By Grateful Nokar
I still remember the story my friend shared regarding an experience that he had with his niece. He needed a few things from the store, so his sister-in-law offered to take him there in her car. As he was about to step into the car, his niece--his sister in law’s daughter--who was about three or four years old at that time, started to cry. She did not want him to go with them in their car. Her mother understood what had happened and explained to her daughter that my friend is family. He is her mom’s brother and therefore her uncle. For that reason, she should let my friend ride with them in their car, but the little girl kept on crying and said that my friend is not her uncle. If he was her uncle, she reasoned, then she would have seen him come to her house. However, because she has never seen him at her house before, nor seen him eat at her house, then that means my friend is not her uncle. For the little girl, being in relationship, i.e. being an uncle or an aunt, means being present and sharing life with one another. Since my friend had never been to his niece’s house before, he is not seen as an uncle in his niece’s eyes.
One must understand that sharing food with another person is very significant in the Chuukese culture. It is one of the ways in which Chuukese people express their love towards another. Thus, when a Chuukese person shares his food with another person, it means at least two things: First, there is a relationship between the Chuukese and the other person; or, second, the Chuukese desires to be in relationship with the other person. This means that being in a genuine relationship with another person is not something that is in name only. A relationship is more than a title that is shared or exchanged with one another. True relationship is one that expressed with both one’s words and actions. It is being present in the other person’s life—even in simple things like sharing a meal together. It is incarnational.
I am glad that God’s love for us as our Creator is not the kind of love that is in name only. The relationship that he has with us is not all talk without any action. This is clearly seen in the fact that he did not yell from the sky down to us here on earth saying, “I love you!” Instead, our Creator, God himself, became flesh and dwelled in our midst in the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, he shared life with us. During his life on this earth, the incarnate God shared in our pains and difficulties that we face in this fallen world. He also shared a meal with us. During the Last Supper, he instituted the New Covenant which would bind us together with God in love relationship for all eternity. This is genuine love and relationship: God is present with us and shares life with us. It is incarnational—a sharing of life in both word and deed.
It is striking to know that Christ did not take upon himself a body and dwell in our midst in order that he might gain something from us. After all, everything that we have is only what we have received from him. Thus, Jesus Christ did not share life with us for the sake of what he would gain from us. He pursued us in love, and shared life with us, because he is interested in who we are. That is to say, Christ loved us and invites us to partake with him from his table because of who we are—not because of the benefits he would reap from being us. He is about “who” is at the table—not “what” is to be gained from the table. Who we are as persons, in relationship with God in Christ is what matters to him. The Apostle John bears witness to this truth in the book of Revelation. The main highlight in the New Heave and the New Earth is the promise that the dwelling place of God will be with man, and God will dwell with man forever. Truly, God’s incarnational relationship with us is not about what is there to gain but about persons being in relationship with one another.
Our relationship with Christ and with one another, which came about as a result of our being in Christ, is a relationship that is meant to be incarnational. Following Christ’s example, it ought to be a “sharing of life with one another” kind of relationship. It is not a relationship that is to be in name only. We are to be present and celebrate each other’s joy, and also carry one another’s burden. It is a love relationship that bears witness to Christ’s love in both word and deed. Furthermore, partaking from Christ’s table means that we are about “who” is at the table”, not “what we can gain from the table.” It is a relationship that cares for people as ends in themselves—not as a means to an end. Relationships are not stepping stones to achieve a certain goal. Rather, our relationship with one another are goals in themselves. We ought to treat people with love and share life with them because of who they are in and of themselves because that is how the incarnate Christ treats us. The same ought to be true regarding our relationship with God in Christ. We must guard against reducing Christ to an abstract idea or a theological framework through which we interpret Scripture and construct our theologies. We need to intentionally seek Christ because of who he is—not as a means to an end.
Until we start entering into and being present in each other’s lives, and until we start treating one another and Christ our Lord as persons, that is, as ends in themselves and seek relationship with them in both our words and actions, we will miss the point of being in relationship with one another. Sharing life with another person by being present and treating people and our Lord Jesus Christ as persons is what it means to be in relationship—it is what it means to be a community. This is church. I like what David said in Psalm 16, “Preserve me, O God for in you I take refuge. You LORD are my Lord and apart from you I have no good.” For David, God was his ultimate good and he wanted to be preserved (i.e. live forever) in order that he may continue to be in relationship with his God. This is the kind of heart that I want to be in me and in all of us. I pray that we desire to be in relationship with God and with one another, not only in name, but in both our words and deeds—not because of what we will gain from those relationships, but because we genuinely love and value the persons with whom we are in relationship with.