Sunday, February 3, 2019
Second Sunday after Epiphany - Ecumenical Sunday
“In 1812, at a period called Kani‘aukani by the early Hawaiians, Kamehameha [the Great] returned to Hawai‘i after his year on O‘ahu. There he met a kāula or prophet named Kapihe, who recited for the king his already famous prophecy.
Before the arrival of the American Protestant missionaries in Hawai‘i in 1820, Kapihe is reported to have uttered a prophecy in the presence of Kamehameha. The popular English rendering makes it appear that Christianity and democracy were destined to triumph. That prophecy has conventionally been repeated and interpreted in the following way: ‘The ancient kapu will be overthrown, and the images will fall down. God will be in the heavens, the islands will unite, the chiefs will fall, and those of the earth (the lesser people) will rise.’”
Kapihe’s prophecy is interpreted from a certain point of view. La‘anui, a supporter of Kamehameha, had a different point of view on the interpretation of Kapihe’s prophecy. La‘anui took exception to the interpretation because it implied that Kamehameha did not unite the islands under one rule. That was something to be fulfilled in the future. (“A Note on the Hawaiian Prophecy of Kapihe,” The Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 39, No. 3, John Charlot, 2004).
There is a more positive interpretation of Kapihe’s prophecy in a later version. The author of that interpretation is only identified with by the initial “S” and writes:
“The lands will be joined The things that belong to the sky will come down here. The things of that belong down here will rise up. The God will come down here. He (sic) will talk with the human beings. Wakea will rise up to above. Milo will descend to the below. The God will live with human beings.”
That Kapihe is identified as a prophet in the court of Kamehameha the Great is not surprising because we know that prophets have existed in many cultures throughout human history - in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions.
Prophets had a role in society of promoting change through their messages and actions. The kāula or prophet of ancient Hawai‘i shared that role.
It is said that a prophet is someone who claims to have been contacted by the supernatural or divine – God, if you will – and to speak for God as an intermediary with humanity, delivering whatever the message may be from the supernatural to the people.
In our reading from The Book of Jeremiah we learn of the appointment of Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). Jeremiah is quick to protest. “I am only a boy” (Jeremiah1:6).
But God reassures him with a touch on his mouth. “Today I appoint you prophet” not over just one nation but over all the nations and over all the kingdoms (Jeremiah 1:10).
In The Gospel According to Luke, Jesus makes reference to two other Hebrew prophets including Elijah and Elisha. He makes the claim that prophets are always rejected in their own hometowns and as if to demonstrate his point he manages to alienate those who spoke well of him and of his gracious words.
Their amazement is evident when some asked, “Is not Jesus the son of Joseph? We know his family.”
Jesus had captured their attention moments earlier when he read words from the prophet Isaiah that underscored his ministry “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind freedom for the oppressed, and the acceptable year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:14-20; Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6). Those in the synagogue in Nazareth that day would have been hard pressed to object to Isaiah’s words.
But their initial acceptance and amazement with Jesus quickly turned into anger. Jesus confronted them with an unexpected truth – that “outsiders” are sometimes the models of faith. He offered the examples of two prophets – Elijah ad Elisha – reaching beyond the people of Israel to welcome those who were outsiders.
Elijah went to an unnamed poor widow at Zarephath in Sidon and Elisha healed a Syrian leper known as Naaman. The poor widow was obedient and faithful to God (1 Kings 17:1-6). She endured a severe famine and yet remained faithful.
Naaman was healed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). How was it that God would allow such a healing to take place – of a man who was a leader in the Syrian army and a threat to the Israelites? Both the widow and Naaman would not have been welcomed in their midst and so their rage became evident.
Jesus moved from declaring the acceptable year of the Lord’s favor to calling judgment on those who were not willing to accept the “least of these.” It was a judgment on those who were unwilling to accept that God works with, through and among those who are often considered “outsiders” to those who assumed they are the ones who are faithful and deserving of God’s grace and mercy.
It is a judgment we face ourselves whenever we are quick to dismiss the many and varied ways in which God is present in our lives and in our world.
Whatever interpretations we may turn to of Kapihe’s prophecy, it is clear that his words revealed the worries and hopes of the Hawaiians of his day. They were witnesses to the social, economic, political and religious upheavals that followed the arrival of Europeans and Americans.
It was David Malo, a Hawaiian historian, who understood the anxiety with which our Hawaiian ancestors looked upon the changes that swept across the islands during their lifetime. Malo offered a word of caution, perhaps not so much as a prophet but as an observer of what was transpiring throughout Hawaiʻi.
In 1837, almost two decades after American Protestant missionaries, Malo had a foreboding sense of what was to come. He wrote:
“If a big wave comes in, large fishes will come from the dark ocean which you never saw before, and when the see the small fishes they will eat them up; such also is the case with large animals, they will prey on the smaller ones; the ships of the white men have come, and smart people have arrived from the Great Countries which you have never seen before. They know our people are few in number and living in a small country; they will eat us up, such has always been the case with large countries, the small ones have been gobbled up.”
We may want to excuse the missionaries for their misperceptions of the early Hawaiians whom they encountered upon their arrival two decades earlier. It seems that whatever ‘ike or knowledge they may have acquired in their education and training, it did not include the basics of cultural anthropology.
I was in Honolulu over the last two days for a meeting. I mentioned to someone at the meeting that I recalled Malo’s words of caution and the analogy to “big fish” and “little fish.”
She responded by saying, “Yeah, but Kahu, we have to remember that the big fish need the little fish.”
It was then that I remembered that big fish, including sharks, whales and massive ocean sunfish are always troubled with parasites or injuries. They are always in need of cleaning services.
They rely on the work of smaller fish to clean away parasites, fungi, bacteria and the dead flesh of wounds. It is a mutual relationship, of each depending on the other. If that is the case, Maloʻs asserts that the big countries should not be gobbling up the little countries.
Despite or in spite of the bias the early missionaries may have held regarding their understanding and interpretation of scripture, I believe the early Hawaiians came to understand the implications of Jesus’ message anyway. Because of Kapihe, because of La‘anui, because of the person simply identified as S, because of Malo, and because of Luke they knew that the good news of the year of the Lord’s favor was to all the nations – big and small - whether it was Israel or Syria; whether it was the United States or Hawai‘i.