No handle on the cross kosuke koyama

The Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama sums up his image of Christ in the sentence, "No handle on the Cross" and made it the title of a book.9 Koyama directs our attention toward the central event in the life of Jesus, his death on the cross, which in Christianity is accepted as a saving event for all humankind, unique in its offer and its effect. The impossibility of classifying Jesus is based upon an ultimately radically changed understanding of God. Koyama expresses the incomparabil-ity of Jesus in thoughtful way as follows:

The image of Jesus under the weight of the bulky and handleless cross is a pregnant missiological image in the light of which the theological meaning of every-day Asian situation must be sought. Such an image as Jesus carrying a cross in the same way that an American businessman in Hong Kong carries a briefcase is theologically sterile and missiologically abhorrent. We can shave Jesus. We can put a necktie on Jesus. We can put a pair of glasses over his eyes and a Sony transistor radio in his hands. We can even place a colorful Diners Card in his hands (?!). But if we put a handle on his cross so that he can carry it as a businessman carries a briefcase, then the Christian faith has lost its ground. Theology is then

8 See among others E. Biser, Die Entdeckung des Christentums und das neue Jahrtausend. Herder: Freiburg 2000.

9 See K. Koyama, No Handle on the Cross. An Asian Meditation on the Crucified Mind. Orbis: Maryknoll, N.Y. 1977; quote: pp. 6f.

paralysed. Christian ethics has lost its inner inspiration. Such a Jesus who carries his cross as one carries a briefcase - ultimately this points to the God who carries the world around as one carries a briefcase - brings a fatal heart-attack to the Christian faith. No matter how elaborate, fascinating, efficient and resourceful it may be, the theology of such a Jesus cannot be true to the saving message and the mode of salvation given in the biblical tradition. In the Bible, the cross does not have a "handle." Let me emphasize that for me the image of Jesus carrying over his shoulders the intolerable weight of the bulky cross - he did not know how to carry it, yet he carried it "without a handle" - is the primary image for the understanding and explication of the Christian truth urgently needed today in Asia.

While searching for a biblical basis, we have to turn to St. Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians he reminds them that he has been sent to preach the gospel in a way "that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning" (1:17). For the cross has no "handle," there are no signs as demanded by the Jews, and there is no wisdom as requested by the Greek (see 1:22). Paul proclaims the "message of the cross," which "is foolishness for those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1:18).

This presupposed the Sema - "Hear, O Israel!" (Dtn 6:4 - Appendix 2, nr.4) becomes the access to the cross. Whoever has ears to hear and thus is ready to perceive the message, is according to him enabled to hear God's voice in its uniqueness also in other religions. For the voice of the foolishness of the cross becomes for him perceptible wherever the voice of suffering people are an echo of the deathly cry of Christ in his last hour. This precisely is also the message of theologians like Jon Sobrino and Aloysius Pieris, whose cries in favor of the poor are not to be overlooked.10

Though he ultimately never denied his Jewish identity, the Jewish scholar of sciences of religion and New Testament Pinchas Lapide (1922-1997) has to be taken for a go-between Judaism and Christianity.11 He did not hesitate to see in the Rabbi of Nazareth a person who from a Jewish perspective cannot be classified. For him Jesus' existence

10 See their strong pleads in A. Pieris, Interreligious Dialogue and Theology of Religions, in id., Fire and Water. Orbis: Maryknoll, N,.Y. 1996, pp.154-161, and J. Sobrino (note 1).

11 See H. Waldenfels (note 6), pp.233ff.

as a Jew does not exhaust itself by calling him an itinerary preacher or a teacher of the law or a poet of parables. Jesus cannot be placed in line with the men of faith whose categories we know. One difference between Judaism and Christianity, however, is marked by Lapide. For him Christianity is to be defined as a who-religion, whereas Judaism would be rather a what-religion. Christians apparently always ask, "Who?": Who is God? Who is his Son? Who is truly a Christian? Instead faithful Jews would rather ask, "What?": What has God done on the earth? What is his will? What is his plan for us? Actually Lapide in a way subscribes to our invitation to contemplate Christianity not so much as dealing with "some thing" but to start with a person, with Jesus the Christ. In this sense we should also rather avoid calling Christianity a "religion of a book" as frequently is done while comparing Christianity with Judaism and Islam.

Anyway, here we return to the starting point of our deliberation. Whoever says Christianity, should first say: Jesus Christ. Not what today is presented as "Christian" and "Christianity," even in the richness of its appearances, leads us necessarily to its source, but only the decision and the will to encounter the real source in all the history, that is to rediscover the person of Jesus the Christ in all ecclesial and sacramental structures, in all doctrinal systems, in dogmatic and ethics, but also in the variety of liturgy and the rituals of the Church. There are many incrustations which have to be broken up so that the true face of Christ becomes visible again. Too little attention has been paid to a small instance in the life of late Pope John Paul II. Whenever he visited a country he was eager to detect the face of Christ in Christians who had lived there, and he made them examples of true Christian life by beatifying or canonizing them. In a way he helped liberating the Church from its numbness by teaching the faithful to rediscover the hidden face of the living Christ in the faces of men and women of all races and periods of time who totally surrendered themselves to Christ and followed him in the course of their life. The response of Jesus, "whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9) is still to be heard wherever we can discover the face of Christ in the life of one of his disciples. If Christians were more sensitive, they would recognize that Jesus becomes visible and accessible even today in our midst, as in Pope John XXIII or Edith Stein or Mother Teresa, in Martin Luther King Jr., in Oscar Romero, Ignacio Ellacuría and others. And it must not always be the great and famous ones who represent him; of ten his face can be detected in the little ones, in those we overlook, and who, nevertheless, carry the cross of the Lord through our time. These are - as we have to see - the poor, the destitute, the dispossessed, the displaced and disabled all over the world.


Correctly understood, Christianity is a religion of the way. - Jon Sobrino says, a 'journeying through history."12 That means for Christians, they should know that they are on the way with Christ. Whoever knows that being a Christian means to be on the way, will easily recognize that Christian history is the history of a way to go. He will also accept that his being a true Christian, a disciple of Christ, lives from an ever new encounter with the living Christ Jesus, and that this encounter may well occur in meeting with people suffering under their cross. For a Christian, therefore, Jesus Christ cannot be an object of research, he is much more a subject who also today reveals himself and really meets with us, and creates intersubjectivity and true communication between himself and us and among us as well. Therefore, we have to take care that continuously we stay in contact with him in discovering him in the history of today.

On this we have to insist because for too long a time Christianity is been experienced as a system of doctrines and a set of moral prescriptions and of rituals following the cycles of the year and familiar feasts and events. Dogma and morals were the one side, the feasts of the year, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, regional and local feast-days, but also initiation rites in families, baptism, first communion and confirmation, later on wedding and jubilees, finally rituals for the sick and funeral ceremonies the other side. We hardly can maintain that people ordinarily find their way from social events to a personal encounter with Christ. All the more we have to demand that Christianity develops again its characteristic of a religion offering a way.

Actually it belongs to the discoveries of our days that many other religions, too, become an invitation to a way to go. Consequently religions compete with each other by offering and being a way to go. What then can we say about a religion which has to rediscover its feature of being a way to go? But we also have to ask: How do we

12 See J. Sobrino (note 1), pp.323-330. 337-340; also H. Waldenfels (note 6), pp.377-382.

get along with religious leaders who are not occupied any longer with theological reflections but with instructions for the race? For religious people are runners in the arena of world history.

Here we might ask: Do all runners in the arena have the same goal when they run? They are concerned with the end of their personal lives, but also with the outcome of human history, ultimately with the aim of the world in which they live. But who determines the individual and the all embracing aim? Do we ourselves determine the aim, or is it predetermined and given to us? We have to add: If our individual aim is surrounded by an even more comprehensive aim, our personal aim is related to other persons, to our environment, to family, nation and society in the broadest sense and cannot be realized without them. We might even suffer under the fact that we are too much concerned with ourselves and are blind for those who are running with us side by side. Are we aware of the people next to us on the road who suffer under the burden of the cross they are forced to carry, and do we hear the voices crying for help?

At this point, aim and way, goal and path come together, and the question is: Do all of the runners go the same way? At first sight this apparently is not the case. But when we run on different paths, are we sure that they lead to an aim, and even more: to the same aim? Proverbs like "All roads lead to Rome" or 'All paths lead to the top of Fuji-san" (the holy mountain in Japan) apparently claim precisely this. And yet, we have to admit that also today people go astray, miss the right path, and walk on wrong ways. Therefore, it makes sense that we entrust ourselves to a guide and walk behind him since he knows the way. Nowadays many Christians begin to remember again the word of Jesus in the gospel of John 14: 6: "I am the way."

Since in our further deliberations we are listening to this word and simultaneously watch out for other words of guidance, we have to glance to both sides, to the other religions and to the way which Jesus the Christ has assigned for us. Only someone who is on the way can imagine how much he himself will be changed by constantly considering both sides. For as long as we keep our senses open and do not keep aloof from anyone else, we meet on the way with others and strangers. Actually the other and the others become more and more our concern today. Where we really become aware of them, it becomes increasingly difficult to insert the other in his or her otherness simply into our own categories and to level down what does not fit our own world of imagi nation. Much too long European and western history was impressed by the idea that everything and everyone unknown is inferior, therefore of no interest and useless. Even today we observe in many countries that while they are dealing with the problem of migration, the question of utility of foreigners for the domestic economy accepts a high standard of consideration. But little by little others and strangers become for us others and strangers with their own proper faces. They possess their individualities, their own dignity and their own human rights. Consequently we cannot longer talk only about them, but as we live together with them, we have to talk with them, to deal with them and to care for them. From a study of the unknown and unfamiliar a dialogue and a life shared with them spring up.

Here I would like to call attention to another central point which follows from the religious aspect of the dialogue requested. If Jesus of Nazareth is to show us the way, and at the same time insists that he himself is the way, we shall miss our way as long as we neglect his God-relation. He who calls God his "Father," manifests himself in Holy Scripture more clearly as "the Son," and thus receives an incomparable authority. Whoever tries to relativize the claim by reducing Christ to one religious leader among others has the difficult task to prove that an alternative claim exists which can be posed against the concrete message of Christ. And considering all peculiarities which are characteristic for other religious founders, I find it difficult to discover anyone in human history who would contest the claim of Jesus Christ to be "the Son."13

13 Here Sobrino would call attention to a second point which for too long a time Christianity has neglected: the content of Christ's message, his announcement of God's kingdom and the implications following from it for the present time. Indeed the kingdom finds its personal expression in the person of Jesus Christ, but it needs to be realized, or as Sobrino puts it, it has to be "lived" always anew in the course of history, until the final end of world and history is reached.

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