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Jesus theTroublemaker International lecturer, social reformer, philosopher, and political columnist from India, Vishal Mangalwadi shares his provocative views with PRISM BY SCOTT ROBINSON

Vishal Mangalwadi has a problem with “salvation” being defined only as “my soul going to Heaven.” “In John 11, the High Priest prophesies that Jesus will die for the nation,” Mangalwadi says. “So whom did he die for—for the individual soul, or for the nation?” Born and raised in North India, Mangalwadi studied philosophy in Hindu ashrams and universities, as well as L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. In 1976 he and his wife, Ruth, returned to India, where they founded a community to serve

Jesus did not see people merely as souls to be saved from hell. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, “harassed and helpless” sheep in need of deliverance from the wolves Because our message rarely touches the misery of the common man, it does not appear to many to be good news. Vishal Mangalwadi in Truth and Social Reform

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the rural poor. His Eastern perspective, his interpretation of the Bible, and his work for the empowerment and liberation of the lower castes in India have made him suspicious of the rugged individualism of American evangelical Christianity. As a counterweight to “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” Mangalwadi offers “Jesus the Troublemaker,” whom he introduced in 1989 in his book Truth and Social Reform. When he speaks in America about Jesus the Troublemaker, Mangalwadi begins with Isaiah 53:5—“by his wounds we are healed.” “In America, every single preacher I have ever heard uses ‘we’ to mean ‘I and you,’” Mangalwadi says.“‘I and I and I and you and you and you’ equals ‘we.’ But every single time Isaiah uses the term ‘healing,’ it is the nation of Israel who is sick. ‘The faithful city has become a harlot, and her rulers are companions of thieves.’ This is [a description of] a nation that is sick.” And what does the prophet prescribe for the healing of the ailing Israel? Mangalwadi points to chapter 58:6-8: Is this not the fast which I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your healing will speedily spring forth...

Which is exactly what the blind man’s contemporaries do not see in him, Mangalwadi says.This is the blindness to which Jesus refers when he tells the authorities that, because they believe they can see, their guilt remains. “Because you see this man as a cursed sinner, you don’t see that he exists for the glory of God.You don’t see his dignity; you don’t see his character. He is begging because you are blind. So it’s their eyes he is seeking to open when he is spitting on the ground.” Mangalwadi first vetted the concept of Jesus the Troublemaker at L’Abri, the international Christian study center and residential community founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer in 1955. The idea was not an instant success. “Barry Seagren, who was the leader of L’Abri at that time, walked up to me and said, ‘When did we teach you this heresy of Jesus the Troublemaker?’ He was just so shocked, because he had never read what I read in the Gospels. They say that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder—and by ‘eyes,’ they mean perception; it’s the perception that has to be altered. Depending on what you’re looking for and how you’re looking, you just don’t see Jesus the Troublemaker; what is really necessary is to renew the mind.” In India, by contrast, people know that Jesus is a troublemaker. Mangalwadi believes that Hinduism feels itself to be under siege, and as more and more Dalits, or Untouchables, convert to other faiths and begin to assert their full humanity, (see “Caste Aways!” in the July/August 2005 issue of PRISM) violence against Christians is on the rise. Mangalwadi himself has been threatened with death as he worked for agricultural rights for India’s peasants. To Christianity’s enemies, as well as to non-Christian reformers, the disruptive influence of the gospel is all too apparent. “Gandhi certainly understood it,” Mangalwadi says. “Anybody who reads the gospel without bringing only one message to it—that Jesus died for my sin—can read what I’m reading, if they let the Gospels tell them who Jesus was

In Mangalwadi’s reading, the prophetic call for social justice is the background music to Jesus’ acts of individual healing. As an example, he cites the story of the sick man who has lain by the pool in Bethsaida for 38 years, hoping to be healed (John 5:9-11). “Was Jesus healing the nation, or was he healing individuals?” Mangalwadi asks. “When he says to the sick man, ‘Pick up your mat and walk,’ whom is he healing? Obviously, he cares for the individual, but his sickness is not the problem! The man says, ‘I don’t have anyone who will put me in the water.’ Treatment is there, free and within his sight—the problem is that he lives in a selfish, individualistic society where people don’t care for him. So Jesus is saying, ‘OK, nobody has noticed him for 38 years—now they will.’” The Jesus of Mangalwadi’s writings seems to be at least as interested in a social compact with us as in a personal relationship. “In John 9, his disciples see the blind man and ask, ‘Did he sin, or did his parents sin, that he was born blind?’ Jesus says no. Of course he’s a sinner and his parents are sinners, but no more than you! Why do you exist? You exist for the glory of God. Why does this guy exist? He exists for the glory of God so that the glory of God might be seen in him.”

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we’ve got to bring our problems to the Bible, and they are different from the problems which the British and the Americans are bringing.” In America, “personal morality”—issues such as abortion and gay marriage—has, since the Reagan years, been at the forefront of the evangelical churches’ agenda. This is ironic, inasmuch as all the great movements of social reform in America—from abolition to child labor laws to women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement—were evangelical Christian enterprises. How did we get to the point where, as Mangalwadi writes in Truth and Social Reform, “Protestantism no longer protests against evil, because it sees itself merely as a channel of God’s salvation and not of God’s justice.” Mangalwadi believes that, although American Protestantism has suffered from a “lack of leadership” on social issues in recent years, a growing movement of socially conscious ministries has been putting the “protest” back into “Protestant.” He cites the ministry of John Piper in Miami, which is mobilizing resources around urban renewal, and two Minnesotabased Christian political action groups—the Christian Reformation Society and the Minnesota Family Council— which have emerged as powerful evangelical lobbying forces in recent years. “They did begin with family and abortion,” Mangalwadi says of these organizations, “but now they are spearheading all sorts of issues—race issues, poverty issues, single mom issues. So there is a grassroots movement emerging, supported and encouraged by Christian leadership. And this is good, because the established church can mobilize a lot of money and a lot of manpower. So once you have this coming from below, it’s a lot more effective than just Piper and Dobson and others ‘up there.’” Coming from below may, in the end, be the answer; after all, it was the common people who hung on the words of Jesus the Troublemaker, and one of the greatest detriments to the churches’ struggle to renew society is the perception that they are the allies of the powerful rather than the hope of the oppressed. And yet, from the Hebrew prophets to the letter of James, God’s people have always been called to protect the vulnerable and maintain a just social order.As Mangalwadi writes in Truth and Social Reform: Social evils usually are unjust social relationships and their chronic consequences. The Church was meant to be a structure to ensure just relationships; therefore, by its very nature it was intended to be the answer to social evils, a force for social reform, a threat to the unjust oppression. ■

and what he was doing!” Mangalwadi also emphasizes the importance of reading the Bible not as a source of proof texts, but as a life-altering grand narrative in which everything is understood in the context of the unfolding saga. “The Bible is a great story—much bigger than The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars,” Mangalwadi says. “The hero—if you’re thinking of ‘hero’ in Joseph Campbell’s terms—is God himself. He is initiating action; he is doing things; he sets the pace.” “So he creates a good earth, which falls. People in India, with a Hindu/Buddhist mindset, don’t see nature as beautiful—they see nature as evil, as illusion, because it does grow thorns and thistles now; it does make us sweat; it does kill us. So God created a good earth, and now it has been corrupted. So he is doing a number of things to redeem it. Each time the hero does something, the villain does something; there are hindrances as the story is unfolding. Finally, there will be a new heaven, a new earth, no sorrow, no tears, no sickness, no death—it will all be conquered under the complete reign of God. That’s where the story is moving, and we have been called to participate with God in the task of renewal, to work as soldiers and ambassadors.” So we, too, must be understood in the context of God’s unfolding story—not as the heroes, but as functionaries. And this is good—anything more would be so beyond our scope as to be paralyzing. For us, as T.S. Eliot said, there is only the trying. “If we have to make all things new, if we are the saviors, then the burden is too big,” Mangalwadi says. For instance, in some places social evil is so pronounced, so endemic and entrenched that any would-be reformer can do little but throw up his hands in despair. For Christians in these settings, the need for reliance on God is more acutely felt than most Americans can imagine. “In India,” Mangalwadi offers by way of example, “if you’re a farmer and you dig a well, and I come and throw you out of your land and take over your well, you have no incentive to develop your land.You don’t have legal protection; you can’t take me to court and sue me. You have no incentive to produce more or save more, because I will just come and kidnap your daughter or your son and demand ransom money. So if you do have wealth, you don’t want to make it known; you don’t want to invest it. So India—and Russia and Ukraine and Kazakhstan—have to become new nations; we have to learn harder things than Europe and America do. If the burden is on me to be the savior, how do I take on the gangs of criminals? “That’s where the troublemaker—the revolutionary who is really risking his life—becomes very important. This is what Indians have got to discover in the Bible, because

Scott Robinson teaches at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., and writes Sufi-inspired Christian devotional music for his group Mandala (www.mandalaband.net.)

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Jesus the Troublemaker  

November December 2005 Article

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