Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Impact of Consumerism and Market Oriented Culture to Human Spirituality

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:27-38

            Mark records one of the most important events in the life of Jesus.  Peter, as the main source of the gospel of Mark, gives Mark firsthand experience of the event.  It happens when Jesus asks his disciples the most crucial question of all time.  This is the question that shakes every foundation.  This is the question that challenges every belief.  This is the question that reorients people to the right direction.  Only by answering this question right that people may begin to live properly.  His disciples are pushed to the limit by two simple questions.  First question is about what people say regarding Jesus.  This is an easier version of the question, because it only requires research.  A simple investigation and reporting skill will suffice in
answering this first question.  So his disciples quickly answer his question according to what they have heard on the street when they did their interviews and surveys.  But all the answers they report are just preliminary findings, which may be right or wrong.  The answers on the street build cases to be discussed and pondered further in order to find the truth.  People’s opinions are divided into many different perspectives based on their experiences with Jesus, about Jesus, and based on what their discussion regarding reports and rumors or even stories about Jesus on the street.  In their process of making conclusion, they could not help but finding similarities with great people of the past.  It is very normal for researchers to find pattern in their analysis by making reference to the past, be it past events or past greats.  In the past they find solace, for in the past they at least know that things have been confirmed and established, and thus accepted in the consensus of public agreement.  So the disciples too feel secure in reporting the street survey result to Jesus without any pressure, for the burden of proof of the answer lies not with them but with the people they research.
            Jesus does not stop there, however.  The second question proves to be more difficult.  This is the crucial question I mentioned earlier.  The question that touches the very bed of every soul.  Every living person on earth is forced to answer, ready or not it doesn’t matter.  His disciples have to answer they themselves think or understand who Jesus is.  This time nobody dares to answer.  Quite different from the first question, this time the disciples have to dig deep within themselves.  They have the background from their market survey, but yet there is no one single answer that can light up the path brightly.  No, they can’t find the answer from the survey answers they got from the street.  Relying on the street answers does not bring confidence in them.  They feel it in their heart that something is greatly missing from the market survey.  But yet those are the only answers they got.  Their research method is valid.  They have a strong case to build upon from the research they conducted.  But yet somehow those answers don’t rest easy with their spirit.  No, Jesus is not John the Baptist.  Even though the public is so in to that theory.  The evidence is plenty, given the context of the belief regarding a greatly honored prophet.  So it is very logical following the logic of the day to see Jesus as the resurrected John the Baptist.  How much more the authority of the Jewish people, King Herod himself made his opinion public that Jesus is John the Baptist that has risen (cf. Mark 6:14-16).  The miracles Jesus performed cannot be denied.  So the public goes crazy with that theory.  But deep down, the disciples know that Jesus can’t be John the Baptist.  They have seen it with their own eyes that John and Jesus are two different people.  The testimony in the baptism of Jesus cannot be ignored.  So their heart can’t accept the theory that Jesus is John the Baptist.
            And no, Jesus is not Elijah either.  Elijah is different.  He might have a big name among the people due to what he had done on Mount Carmel when he fought the 400 prophets of Baal.  The great performance he gave and the confirmation from Yahweh on the battle was a big testimony of Elijah’s honor as a great prophet.  People think that there are similarities between Jesus and Elijah.  They both are a man of God.  They both perform great miracles, the raising of the dead – which in the story of the Old Testament only two prophets have done it, Elijah and Elisha, and in the time of Jesus, Jesus is the only one that could do it.  They both got confirmation from Yahweh.  Besides, there is a prophecy that Elijah is coming back (Malachi 4:5).  Who else can be the great prophet Elijah other than Jesus?  So the public opinion too is formed strongly to imagine Jesus as the Elijah that comes back to fulfill the prophecy in Malachi.  But yet, the disciples too feel something is missing with this strong public opinion.  They feel it in their heart that Jesus is greater than Elijah.  Somehow.  But they don’t know yet who Jesus is.  They can’t be sure.  Their question earlier in Mark 4:41: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  They have never seen this before.  Nothing has ever been heard about someone controlling wind and wave before.  Not even Elijah could do it.  Elijah had to pray and waited before the cloud then appeared.  No, Jesus is greater.  He can’t be Elijah.  So the disciples too are not convinced that Jesus is Elijah.
            And no, Jesus is not just one of the prophets.  He is a prophet for sure.  But he is much more than any prophets.  No one has ever said anything so captivating like Jesus.  No one has performed miracles as many as Jesus.  No one has great authority over the entire world as Jesus.  No one is sinless, except Jesus.  Even Moses, the great prophet of Old Testament, made a mistake.  But not Jesus.  So even though the generic answer from the market is very appealing and safe, yet the disciples couldn’t settle on it.  No, “one of the prophets” is too generic.  It doesn’t describe accurately who Jesus is.  There is something about Jesus that they know in their heart but yet can’t find words to articulate.  The public settle in the market opinion, but the disciples who have been with Jesus for some time now couldn’t.  The market opinion does not do justice in labeling who Jesus is.  It touches some aspects of Jesus’ ministry, but it doesn’t capture the being of Jesus.  And the question is about who Jesus is.  “One of the prophets” is too shallow as answer to the question of heaven and earth.
            Only one that finally comes out of the twelve to answer.  Peter prompted by his impulse answers: “You are the Christ.”  This is a distinct answer.  The label of Messiah or Christ can’t be given so easily.  It has been understood as a label befitting a royalty.  Someone from the line of David that would assume the throne of the Kingdom of Israel (Isaiah 9).  But Jesus is very unlikely.  He doesn’t look like a king.  His demeanor doesn’t show that he wants to lead an army to battle.  His appearance doesn’t show the grandeur of the kings of the world.  Jesus has a different aura, but certainly unlike the splendor of the kings and princes the world has known.  Jesus is different.  To answer that Jesus is the Christ requires more than just public opinion.  For none of the street answers give any hint to Jesus’ Messiahship.  No one makes such connection whatsoever.  For the market, Jesus does not fit the title “Christ.”  So answering that Jesus is the Christ requires even more than just stacking up Jesus’ works and then concluding his status based on his works.  For none of his works can be associated to the Messiahship.  A Messiah is a liberator.  A Messiah is a deliverer.  A Messiah is a King.  None of that applies to Jesus.  In the public eyes, Jesus liberates no one and he has done nothing to start any liberating process of the people from the Roman occupation, so no Jesus can’t be the Christ.  In the public eyes, Jesus delivers nobody and he has done nothing to start any deliverance process of the people from the suffering they experience under Roman government.  In the public eyes, Jesus is no king, for he was not born in a palace, not raised to be an aristocrat, received not proper education befitting a king, unable to draw any sword, no kingly charisma like the kings of the earth, riding not a horse, surrounded not by soldiers but instead surrounded by peasants, fishermen, tax collectors, the bottom line is that he is surrounded by losers.  The market survey cannot form a conclusion of Jesus’ Messiahship.  But a revelation from heaven is given exactly at that time of confusion.  And it is recorded in Matthew 16:17: “17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”  So the right answer to the crucial question of heaven and earth is: Jesus is the Christ!  Contrary to public opinion.  Contrary to common logic.  Contrary to even the strongest theory of the day.  Jesus can’t be other than the Christ.  Such knowledge is given from heaven.  No research can figure out that truth.  Not even the most solid research by the world standard can come up with such answer.  In case you don’t know, today’s archeological and historical research based on the most advanced scientific standard of practice does not dare to conclude that Jesus is the Christ.  The sanest conclusion they often can come up with is even denying Jesus’ authenticity.  They even question whether there was a man as described in the Holy Bible as Jesus Christ.  The revelation from heaven regarding Jesus does not follow the public opinion or the common logic of the day.  It defies human logic.
            The effect of market survey to human spirituality is huge.  Consensus and public agreement always bring in a big impact to one’s spiritual foundation.  People pay attention to what is being broadcasted in the public.  Be it from popular research, journalistic opinion, public survey, or even from refereed journal articles and high profile books.  It feels only like yesterday the hype of the popular novel “DaVinci Code” that affects so many Christians.  The doubt that lingers in the heart of many Christians cannot be dismissed.  The public embrace the theory in the novel, even though the author, Dan Brown, has said quite clearly that it is just a novel.  An imagination formulated into stories for the amusement and entertainment of the readers, the thrill seekers.  But somehow, its proximity to the Christian religion draws so much attention of the believers.  Some even begin to doubt their faith if not losing it altogether.  This is the impact of the consumeristic and market oriented culture to our spirituality.  We are driven by the motive to consume, to buy, to have, to own.  Since we are buying, then we want the product we buy to be specifically satisfying to our taste bud.  If it doesn’t satisfy us, we complain, we nag, we protest, we ban.  So companies take a different strategy in launching their product.  Before they even want to come up with the mass produced items, they must go through a step called a market survey.  Lay’s potatoes company does it in a clever way.  So they create 3 or four different flavors based on the public suggestions.  Then they make small production for the market to test it out.  After a certain time frame, they then name one the winner based on the people’s choice, which is the one with the highest statistics in the buying column.  The one with the highest percentage comes out the winner.  The statistics data is interpreted as fact that people like that product and thus the more people buying the more profit the company gets.  So the survey is kicked upstairs and decided by the director to be marketed regularly.  The note from the director got kicked to the production and voila the item from the people’s choice will hit the shelves in no time.  And this time it is not a test, not a survey, but the real thing.  It stays until the public is bored with it and the profit goes down significantly.  The same model with many different twists is being employed by many, such as by Haagen Dazs, and the public opinion is king practice by all industries, and even the music and entertainment industry such as American Idol.  Built in inside us is this tendency to follow the market opinion.  The people’s choice is king.  We buy a book, for example, many times is based on whether the book is best seller or not.  Popularity contest is the norm of today.
            This tendency puts a significant risk on our spirituality.  This means that our spirituality is hanged on the public eyes.  If the public launches its opinion that Jesus is not God, then people begin to doubt the divinity of Christ.  Even bible scholars, theologians, pastors are affected by it.  If the public strongly speaks for homosexual practice and marriage or about the practice of cohabitation, then people start to change their perspective on the matter.  Even bible scholars, theologians, and pastors are affected by it.  Many of them start to read into the Bible what is not there to begin with.  And then interpret the Holy Scripture according to their framework of belief as formed by the public opinion.  So they dare to twist the eternal truth to support their promiscuous tendency to the market.  Our spirituality is being swung from one end to another.  Public opinion changes rapidly from a to z.  People’s spirituality too shifts rapidly following the change in the public opinion.  Do you know that conformity with the market is often driven by fear?  Fear of being excluded by the public.  Fear that what we “sell” will not be bought by the market.  Fear that we “buy” the wrong product.  Fear of public pressure then changes our belief.  Fear of losing their flocks affects pastors.  Peter too feels the pressure.  The public opinion hasn’t lost its grip on Peter’s spirit yet, so that when Jesus declares his Messiahship will bring him to horrible suffering and even death, Peter couldn’t help it but rebuking Jesus.  His head knows that Jesus is the Christ, but yet it is not translated into his behavior.  Peter is afraid.  So he says no to Jesus’ proclamation.  By doing so he denies the very confession he makes that Jesus is the Christ.  Does he not know that the Christ does not make mistake?  Does he not know that the Christ is the standard of truth?  Now, he a mere man, a sinful person, dares to correct the Christ, how come?  So Jesus stands up and rebukes Peter with the harshest rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  The revelation of the Messiahship of Jesus is from above.  But yet Peter is still basing his life on the public opinion.  The heavenly revelation is contrary to the market, and Peter has spoken the revelation, but yet the integration is lacking.  The public opinion is still too strong.  Its grip on Peter and the disciples are strong.  It is for us too.  So that even Peter is under its spell.  How about us?

            Then comes the profound teaching about following Jesus, about our deep spirituality.  Jesus teaches: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?”  Denial of self is taught.  Taking up one’s cross follows suit.  Then one may follow Jesus.  Without the denial of self and the taking up of one’s cross, one can’t follow Jesus.  Whatever has been learned through the consumeristic and market oriented culture must be denied if one is to follow Jesus.  The secret of the value of human life is then revealed.  Gaining the entire world is worth nothing compared to the value of one’s soul.  The consumeristic and market oriented culture teach us to value the world and thus to gain the world at the expense of our soul.  But once the soul is lost, there is no way of getting it back.  The whole world, even, can’t ransom a soul.  The wealth of the entire world is worth nothing compared to one soul.  And our soul can only be saved when we lose it for the sake of Christ and the gospel.  This is a secret that the world finds absurd.  It is contrary to common logic.  The public opinion says that if we are to save our soul we ought to keep it.  But Jesus says no.  Lose your soul for the sake of him, then you will save it.  The disciples have to make a choice.  They are at the crossroads.  They have the market opinion on the one hand.  And on the other they have the word of eternal life.  Which would they choose?  The eleven choose the eternal word.  Only one chooses the market opinion.  Which one is us?  Are we following the example of the eleven or are we following Judas the betrayer?  I will leave it at that for us to ponder.  When we are in the process of pondering, think about the answer to Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?

The Business of Christian Education LXXXVII

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