John 1: 43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him,“Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him,“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,[a] you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
I am a pathetic sportsperson, let me assure you that. But that does not deter my enthusiasm for sports. As a child, when it came to one day Cricket, I was always glued to the television. I always preferred to sit down while watching and used to spring up in excitement when something went according to my desire, like a six by Sachin Tendulkar or a clean bowled by Zaheer Khan. The toxicity of my madness used to double and triple up if the match is between India and Pakistan, the mother of all contests. I distinctly remember when I was in standard 10 we were seeing a match between India and Pakistan and all my classmates were together at my friends place. It was a huge total India had to chase , 315. It was an awful bowling and we had lost all hopes that this match could be won. We had a friend Mustafa Khan,(I have changed the name) who out of fun to irritate us supported Pakistan. He truly got on our nerves. He was irritating us by mocking the batting. We had sure no hopes but wished for the best. The match was building up slowly. The scores were coming quite near. And a Pune Lad who was playing cricker for the first time was at the crease. His name was Hrishikesh Kanitkar. The bowler was Saqlain Mushtaq. 3 balls and 4 runs were needed. We were all glued to the television. I was praying to the Triune God, bribing him with “I will do all you say, just defeat these idiots, please please.” And God seemed to answer it. Next ball, Kanitkar hit a4 runs and all our friends went wild with jubilation. And I was hugging and thumping chests with my buddies and that scene still makes me go wild. But what happened next is I blurted out “Mustafa Khan, go to Pakistan.” Within no time I had a fist at my collar. And all my friends came to our rescue and separated us. I kept provoking him knowing quite well, alone he will swing me in the air and throw me to Mars. But with support that my friends will support me, I kept provoking “Pakistani hai tu, bhaag idar se” (You are a Pakistani, go from here.) I still feel the coldness of that statement in my spine.
The text in front of us is a very important one. We see that Philip goes to his friend with a lot of excitement and blurts out ““We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (Vs 45). Now Nathaniel’s reply is a classic one. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Vs 46). To be honest Nathaniel sneers with disgust shouting “Nazareth?” Everybody in Jerusalem looked down on people from Galilee. This kind of attitude is characteristic of the Human race. Enemy nations have looked down on each other just because an artificial boundary separates them. Psychologists say it is human need to look down on people and we keep searching for scapegoats. Always there are smart people, right people, and then there are those others who we detest and abhor. Nazareth embodied backwardness and otherness in the mind of Nathaniel. No good could ever come from such places. People of such places are not smart, evil and below our standard.
There is an interesting story to illustrate this. There was a black man who lived in a ghetto who went to a white church to get membership. As the black man belongs to ‘Nazareth’, the white pastor tells him some excuse and sends him away. After several attempts to shoo the black man the pastor advised “Ask the Lord whether you should take membership here. If the Lord says yes, then we shall go ahead.” The pastor was relieved as he thought that wuld be the end of the nuisance and the black man would never return. But return he did. Pastor asked “I told you to pray and you have come back, do you have a message from Our Lord Jesus?” This was a mock. The black man answered very coolly. “Yes, Lord spoke to me saying, you are trying in vain to enter into that Church. For the last 20 years, I have been trying to enter it but have been denied entry.”
For some time now, the political landscape of our country, Pakistan has emerged as a Nazareth. Actually it always has been. But now the emphasis is more pronounced. Anyone who does not agree to or subscribe to the mainline views, the rhetoric is that such people should be sent to Pakistan. Those who oppose Modi, should be sent to Pakistan. Those who wish to have beef should go to Pakistan. If BJP loses Bihar Elections, there will be celebrations in Pakistan. All the artists who are returning Awards should be sent to Pakistan. And the latest is the demand of Shah Rukh Khan, who expressed his concerns over intolerance in India, who was targeted by saying that it is because of Hindu fans that he is a superstar and if he finds India intolerant, he should leave for Pakistan. Some even called him Pakistani. This has created tremendous furore all over the media, twitter, facebook and memes on whatsapp. There are two groups slinging mud at each other.
While we describe the nature of intolerance in our country, it is important to realize the point made by novelist Manu Joseph who says that the so called right wingers and so called liberals, both are intolerant. Both are defined by their world views and the “other” is beyond redemption. And in such an atmosphere we will keep scoring brownie by humiliating the other and there won’t be any solution. The endless battles on twitter, the madness in newsrooms has made us all alarmed as to where the country is heading towards. There are many arguments and counter arguments.
Now fully sure of Nathaniel’s prejudice towards Jesus, response of Jesus is very interesting. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”(vs 47.) He sure knew what he did under the fig tree so he sure knew what Nathaniel thought of him. But he ended the cycle of prejudice, by breaking it. He was not defined by Nathaniel’s attitude. Jesus shows a freedom that we seldom exercise. We believe in exchange system. If a person says good about us we return favour by saying something good. If a person offends, we offend and then the person offends and this cycle continues. But Jesus ends this cycle of offense and prejudice and whole heartedly appreciates that this person has no deceit. So when we keep saying about intolerance, we must realize we are promoting Tolerance. But Jesus shows that it is not tolerance but forgiveness that builds relationships and breaks dividing walls. Reinhold Niebuhr says that “Forgiveness, not tolerance, furnishes the proper corrective to egoism and self-righteousness of groups. The religious ideals of forgiveness promotes engagement between groups which fosters relations. Tolerance makes two separate compartments which does not engage with each other. This only promotes ghettoism. Forgiveness, on the other hand, makes it possible for contending groups to fight without denying each other’s humanity and self worth.”
Present situation calls for a healer who breaks down the distinction and helps us to heal the wounds that is festering without any end to the cycle. The problem is very complex and we cannot be simplistic in dealing with it. To illustrate my point let me end with a story that happened in a village where there was a man called Faraz, a 25 year old young bachelor boy. He was a mechanic and a very enterprising man. People liked him for his cheerful nature and for his skill as a automobile mechanic. One day when he was going home, he saw Shyam,a 23 year old man, son of Savitri, a widow, fallen on the road. When Faraz went to lift him, he realized that Shyam was heavily drunk. When Faraz tried to lift him, Shyam woke up with a violent stupor. He started to abuse Faraz and kept intimidating him. Faraz for self defence tried to push Shyam away but Shyam lost balance and hit a stone that was on the road. Shyam lost conscience. People gathered and took Shyam to hospital where he was declared dead. Now this created communal tensions, as people said Shyam was killed by a muslim called Faraz. The Muslim community came to the defense of Faraz while the hindu community held him responsible for the death. There was a huge tension going on. But Faraz decided to go to the funeral of Shyam. The people of his community tried to make sense with him . But Faraz was very determined. Shyam’s home was 3 km away from his home. He started his Hero Honda Splendor and headed towards Shyam’s home. Some youths to protect Faraz, followed him. They entered the vicinity. Angry youths were staring at him. Ladies were crying. 63 year old maternal uncle of Shyam, Raju came with utter rage seeing Faraz. Faraz just stood there. And running came Savitri, the mother of the deceased Shyam. She stopped Raju and hugged Faraz. She cried and said “I know you purposely did not kill my son. I know your mother. I used to take care of you when your mother worked in the Rice mill. I am also your mother and you are my son. I knew you would come. You are my son.” Both hugged each other and cried. The act of Savitri defused the imminent communal tension by her act of forgiveness and love. It not only healed them, but the two communities that were up in arms. We need more healers who overcome the group egoism that is building up. This is dangerous and we need to end this climate of suspicion and condescension. May God lead us to be healers, forgivers and peacemakers.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Kolar Road,