Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Identifying with Humankind

George MacLeod, twentieth century minister of the Church of Scotland, founded the Iona Community and was involved in ecumenism and social justice issues. Perhaps the best known MacLeod quote is the following:

"I simply argue that the cross should be raised at the centre of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town's garbage heap; at a crossroad, so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek ... at the kind of a place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died. And that is what He died for. And that is what He died about. That is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about."

Certainly MacLeod’s quote is as appropriate today as when it was written. This statement hearkens back to the ultimate act of contextualization—the crucifixion of Christ. It was a brutal, bloody public event. Crucifixion had happened before Christ was put on the cross and it would happen again. What makes the event unique is that in going to the cross, Christ completely identified with his humanity and those among whom he lived. The implications have been profound.

Contextualization of one’s ministry requires self-giving and identification. Christ is the ultimate example. The Apostle Paul refers to the act in this way in Philippians 2:5-8:

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"

MacLeod was a soldier, a scholar, a minister, and a mystic. He had seen the cruel face of war but he had also seen the loving face of God. Perhaps it takes such a man to see the link between the two and proclaim it as a model for ministry.

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