James B. Dabhi S.J.
What do you think the event of ‘God becoming man’ means to the Indian today?
Human beings are created to live in a community. To stress uniqueness of each human community, certain identifying tag is attached to it, e.g., Indian community. There exist commonalities among human communities, along with some distinguishing features. One such commonality consists in sharing or give and take. The teacher shares her/his knowledge with students. The students receive the knowledge. In return, the students pay ‘Gurudakshina’ (remuneration or honorarium) to the teacher and the teacher receives comfort and security of life. To paraphrase this phenomenon, one can name it mutual dependence. In the modern age, human beings afford to donate money, labor, knowledge, materials, blood, vital body organs for the welfare of the other or that of the whole community. What one finds difficult to donate today is the time. To donate time signifies to accompany the other.
In this scenario, ‘God becoming human’ holds a special significance. God, who is limitless, opts to enter into the limits of human existence. Such an entry into humanity by God makes God tangible to human beings. Now, we can see God, hear God, touch God, and speak to God. ‘God becoming human’ means God accompanies me here and now. There exists no gulf or gap between God and me. Accompaniment forms the gift of paramount importance that one can offer to the other. By becoming human, God offers the Self of God to us to be with us in our daily chores. God is with us in our joys and sorrows, celebrations and lamentations, successes and struggles, reconciliations and conflicts.
Another significant facet of ‘God becoming human’ is that God experiences everything that I undergo as a human being. Since God becomes human, God experiences body ache, mental confusion, and emotional disturbance. The moment I share about my physical infirmity with God, God resonates fully. My conversation with God becomes experience-based and meaningful. As a result, I feel the compassion of God. My sharing of health, success, and satisfaction with God turns out to be celebration with God as God is able to rejoice with me. ‘God becoming human’ is to my advantage as I can experience God’s accompaniment. Otherwise, to experience the accompaniment of the limitless God for a limited being like me would have been very difficult, if not impossible.
Finally, God, by becoming human, becomes our model. Seeing God in conflicts and crises how God behaves, we gain the direction of our comportment. On account of this, God, who becomes human being, declares Himself to be the Way. Being God, God grants us the grace to walk on that Way.
What does the kenosis, of which Saint Paul speaks, mean in the understanding of Christian today?
The Greek word kenosis, employed by Saint Paul to present ‘God becoming human,’ signifies self-emptying. As long as the flask is full of water, the flask cannot be filled with milk. For the milk to get space in the flask, the flask needs to drain the water out of it. In becoming human, God empties out the divinity (so to say) and takes up humanity. In becoming human, God is both Divine and Human simultaneously.
Divine is the limitless being. Human is the limited being. There are various limits like time, space, knowledge, memory, disease, hunger, thirst, inability, weakness. Since we share in this limitedness, we become used to our limitedness. The limitless status becomes a matter of speculation for us. The Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, making One God, decides that the Second Person become human being. Accordingly, that Second Person enters the humanity by becoming a member of Israelite Society. His conception is virginal in the womb of Mother Mary. In other words, in His conception, no male agent is contributing. Still in simpler terms, His conception is a miracle as the limitless Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is involved. Male and Female union is must for conception forms limitation of being human. The Holy Spirit is beyond this limit. Mother Mary conceives in her womb the Son of God and the Son of her. He is God and Human at the same time. He is given an Israelite name ‘Jesus.’ From His birth till His death, He is fully Human and fully Divine.
As an Israelite man, He is obedient to the Laws of Israelite Religion, Customs of Israelite Society, and Conventions of Humanity. This obedience is called self-emptying. Above all these, comes the Will of God. The Will of God calls for self-emptying. Being human, Jesus has His dreams and aspirations, plans and projects. On one occasion, we see Him struggling to emulate the plan of God during the agonizing prayer in the garden. Finally, He surrenders to the Will of God on the Cross. After His death, when the Roman soldier pierces His heart to make sure that He is dead, the last drops of blood and water flow out. The flowing of the last drops of blood and water is the symbol of His total self-emptying. Then, He was filled with Resurrection.
Any Christian, who is the follower of Jesus Christ, is invited to such self-emptying. I need to empty myself of my own agenda in order to do the agenda of God, which is for my salvation and for the salvation of all.
What does the Christian message in a culture, which considers Christianity ‘alien,’ mean? How has the Church face the situation of hostility? How has the Church to address her Mission Mandate?
Christian message is love. The only identifying mark for the followers of Jesus Christ that He Himself stipulates is love for one another. Love is action. Love is not mere emotion. Therefore, love can be exhibited concretely. In my opinion, the greatest hunger of human being is that of love. There are other petty hungers like health, wealth, acknowledgement, appreciation, power, position. These petty hungers can be gratified, but they may not satisfy human being. Hunger for more and more remains intact. Once I am given love, I feel satisfied. Therefore, even if Christianity could be considered ‘alien,’ the message of Christianity is not alien at all. Being human, everyone is endowed with two capacities irrespective of caste, creed, and culture. The two capacities are capacity to receive love and capacity to give love. Since I have capacity to give love, I greet my neighbor, who may not share in my creed. Being human, my neighbor has the capacity to receive love; so, my neighbour receives my greetings with a smile. Now, my neighbor also has the capacity to give love. So, my neighbor greets me back. I have the capacity to receive love. So, I receive the greeting of my neighbor with a smile. The relationship began. No religion teaches to keep enmity with others. All religions teach love.
In cases of hostility, Jesus Christ teaches His followers to show the other cheek. To paraphrase Jesus’ teaching, one has to endure hostility. Endurance will prevail over hostility. In my opinion, the Church has endured the occasions of hostility, surrendering herself to God. Jesus Christ instructs to bless the persecutors and pray for them. I have come across the Faithful, who do pay for those from whom trials and troubles stem.
The only way to address the Mission Mandate is by spreading love. Let me offer an analogy: In a pitch dark room, an earthen lamp is placed. In front of the darkness, the light emanated by the lamp is mighty little. Yet, the lamp does not forget its mandate. The lamp does challenge the darkness of the room. May the Church be a lamp in the world around her!
What is the need of Christian humanism in the face of communalism and exclusivist ethnicity?
‘God becoming human’ endorses the humanity. Human being forms that creature that enjoys supremacy over all the other creatures in Creation. Human being is endowed with the responsibility to be guardian of the Creation. God is the owner of the Creation; human is the manager of the Creation.
Each human being is unique. Human being is formed in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, encountering any human being, I am encountering God. Sometimes, we human beings become partisan, communal, or ethnic. Why do we become so is not the agenda of our discussion. In spite of us becoming perpetrators of communal clashes or ethnic cleansing, we do not cease to be human beings, signifying that we always remain the image and likeness of God. Allow me to offer an analogy that I heard from a preacher. Showing 500/- Rupees currency note, he asked his audience if anybody would like to have it. About 15 hands went up in the air. He said, “Wait a minute” and he crumbled that currency note in his feast. Again, he made the same offer. The same 15 hands went up. He still asked for a minute and placed the currency note on the floor and crushed it under his foot. Then, he reiterated his offer. The same 15 hands went up. The preacher concluded that no matter what the external appearance of the currency note is, the internal value of it has not altered. Thus, the perpetrator of communal clashes or ethnic cleansing is basically the image and likeness of God. My love for that person has the ability to win that person over. However, I may have to sacrifice my life, but that is the essence and cost of Christ-like love.
There are people who consider Christianity is humanism, which tends toward even atheism or secularism. Christianity is humanism, but what humanism?
During the time of Jesus Christ, the obsession of the Faithful was to love God above all. That obsession is reflected in the conversation of a Scribe with Jesus apropos of which is the greatest commandment. Jesus approves the answer of the Scribe and, then, shows another commandment of equal importance, forming the second side of the coin, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ We are called to love God and to love human beings. In the parable of the last day, Jesus stresses what is done for the least of the human being constitutes the love shown to God. Consequently, Christianity paid more attention to humanism. To love God and to love human being are not contradictory, but rather complementary. The one who loves God loves her/his neighbor. She/he who loves her/his neighbor loves God. However, this balance goes awry and, at times, gets disturbed, giving impression that the love for neighbor is devoid of love for God.
My personal opinion is that human is selfish or self-centered or egoist by nature. To make the human selfless or other-centered or altruist divine intervention is essential. Divine intervention becomes tangible, when I commit myself to the person of Jesus Christ. Commitment to the person is long lasting or everlasting. Husband commits himself to his wife and wife commits herself to her husband and the married life becomes long lasting. Husband and wife do not commit to the cause of giving birth to children or to the welfare of their children. These all eventually ensue from the basic commitment of husband to his wife and of wife to her husband. Christianity advocates humanism that emanates from commitment to Jesus Christ. On account of lack of proper knowledge or misunderstanding or prejudices that prevail today about Jesus Christ and Christianity, it may be probable that the name ‘Jesus’ creates discord. Therefore, I need to be prudent. Let me love my brothers and sisters selflessly, but let me remain fully aware that source of my love for my brothers and sisters is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the best wine. We will serve that best wine to the wedding guests at the time appointed by God.
The West is becoming fast secularized and devoid of religion. With the exploding scandals in the Church in India, are we in crisis? What do you propose for the Church in her following Christ?
I paraphrase a quote of a Spanish Philosopher George Satayana about history: She/he who is ignorant of her/his history is condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. I want to look at this quote positively and claim that history has the potency to teach us the ways to face crisis. God is the creator of history and we, the human beings, are the co-creators. Since human being is limited and imperfect, the history will be affected by these limitedness and imperfection. The Acts of the Apostles presents the history of early Church. The Acts may not be history in the sense that history is understood today. However, the Acts has some practical guidelines to offer to us to face the crisis. There are some crises noted in the Acts like ethnic rivalry in food distribution, dishonesty in rendering one’s personal income, the circumcision of the non-Israelite males, sharing meals with non-Israelites, persecution at the hands of opponents.
The steps followed by the Church to face any crisis were to pray over the issue, to discuss among themselves, to deliberate with the elders. Sages in the Church took initiative in advising those who were in position to take decision. Members of the Church did not retaliate to their persecutors. On the contrary, they considered themselves blessed that they were found worthy to suffer on account of their commitment to Jesus Christ.
For the last two thousand years the Church has gone on, withstanding sometimes fatal crises. The only reason for the Church’s survival, perseverance, and development is that the Church is founded by Jesus Christ. The Church consists of holy and wise members. The Holy Spirit guides the Church. The holy and wise Faithful respond to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the crisis will blow away; the Church will remain.