Here is my latest for EthicsDaily.com. As we celebrate Advent, we need to rethink what the role of the church is.
We are seeing something new in a pope, which I haven’t seen in a long time.
I am fascinated with Pope Francis’ style, which differs from the popes I have seen. However, older observers have compared him to Pope John XXIII.
Much of his recent encyclical harks back to the themes of the Second Vatican Council called by John and completed by Paul VI.
Pope Francis is living out the gospel in ways that have not been as evident in the Supreme Pontiffs of recent memory. He addresses the needs of the poor, embraces the outcasts and loves those who are on the margins of society.
In a phenomenal reversal of the Vatican from being an anti-Communist voice to being a voice against “unfettered capitalism,” Pope Francis in his first “apostolic exhortation” bases his opinion on the facts of the matter rather than “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
One may be so bold as to interpret this as a call to trust in a love of God’s will rather than a love limited to our own pleasures.
Pope Francis is doing something that Jesus embodied and called his followers to do: embracing the poor, the lame and the outcasts above our own enrichment.
The theology of Pope Francis seeks to reawaken us to a way of being the church. He challenges us to become someone different and encourages us to change our ways and habits.
Taking the lead in a way to envision a better future for the body of Christ, Pope Francis urges us to follow the Jesus of Galilee and not the Jesus of the politics of Constantine or the politics of the modern global economy.
Jesus was born under occupation. He escaped the influence of Rome, manifested in the rule of Herod the Great, and was a refugee in Egypt.
Jesus communed with the poor and welcomed the sick, the lepers and other outcasts of society. Jesus challenged the moral authority of his fellow Jews. This is the Jesus that we should be following.
Pope Francis wants a church that is concerned with the poor. He also seeks to do what Jesus did as he challenges the moral authority of contemporary political and economic powers.
He wants to rebuild a relevant church for the 21st century – a church that focuses on what Jesus taught and how Jesus lived.
As the season of Advent commences, we encounter again the commercialization of Christmas and its secularization as the most economically active holiday of the year. This Advent season, Pope Francis challenges our priorities.
He wants us to remember the gospel of sacrifice and the priority of the poor. He calls us to reconsider consumerism and the enticements of mercantilism.
He invites us to turn away from the worship of mass production and refocus back to Bethlehem and Nazareth where Jesus roamed.
He seeks to shift the focus from the narrow Jesus created by the Protestant work ethic and meet again the Jesus of Galilee
We need to move away from understanding Christmas as a day of presents and eating and embrace it as a holy day for joining together in sanctity and prayer as we celebrate the arrival of the holy Jesus and anticipate his blessed preaching, teaching and sacrifice.
Pope Francis, through his actions, challenges the injustices and the barriers that have separated the poor and the rich, the sick and the healthy, and the marginalized and the rulers.
Pope Francis is practicing a “bottom up” theology. He is improving our focus on the extreme gap between the rich and the poor and calling us to act to lessen the gap.
Pope Francis challenges us to rethink our ways of being church. The body of Christ today faces new and different challenges and opportunities as we live in a globalizing and consumerism world.
How can we exist as church in our present context where we remember Christmas through purchasing and forget the poor, including those in our country who cannot provide for their families without the federal help of food stamps?
Today, many people admire Pope Francis. Hopefully we will also listen to his prophetic words and follow his vision of the Christ we find in Scripture, the Christ of “the old, old story.”
[read also: Our Disposable Lifestyle]
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University. She is the author of 5 books, Reimagining with Christian Doctrines co-edited with Jenny Daggers (Palgrave, forthcoming), Contemplations from the Heart (Wipf & Stock, forthcoming), Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave Pivot), The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press). She is a co-editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for the Palgrave Macmillan Book Series, “Asian Christianity in Diaspora”.
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