A GOSPEL APPROACH TO INCULTURATION/EVANGELIZATION
The Gospels themselves provide guidelines for this process. There are four stages.
1. LIVING THERE
First there is the living and growing up in a particular place and a particular culture, and in this way getting to know the land and the people. This includes experiencing with the people the different social justice issues they have to face. So Jesus was born and brought up in Israel.
2. IN THE TEMPLE, ASKING QUESTIONS
A second stage is seen in the incident when Jesus as a boy about twelve years old was taken to Jerusalem by his parents. His parents when they joined up together on their way home discovered he was not with them and they had to go back to Jerusalem "looking for him everywhere. Three days later they found him in the temple, sitting among the doctors and asking them questions" (Luke 2:45-46). When Mary, his mother, asked him why, his reply was: "Do you not know that I must be busy with my Father's affairs? But they did not understand what he meant" (Luke 2:49-50).
Inculturation is a going to the heart of a particular culture, to its central home, and there sitting down and asking questions of the people learned in the culture in order to find out what God the Father wants of that people. Every person,every people, is loved by God and is special to God with its own particular qualities and gifts. In the Maori scene, therefore, I had to go to the different marae, their meeting places, and sit down with the old people, listening to them and asking them questions. I soon found out that to do this I had to learn the language and to learn what I could about the culture just to begin the process of listening and asking questions. At first I did not even know what to ask. This led to the third stage, a study of the early Maori writings, to read their story, as told by themselves.
3. SPEAKING WITH THE LEADERS AND PROPHETS
For the third stage I look to the transfiguration of Jesus when he led Peter, James and John to the top of Mount Thabor and was transfigured before them. "His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light" (Mathew 17:2). Then Moses and Elijah appeared talking to Jesus.
Just as Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah, the great leader and the great prophet of the Jewish people, so we have to 'speak' with the great leaders and the great prophets of the indigenous people to understand the vision that lead them to this country, and the dream they still have for this country. This means looking at the "innumerable seeds of the Word" in the indigenous religion and recognizing that they "can constitute a true preparation for the Gospel." (Evangelii Nuntiandi:53)
4. WALKING WITH AND BREAKING BREAD WITH THE PEOPLE
The fourth stage is expressed in the story of the two disciples and Jesus, after his resurrection, travelling together on the road to Emaus and then sitting down to supper together that evening. It is a story of how the two disciples told the 'stranger' what had happened in Jerusalem the last few days, of their hopes in Jesus and how those hopes had been destroyed by the crucifixion. Then Jesus explained the Jewish scriptures to them as they walked along the road, and their hearts burned within them as he showed them that all that had been written was being fulfilled, in him. Then they invited him to stay with them and eat with them that night and as they sat down to table they recognized him in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:13-35).
For me, over the last twenty-five years, it has been a great joy to walk with the Maori, to hear their story as it unfolds today, with all its joys and pains, and to sit down to table with them as they break bread and share it with me and in all of this, slowly, together, to talk about the old Maori stories and Maori values and to recognize the presence of Jesus who comes not to destroy, but to fulfil, the vision given to these people by the Father. And it is a vision, not just for the Maori, but for all people.
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