Why bother Poor Salman ‘Being Human’ Khan and Yes Jayalalitha sure is Innocent

Habakkuk 1: 1-4

 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,     but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!”     but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me;     there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed,     and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous,   so that justice is perverted.

Message:

Today’s newspaper was really depressing. J. Jayalalitha is acquitted of charges of amassing inappropriate assets.I remember reading a tweet ” Since Jayalalitha was declared innocent Tamil Nadu celebrates “Mother’s Day” on Monday instead of the official May 2nd Sunday”.  Salman Khan gets a quickfire bail. Ramalinga Raju of Satyam, who was caught in a big fraud, is granted bail. As my friend Rev Prince Varghese who is famous for his wit and sharp analysis wrote this as his Facebook status.

“High court declares Jayalalitha innocent.  High court suspends Salman Khan’s sentence. High courts are now places for High people.”

It is the general feeling that one gets looking all around where common man sees travesty and mockery of Justice. Recently youths of the Bethel Mar Thoma Church visited the Central Jail of Bhopal on Easter. The list of undertrials, whose guilt has not be proven by court but are in jail is a long one. One undertrail was there for last 4 years. So the common man, if he is innocent, he still is behind the bars for 4 years and the powerful get instant bail and VIP facilities. As another of my friend Mr A.J. Philip said “From J. Jayalalitha to Narendra Modi, all our politicians are innocent according to the court and therefore we are blessed to have such innocent politicians.

As we had the discussion of Salman Khan Case in our Youth meet, the debate of justice became prominent. One of our members Mr. Jacob John, very well pointed out that in Indian Judiciary Justice is not a right but a commodity to be purchased. If you have money and can appoint the best lawyer, then the proceedings are dependent on the debating skills of the Lawyer who will make even make Hitler look like a saint. While prosecution lawyer, appointed by the state does not stand a chance in the court. When we start to even talk of Witness protection in the face of many witnesses turning hostile, the Indian system of witness protection is nearly absent.

In light of the really bleak and depressing scenario let us look at the Biblical passage. As a youth I hardly knew there was book called Habakkuk and sure I never bothered to read it. But in the above context this book is very relevant as it shows us a believer struggling with injustice, suffering of innocent and sadness. It’s a dark time for God’s people. Where is God in this? What is God doing in this? Is He indifferent? Does He not care? Why are my prayers unanswered? How do I come to God with it all? The book shows us how to dialogue with God in our suffering, how to trust God even when everything is falling apart and how the Gospel connects all the dots in between and gives us courage. So what exactly is Habakkuk doing here? Is he complaining? Well to be more accurate, he is lamenting. So what is a Lament?

 

Lament is not about getting things off your chest. It’s about casting your anxieties upon God, and trusting him with them. Mere complaining indicates a lack of intimacy with God. Because lament is a form of prayer, lament transforms our cries and complaints into worship. Walter Brueggemann says that undergirding biblical lament is “a relationship between the lamenter and his God that is close and deep enough for the protester to speak in imperatives, addressing God as ‘you’ and reminding him of his covenantal promises.” Anyone can complain, and practically everyone does. Christians can lament. They can talk to God about their condition and ask him to change things because they have a relationship with him. To lament is to be utterly honest before a God whom our faith tells us we can trust. Biblical lament affirms that suffering is real and spiritually significant, but not hopeless. In his mercy, our God has given us a form of language that bends his ear and pulls his heart.”

Now let me quote vs 3 and 4

“Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed,   and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous,   so that justice is perverted.”

The cry of Habakkuk or his laments are just so apt for you and me. This is the sense of helplessness that the common man faces and this is really the reason why we love Salman Khan. Bollywood is our biggest anesthesia against of all these gross injustice. We love the angry young man who takes on the system, 1 Chulbul Pandey who punishes many rogues. We feel the vicarious fulfillment of beating up the bad guys in real life when we see the Reel Salman do it time and again on the screen. Therefore it was not surprising to read the tweets of injustice done to good boy Salman who is “Being Human”. He does charity, so why bother if he kills Nurullah Sharif, a stupid pavement dweller who is stupid to sleep on the footpath like a dog. Why bother if 4 other youths were maimed for life. Footpaths are not for sleeping but it sure is for driving.

Now as a man of faith, as a priest how do I confront this problem? Where is God in all this? Habakkuk tells me to stop saying comfortable dialogues like “God has a plan”. What plan? Habakkuk has the audacity to stand up and question God. He has the guts to argue with God. He is protesting and shaking his fist against the Lord. In times where our prayers have turned very polite and courteous, we have forgotten our right to lament. To argue, to question God. Let us not medicate ourselves by looking the otherway. Let us struggle with God like Jacob did and let us resolve not to leave him unless we get a Blessing in form of an answer. The pursuit for justice is cut short when we settle down for easy answers.

SALMAN_HUG_2396749g

“It is important for us to read the conversation between Jesus and his disciples about faith as recorded in the gospel of Luke along with the book of Habakkuk (Luke 17: 5-6). The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. But Jesus replied, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.” A sycamore tree is a large tree up to 60 feet height with deep roots. The parallels of this text in Mathew and Mark talk about the moving of mountain by faith. So Jesus juxtaposes here a mustard seed and a sycamore tree to convince the disciples the power of faith to move mountains. The conversation narrated here started with a request from the disciples to increase their faith. But Jesus’ diagnosis was different. For him, what they needed was not more faith; but a different understanding of faith. Then he explained the illogical logic of a faith like mustard seed moving mountains. Jesus used the metaphor of the mustard seed to articulate the logic of the Reign of God as we read in Mark 4:30: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Those of us who are familiar with mustard plants know that this is a silly example. But that is the mystery of faith. When the vulnerable, the weak, and the underdogs assume the historical agency, even mountains are in trouble. This is the absurd logic of Christian faith. Mustard seeds moving mountains. Davids defeating Goliaths. Communities of faith turning the world upside down… So Jesus’ prescription for the disciples was not to strive for more faith in a quantitative sense; rather to grasp the absurd logic of faith and be possessed by it. The righteous shall live by faith.”

So when I am about to end this, I do not have a clear answer. I am confused, angry, helpless, ambiguous, pained and at times feel everything is pointless. But I will try not to medicate it or suppress it. I will try to struggle if I believe in justice as much in practice as much as I preach. Let me introduce you to a person I met when I was in Guwahati when I was attending a Conference on Globalization conducted by North East Social Research  Centre (NESRC).  I got to know her even more over a conversation at the Dining table during the Lunch break. Her name is Sister Mary Scaria. She told me “I was a teacher. I love teaching. My turning point came when one of my tribal students was raped. This disturbed my conscience. I was deeply troubled. The accused were  scot free. I had to do something. I just could not be a spectator. That is when I decided to enroll myself for law.” Today Sr Mary Scaria is an Advocate with the Supreme Court. She champions the cause of women who face atrocities. Her clients are those who cannot afford legal aid. She encountered an event in her life that caused immense pain. She chose to be hurt. She chose to question.  She decided to be a tiny mustard seed that looks insignificant in front of the powerful mountain.  Martin Luther King Jr said it well “Our Lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

Ruth: No Ghar Wapasi

Ruth 1: 1-18

 

In the days when the judges ruled,there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi and Ruth Return to Bethlehem

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud  and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-lawgoodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”  When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Message

 

Ghar Wapsi (returning home) has become a very contentious religio-political issue in India. Some fringe outfits have assumed that like the wayward prodigal son left the divine fold of Hinduism, many converted to other religions and it is time they return home, but unlike the father in the parable who gently waits for the return for the ghar wapsi, the so called defenders of faith of Hindutva want to microwave this process of ghar wapsi by the year 2021. Returning home is a very important theme in the bible too and home as a metaphor holds the narrative of the Word of God. Abraham left his home and land in wake of the call God gave him promising him a nation and an offspring. Adam and Eve had a home that they were evicted from. Homelessness is a state of humanity and Revelations 21 perfectly sums up the home coming of humanity with the New Heavens and the New Earth which we look forward to. But today the protagonist of our meditation is one who refused to do a ‘Ghar Wapsi.’ It is her story that we will pursue a little longer.

Broken dreams and miscalculations and heart break sets the tone for the plot. We normally jump right to get to Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, but that misses the thrust of the narrative. As Hebrew names in the original language added texture to the story, let us see what a Hebrew reading man gets that we miss. Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. So there was famine in the House of Bread and this man Elimelech which means “My God is King” and his wife Naomi which means “pleasant” have no bread to eat in the house of bread. Paul E Miller puts it succinctly when he says Elimelech decides that “I am my God and King” and decides to make life pleasant (Naomi) for a while by travelling to Moab which is a split of “Mo” which means “who” and “ab” which means “father”. So leaving the land of God, the question the new land poses them is “Who is your daddy?” It is important to note that the initial plan was to be there for a while, but they remained there. They had sons there called “Mahlon” and ‘Kilion” which means “Sick” and “Frail” respectively. That is like naming your child as ‘Jaundice’ and “Malaria”. Who does that? Straying a bit, there was an interesting case in New Zealand where parents named their girl child “Tulala does the Hulala from Hawaii”. I kid you not and the court took the custody of the child from the parents as the parents condemned their child to life time of mockery and disdain. If there were such laws in Moab, sure Elimelech and Naomi would be deported to Bethlehem and the story would go no further. Now Elimelech to avoid death left Bethlehem. But the sad part is, even in a land of plenty, he died. Not only that, his sons who married Moabite women, also died. The city of dreams turns into a nightmare.

From verse 7 we see that the three women are leaving Moab to travel down to Judah. But from vs 8, a sudden realization dawns on Naomi and she urges her daughters-in-law to return back to their mothers’ home. She ends the sentence with ‘May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’ (vs 9) So she is requesting Ruth and Orpah for a ‘Ghar Wapsi’, so that they have future with another husband and their life flourishes. So the thrust is “Look after yourself. Do not walk with a living dead like me. Look for a future. Get back to the security of a home that awaits you.” L’Oreal has a slogan that says “I’m worth it”. Naomi says “I’m not worth it”. I have nothing to offer. So with logic of “First take care of yourself”, Naomi persuades Ruth and Orpah. But both persist that, no matter what, they will still follow. At times we find following the path of faith very tough and the wordly logic of compromise and do all to take care of yourself is very lucrative and we would like to return to the house of addictions, pleasure and vices because “I’m worth it.” Ruth and Orpah keep walking with Naomi.

But Naomi does not give up. From vs 11- 13 she graphically describes that she has nothing to offer by saying that even if she marries and have twins, will they wait for the twins to grow to get married? She proves that there is no hope with her. They are walking towards a dead end. Nothing good will come out of this. Orpah is persuaded by this logic. When it dawned upon her there is no future here she realizes “I’m worth it” She kisses her mom-in-law and does a ghar wapsi. Buth Ruth persists. She says even if there is no future, still I will follow. This is a tough call in faith where we give up when we see there is no future. We do this in the relations that we invest. If I am getting nothing out of it, let me quit. This Church has nothing for me. Let me quit.

Naomi does the last trick to persuade Ruth. When all failed to deter her, Naomi tries to apply peer pressure by saying “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” (vs 15) This is where I will certainly fall. I would love to stand for my beliefs and convictions, but I need people around to hold on to. I do not like the loneliness of being right and alone. I am way to people pleaser for that. But Ruth responds with a classic poem of commitment.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Vs 16b and 17). Ruth sees nothing ahead of her. Still she “I will follow”. Naomi promises her that future is dead and there is no life. Ruth says “Still I will follow”. Naomi says “Even your sister in law has gone to make a life. Ruth answers “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” If we just pause and think who is called the father of faith, boom comes the answer. “Abraham”. Abraham had to leave his home and land to a land shown by God. But there was a promise of offspring and a nation. In the story of Ruth, there is no call from God and no promise. Just the sure assurance of Naomi, that all will be bitter. I guess the faith shown by Ruth to leave her land and her house is far greater adventure than that of Abraham. So if anybody asks you, “Who is the mother of faith?” do not think twice. The answer is “Ruth”.

What quality does Ruth portray? The main theme of the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word ‘Hesed’. I am sorry; I have done a lot of ‘show-off’ of my shallow Hebrew skills. I promise this is the last. I love this word! The only problem is that there is no real good English equivalent for it. Probably the best is “God’s loyal covenant-keeping love for His people.” Some translations call it “loving kindness” or “mercy” or “kindness” or “steadfast love.” It is most often mentioned with God as the subject and His people or humanity as the object . Humans also can also show “hesed” to one another. It is found 246 times in the OT and 127 times in the Psalms. It is found in 5% of Psalms (read Psalm 136 for a psalm full of them), 4% in Jonah and Ruth comes next with 3%. Someone has defined it as “the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God.  Hesed shows up everywhere in Ruth and in looking at it in light of the New Testament, we know it is God’s hesed that is shown in Jesus Christ and keeps us in Him. So Hesed love is a love that is way too deep. It does not see what I can get from this relationship. It is a deep seated love with commitment. I will like to illustrate and end this meditation with one of my favourite story that I learnt in school. It was a Marathi lesson and let me remind you I was extremely bad at the subject failing in it with the consistency of Rohit Sharma. So if I remember this Marathi lesson, it is because of the sheer brilliance of the story. The story goes like this

There is a boy Dinu of age 9,whose father is a doctor and mother is a homemaker. One day his mother asks him to buy some groceries from the nearby shop. He goes and tells “Uncle give me 2kg Rice, 1 kg salt, 2 kg sugar and 500 grams coffee.” The shopkeeper heeds to his demands and gives Dinu what he has requested for. Dinu promptly gives the money. He collects the groceries and the change and gets ready to run home. But the shopkeeper calls him “Hey Dinu, take your bill along.” Dinu sees a bill for the first time and gets confused about what it is. But in the abandon of childhood he forgets about it. Then when he sits in his father’s clinic, he sees that his father too gives a bill to his patient. That is when it strikes to Dinu and he asks his Father “What is a Bill?” His father takes an old bill and shows him

Consultation Charge- Rs 200

House Visit- Rs 100

Medicines- Rs 200

Total – Rs 500

His father explains that, Bill shows the services one gives and the service charge is the amount one charges. Dinu gets very excited. He goes home and decides to make a bill for all the service rendered to his mother.

Buying Groceries- Rs 25

Helping in Cleaning the House- Rs 20

Helping in carrying water from Bathroom to Toilet- Rs 5

Helping in starting Scooter- Rs 8

Total Cost- Rs 58

With Discount – Rs 55

After preparing the ingenious bill, he excitedly goes to his mother and gives to her. She looks at it and smiles and says. “Dinu, go to sleep, tomorrow morning I will give you the full amount.” When Dinu got up in the morning he saw the bill on the table and some money. He got excited and counted that there was Rs 55 and then thought it was his bill. But it was another bill from his mother and it went like this.

Having borne you 9 months in my womb- Rs 0

Sleepless nights I spent when you had fever- Rs 0

When you had jaundice, even I ate salt less food- Rs 0

When something hurt you, tears were in my eyes- Rs 0

Total Amount with Discount Rs 0

Dinu took the bill and cried hugging his mother. I am sure he was beautifully introduced to the understanding of Hesed. Ruth in following Naomi and refusing a Ghar Wapsi shows ‘Hesed’ which is seen in the life of Jesus as well. May God help us to follow God with hesed and invest in our relationships with the spirit of Hesed. God bless us all.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal