In late July, 1549, the first Christian missionary reached Japan bearing the “euangelion” – the “good-message” – the “good news” – English “gospel” to the people of Japan. The missionary carrying the good news of Jesus Christ was Francis Xavier. The Japanese he found there lived in a society completely arranged around their religious beliefs – various ancient forms of Shintoism. Shintoism actually teaches that there were spirits outside of one’s own tribe spirits who can sometimes be the source of new truths, innovations and ideas. So this strange man from distant parts of the world was not dismissed out-of-hand. And Xavier had lived an exemplary life consistent with his beliefs which lent his teachings some credibility. He was given a friendly reception, but it took less than a year for this new religion he was preaching to be banned by the Emporer.
One particular belief held by all Japanese was “Tama” or reverence of ancestors. The ancestors were revered because they had created the current generations. The people have come from the ancestors at birth and when they died, they would become part of the ancestors. Of course the Japanese people were very interested in the question of their revered ancestors. Xavier recounts these conversations:
“One of the things that most pains and torments these Japanese is that we teach them that the prison of hell is irrevocably shut. For they grieve over the fate of their departed children, of their parents and relatives; and they often show their grief by their tears. So they ask us if there is any hope . . .and I am obliged to answer that there is absolutely none. The grief at this affects and torments them wonderfully; they almost pine away with sorrow . . . I can hardly restrain my tears sometimes at seeing many so dear to my heart suffer such intense pain about a thing which is already done and can never be undone.”
The good news arrived and brought what to the people of Japan? Sorrow that nearly kills them? Grief that has no hope of comfort? This is what Jesus sent us into the world to bring people – news that their dead babies are being tortured in hell with no hope of escape? Euangelion indeed. Suffice it to say that the conversion of the Japanese at that time wasn’t particularly successful. Continue reading