‘Are You Rich Towards God?’

Luke 12: 13- 21

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Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Message

While a man was polishing his new car, his 6 yr old son picked up a stone and scratched lines on the side of the car. In anger, the man took the child’s hand and hit it many times; not realizing he was using a wrench

At the hospital, the child lost all his fingers due to multiple fractures. When the child saw his father…..with painful eyes he asked, ‘Dad when will my fingers grow back?’ The man was so hurt and speechless; he went back to his car and kicked it a lot of times. Devastated by his own actions. Sitting in front of that car he looked at the scratches; the child had written

‘LOVE YOU DAD’.

The next day that man committed suicide.

The story tries to point to the fact that “Things are to be used and people are to be loved. But the problem in today’s world is that, People are used and things are loved”

This definitely is a very sad and revolting story. But it helps us enter into the heart of this parable where we have made space for possessions and displaced God and relationships. Jesus is dragged into a feud between two brothers. The man in this passage is the younger brother as the elder brother gets the inheritance. The younger brother wants Jesus to be on his side which is clear by his demand  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (vs 13). This man represents our certain tendencies of prayers where we want Jesus to do just as we demand. Jesus refuses to be such an arbiter and then turns the conversation in a different direction.” Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (vs 15). I will like to pause for a minute before we go ahead.

J.P.S Uberoi is a sociologist who says that a product has 3 lives;

a) Machine Life,

b) Market Life,

c) Vogue Life.

Machine life is the intended life that the machine will sustain till it crashes out. Market life is the sustainability in the market and vogue life depends on the trend that is around. Today we are all defined by our possessions like cars, bikes, ipads and mobile phones. A mobile phone has a machine life of 10 years, a market life of 7 years but the vogue life today is just a matter of 1 and half years. In the search for the latest and the best, the vogue life will soon reduce to 6 months on an average. Vogue life depends on the desire to acquire consumer goods and to be updated and to be cool. So when you get a Samsung Galaxy Ace, in 6 months’ time, you feel you need a Samsung Note 3. In another 6 months you go for the best iPhone 5s or whatever. So what has happened, he says, is we have made our life a set of junk yard where the outdated goods is worthy of a museum or an addition to the ever increasing waste on this earth. And it is on these very temporary goods that we stake our life and prestige on. Jesus at the outset warns that no goods or possessions will satisfy you. All it will do is increase your appetite for it which is never ending.

Now let us come to the parable where there is a rich man who had a very good harvest. And there he has a dilemma what to do with it. How to preserve it? He wants to tear down and build a bigger barn. Church father Ambrose says, that a better way to preserve the abundance of his harvest was to put it in the mouth of the poor. Well, the rich man thought otherwise! Storing the grains in bigger barns gave him the right to celebrate So when this rich man had achieved his bounty and had come of age what does he have? To whom will he give his success speech? Where are the village elders, family, friends, cousins, wife, and children? When the prodigal son came, even he had the whole village celebrating his arrival.  But this man has only himself to talk with. He and his loneliness (Mai aur meri Tanhai aksar ye baate kiya karte hai types) celebrate his imagined barn and real abundance. He believes that all you need in life is yourself and a whole lot of possession to keep you happy. It is here that God thunders him with those words “You fool.” He is shattering the myth of being self-sufficient. The word ‘fool’ used in the text is translated from the original Greek word aphron.Phron in greek means spirit. Spirit signifies life. So aphron means being spiritless. In a way it talks about being dead.  The man with his wealth has bought a mansion, barn, possessions and whole lot of ‘loneliness’.  Even before the question of death that God poses him, God says “You are a living dead.” Don’t we know a whole lot of people who could be called ‘living dead’.  We could be one of them. The real meaning of the question that God poses is this, “When your life is demanded of you who will get what you have accumulated? You have no one. You have invested in things and driven away people out of your life. Can you carry the goods to your tomb? What use will it be?

My friend this parable is for you and me. In a race to get ahead in life we have invested heavily in accumulating materials and possessions. Like the rich man we forgot that this life and its beauty is a gift from God.  Living in relation with God and loving your family, friends, and neighbor is the only treasure that we are left with. There is a very important part in the Mar Thoma Liturgy for the Funeral that says, “Itha nammude avasanam engil dhanwanmar thangalude dhanathine kurichu ahangarikyunnathu enthinnu?” (If this is our end why should the rich take pride in the riches?)

Well, if you see the question is left unanswered in the parable. Because it is to be answered by the hearers and readers. So the questions my friend is ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ What is your answer?

The ending verse is, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (vs 21)

What does it mean to be rich towards God?. Let me introduce you to Rev. Kurien George who is a prophetic voice of the Church. He is the former director of Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai. As a director, Achen at times used to polish the shoes of the children of Navjeevan to demonstrate the attitude of Jesus where he washes the feet of his disciples. Recently he put up an FB update.  Let me quote some part of it;

“Mr. A has four children ( Age: girl-17, boys- 15, 11 & 9). His wife was diagnosed with cancer and has undergone treatment at Trivandrum. Her present condition is not known as she has not been for a check up for sometime. Mr. A does not own a house and lives in rented accommodation. He has been asked to vacate by the 31st of this month. He has nowhere to go. He is not very able to manage his own affairs. He drinks if someone offers him –this may be once in six months (may be to forget his crisis). He has no social support from his community.”

Now after that he adds his intervention;

“ I have been supporting him for the last few years by providing him employment and also giving him some financial help every once in a while. He looks emaciated and underweight. A year back he came to me at night saying that there was no food and I sent him sufficient provisions for a few days. Last two years during the lean season I bought him provisions for three months as he did not get a regular job anywhere, this was in addition to giving him some odd jobs at my home. Three months back I realized that he would not survive on what I gave him and also to have some accountability I put him on a monthly salary of rupees ten thousand. He came to me the yesterday and wept as he had not eaten anything since the previous night and his wife could not walk as she had a wound on her feet. I took her to the hospital at night and got her leg cleaned and dressed up. After this I bought him six packets of bread and a bottle of jam. I asked him what were his plans for food today and he said that the family was surviving on the food I bought him yesterday. I plan to give him his salary in advance to enable him to buy provisions. I also told him to ensure that the minimum requirements for the month should be bought and kept so that this crisis is not repeated.

He ends his update with this uncomfortable question;

Why does not the gospel filter down to give life to the persons who are living in these kinds of situations?

We have pulpits and altars (secure places for good homilies and emotional deliveries) but Jesus walked the streets of life and saw the pain face to face. I know that there will not be many takers for my posting, as I have seen from my past experiences but I do hope that for those who do read them you may just start thinking that the time is running short for our ivory tower Christianity. He said, “I was hungry you gave me food…” He said “ If someone asks for you to go one mile go two, if someone asks you for your coat give him your cloak as well..”

In my conversation, Achen said that he plans to sell some part of his property to help this man. He with his life has proved what it is to live the gospel and to be rich towards God. He poses a challenge to us. Are you ready to invest in people by living out the gospel? I do not know what my answer is. We all have to give our own answers. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Breaking Your Neighbour’s Balloon and Saving Yours (Maundy Thursday)


Luke 22: 14- 30

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.  You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me,  so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Message:

One of the childhood games that Sunday school competitions introduced me to is the ‘Breaking of balloons’. What does one need to do? The elders used to fill air in the balloon, tie it with strings and then the extended part of the string used to be tied to the ankle of the child. The rule of the game is very simple. Save your balloon and break the balloon of your fellow competitor. Whoever is good at breaking other balloons and saving your own balloon is the winner. “Break other and save yourself and you will be the winner.”

Now while you ponder over that tiny trivia let us look at the passage set before us. The context of this passage is Jesus and disciples celebrating the Passover. Please read Exodus 12 to know the detailed version of how and why a Passover was being celebrated. Passover was celebrating the liberative act of God, where the Israelites were rescued with an out stretched arm of God from the clutches of Pharaoh. So in the background of this celebration which is about liberation, Jesus takes the bread and breaks it. My friend Rev Eapen Mathew points out that in normal practice, it was just to dip the bread. But breaking shows a new act. It foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus. Eucharist emphasizes two aspects, one of Christ being broken and Christ shedding his blood for us on the cross. This great love of being broken and shedding is the key part of the remembrance of Christ. Christ’s love compelled him to be broken.

But if you read verse 24 the disciples seem to be playing the game of “Breaking the balloons”. They had a dispute of who is greatest among them. To prove that they had to break others balloons and save theirs. We too are like the disciples. Getting ahead of others is very important. What I did during the game, may be, defines who I really am. I did not go to break the balloons. I am a nice guy. All I tried was to save my balloon. I kept running away. Protecting my balloon was important. So taking no risks, playing safe defines me. But some want to get ahead and the only option is to break others balloon. Only then will you be great and safe.  Jesus said to them, there is a change in rule, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22: 25- 27)

Jesus demonstrates the idea of not caring for your balloon. He says “Like me be ready to be broken.” It is here we should understand his act of washing the disciples’ feet. After this act he said “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13: 34). It is from this verse that we get the word Maundy Thursday. Maundy is derived from the Latin word ‘Mandatum’ which means a command. The command is to love one another. Eucharist is the time where we remember the costly love of our Lord who was ready to be broken for us. How did this change history? Sociologist Rodney Stark says that the reason for Jesus Movement was the response of Jesus’ disciples to the sick and the downtrodden.  In the Roman Empire, the normal response to any epidemic or plague was to leave the one with the disease out in the open to die. This way they could assure that they would live. Greek Historian Thucydides wrote “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.” But what did the disciples of Jesus do. Dionysius a third century Bishop of Alexandria writes “In the wake of plague, heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And they embraced all those who were thrown away as their own. There was a heavy loss of life as these followers were infected by the disease. In a way they voluntarily embraced the disease of their neighbours and lost their lives serving others.” It is noteworthy to read the comments of Emperor Julian the Apostate who was an opponent of Christians. He scolded his priests of the Roman cult saying “When the people who are poor where neglected by you priests, the impious Galileans (That is how he called Christians) devoted their lives to them. The impious Galileans not only serve their own poor but ours too. They are ready to die for all those ruffians that we don’t care for.” The followers of Christ did not break any balloons, but were ready to be broken and shed.

The ‘Mandatum’ is to love. Eucharist reminds us to be broken. It reminds us of the great love that did so for us. I remember the movie ‘Untouchables’ with Kevin Cosner in the lead. It is about the mafia gangs in the US that ran bootlegging after US put a ban on Alcohol. The brilliant Robert De Niro plays the role of the Mafia king Al Capone. There is one scene where Al Capone is watching an Opera of some tragedy. He is moved by the tragedy and the music. He is shown as crying bucket full. In midst of this comes an aide informing him about his adversary. And in midst of the tears he instructs his aide to kill the adversary. The paradox or the irony cannot be missed in this scene. During the Eucharist we too try to observe the rituals with tears and reverence. We may not be as pronounced as Al Capone in this scene, but Eucharist asks us to be broken, to love for the other, but ain’t we busy saving our own balloons? Eucharist does not touch us beyond the boundaries of the church.  When we come to the Lord’s Table may we be touched beyond the mere emotions. May our love be manifested with actions of compassion and solidarity.

Let us sing one verse of the Song below

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We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

Chorus

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (2)

 

 

 

Thought to Ponder:

Do people know we are Christians by our Love? Are  we are not more defined by what we hate?

 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrain Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

Ab Ki Baar: Caesar Aint The Boss Yaar

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Matthew 22: 15- 22

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Message

Lok Sabha Elections 2014 has done a lot of things to us. On Facebook and on Twitter all we seem to talk about is politics. We have jokes of ‘Ab Ki Baar, Modi Nahi hai Bachelaar’, we have jokes on the cough of Kejriwal and the Amul Baby image of Rahul Gandhi. We have staunch supporters of each group trying to prove a point to the other. We have new words in the dictionary like ‘Aaptards and Moditards’. I have witnessed close friends fighting over their political preferences and getting more personal than ever. Sometimes friends have asked political questions based on my preferences which will be more to trap me than to elicit an answer or my opinion. Even I have done this and have branded people who oppose my views as those who have no conscience or courage to face the truth. I guess we are yet not mature enough to handle the social media where we can level out the issues facing the country and fight with passion for the truth we believe without getting abusive or trapping the other so that we win by making the point.

Guess this phenomenon is not a recent one. In the text that we just read that Pharisees and Herodians approach Jesus. Pharisees believed that Temple tax was the most important tax and paying tax to Caesar was a sin of the highest proportion. There were Pharisees who did not carry the Roman coin as it was believed to be a blasphemy. Herodians were in association with the Romans and supported the tax system of Caesar. As we know Rome had captured the land of Israel which the people of Israel detested very much. Now it is interesting that the Pharisees to trap Jesus, sent their disciples with the Herodians. And they ask the million dollar question.  Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (vs 17). So then this is a trap where any answer would put Jesus in trouble, and then that was the real idea than having his opinion. But Jesus went on to display some parable out here by asking for a coin to one of them. By the rule of the Pharisees we can guess they did not have any coin as it was a sin, so it must be the Herodians who carried the denarius. Holding the denarius in hand he asked them “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” (vs 20). These guys were smart,they answered “Caesar”. And then came the final bit that nailed it. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (vs 21). Now that looks pretty ambiguous to say the least. It seems to have pacified both.

Now when Jesus asked whose image and inscription is there on the coin the obvious answer was ‘Caesar’. And therefore Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. “Give to God what is God’s”, surely begs for a logic. Who has the image of God? Genesis 1; 27 says “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” So if we are created in the image of God, what does it mean to “Give God what is God’s”?

Back in school, we learned about pie graphs in maths. Talking about maths itself makes me remember my affinity to the figure ‘zero’ when it came to marks. And guess what zero is also a circle.  A circle represents the whole. Slices of the circle, whether large or small, represent portions of the whole. These slices are often shown in vivid colors. A pie graph can indicate how a budget is divided. It can indicate the breakdown of a population according to age or race or sex. A pie graph can convey many kinds of information in a way that is simple to understand.

 You and I may experience life as we live it now in terms of a pie graph. The single self we are is served up in several slices. One slice may be for work, another for school, another for family. There may be slices for church and recreation and community service. Still other slices represent meals and sleep. Together such slices as these make up the pie which is our life here based on our choices and priorities.

My pie chart would read like this, 20% sleep, 20% reading, 30% Facebook, 10% family, 10% food and 10 % well what is 10%? O ya. God it is.

We have divided ourselves in so many pies. My wife sure wishes that 30% would be family instead of Facebook.( I am sure she contests the figure of 30%. She would say it is all I do. Well you know that’s not true)

 “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” With this reply, Jesus raises the debate to a higher level. What is at stake is more than tax payments, more than even the rule of Rome. It is not Caesar who is in control, it is God who is in control. Jesus says that God is not just a slice of your pie. You are made in His image. The circle belongs to him. When you give him, you give yourself to him, rather than putting a mere 10% consolation prize of a pie for him. Jesus says God has the complete claim over you. He gives shape to your scattered pies. It is in the Circle of the presence of God that give meaning, purpose and shape to the ‘pies’ of our lives.

This is what Paul urges us when he says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12: 1-2). We are to offer ourselves ‘wholly and completely’ to God and not just a pie of our time and talent. Rev Charles Hoffacker says something profound. “In life we all get burnt out handling our jobs, family and children that we complain we have no time for ourselves. That is because we depend heavily on our resources. ‘Give to God what is God’s’ means giving yourself to God where God is the source of electricity and we just transmit this electricity to the people and the tasks that we are involved in. We are not the source. God, the creator is the source. Giving our all to God is easier said than done?

Let me leave you with a very silly illustration. According to one story, a much loved king had a terrible ailment of the heart and was in need of a heart transplant.  There was a great concern throughout his kingdom.  Everyone gathered outside the royal castle. Outside the royal balcony there were a sea of people who heard the minister declare that the king needs a heart transplant. Hearing this the people started screaming and waving their hands.  “Take my heart, King, take my heart!”

Well, the king was overwhelmed at the love of the people. But he just needed one heart and here every one was ready to give. So how would he pick that one person? An idea popped into his head.  He asked everyone to please be quiet for a few minutes and he told them his plan.  He would throw down a feather and whoever the feather landed on, the king would take their heart for the transplant.  The beloved king then threw the feather out over the people and watched it drift back and forth.  Everyone was still screaming and waving their hands, “Take my heart, King,” but with one difference:  they were leaning their heads back and blowing the feather back into the air.  “Take my heart, King (blow), Take my heart (blow).”

 

We too try to believe that we are giving ourselves fully to God by saying “Take my Heart Lord”. But all we really like to do is give a ‘pie’ of our time and energy to God by confining him to Sundays and prayer times saying even more loudly “Take my heart Lord (Blow), Take my heart Lord (Blow)”. Well hear Jesus say this once again “God does not need your pie, he is the circle that gives meaning to your life.”

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

Hosanna “Lord, Save Us From Our Self-Love”


Text: Matthew 21: 1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,“Tell the daughter of Zion,Look, your king is coming to you,humble, and mounted on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee

 

Message

Matt Redman is an English Christian Worship leader. He mentions of a time when he was just entertaining and not worshipping. People came and thanked him and he felt this was not worship. He consulted his pastor. His pastor said that they would try a season to do away with the sound system and the guitars. He said “let people come to the Church with their voices and prayers to worship Jesus.” Let Jesus be the focus. The pastor reminded “Let us be producers of Worship and not just consumers.” After a season devoid of guitars and sound system the Church set their focus on following and worshipping Jesus. It is in such a background Redman composed one of the most amazing and meaningful songs “When the Music fades..”. For those who are unfamiliar with the song here is a snippet.

‘When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart… / I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus.’

When we look at the text we see a juncture in Jesus ministry where he was at the zenith of popularity. People were crowding to see Jesus enter Jerusalem where they spread their cloaks to welcome Jesus coming riding on a Donkey. They were all shouting Hosanna. Hosanna means save us now. Save us from what? If we were to be in place of the people in Jerusalem, if we said Hosanna, what would it mean? Save us from what?

The people who gathered to welcome Jesus were not welcoming the Son of God. He was a political Messiah who they thought would save Israelites from the strong hold of Roman Imperialism. The background of this event was Passover which celebrated Israel’s freedom from Egypt and the clutches of Pharaoh. In such a context, the freedom from Roman Imperialism was envisaged.  The crowd followed a Miracle Maker. He was doing wonders. He is a superstar. They will benefit if he continues. Jesus was their hero who assured them security and hope. When one reads John Chapter 6, we see a prelude to this. When Jesus feeds the Five thousand people throng to make him the king. But when Jesus sits down and teaches his ways we have people deserting him one by one. At this day when people sing Hosanna, the whole city is with him. He has men and woman on his side. But when we fast forward it to the Calvary we see Jesus lonely on the Cross. Where did the people go? Where did the people who removed their cloak and spread it on the ground to welcome Jesus go?

Philip Yancey says that our journey of faith is divided into 3 stages. A)Childhood, B)Adulthood and C)Parenthood.

He says that in our faith journey we develop a childlike faith. We have wonder in our eyes. We have faith and we expect that all things will be fine. God will take care of us and he will protect us. This innocence of the faith is very important. It is this faith that keeps us going. We believe in miracles. But this faith focuses on what good can God do to me? What am I receiving? I am the most important entity.

Adulthood of faith is when we are not convinced about many things. We doubt some understandings of faith. We rebel. We question. We are not satisfied with the answers. We have doubts. We have genuine questions about existence of God. We are not sure if our faith makes sense at all. This is an important part of faith journey. There is space for doubt in our journey of faith. I remember my own rebellions where I questioned the need for church, the need for faith, the need for liturgy. There were times when I found the worship so boring that inside the worship order I kept another book so that I could read it. I strictly do not advocate this but my period of rebellion and questioning were very maturely handled by my parents.

Parenthood is that stage in faith when the focus is not I. I grow to get over my self-obsession. I learn that life is all about giving. My parents always sacrificed for me, they had sleepless nights when I was ill, they had confusions about my choices. But their prayer was that I do things pleasing to the Lord.” My child should have what I did not have and my child should grow like I never could” is the wish of a parent. Parent stage of faith is when we practice what Jesus asked ““If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”(Luke 9: 23) I remember that when I was struggling with all my doubts and questions I encountered a special man. I was so obsessed with my act of rebellion that I did not see any hope. I met Dax Mathews at Kamshet Mission Field, which is popularly known as Lonavala Mission. Dax embodies a life of sacrifice and faith. Before joining Maharashtra Village Mission, he was helping tribal communities with livelihood issues by teaching them different techniques of agriculture. He realized that denying oneself and taking up the Cross means to serve people more disadvantaged than us. A person who grew up in urban background went to the villages of Maharashtra and lived with minimum comforts. His only aim was to serve people. Dax does not speak much. He looks very ordinary. But his actions and his convictions have helped me to understand that Faith is about giving, it is about sacrificing and displacing myself from the pedestal of life. Dax today is doing his Bachelors in Divinity from Dharmajyothi Vidyapeeth. His teachers and classmates alike bear witness to the uniqueness of his conviction and passion for mission.

Now to the question where did the people go who sang ‘Hosanna.’ Well they quit as the road to the cross is about denying ourselves. They went away sad like the Rich young man who loved eternal life but could not sell his riches. We also want to follow Christ as long as we get something and how good if we could just avoid the cross. We want Christianity without the Cross.

As a Child, I first saw the game of lemon and spoon in Sunday school. I loved it. In normal athletics I never failed to come last. So here was my sure road to success. Lemon and spoon was slow and I knew I could make it. The race was about to begin. The whistle blew. We with the spoon in our mouth and lemon on top of it, started to race towards the finishing line. As I had hoped I was the first one to reach the mark. I must have done celebrations that could put Usain Bolt to shame. But the man at the finishing line seemed to ignore me. He told me to stand aside. I thought to myself, this man does not know how to appreciate a winner. But before I could start rejoicing again, the Sunday school teacher announced the name of the winners and she forgot to take my name. Or so I thought. I am sure you must have guessed it. I was the first one to reach. But my spoon had no lemon. In my craze to come first i ran fast but had lost the the most important thing. I had lost the lemon

We live in a time where getting ahead of others is important. Success is about getting ahead of others. Religion is about gaining divine favour. Where more than serving others it is more important to know who will go to heaven, who is born again and who is the chosen one. We have finished the race. But we have lost the lemon.

Hosanna “Lord Save us from our Self-love”. Amen

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

What To Do When The Music Stops and The Party Comes To An End? (Palm Sunday)

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John 12; 12- 19

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;

see, your king is coming,

seated on a donkey’s colt.”

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

 

Message

Last Sunday (6th April 2014) was the finals of T20 World Cup Match between India and Sri Lanka. After the Holy Communion Service at Itanagar, we were travelling back to Guwahati by the evening bus. So I could not watch the match. But to the utter irritation of my wife, every other second I was checking the score on my mobile. But after sometime the internet was not functioning too well. It got back after an hour and I checked the score and to my utter shock the total was just 130. I just could not understand what really happened. So I logged on to FB and saw the abuse after abuse on Yuvraj Singh. Things like “I hope to never see you on field again, best of luck with the cancer foundation.’ ‘A moment of silence for Royal Challengers Bangalore who spent 14 Crore in an auction to buy Yuvi’. When finally India lost the match and the World Cup, there was a ready scapegoat in Yuvi.  And the next day we saw the news that his home was pelted with stones. But then when sanity came to the fore this update on Facebook did a lot of circulation.

 

Under 15 World Cup 1996: India Won, Yuvraj – Man of The Series.

Under 19 World Cup 2000: India Won, Yuvraj – Man of The Series.

2007 T20 World Cup: India Won, Yuvraj 70 in 30 in SF.2011 World Cup: India Won, Yuvraj – Man of The Series.

People abusing Yuvraj Singh :

► Don’t forget, he was the man due to whom India won the World Cup.

► He was the one of the person who fulfilled Sachin’s 22 years old dream.

► He was the one who gave us glorious Six 6’s moment.

► He is the one who has given lot and lot of other victories.

Its cricket, Its game. Some day you score, some day you floor

 

It also took Sachin Tendulakar to stand by Yuvi and say ‘It is ok to criticize Yuvi, but do not crucify him’

It is really shocking to see the apple of the eyes of the last World Cup, the fighter of cancer, overnight by one of his performances becomes the villain this World Cup. It just reminds us that someday we are in control, life is on song and the next day it may all come crashing down. Such is the vanity of life.

 

Today we are meditating on Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is the zenith of Jesus’ ministry where he enters with it riding on a Donkey and the city erupts with frenzy where the people come out to welcome him with palm leaves and their cloaks on the road. They are all shouting ‘Hosanna, Hosanna’ which means ‘save us now’. His popularity was soaring the skies. He had unprecedented acceptance. In our lingo, he sure was the ‘Rockstar.’ Now what was the reason for this huge acceptance? Israel was under Roman subjugation. People were awaiting a Messiah, a King in the line of David to liberate them from the much hated Romans. And Jesus was anticipated as the King who would do so. “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (vs 13) shows the expectation of the crowd. Jesus who would fit into such expectations was being cheered that day. But in our journey towards ‘Good Friday’ along with Jesus, we see how things changes. Jesus does not play to the tune and expectation of the people. He disappoints them. He frustrates them. Those who yelled ‘Hosanna’ were there again to shout ‘Crucify him, Crucify him’. Those who shouted ‘Save us now’ mocked back ‘You save yourself.’ ‘Leadership is the rate of disappointing people at a rate they can stand’ says Ron Heifitz from Harvard. Going by that definition Jesus surely disappointed his followers at the rate that exceeded the threshold of disappointment. The very people who welcomed him with cheer handed him over to be crucified. The party was over. Music stopped.

 

Palm Sunday is at the beginning of ‘Passion Week’. The Journey from ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Good Friday’ is actually a reminder of the story of our lives. Jesus was in control of everything till the entry of Jerusalem. He was healing the sick, telling parables, he was accepted, he had disciples by his side, crowd flocked him. This we call the action of Jesus. But journey towards the cross is a Jesus who is not in control. He is passive. He is silent. People who supported him have deserted him. He is lonely and alone. This is called the passion of Christ. Our life may not have such a dramatic graph but we know the contrast when in life everything you touch is gold, when job is a joy, when family is the best thing that ever happened and nothing could actually go wrong. You are in total control. God seems to favor you immensely. But things do go wrong. There may be a loss of job, unexpected sickness, death of a dear one, misunderstandings and fights in family life. Life no more is in control. You feel frustrated and ask ‘Where is God in all this?’. I was deeply encouraged by my daily meditation reading from Daily Devotional ‘Fresh from the Word’, where Nicola Slee says ‘Should we conclude that God is present when everything is favorable and in our control and that He is absent when everything in our life seems to go wrong? Surely not. The life and passion of our Lord and Saviour shows that how God is present in both activity and passivity, in doing and being done to. Faith is the wisdom in knowing how to respond to both realities and to surrender ourselves to God’ So my dear friends we need to know that when we lose control, God is always in control.

 

My cousin Susan Abraham, her elder sister Mary George and I share a very special bond. Mary is happily married and along with her husband Arun and daughter Anaiya are settled in Dubai.  After her studies in London in the field of Physiotherapy, Susan came back to Mumbai and worked for a year. She is very focused a person and knows what she wants. She decided to quit her work and was about to embark upon her Ph.D programme. She really is very passionate about what she does. But to the horror of her family, Susan’s mother was detected with cancer. The family was not ready for this. It was a rude shock. Susan, along with her father, plunged in taking care of her mother. When I spoke to her she said ‘I was really upset with how things went but I had this talk with God. I fought with Him and now I am at peace.  He gives me strength’. The experience of chemotherapy can be very traumatizing. With 6 six cycles of Chemo, I have stood back in admiration of how Susan stood rock solid in face of such adversities. I am sure it is her faith that helped her to face this eventuality with hope and her approach gives strength to the others in the family. I recently spoke to her mother and my aunt. She said “I praise God for all that he has done for me. I thank God for all His mercies. Everyone’s prayers strengthens me every day. I am very happy. I sometimes feel very lucky to have been loved and cared so much. God has been very merciful”. At the end of the conversation I sat down in admiration of this woman who in the midst of pain gives us a lesson of faith. Susan and her mom taught me ‘Faith is not fitting God into our molds of expectations, but faith is the leap into the hands of God, surrendering to His will, fully knowing that he will catch us’.

 

Prayer:

O God, early in the morning I cry to you. Help me to pray and to concentrate my thoughts on you: I cannot do this alone. In me there is darkness, but with you there is light; I am lonely, but you do not leave me; I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help; I am restless, but with you there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience; I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me… Restore me to liberty, and enable me to live now, that I may answer before you and before me. Lord, whatever this day may bring, Your name be praised.

 

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this prayer in the German Concentration Camp of Flossenberg. He was a pastor of the Lutheran Church and challenged the Nazis through his sermons and helped many German Jews to escape to Switzerland. Like other clergy of his time he could have chosen a comfortable position by not challenging the Nazis. He did and he paid the price. He was executed on 9th April 1945 and the Lutheran Church commemorates it as the ‘Feast of Blessed Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Do You Want Some Change?

Matthew 15: 21- 28

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Message

I remember a story told to me by my friend Smitha Nair who has a passion for narratives and short stories. It goes this way. A man called Mahesh is washing his car on a Sunday morning. He is whistling and singing when he sees a man who is in a ragged outfit. He looks exhausted and absolutely out of sorts. He was walking in the direction where Mahesh was washing his car. So Mahesh assumes that this man is a beggar and is coming to beg. He debates with himself “These are lazy people who do not work, why should I give them my hard earned money? These people are the real nuisance of this society.” But in a split second there is another voice that says “It maybe not his fault that he is poor. What will he eat if everybody thinks like me?” And when the man comes quite close Mahesh takes out some change from his pocket and asks “Hey, do you want some change?” The man sheepishly replies “Don’t we all want one” and walks away.

This passage in the Bible puts me in a very awkward position. We see Jesus just not in a foreign land. The term ‘Canaanite’ woman points to something more than just the geography of the place. Canaan is the land founded by Noah’s son Ham – you remember Ham, he was the one of Noah’s three sons who was shunned by his family after he saw Noah one night, drunk and naked.  Noah cursed Ham, whose name he changed to Canaan, and vowed that Canaan would forever be cursed and that his descendants would always be slaves to the descendants of his brothers.  Thus, in ancient Israel, the people of Canaan were thought of as cursed and were felt to be beneath the lowliest of Jews.

It is here we see a Canaanite woman who comes crying out for her demon possessed daughter. She cries out saying “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” (vs 22). The expectation would be that Jesus would melt with compassion and heal her. But oh oh. No. He is absolutely silent. That is when disciples urge Jesus to send her away as this woman is a nuisance. If one remembers before the miracle of Jesus feeding the Five thousand, the Disciples use the same words “Send them away” as it would be inconvenient and painful to feed the multitude. So it is to them that Jesus rationalizes that “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Vs 24). But the woman does not quit but knelt before him begging to help him. If His silence was embarrassing, then surely now the reply He gave was shocking. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (vs 26). There are many justifications to this statements. The greek word for stray dogs is Kuon and for a pet dog is Kunariois. So it is not that offensive is what one says. But I would not like to dilute it. The Church believes that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. When he was on this earth he was conditioned by the prejudices of His time.

“Therefore he was obligated in all things

to be made like his brothers,

that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest

in things pertaining to God,

to make atonement for the sins of the people.

For in that he himself has suffered being tempted,

he is able to help those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2: 17)

 

So it may look embarrassing to say Jesus had prejudice but then the Bible portion does not dilute it or spiritualize it.

We too have drawn circles where we define “us” and “them”. We too have prejudices that label people different from us. We have deep disrespect for their choices. We manage to draw the boundary of our mission and the scope of our churches. Tradition and heritage becomes a great excuse to exclude people and to send them away. Let me confess that I have prejudices against women, against people with different sexual orientations, people of different race and religion. I try to deny it or just to be silent about it. But this text shows that in the midst of constant groaning around us, we do not have a choice. What would our response be?

In the meanwhile let us look at what the woman had to say to Jesus. “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (vs 27) She played to the logic of Jesus and says that we too have the share of the table even if it is just crumbs that fall from the table. Jesus had out smarted and outwitted many Pharisees and Scribes. People were amazed by His answers. But clearly the ‘Canaanite’ woman had outwitted Jesus here. The point is Jesus is ready to change here. He is ready to enlarge his circle. He says “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (vs 28).

Let me also reiterate one phenomenon that is very popular in ‘New Age spirituality’. The question is are you a “Born- Again”? I have been stumped by this question. It is an attempt to make Jesus and his scope restricted to a select few who have some fire insurance against the fire in the hell. It is drawing a very small circle with ‘us’ and ‘them’ clearly defined’. Chapter 15 starts with a conflict between Pharisees and Jesus as Pharisees loved to manage the idea of who is pure and who is not. Church today has reduced itself to indulge in this petty business of managing the holiness of who is in and who is out. Jesus corrects the Pharisees where disciples feel intimidated and say “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Vs 12). But the beauty of this chapter is that Jesus is corrected by the outsider ‘Canaanite Woman’. And Jesus is not offended and He is ready to enlarge the circle. He agrees ‘We do need some Change.’

Let me quote some historical facts from the page of Nalloor Library.

‘Slavery was a social evil which prevailed all over the world including what is now the state of Kerala in India. According to the 1836 census there were 164,864 slaves in Travancore vis-à-vis a total civilian population of 12,80,668.

Slaves were treated like animals and the cost of one slave was that of an ox, cost of an ox was 5 (big para) measures of Paddy or Rs. 10/- only. Slaves were chained and sold like animals in markets.

Kottayam, Changanasserry, Thirunakkara, Alleppey, Kayamkulam, Kollam, Attingal, Chirayinkizh, Kaniyapuram, Pettah and Kovalam were the notorious slave trade markets of the time. Churches in Cochin were used as godowns for the slaves except for Sundays. Slaves were exported out of the kingdom. There was no one to speak on behalf of these unfortunate people.

With the arrival and the teachings of the CMS (Church Missionary Society) missionaries, people became aware of this social evil. In 1819, Munro Island was given to the missionaries, by the then Travancore Government along with the slaves residing there on the Island. Munro Island is located at the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River, in Kollam district, Kerala, India.

In 1833, England passed the Slavery Abolition Law. CMS missionaries, Benjamin Bailey and Joseph Peet made a historic declaration on 8th March 1835, giving freedom to the slaves in Munro Island.’

If you read carefully Churches were used as go downs for slaves. Church Missionary Society (CMS) challenged this. If one remembers, CMS played a very important role in the Reformation of the Church that we  call the Mar Thoma Church. Rev Baiju Markose says that before the reformation the Church practiced untouchability and indulged in social evils. It was more of an ethnic exclusive club. But the Reformation challenged the boundaries of the circle of the Church. That is how we started getting involved in mission fields and started working among ‘untouchables’ first time among the ‘Vetons’ in Othera. So then the meaning of reformation is to constantly expand the circles. But as many of my friends have pointed out we over the years are becoming more conservative by demarcating our ethnic boundaries.  People outside the walls of the church are challenging us to expand our circles. But we are busy managing holiness. Lent is a time to realize that we need, not just some change, but a whole lot of it, if we are followers of a Saviour who humbled himself to be corrected. May the Triune God break open the circles where we are busy resisting the change. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

(Dear Friends, this is to provoke a debate. So rather than just’ likes’ please feel free to agree, disagree, challenge, oppose, criticize what is written. Also you can add your vision and inputs. Would really appreciate it.)

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