The Prodigal Father


有一位財主,他有兩個兒子。他坐擁祖宗留下來的百畒大農莊。但他為富不仁,不單對家丁非常刻薄,還勾結官府,巧取豪奪的侵佔了農莊附近的小農民的田地。

小兒子對父親所作所為看不過眼,常以祖宗遺訓勸勉父親。但父親不聽忠告,最後小兒子忍無可忍,對父親說:「爸爸!恕我不可能和您生活下去了。請把我應得的家業分給我吧!」過了不多幾日,小兒子就把他一切所有的都收拾起來,往遠方去了。

沒有小兒子的反對,父親變本加厲。以前他還會把侵佔的農田租回給農戶耕作,如今他把農戶趕走,把地賣給發展商,蓋了工廠、酒店、賭場。他對大兒子說:「我們賣地得到的財富,幾輩子也花不盡,我們只管吃喝快樂吧!」

只是好景不常,幾年之後金融風暴,財主的積蓄在股災中蝕了大半。農莊的水源被工廠污染,種出來的農產品帶毒,不單賣不出好價錢,還惹上一身官司。家丁因為主人刻薄,見勢頭不對,紛紛離去。最後父親破產收場,一無所有。

父親醒悟過來,悔不當初,說:「怎麼當年沒有聽小兒子的勸告,離棄了祖宗的遺訓?我要起來,到小兒子那裏去,向他說:『我得罪了天,也得罪了你。從今以後,我不配稱為你的父親。我只求你像收容一個無依老人一般的收容我吧!』」於是他起來,到小兒子那裏去。

小兒子當年拿了他分得的家產,到遠方買了一間小小的有機農場,也已經娶妻生子,成家立業。在他努力經營下,小農場雖然沒有以前大農莊的規模,一家卻是不愁温飽。有幾名以前農莊的家丁也來投靠少主人。

小兒子聽見父親來看他,趕緊開車到機場把父親接到家中。他把家中最大的房間讓給父親住。父親對小兒子說:「兒啊!我得罪了天,也得罪了你。

我沒有聽從祖宗的遺訓,敗壞了祖宗的家業。

我沒有善待為我工作的人,以至家中沒有忠心的用人,只有付炎趨勢的小人。

我勾結貪官,以至我們的社會失去了公義。

我沒有保護還境,污染了坭土和水源。

現在我們的家鄉已經被我毀了,不能回去了。

兒啊!你能原諒我嗎?」

小兒子回答說:「爸爸,金錢家業都是身外物,只有親情最是重要。您安心住下來吧!以後您、我倆夫婦,還有您的孫子,三代同堂,在這地方安居樂業好嗎?」

正說話的時候,外邊忽然傳來大聲的喧嘩,來了一羣凶神惡煞的人。細問之下,發現他們是大兒子的代表律師、他的手下和法庭派來的執達吏。原來大兒子見到家族生意失敗,深深不忿。想起了在遠方的弟弟,靈機一觸,找來了以前一同合作的貪官上法庭,強說當年小兒子分家的時候,法律程序失當,所以小兒子的有機農場法律上仍屬於家族的產業,現在大兒子要以家族的名義把農場收回來。

父親聽了前因後果,怒駡說:「這不肖子…」律師截斷了他的話:「老爺子,令公子行事作風跟您以前一模一樣,只會是青出於藍,怎會是不肖呢?」

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Understanding Slavery in the Bible (I)

Why is it important to understand slavery in the Bible?

After all, we do not have slavery anymore in our modern society (so it seems). Therefore what can slavery in the past possibly teach us about modern working conditions?

The Bible was misunderstood

The same word can have different meaning in different context

The word “slave”, like many other words in our daily language, changes over time. In the bible the word “slave” was used over thousands of year over many different cultures and socioeconomic structures. There are much historical details for us to investigate before we can accurately discern what the bible says about slavery. Were all the slaves doing hard labor? Were slavery life long? Could the slaves buy their own freedom? How did the master treat the slaves? How was slavery and race related? Were most of the slaves a certain skin color?

Slavery was prevalent in ancient society

The bible recorded real people and real stories. Since in most of the ancient society, a significant portion of the populations were slaves. Understanding how they lived is integral understanding biblical stories.

The bible had laws regulating slavery does not mean that the bible supported slavery

This is a basic principle regarding the reading of ANY system of laws, including biblical laws. The fact that the bible had laws regarding some aspect of life does not mean that it endorses that aspect of life. For example, the bible has laws regarding divorce (e.g. Dt. 24:1) but Jesus very explicitly stated that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” (Mt. 19:8). Similarly, the bible had regulations regarding war, crimes, the poor, etc. Yes, in the bible there were regulations that allowed people to be sold into slavery, but these does not mean that the bible endorsed slavery. The bible was a book written for real people, and it dealt with real life problems, even the unpleasant ones like slavery.

Master-slave relationship was an image God used to explain his relationship to us

In the Old Testament, Yahweh was know as “the God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt”. The Israelite were constantly reminded of God being the liberator who took them out of slavery.

In the New Testament, a number parables of Jesus portrait God as a master. Disciples were called to “serve” God. Even to this day, we call preachers “servants of God” and we call some officers of the church as “deacons” (“deacon” in Greek means servant). The Apostle Paul contrast the state before and after conversion as “slaves to sin” and “servants of God”.

Many modern labor practices are similar to slavery

While the word “slave” is seldom used as a legal status in modern society, slavery is still present in the modern world. In addition to the deplorable acts of sexual slavery and human trafficking, many regular jobs are in various degree dehumanizing. The father of capitalism, Adam Smith, noted that the industrial revolution had forced workers into mindless and repetitive work:

The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776

Economist Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen describe capabilities and agency of individuals as central to their freedom. A factory worker working long hour on an assembly line with little opportunity for advancement are therefore subjected to economic oppression, or “unfreedom”, using Sen’s term.

Understanding how God dealt with an unfair social system in the past helps us better deal with systematic immorality in the present

We believe that the bible is the Word of God. Although it was written to an ancient audience, through ancient writers, it is nevertheless applicable for the modern world. God who liberated Israel from slavery is the same God who is advocating for the poor and the oppressed today.

Why I say Merry Christmas

Every year as the winter season begins, the same battle of “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holiday” heats up. The politically correct say that “Merry Christmas” is offensive to people of other religions. Therefore considerate and sensitive people should use “Happy Holiday” instead.

Let us consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario A:

(Jane and Joe work at the same office.)

Jane: Happy Holiday!
Joe: Happy Holiday!
(Done till next year. Repeat the same routine every year.)

Scenario B:

Year 2014:

Jane: Merry Christmas!

Joe: Sorry! I am Jewish. We don’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Hanukkah.

Jane: Oh! I am sorry! Happy Hanukkah to you then! (Mental note: Joe is Jewish, and how do Jews celebrate Hanukkah anyway?)

Joe: Merry Christmas to you!

(Jane went to Wikipedia and research how Jews celebrate Hanukkah.)

Year 2015:

Jane: Happy Hanukkah! I got some chocolate gelt for your kids.

Joe: Thank you very much! You’re so thoughtful!

Jane: Glad you like it! Happy Hanukkah to you and your family!

Joe: And Merry Christmas to you!

Jane: Thank you!

Which version of Jane is more considerate and sensitive? Which scenario promotes religious understanding? The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of religious minorities are reasonable people, who will not be offended if they hear a simple “Merry Christmas”. By being political correct, we deny people their rights to be not offended, their rights to carry on a meaningful conversation about their own religions, and their rights to understand others who are different.

Obviously, for politicians and large corporations, they cannot possibly listen to every minority’s story and cater to each of their religion. Therefore a simple “Happy Holiday!” is nice and generic for them. But why should individuals speak like politicians? Why should we greet each other like we work for Walmart?

If you say “Happy Holiday” to me, I will assume that you only care about me as a customer, not as a friend.

My posts

I haven’t kept up with this blog for a while. But I am active on a different blog: iQuest That is a Hong Kong site which focus on public theology. There are much better writers than myself there. I am honored to be part of that venture. iQuest is more general audience focused and less Christian-technical focused than this post.

For fifteenminutesoverlunch, I will put more English articles as well as reflections that are too Christian focused or for iQuest.

政治、經濟、出埃及 (3)

談過出埃及的經濟背景(財富高度集中)和結果(別的民族和以色列一起離開以至法老眾叛親離),我們也該討論摩西和法老抗爭的過程。

耶和華神給了摩西一件「神器」,就是摩西的杖(出4:1-4)。這杖可以說是法力無窮,是耶和華給摩西的用來證明祂的能力。如果摩西面見法老之時,以神杖痛擊其首腦,或將神杖化成毒蛇,一噬而置法老於死地。出埃及大業可以瞬間完成,豈不快哉?

當然摩西沒有秒殺法老。因為就算法老死了,仍會有一下個法老。秒殺法老只會引起埃及全國的仇恨,為未來的以色列國豎立強大的敵人。耶和華的意思是要:「你們在埃及人眼前蒙恩,你們去的時候就不至於空手而去。 22 但各婦女必向她的鄰舍並居住在她家裡的女人要金器銀器和衣裳,好給你們的兒女穿戴,這樣你們就把埃及人的財物奪去了。」(3:21-22) 要敵人成為你的朋友,還要出錢資助你,這才是真正的贏得漂亮。

神杖沒有用來打法老,那是用來打什麼的?答案是:「打尼羅河!」一打之下,河水變血,開始了十災。

尼羅河代表了什麼?尼羅河是埃及的一切,是埃及的神。解經家告訴我們,十災中的每一災都是對埃及所拜的神的直接挑戰。法老自己也是埃及信仰中的一個位神。摩西的對手不是人,是假神偶像。摩西的杖是用來打破神話,把假神的面具撕破的。

自啟蒙運動以來,過去二百年,政治漸漸成為了基督徒不可接觸的領域。但就算你是政教分離的忠實信徒,不願明明的反對政府,我們也應對政治背後的「假神」有所回應。如保羅所說的「在位掌㩲的」要順服(羅馬書13:1),所以不可以杖打法老。但我們也不可以忘記我們的爭戰是「與那些執政的、掌權的、管轄這幽暗世界的,以及天空屬靈氣的惡魔爭戰。」(以弗所書6:12) 我們爭戰的對象不一定是實實在在的人,更多時候我們的對手是一系列的思想、主義和信仰 (King James Version 譯作 “Principality” 和 “Power”)。

每一位領袖、每一個團體都有自己的核心信仰,也有一串的「神話」去支持和宣傳這信仰。如果這些信仰和聖經的原則背道而馳,那這些信仰就是捆綁人的假神偶像,成了「天空屬靈氣的惡魔」。

那中國社會的核心信仰是什麼呢?說穿了就是:「金錢!」還繞着「金錢」這假神偶像的,有一串串似是而非的神話,例舉如下:

  • 「錢可以解決的問題就不是問題。」
  • 「不管黑貓白貓,能能抓到老鼠就是好貓。」
  • 「民主自由會損害經濟發展。」
  • 「先讓少數人富起來。」

面對「金錢」這假神偶像,基督徒首要的是要站立得穩,不仇富亦不媚富,不義之財不可貪,窮困之人不可欺;生活簡樸,自然自在,不為五斗米而折腰。其次是作先知的角色,向世人警告拜假神的禍害,破除神話 - 也就是把「神話」還原成「鬼話」。

在出埃及記中,十災把埃及的神話粉碎。可能閣下不相信出埃及記所記載的神蹟會在現代重演,但就算你不相信會有奇蹟,也請你相信會有災難:

  • 汶川地震,豆腐渣工程令死傷人數倍數增加。
  • 三聚氰胺混入奶粉,數以萬計兒童受害。
  • 致癌地溝油遍佈中港台。
  • 環境污染,北京霧霾持續,伸手不見五指。
  • 民怨載道,政府要以強硬手段廣泛維穩。

以上所列的,豈不是以金錢為神的禍患嗎?當年法老王面對一個接一個的災難,他依舊「心裡剛硬」,以至於國家一敗塗地。今天的中國,又要多少的災難才會回心轉意呢?

政治、經濟、出埃及 (2)

上次談到出埃及之前的經濟背景,今次談出埃及的結果。將結果和開始對比,我們就可以看出摩西(當然是出於耶和華神的智慧)贏得多麼的漂亮,相比法老是輸得有多慘。

我們日常說:「摩西帶領以色列人出埃及。」,其實並非百份百準確。且看出:12:37-38。

37 以色列人從蘭塞起行,往疏割去,除了婦人孩子,步行的男人約有六十萬。 38 又有許多閒雜人,並有羊群牛群,和他們一同上去。

跟隨摩西出埃及的,除了以色列民之外,還有「許多閒雜人」。還記得法老一開始就是害怕以色列人會「聯合我們的仇敵攻擊我們,離開這地去了。」(1:10) 才會苦苦的對待以色列人,如今以色列人沒有主動的聯合法老的仇敵,反倒是原本是埃及盟友的「閒雜人」,看見法老一敗塗地,看風駛𢃇,隨著以色列人離去了。

要知道當時社會多有遊牧民族,像埃及一般的洋洋大國,定有許多外族人在那裡寄居。他們在法老政權中並沒有既得利益,看風駛𢃇實屬正常。同樣的當以色列強大起來,成為獨立國家以後,她也一樣要學習處理這些「外國勢力」。

所以不要以為以色列是一個「純種」的民族。要知道外邦人在以色列國中的角色,可以看聖經的例子。記得大衛王犯罪,搶了麾下大將烏利亞的妻子拔示巴,這烏利亞是赫人 (Hittite),同時拔示巴也可能是外邦人。可見外邦人居朝中高位也是可能的。

換一個正面和平民的例子,路得是摩押人,更是不祥的寡婦,她在猶大地也可找到幸福。路得是耶穌的祖先,可見上帝也不看重純正的血脈。

回到出埃及記,摩西自己在埃及王宫中長大,又流落到了米甸,他妻子也是米甸祭司的女兒。他的國際視野可以說是傲視同儕。相比法老王,只知道鐵腕壓制,難怪他對以色列人和其他民族的人心存猜忌。他對外國人的猜忌最後更成了自我實現的預言 (self fulfilling prophecy)。他害怕發生的叛逆,結果因為他的猜忌而真的發生了。

我們現在活在一個全球化的世界。每個國家都必需具備國際視野,也要懂得怎樣維繫國內不同種族、文化和背景的人。要知道寄居的外國人隨時可以選擇離開,甚至是倒戈相向,因為他們並沒有道德義務(moral obligation) 向本國政府效忠。

那麼為政者怎樣可以維繫各色人種呢?答案是:要有鮮明的「核心價值」。外地人如果明瞭本地的核心價值,就可以在社會中找到定位,融入本地社會,為社會作貢獻。相反如果核心價值受到侵蝕,外地人自然便會有離異之心。即或是本地人,看見核心價值被破壞,也會心存異志,可況是可以隨時離開的外人呢?

回到出埃及記,他們的核心價值是什麼呢?且看12:48-49:

48 若有外人寄居在你們中間,願向耶和華守逾越節,他所有的男子務要受割禮,然後才容他前來遵守,他也就像本地人一樣。但未受割禮的,都不可吃這羊羔。 49 本地人和寄居在你們中間的外人同歸一例。

很明顯的,他們的核心價值是對耶和華神的敬拜。願意敬拜耶和華的,無論是本地人或是外人,只要守割禮,願向耶和華守逾越節,就必會一視同仁,作為外邦人也可以享受神對以色列的祝福。相比於只有「核心權力」而沒有「核心價值」的法老,難怪「許多閒雜人」會樂意的跟著他們出埃及去了。

以上的話,不單是為政者需要明白,教會也要好好的反省。健康成長,以基督為核心的教會,很自然是會吸引各式人等。正如在芥菜種的比喻中的芥菜種長起來成了樹,天上的飛鳥就會來宿在它的枝上。(太13:32) 相反如果貴教會是純正的「清一色」,沒有不一樣的人,沒有相對的意見,那你們的核心價值還是建立在主耶穌的福音上嗎?

政治、經濟、出埃及 (1)

先考大家一個聖經問題:在摩西帶領以色列人出埃及以前,以色列人在埃及是做什麼工作?

有些基督徒會答:「他們是在做奴隸。」

「奴隸是他們的社會地位,不是他們的工作。」

比較熟悉聖經的基督徒會答:「他們在造磚。」

「哪他們造磚建什麼?」

小朋友可能會回答:「造金字塔!」

金字塔不錯是埃及最出名的建築物。但在以色列人在埃及的時候,金字塔已經建成了近一千年。他們不是在建金字塔。

答案在出1:11 -「他們為法老建造兩座積貨城,就是比東蘭塞。」

要明白什麼是「積貨城」就要回到創世記約瑟的故事。記得約瑟為法老解夢,七年豐年、七年饑荒。創世記47章記載了在七年饑荒之中約瑟為法老收購了所有人民的牲畜、農地,以至埃及全民都成了法老的奴隸。雖然時移世易,另一政權掌管了朝政(出1:8),但囤積居奇的經濟政策並沒有改變。直到四百年後,囤積糧食然後高價賣出的政策仍然在實行。

埃及有尼羅河的滋潤,土地肥沃,自古以來都以糧食出口致富。但從經文看來,出埃及時候的埃及國,財富和權力都高度集中。一般的埃及人民和其他在埃及寄居的民族其實沒有從國家的富強中得到多大的益處。這樣的「深層次矛盾」其實法老王也知道,所以法老才這樣的害怕以色列人會「聯合我們的仇敵攻擊我們,離開這地去了。」(1:10)

當一個社會,大部份人在努力工作,但經濟成果只有少數人享用,社會自然充滿矛盾。尤其是如果官商囤積的是糧食,或是其他生活必需品(例如:房地產或石油),這樣引發的社會矛盾會更大。聖經中對有關生活必需品的商業活動有特別的教訓:

出 22:26 「你即或拿鄰舍的衣服做當頭,必在日落以先歸還他。」

申命記 23:19 「你借給你弟兄的,或是錢財或是糧食,無論什麼可生利的物,都不可取利。」

利 25:23 「地不可永賣,因為地是我的」

作為現代的基督徒,生活在資本主義的社會,我們不僅要明白現代商業的運作,我們也應當明白商業活動背後的社會影響。尤其是官商一體的亞洲經濟模式,我們要特別的明白經濟發展和民生的改善是兩碼子的事。基督徒以及教會對如果對聖經的教訓有承擔的話,我們就必需在扶貧、改善民生、和社會公義上做合時代的鹽和光。