In the week of Hong Kong protests, Christian communities have had various reactions. One reaction deserves our attention. The Jireh Foundation held a prayer meeting, reported by Hong Kong Christian Times here in which the CEO Chan Auyeung said that the use of force was a reasonable response by the police. She also said that people need to be congratulated for being against the protest because after all, the protest was “unlawful”. She said that the anti-protest Christians were the truly sanctified ones. In a condescending way, she said that she would only “pray for the protesters.” Another speaker also told all the Christian leaders of the protests (so many of them are Christians) to bow in humble prayer instead of doing what they were doing. Of course such a prayer meeting would be incomplete without some kind of appeal to the sovereignty of God. And they surely did just that. Let’s see what Jesus actually taught about the sovereign eschatological judgment of God in his own teaching in Luke. Prayer meetings don’t trump truth!
I’ve been writing a Chinese commentary on Luke and I happened upon Luke 13.1-9 as the Hong Kong Protests kick off. In this account, some people were talking to Jesus about certain political situations involving revolution (a historical situation that has no historical evidence for us to pinpoint the exact event) against the Romans. The people asked for Jesus’ opinion on such Galilean politics. Understand that Galilee was sometimes places of revolutionaries (what NT Wright calls brigandage). Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Jesus’ answer is intriguing because his question shows the following assumptions. First, he assumed that both the revolutionaries and the questioners were imperfect human beings, sinners, if you will. Second, he assumed that the questioner actually believed that his being alive made him more righteous than the persecuted and dead revolutionary.
Let’s pause to see how these two assumptions apply to the present situation in Hong Kong. In the vitriol between factions, people tend to assume that their version of truth is the only version and that they have the perfect understanding. For Christians who take Jesus’ word seriously, this assumption is false. Furthermore, some Christians even rejoice in the suffering of the persecuted students because they “did not break the Hong Kong law.” Such narcissistic righteousness also goes against Jesus’ ethos. In fact, Jesus called such self-righteous people to repent in light of the coming judgment. What must they repent of?
The story that leads up to Luke 13.1-9 actually sheds light on what Jesus said. The story in Luke 12 starts with a warning about coming judgment and then Jesus gave a example on how people would be judged. Someone asked Jesus to mediate on family inheritance in Luke 12.13. Jesus talked about the rich fool whose sole concern was to hoard, thus condemning the person hoarding inheritance. Why not hoard? Jesus then told his disciples that there were more serious issues than hoarding material possessions in Luke 12.22-59. Not to hoard is an expression of faith in a just God. Now, faith is an easy escape for the most naïve unless we take seriously what Jesus said. Jesus’ condemnation was against the hoarding fool, the rich! Someone told me that Jesus also loved the rich. Sure, he did, after they sold their material possessions to feed the poor (cf. Luke 18.18-22; 19.8-10)! Jesus didn’t hate the rich; he hated GREED!
Contrary to the popular understanding that Jesus said that material possessions were completely valueless, we must take seriously his condemnation of the greedy rich. His point was to raise the issue of greed through the dispute over inheritance. In Luke 12.13, clearly someone was unjust and greedy. Jesus condemned such greed, whether rich or poor, but especially against the rich. Thus, the overarching principle for which one should repent should be greed over material possessions. The eschatological judgment against which Jesus warned will be based on where one’s heart is. Luke wrote to Theophilus, a government official and an immensely wealthy man.
Let’s think about what implications such a teaching of Jesus had on such a person. The teachings of Jesus should actually scare those who were rich towards themselves but poor towards the poor and towards God. In light of the Hong Kong situation, it is easy to condemn the students or protesters. Jesus’ teaching however condemned the uncontrolled capitalism (in the situation of Hong Kong) that breeds greed. It is a morally bankrupt ploy to appeal randomly to the sovereignty of God without understanding of what that actually meant biblically. That’s the overarching Christian principle. The greedy rich (obviously, not all rich people are greedy) will face a most severe judgment. That too is a promise of God. It’s time for some Christians to stop kidding themselves and others. People should both stop doing violence to the poor and to the biblical text. Prayer meetings don’t trump truth!