul said, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” We all run for the prize of peace, love, and justice, we long for it and we want to experience it. But knowledge about the enemy is not enough; knowledge about the mission-field is not enough. It is in the total conquest over self and surrender to God’s discipline and guidance that gives the ultimate success. For if not, we are considered enemies and mission-fields. Amen!