Daag Ache Hai- Stains Are Good: A Conversation About Church and Ministry

2 Corinthians 4: 6-7

 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.


daag acche haiThese days there is one thing that I am bothered the most. Every morning the intensity of botheration increases manifolds when I look at my pillow. Sleeping on white bed sheets is a nightmare. Well I am talking about the rampant hair fall and the deforestation of my scalp at an alarming rate. I always try to camouflage my hair to hide my now evident baldness. Now this is a very evident tendency in us to hide our flaws and stains. We would like to portray a picture perfect scenario, with all creases ironed and all flaws brushed under the carpet praying that it never surfaces again. Long back there was an ad that fascinated me and let me take this time to jog your memory along by narrating the ad. A brother and a sister are returning from school and sister falls in a puddle of muck and starts crying and brother in a bid to pacify her, pretends to beat up the puddle of muck and gets dirty in the process. He yells “Say sorry say sorry” and in the end he declares “He has told sorry (Sorry bol raha hai)”. Seeing the brother too with stains of muck all over sister smiles. And there is this famous tag line in the background “Daag Ache Hote Hai (Stains are good)”. This was the classic tagline of Surf Excel.

Why am I telling all this? Where am I heading towards? As a priest of the Mar Thoma Church, I have been extremely proud of my faith, my church and its positions. I am very clear about the flaws of my church and my role as a priest. But with all my pretense of being welcome to criticism, my wife very well knows that it is just hogwash. Her experience in critiquing my sermons have not been very pleasant to say the least. Being defensive is my birthright and pouting thereafter is my spiritual gift. I have heard a lot of youths in youth conferences critiquing the church and asking very uncomfortable questions. I always thought I would be very gracious to such criticism and open to a dialogue thereafter. But more I hear criticisms, I have been compelled to portray a very romantic picture of faith, the church and its practices. I wax eloquent about many things which I critique in private. Why do I do this? Well my faith and Church is an extension of who I am, and I cannot tolerate any flaws and I try to cover it up. As a priest, we are kept on a pedestal, not because of who we are, but what relation we have in congruence with the church. It at times becomes very intoxicating to see people stand up when you enter a room. To know that line at a food counter starts from where you stand. It is fascinating to know that no matter how boring a speaker you are, people listen and latch on to your words, because you are a priest. In vote of thanks and welcome speech you hear eulogies about you, qualities that you never knew you had and as my wife says “Only I know who you are” and I pretend to not have heard that. No matter how shallow your personal faith is, people believe in your prayers and are convinced about your ‘rock solid faith’. With all these so called cultural ‘perks’ attached, one tends to get an ‘entitlement syndrome’ and therefore any criticism regarding church, priest and its role becomes very sensitive. As a parish priest I have become more and more authoritarian to run the show. All those who do not come to church or do not subscribe to my views are not committed to faith I conclude.

With such a background let us come to our bible portion for today. ‘Treasures in Jars of Clay’ is a wonderful metaphor that sums up the ministry that God has called us as humble servants. We are Jars of Clay that may be unattractive, flawed, cracked or out of symmetry. But what matters is the treasure of the gospel that we carry. But it is this vulnerability and brokenness that truly shows us what this church is, and what is the ministry that we are called to minister. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic Priest very poignantly says “The church is holy and sinful, spotless and tainted. The Church is the bride of Christ, who washed her with cleansing water. But the Church too is a group of sinful, confused, anguished people constantly tempted by the powers of lust and greed and always entangled in rivalry and competition.” And then he perfectly sums it up by saying “Church is a community of grace that celebrates the love of Christ. But Church needs to ask forgiveness for failing to be such a community.” Writer Donald Miller in his book ‘Blue Like Jazz’ narrates a story from his life. He and a group of Christians from his Church set up a confession booth in a raucous campus college festival at Oregon, USA. But in a twist of event, Miller and fellow Christians used the booth as a way of confessing their own sins to the skeptical students. They apologized for the mistakes of the church and the belief in which they preached but failed to practice. Miller who is the pastor summed up the confession to one of the confused students “Jesus said to feed the poor and heal the sick. I have not done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out and demonize all those who challenge me. I know a lot of people will not listen to Christ because of people like me who pretend to be his guardians. I am not guarding Christ. I am just covering up myself from being exposed. Please forgive me.”

I feel a similar soul searching needs to be done by all of us. I am sorry for judging those who do not fit-in my concept of faith. I am sorry for not answering difficult questions about Church. I am sorry for belittling your curiosity and sense of justice. I am sorry for pretending that everything is fine with the church and the only problem is with the people like you who ask such stupid questions. I know that it is not perfect, I know it is broken and it needs your forgiveness so that we engage together to make it “The Bride of Christ.” The people who are outcasts of the church, and I am important component in creating these outcasts, are the same people Jesus engaged with and shared lives and table with. I am sorry for the hypocrisy and double standards of faith. John Updike is right when he says “ ‘Church bears the same relation to God that billboards do to Coca- Cola: they promote thirst without quenching it.”

Daag Ache Hai. Stains are good. This is very evident in the logic of the 3rd Part of the Fourth Blessing of the Mar Thoma Qurbana. . Before ending the Qurbana, the priest says “ Belahaneenanum Paabiyum aayi njaan…..” “Pray for me my brethren, weak and sinful as I am……..” There is no need to hide the stains. There is no need to hide your brokenness. This brokenness shows that we priests and the church we represent are weak and sinful, and we need your forgiveness and prayers. There was a research done about the most loved sentences that one loves to hear and first one on the list is “I Love You.” Most of the people voted for this magical word. The second on the list was “I forgive you”. People long for forgiveness no matter how much they long to pretend an “I care a damn.” And third on the list is very surprising. It is “Supper is ready.” The hunger for that word is a reality. In short that is the Gospel where God says “I Love You”, “I Forgive You” and “Feast is ready- I offer my body as bread and blood as wine.” This is what Church is supposed to yell from the rooftops. If the Church does not broadcast this great news- the Jar of clay needs to be broken to be remolded.

 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” Jeremiah 18: 3- 6

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church,

Kolar Road, Bhopal

(This is less of a note and more of a dialogue with myself and the ones who will read this. Please feel free to add, contradict, critique (though I don’t take that too well, so do it on your own risk)


“O Jesus, Why You Cry?”: Invisible Refugees of Our Land

Luke 19: 41-44
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
In my final year in Seminary, I was assigned Ebenezer Mar Thoma Church, Valankara for my practical assignment. When I was preaching, I saw 5 boys entering the church. I could make out they were labourers and did not follow Malayalam. So to ensure they too understood my sermon, I started to mix Malayalam with Hindi for the benefit of these boys who would barely be 19 or 20 years. After the Church was over, 4 of them left while one boy remained and I caught hold of him. He introduced himself as Ranjit and he had a very heavy Bengali accent to his Hindi. I asked him “Are you from Kolkata” to which he said, “No, Durgapur”. I was curious to know why Ranjit was here in Kerala. To which he replied, “My father died working in a construction site in Bokaro. He left back a huge amount of debt. One of my village friend was working in Kerala. Therefore, after 12th exam I boarded the train to Kerala. I have joined B.A. in a college where attendance is not compulsory. Every march I go and give exam. Last year, I could not afford to go.” Then how did he come to the church. “We go to a Roman Catholic Church. My mother was very insistent that I should go to a nearby church every Sunday, and this was the most nearby church that I could find.”
The passage in front of us is immediately after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. With all the cheering, praises, celebrations and music, the melancholic twist to the story now we have in the passage is shocking to say the least. Jesus on the cross shows his helplessness in his cry “My God My God, why have you forsaken me”. As it was from Psalms 22, some say, it could be Jesus chanting this Psalm on the Cross which was a Jewish practice. So in the deepest of pains when Jesus does not cry on the Cross, it is heartening to know he weeps looking at Jerusalem, a place which is devoid of peace and justice. 33 Ad is when Jesus saw Jerusalem and wept over it. Jerusalem was a place of religious arrogance, bigotry, ethnic pride, crushing of poor, gross injustice. Jerusalem means Shalom, peace, wholeness, but the city was fragmented and fractured and in huge turmoil. History says that 70 AD Romans ransacked Jerusalem and completely destroyed it. The message of Jesus’ Kingdom of God, Salvation, loving enemies, loving neighbours, God who embraces everyone was thrown to the wind. While people all over the place were rejoicing and dancing, Jesus could see and hear what others refused to see. The utter inhuman city that Jerusalem had turned out to be. I am a person who finds tears very uncomfortable. My mother used to cry and pray when she especially prayed for me. I found that very stupid and kept telling my mother, “Ithrem enthu karayan ulle” (What is there so much to cry). I guess only a parent would understand that. So to understand Jesus’ tears, the picture is that of a very concerned parent over the children he loves. While most of us in our sermons and thoughts focus much on the physical pain on the cross. “Passion of Christ” a Hollywood movie by Mel Gibson is a hit with everyone as it shows the gory extreme of the physical abuse. But the passion of Christ is the pain that he finds fit to weep over. In our spaces, do we share his tears? As his disciples, are we moved to compassion what disturbs and moves us?
Along with many of my friends, I too was disturbed at the many images that emerged in the huge refugee crisis in Europe and how desperate people were and how the dead body of a Aylan Kurdi, a 4 year old Syrian boy, caught our imagination. There were many sermons and poems written about it. But the larger question is, does that fall in our sphere of influence? Such global issues are very important, but it should trigger to the question, what can I do in my sphere of influence in a similar problem. Now here is my struggle. I have lived in Kerala for 4 years in Seminary. 3 Years I Lived in Northeast of India, basically in Guwahati. The power centres of the Mar Thoma Church that I belong to, is in Kerala. When I first travelled from Guwahati to Kerala by train, a 64 hours long journey if your train is on time, I was just bothered of how boring this journey would be. So after a day of sleeping, eating and talking, despite my wife discouraging, I took a trip to the nearby compartments, just to kill the time. From A.C. compartment, I entered into the Sleeper Compartment and I could not believe my eyes. Till the toilet, this compartment was filled. I thought it was the unreserved compartment. It was not. I asked the Ticket Collector, how many were there in the compartment and he said, roughly 400. In a 72 berth compartment, you had 400 people crammed together. I had enough and I came back to the comfort of A.C. compartment and ordered food. The waiter of the pantry said The man of the pantry told me “Sir that food is not for people like you. It is not cooked that well. We give it to the labourers in the sleeper compartment. Why don’t you order something different?” I was shocked at the gross distinction that was being made of humans. It is then I realized that the people in the sleeper compartment was filled with labourers who out of desperation leave their homeland and find work in Kerala where the labour charge is twice as much as in Assam or Bengal. Now please consider some statistics to get the enormity of the problem. A study conducted by Gulati Institute of Finance and Centre for Development Studies (C.D.S), Trivandrum estimate that the labourers from West Bengal, Bihar and Assam total upto 35 lakhs in Kerala even though the Government sources estimate it to 20 Lakhs of people. The age group of the labourers is roughly 16-30 on an average. In the year annually the arrival rate of these labourers was 2.5 lakhs which now has increased to 4 lakhs roughly. The reason for this huge exodus is the boom in the construction of flats in Kerala for the last 15 years. So, a good number is involved in construction sites and some are employed in hotels. Now it is observed that there are some who have lived for 15 years in Kerala and whop alos know Malayalam, but do not have a bank account, or any other facilities which a citizen is entitled to. They live in inhuman conditions in dingy places. Places where only 7 to 8 people can maximum live, 30 to 40 people live together. They live a completely dehumanized life. What is interesting is, a very labour law aware state like Kerala is totally blind to the plight of these people who are living like refugees. There is no one to voice their plight or to highlight their woes. The only narrative thjat is heard everywhere is “Because of these Bengalis and Biharis, there is crime and degradation everywhere in Kerala.” The irony is, there are many labour camps that Malayalees live in, in Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc. There are many protests and cries that highlight the plight and angst of these malayalees in the “Gulf”, but the humans in the backyard from Assam, Bengal and Bihar are just a nuisance. The Mar Thoma Church has many mission fields all over India. There is a lot of appeal for working in other states and opening new mission field. I am only happy about it. But what is the mission of the Church to the 35 lakhs labourers? People who are living a dehumanized life with no proper housing, hygiene or dignity. I am sure Jesus is weeping at our insensitivity where we have abandoned the agenda of Justice and Peace, the Kingdom Values. Jesus is deeply moved and cries a river of compassion on the plight of his children who are having unparalleled suffering. As Church is the Body of Christ, are we pained by what drove Jesus to tears? Are we as individuals moved to action?
Let me introduce you to my friend Abraham P Kurien (Biju), who is a member of Ebenezer Mar Thoma Church, Vikaspuri. Biju has undertaken a Day Care /Retirement home for the aged called Abraham’s OOR in Mallapally, Kerala. The construction he has undertaken is done from 90% scrap of old buildings and the principle is to concentrate on simple aesthetics rather than the gory concrete constructions. There are many labourers from Assam, Bengal and Bihar who are engaged in the construction of his project. After being exposed to the realities of his labourers where they have no savings even after 13 years in Kerala and having dingy living conditions, he along with like minded friends of his has undertaken to do something about the construction workers’ condition. He has started to get Aadhar Cards for them which help them to get a bank account. They undertake to equip a labourer to be a sub contractor and a sub contractor to be contractor. He said “Every month along with the construction workers and my age parents, we cook together. We have a lot of fun and exchange and eat together where we feel like a big family. Initially it was not easy for us to associate with them and they too kept the distance. But the model of Jesus in dining together breaks many barriers and prejudices.”
When Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God said to Moses “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”(Exodus 3: 7). We have a God who sees the misery and hears the cries of these labourers and a Saviour who weeps over their plight. Are we moved by the tears of our Lord?
P.S. To know more about Abraham P Kurien’s unique project for the aged Abraham’s OOR please log on to www.abrahamsoor.com. The statistics provided in this meditation is provided by Abraham in our telephonic conversation as he did his research to do something more concrete about it. He yearns to collaborate with like minded people to do something concrete about the Invisible Refugees
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal

Kerala Labourers

In Beirut, Paris, Syria, Yemen, Iraq……World in a Mess: Where Do I Run?

Jonah 1:1-17
The Lord spoke his word to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it, because I see the evil things they do.”
But Jonah got up to run away from the Lord by going to Tarshish. He went to the city of Joppa, where he found a ship that was going to the city of Tarshish. Jonah paid for the trip and went aboard, planning to go to Tarshish to run away from the Lord.
But the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, which made the sea so stormy that the ship was in danger of breaking apart. The sailors were afraid, and each man cried to his own god. They began throwing the cargo from the ship into the sea to make the ship lighter.
But Jonah had gone down far inside the ship to lie down, and he fell fast asleep. The captain of the ship came and said, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray to your god! Maybe your god will pay attention to us, and we won’t die!”
Then the men said to each other, “Let’s throw lots to see who caused these troubles to happen to us.”
When they threw lots, the lot showed that the trouble had happened because of Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, who caused our trouble? What is your job? Where do you come from? What is your country? Who are your people?”
Then Jonah said to them, “I am a Hebrew. I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
The men were very afraid, and they asked Jonah, “What terrible thing did you do?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord because he had told them.)
Since the wind and the waves of the sea were becoming much stronger, they said to him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
Jonah said to them, “Pick me up, and throw me into the sea, and then it will calm down. I know it is my fault that this great storm has come on you.”
Instead, the men tried to row the ship back to the land, but they could not, because the sea was becoming more stormy.
So the men cried to the Lord, “Lord, please don’t let us die because of this man’s life; please don’t think we are guilty of killing an innocent person. Lord, you have caused all this to happen; you wanted it this way.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea became calm. Then they began to fear the Lord very much; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made promises to him.
The Lord caused a big fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
Every tragedy reminds us “What a mess this world is.” The human evil manifested at Beirut in Lebanon, Paris in France, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Russia show us the ugly side of what humans are capable of doing in the name of God and religion. We have senseless people in U.S. who want only Christian refugees to be allowed in U.S. We have a section of people who want Sharia to be implemented in U.K. We have tribal clans who wish to eliminate their rival. We have people losing lives for no fault of theirs, but just that one section believes the truth of their belief to be supreme and want all else to be shut and closed and eliminated. Everywhere we see fear, anxiety and paranoia. What a terrible, terrible world we live in, is our ruling thought. One question that bothers us all is the same. “If there is God, why do such things happen?” This question disturbs those who believe in God and confirms the belief of those who don’t. I am reminded of John the Baptist who was languishing in the prison of Herod, where he sets a question for Jesus through his disciples “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt 11:3). Seeing that Jesus was doing nothing spectacular and also that John continues to remain in prison makes John doubt. He feels, Jesus is not Messiah enough for the messed up world he lived in. Such times we also feel, God is not God enough. The ways of God just does not work. We are tired of listening to, God is love, love your neighbours, love your enemies. Rubbish! We are fooled.
Let us now go to the text in front of us. The story of Jonah resonates in our lives. It is a call of God to go to Nineveh, to engage with messed up people. People, who are useless, wicked and evil. Jonah is too good to waste his life on such losers. So what does he do? He goes the opposite direction, where he runs away from God to a place called Tarshish. Now Tarshish is a wonderful and idyllic place with great port and wonderful people. It is like the Vegas, where the world can be damned and we can just have fun. But the journey to Tarshish is very stormy. And what does he do? He sleeps through? Jonah has chosen that the best way to avoid the mess and storm of the world is to sleep through it or to escape in the opposite direction that God is leading. This is exactly what I feel like doing. Just to escape to a place that John Lennon talks about in his wonderful song ‘Imagine’. By the way I have been listening to this song and it is the most shared and performed song.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
We really wish that world be at peace. But there is no escape route. We cannot just imagine it. We have to engage with it. We cannot run or hide. We have to get into the mess. The Jonah in us has emerged. But let me introduce to you a person who is in contradistinction to Jonah. His name is Dietrich Bonheoffer. He lived in a time in Germany when all the Christians biblically justified the elimination of Jews and supported the Nazi vision. Along with Karl Barth and the Confessing Church, he challenged the Nazi regime and also criticized the Lutheran Scholars who were party to such madness in the name of religion. His friends saw that there was danger to his life and therefore seemed it best that he is transported to The United States of America. But after the long journey on ship, when he reached America, Bonheoffer was deeply disturbed. He felt he had run away from his calling. He asked his well wishers who risked their life to get him to America, to send him back to Germany. His well wishers thought it was insane. But Bonheoffer would not budge. And he sailed back to Germany. He engaged and challenged the Nazi regime through his sermons and students in seminary. The inevitable happened. He was arrested and was taken to Flossenberg Concentration Camp. He was ready to pay for his conviction. He was executed, hours before the Americans liberated the Concentration camp at the end of World War II in 1945. We could ask, what did he achieve? He lost his life. What good does that do? When and how, religion was bent to suit the oppressor, Bonheoffer through his life and death reminds us that discipleship is not about going where we wish to go and say it is God’s will. But it is abandoning, where we wish to go and to be led by God. I am sure this is what Jesus meant when he called Peter after resurrection in John 21:18 . I tell you the truth, when you were younger; you tied your own belt and went where you wanted. But when you are old, you will put out your hands and someone else will tie you and take you where you don’t want to go.”
I was very overjoyed to know about the initiative of “The Game Changer Project: The Mar Thoma Youth Ministry of Mumbai” which is led by a dynamic Youth Chaplain Rev. Mathews George. On 14th November 2015, they organized an event called “Dumpyard Dare” in association with Navodaya Movement, an initiative of the Mar Thoma Church, Mumbai Diocese, which is led by the enterprising Rev. Mathew Philip. There are many aspects to Navodaya and one particular concentration is their work among the ragpicker colony in Kalyan and Bhivandi. Along with our church members we visited it as a part of our Edavaka Mission trip. Navodaya has a day care centre in the heart of the Dumpyard Colony and ensures that the children go to school nearby. It is a very powerful movement. Now the Dumpyard is not an easy place. Mind you, there is not one single NGO working there. The stench and the filth absolutely overwhelm us. It is said that when Rev. Mathew Philip Achen went for the first survey, he fainted. But that was his resolve that helped him, that something has to be done. Now the Dumpyard Dare focused on exposing the Youths to something they would never like to engage with or never wish to go. But as 40 youths entered into the world of stench, filth and ugliness, they realized, this is how the people and the children live there. It sure opened new vistas in their lives. A moment where the message of Christmas came early, where we celebrate that God did not abandon this world, but engaged with it, made himself lowly to be a human, lived with us, became a victim, suffered, died and was resurrected. This world is sure a mess. But we are called to engage with it, to embrace the brokenness, to heal the wounds. We sure want to go the other way, but we should not.

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”

Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal
To Know More about Navodaya Movement call Rev Mathew Philip- 9930914409
The Game Changer Project – Mar Thoma Youth Ministry of Mumbai: Rev Mathews George– 9769391772beirut

Shah Rukh Khan, Pakistan, Award Wapasi and The Debate of Tolerance

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,