Sunder John Boopalan is Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Canada. He is the author of the monograph, Memory, Grief, and Agency: A Political Theological Account of Wrongs and Rites (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). As a political theologian with interests in theological ethics, Boopalan draws from anthropological and ethnographic data particularly pertaining to caste and race. His (coauthored) forthcoming book with Fortress Press is titled Dalit Theology: A Global Introduction.
A truly progressive society is one that is able to feel the wounds and pain of the most marginalized and excluded. Such a society’s task, consequently, is to heal and anoint the wounded. Perhaps, that task is better undertaken by embracing the work of mourning.
On the one hand, there is in the foreground “a land flowing with milk and honey.” On the other hand, as one reads the text with modern eyes and ears, the problematic language of inheritance, possession, and settlement the chapter begins with rightly alarms readers concerned about occupation of stolen lands using theologically justifying language.
I believe the recognition that wisdom and love go hand in hand cannot simply be abstracted as some general and vague love for the world and its persons. It is, in fact, a general and abstract love that often becomes complicit in ways of death.
If God invites dialogue and intervention and is moved by human persons, God is thus open to changing God’s mind. This picture of God has implications for human interactions. In cultural and political movements, people often make up their mind and are unpersuaded by what other people say or do. When these others are suffering others, being unpersuaded is a mark of tyranny. When evidence of malevolent intention is presented and the evidence is brushed aside in favour of aligning with larger—national or otherwise—interests, impassibility is a crime.
Mothers like Hagar who bear the weight of racism in the wilderness (Genesis 21:14) are always on the verge of losing their children—inferiorized by racist prejudice. These mothers’ voices are crying out, “Do not let me look on the death of the child” (Genesis 21:16).
As tempting as it might be to assign murderous impulses to so-called former colonial times, Christians would do well to pay attention to how such logic continues to operate today in theological and political thinking.
Embodying the best of the prophetic tradition, the text encourages us to consider that religion, in fact, does have functions: liberation, feeding the hungry, inviting vulnerable strangers into our homes, and undoing injustice.