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.

Message:

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)

 

Keep Calm! Jesus is in the Boat

Mark 4: 35- 41

keep-calm-jesus-is-in-your-boat

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.  A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Message:

Let me ask you a question. What is it that has helped you the most to draw closer to God. You may answer Sunday school teachers, priests, missionaries, parents and all of this is correct. As a child I remember that there was one thing over all else that drew me closer to God. Nothing else succeeded as much as it did. It is Mathematics. You read that right. The dread it instilled in me, the storm it created in my whole body is unparalleled. The prayers that Math exam elicited from me, I am sure heavens shook in awe of such honest prayers of despair. I can still feel the fear of Maths class. I was very consistent. I never ever knew the answer. But my teacher had a very bad habit. He always asked students to solve the problems on the board. Twice he picked me up and both counts, I wrote some fiction and prayed that the storm to pass but it never happened. I got some solid character certificates about my abilities from my esteemed teacher.  Now I had a friend who gave me a brilliant idea. He said “Sir always calls students who he is sure does not know the answer. When he asks ‘Who will solve the sum on the board?’ there are very few who raise their hand and he will never ask them. He will ask them who do not lift the hand. So next time buddy, even if you do not know the answer, raise your hand and do yourself a favor of being saved from the teacher’s fury.” It was a Eureka moment for me. The formula to calm the storm is now here. The next day comes and teacher walks in, takes the text book and writes a question on the board and boom is the question “Who will solve the problem?” And with full enthusiasm I lifted my hand and with glee I was sure ‘Salvation is here’. But then there was silence. As I was the only one to lift the hand and as storm has its way to blow in unexpected ways despite the best planning, he acknowledged me and with great honour and dignity invited me to fix the problem. I stood up with trembling feet and looked at my genius friend and gave a look like Jesus gave to Peter after Peter denied him. There were storm of bad words in my mind for my friend and at the same time the question to God “Do you really care for me, please save me.” Let me not tell you what happened after that. I took a very important decision that day, “Lord I promise to give up maths after 10th, please accept my sacrifice, yours truly.”

Well to cut that out, this passage always elicited in me the teacher-student relation among Jesus and his disciples. The disciples luckily were very bad students like me and always got scolding. I feel one with them. Well the location of the passage is Sea of Galilee and the people who have seen it say it is a joke to call it a sea. It is more of a lake as it is quite small. So Jesus and his disciples are crossing from Galilee to the other side which is the gentile area. Galilee is the known area. But we know that from Mark 5 that they are going to Decapolis which is gentile area. So they travel from Known to the unknown at Jesus’ behest. And then all of a sudden there is a storm. Fishermen in Sea of Galilee know one thing “No matter how much you try, you seldom can predict a storm.” There are storms that hit our life. Life is very uncertain. As a pastor I have seen parishioners who were healthy, suddenly being succumbed to cancer. Family is engulfed in a storm of emotions. A beloved dies in a road accident. Your job is in jeopardy. Family life is in deep turmoil. Life has hit rock bottom. You cannot predict a storm. Even worse is people think that these storms are punishment of God for the sins we have done. We see that with Jesus in the boat there was a storm that really scared and scarred the disciples. A friend said to me “Our family has always been very prayerful and regular to church and I wonder why this crisis broke upon us.” When we examine the Bible, time after resurrection of Jesus was not some magical shield on believers from all troubles. If anything, resurrection made the life of disciples more dangerous and vulnerable. So be sure. Life is uncertain and storms will surely hit us. Life sure is uncertain but if you know people who think that this crisis is God’s punishment for their sins, please correct them that such a thing is not biblical.

So we have established storms will hit us. Now it is important to know what you do before the storms hit. We see that when disciples were squeaky and miserable in the storm, Jesus was like some of my sermon listeners. I maybe giving the most fire evoking, thunder storm sermon, but their spiritual gift is to sleep through it and I feel like asking them “Don’t you care that I lost my sleep last night preparing this sermon?” Well the point is Jesus slept through the storm. What made him calm in midst of the storm? His deep communion with the Father. His retreat for prayers. For us, prayer is to cry out in midst of need and storm “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” But prayer is like Noah building the Ark in sunshine. Prayer does not avoid a storm but helps us to stay calm in midst of the storm. Let me be honest, I still struggle to have a disciplined prayer time. I am erratic in my spiritual disciplines. There is a legend about Tiger Woods. He was asked by an interviewer if he prays. He paused and said “I am not much spiritual, but my mother taught me a prayer when I was 3 years old and to date whenever possible, I try to pray that prayer” When I first read this, I was like “Wow.” How simple prayer is. We also tend to romanticize such things. But “Does Tiger Woods talk today like he used to talk when he was 3 years old? Does he wear the clothes of a 3 year old? Does he think and solve problems like a 3 year old?” The answer is no. We too tend to be infants in our prayer life by being undisciplined in our Bible Meditations and prayer routines. We still follow the lottery system of reading Bible by reading whatever portion we open to and dash a fast and furious prayer. Fr John Bartunek says that as Christians we are supposed to grow and develop our prayer life. Disciples did not ask “Lord, teach us to heal” or Teach us to give sermons” or “Teach us to speak in tongues.” But they sure asked “Lord, Teach us to pray. (Luke 11:1) We have to strive at perfecting our prayer practices so that we too can be calm in midst of the storm.

Jesus gets up from his slumber and says to the storm “Peace. Be still.” Jesus does care. He is in control. He not only calmed the nature’s fury but also calmed the storm raging inside the minds of the disciples. It is difficult to see the control of God when there are so many tragedies happening. Faith is to see the unseen. Let me tell you I am on shaky grounds writing this. My faith has to grow more and Jesus would definitely admonish me by saying “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Let me introduce you to Blessen Varughese who is the evangelist of Mumbai Diocese. Blessen was the VBS Director of Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Kolar Road, Bhopal. It was a privilege to see faith translated in action. Blessen who grew up in Vasai, Mumbai, as a child always harboured a dream to work in the villages. Many around thought this is just a phase. After doing B.Sc in Computer Science he joined Dhrama Jyothi VidyaPeet, Faridabad, seminary that is focused to equip evengelists in the context of North India. After his 4 years course in Bachelors in Divinity (that word does sound scary), it was time to make his dream come true. By God’s grace he was appointed as the Evangelist of Mumbai Diocese and incharge of Kharadi Mission which has 45 villages in its ambit. I remember Blessen posting on Fb “Dream is coming true”. Perfect story thus far. 2 months in the field and Dengue strikes. When he slowly recovered from it, Malaria comes knocking. There were voices all around saying “Don’t waste your life. Do something better.” When that was retreating to history typhoid makes its presence felt. And to top it all he had a very serious injury to his right eye which actually made well wishers more confident that this is the wrong choice. I was flabbergasted listening to the turmoil he faced in a matter of 6 monthsBut Blessen said “It was a very tough time.  It really raised a lot of questions in my life. But I felt the presence of God and I know God is in control.” I was dumbstruck.

Life is uncertain. Storms will hit us. How prepared are we for the storms? Are we growing in Christ? Christ is in our boat. He will still the storms. Our God is in control. Let us grow in our faith to believe “God will carry us through.”

Let me end this with the lyrics of my favorite sunday school action song. While you read it sing along and do the actions if you know.

With Jesus in my boat

I can Smile in the storm [3]

With Jesus in my boat I can

Smile in the storm when I’m sailing Home

When I’m sailing Home [2]

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm

when I’m sailing Home.

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm [3]

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm

when I’m sailing Home When I’m sailing Home [2]

With Jesus in my boat I can

Smile in the storm when I’m sailing Home.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

Ship Is Safest at the Port But That Is Not What It Is Built For (Parable of Talents)

Matthew 25: 14- 30

“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more.  But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

Message

At the age of 6, my parents spotted that I was very interested in playing the drum on anything and everything that i got. I did not discriminate between a table, mother’s head, books, bible. So my optimistic parents thought they had discoverd a rare talent.  So when I was in class 4 my parents took me to be enrolled to learn Tabla. The teacher said I was too small and I had to wait for a year. I started with great gusto. My parents bought a tabla. I became a phenomenon as there were few who knew how to go about it. I appeared the first exam and got decent marks. And then I found that my friends who played guitar and how better it was than tabla. Within months I abandoned it to great dismay of my parents and it took me 5 years for my parents to recover from that set back and finally after my 10th, they bought a guitar. I enrolled for a guitar class. I started out with great promise. For 3 months or so, I was at it. But I was interested in short cuts. Impress my friends and I was also an adolescent, so guitar did impress girls. Now tabla and guitar feature in my resumes of failed ventures. I tried convincing my mom that my actual calling was the keyboard and if you know my mom well, you could have guessed what was her reply.  Today if you go to my home, The tabla and guitar is displayed with great honor which so well displays the squandered talent that I just did not invest enough. And my parents and my wife do not spare a moment to make me realize how silly I have been to squander it so. So this parable actually evokes a lot of guilt in me when I read it and therefore I keep avoiding it but as David said in Psalms 51 “My sin is always before me…”

Let us return to the text. One talent was equivalent to 15 years of a laborers salary. It was a huge amount and therefore the man in the parable is leaving a fortune with these servants of his. To one he gives 5. Another one gets 2 and the last one gets 1. Now we will concentrate on the servant who got 1 talent and how he responded to it. What are the 3 things that led to his attitude to maintain the status quo of 1 talent. He did not ACT upon it. Based on the word ACT, we will use it as an acronym for our meditation.

Appreciation– Now I am assuming that the first thing that made the servant to do nothing about the given talent is that he fell into the trap of comparison. He saw that others got 5 and 2 respectively and he just had to settle with 1. Mind you, that 1 itself is of much great value. We too live life like this comparing it with our siblings, friends, neighbours, never appreciating of what we have. We live in constant complain of the little that we have, the unattractive looks, the old fashioned mobile, the not so stylish bike. There is a story of a man who was very dissatisfied with his house and was looking out for better plots to build a far beeter house. He called his real estate agent or realtor and told him to put an advertisement for the house. The realtor prepared an ad for the local newspaper and before publishing it, read it out to the owner. It read as follows, “Beautiful house, scenic location, surrounded with trees, streams flowing by, birds chirping, peace and beauty intermingles. In short, your dream house.” The owner asked the ad to be read once again. He asked “Have you written this about my house?” He went out and looked around his house and came back and said “I have changed my mind. I will not sell as this is exactly the house that I was planning to buy.”

This is exactly how we live. We live in such deep sense of discontentment that we fail to appreciate or value what we have.

Commitment- We see the 3rd servant hid the talent in the ground. In the rabbinic law, hiding money in the ground is lawful and if the money is lost, the owner cannot accuse nor have a case against the servant. So the servant here was playing it safe. He did not want to take any risk. More and more I see, I feel I too have fallen into this trap of playing it safe. There is no deep commitment. You just want to wade off trouble and therefore are safe in our own made bubble. Investing the talent needed commitment and risk. As illustrated before in my case, I was interested in the adulation that music would bring but I had no commitment to invest in it. No way that I would suffer for it because I had no commitment. We all search for short cuts but as Nietzsche of all the things said one thing right. “If you want to master something you need to take a long walk of obedience in the same direction.” As the saying goes “Ships is safest at the port. But that is not what the ship is built for.” There is risk involved. There is pain. There are hours of boredom and loneliness. But commitment will take us to the promised land.

Thankfulness– The appropriate word here would be gratitude, but then in the scheme of the acronym ACT, it would make no sense. Look at the view the 3rd servant had about his master. ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow;so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ (Matthew 25: 24-25). We live in times where complaining and projecting our inadequacies onto others is a fad. The servant is projecting his shortcoming onto his master to have a reason for himself to wriggle out of the chance he squandered. We always are in search of a scapegoat. If anything goes wrong, the first thing we try to do is not to solve the problem, but to find whom to blame. Eugene Peterson says very well, “ As Christians we have a Saviour, we do not need scapegoats.” Gratitude is a way of seeing where other see impossible written all over, gratitude opens a small opportunity to look at things differently. Sometimes we view God as the servant. We feel he is unfair, does not care about us. But if we practice the art of gratitude, our attitude towards life will change.

Let me conclude. The man with one talent had an “I cannot attitude.” This affects a lot of us. Apart from my debacle in music there was another tragedy waiting to happen. I chose Arts as my field after 10th, not because I loved science less but because I hated maths more. My history teacher heard me speak in one of her class and asked me to join the debating team. So in 1999 I started to debate for my college. I kept going for one debate after another. In the beginning I was all sound and fury and no content. I thought public speaking is about shaking people up by top of the voice gestures. It took me 10 debates to realize, that this trick is a bad formula. I observed people, saw tv, invested my time. Kept going for one debate after the other, but to no avail. Every time I got over with one debate, the sheer disappointment of failing took a week to recover. I was like Ravindra Jadeja who was given chances without any merit. And also there were not many people vying for that spot. But honestly the story of Abraham Lincoln and his 29 losses played on my mind. I started becoming superstitious. I started wearing a shirt which I thought brought me luck. I used a particular illustration which I believed would help me get the awaited. People were charitable in letting me know that I was good. And once  we had a competition with only 4 teams. This was my chance as I thought, with such less participation, this is mine. I was praying aloud doing all things I believed that would fetch me the award. But when the result was announced, it was the same old story. I did not make it to the podium. To top it all I met a judge who said “You were phenomenal.” I wanted to ask him, “Why dint I win?” I did not ask. So when I was appearing for my 29th debate I thought, I am Abraham Lincoln, but after the debate I knew I did not need to wait for the result as I had badly stuttered through the speech. I honestly had nothing better to do and therefore I tried. On 1st February 2002 when I heard my name for the first prize for another debate I was sure, there was some other Merin Mathew along. I had accepted the fact that I was never going to win. But it took me 32 debates and 3 years of frustration to get there. My parents hardly bothered about the losing and they encouraged me to keep trying. Mrs Vimala Menon, had some high hopes and perseverance. I am glad at least here I did not quit. When I became a trainer for debates, all I told my friends who struggled, if I can, anybody can. Appreciate what you have. Be committed to God and the purpose he has set before you. Be thankful for all the little and small that you have in life. God who took 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed a multitude will use the little that you have for His glory.

PS: This was a Sermon delivered on 5th July 2015 at Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Bhopal for Students’ Dedication Day.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopalship

Are You Ready… To Be Pentecosted?

Acts 2: 1-21

 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Message

Two boys join the army and are really looking forward to the challenging life of army men. But first day of the training drill broke all their illusion of what they thought would be a glamorous life. With the exercises and drills, the punishments and never ending runs made the two very very sad.  By now they were just surviving the days at the training camp. Matthew and Deepak are the boys in the story. Half dead with exhaustion, Mathew mourns to Deepak “What a horrible life this is. We are treated like machines. I want to go home.” Deepak says nothing but just agrees with a desperate sigh. And then Deepak tells Matt, “Let’s bunk the training session tomorrow. Let us go out and just have fun.”  Matthew was not sure of the idea but was too desperate for a break and therefore played along. Early in the morning the duo sneaked out of the camp with fabulous precision and both hi- fived each other for the accomplishment that they achieved. Initially after achieving temporary freedom, they now did not know what to do. New to the city, they just were clueless. After roaming around aimlessly they finally settled to enter into a beer bar. Along with the snacks they kept ordering their drinks trying to numb themselves from the daily routine of meaninglessness. After around they lost count of the drinks, it dawned to them that they had to sneak back to the camp. Matt after paying the bills, along with Deepak found it hard to stand on their feet. They helped each other from falling. And The Captain of the platoon who was strolling in the market area happened to recognize the drama outside the beer bar and spotted the two ruffians who had escaped from his camp. He in an intimidating pose stood in front of the duo. Matt thought not recognizing who stood in front of him blurted out “Hi mate, can you help us to get to the Army camp near cantonment?” The captain with an added baritone said “Do you know who I am?” Matt looks very perplexed and started crying and said “Oh dear God, we are in deep trouble, we do not know where to go and this man does not know who he is”

This may be a humorous illustration but it profoundly talks of the two problems that we face. The problem of identity and the problem of finding a purpose in life. We are not sure about our purpose in life and we keep struggling to figure out who we are. We need timely reminders and affirmations to help us align with our purpose and identity. When we examine the passage in front of us, we have 120 witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. They have seen Jesus ascension to heaven and are asked to wait for the Holy Spirit that He would pour upon them. As they waited, the Holy Spirit came upon them like blowing wind and tongues of fire rested upon them. I am guessing that these 120 people were together to feel secure in each other’s company as they were  hiding themselves from the Roman officials and the Jews. In the meanwhile they elected Matthias as the 12th disciple to feel more powerful, but we do not hear anything of what Matthias did in history. So they were a bunch of clueless people and it is here the Holy Spirit engulfs them. The wind signifies the breath that God breathed into Adam, signifying life(Gen 2:7). And tongues of fire are to set them ablaze on their mission to be witnesses of the resurrected Christ. The wind reminded the people who they are. They have life breathed in them By God and in God and his resurrection is their new identity brought about by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The fire reminds them what the purpose in life is and that is to be witnesses of the resurrection of Christ till the end of the earth.

The people just wanted to be confined in the comforts of the upper room and be safe. They are happy to know ‘Christ is Risen’ and remain quiet and calm. But the Holy Spirit does not heed to their plans. It overflows in other tongues. When they wished to keep the resurrection of Jesus a secret of their exclusive society, Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in tongues intelligible to the many Jews from different nations. When it was clear to the Jews what was being declared, they tried to suppress the voices of the 120 by dismissing them as drunk and stupid people. Jews certainly did not want to hear about the Resurrected Christ as it would mess up their lives and make it extremely uncomfortable. It is here Peter steps in and declares with the help of Holy Spirit that these voices are not to be dismissed. He gives a bold witness to the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and how by the promise of Scripture, Holy Spirit is at work. The verses 36 and 37 are the climax. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut toNew Life English Medium School the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter boldly declares Jesus as Lord and Messiah and also convicts them that they crucified him. But the response of the hearers is what formed the new community. Holy Spirit made them vulnerable in heart  and they asked in desperation “Brothers, what shall we do?”

This is what opened up to the formation of a new community where people were ready to realize their mistakes and were ready to ask “What should we do?” Do we have those pricking of the heart and we ask “What should we do?” Pentecost reminds us that we are in the Grand story of the Life, Death, Resurrection and Coming again of Jesus Christ. Toughest part is to be witnesses to his resurrection which is denied in all quarters. Holy Spirit strengthens us to realize that our identity lies in the love of Jesus Christ and we should do what Jesus did. The New Community, the church is to do what Jesus did. What he said, we should say. If you look at the story of Jesus in Gospel of Luke and the Story of Church in Acts of Apostles, it is very similar. Just study the parallels of Birth of Jesus and Birth of Church. Luke tries to show that how Jesus lived (as depicted in Gospel of Luke), same way his followers tried to live in Acts of the Apostles. In Gospel of Luke, He fed, he loved, he cared , he preached. In Acts of Apostles, they fed, they loved, they cared, the preached. Was it easy? No. But the people found that their identity lies in who Jesus is. And what do they do? They  did what Jesus did. If you realize this and Holy Spirit takes hold of you, you are officially pentecosted. (Red Alarm, Sirens ringing)

Let me end this meditation by a story of a couple that really inspired me. When I called the protagonist of the story, he was very reluctant to share about his experiences as he felt he was not worthy enough to be written  about  “Achen, I have done nothing. Please do not embarrass me.” So with that warning in mind I venture to introduce you to the couple Mr .P.O. Mathew and his wife Annie.  Mr P.O. Mathew, who is the 5th of the siblings hails from Pallipad. After his education he joined as a professor at Chengannur Christian College and he married his wife Annie who was teaching at Bishop’s Moore College in Mavelikara. In 1968 after being newly married, Mr P.O. Mathew got an opportunity to go to Nigeria as a teacher. He along with his wife worked as teachers in Nigeria for a period of 17 years. After they came back to India the couple joined the Mar Thoma Academy in Tiruvalla, where Mr Mathew was the Principal for 9 years and were well settled in Tiruvalla.  The story thus far is a normal one. Life is secure. Their children have settled. So one would not expect any twist or turn at this stage of the script. No, but the story is not over. In the year 2000 there was a strange request that came the couple’s way. Dr Johny, who was at Christian Hospital, Bisam Cuttack, Orissa, requested P.O. Mathew to help them out with a School of the Hospital as it was not in a good shape. Initially Mr Mathew dismissed it but Dr Johny was insistent. “I was scared to uproot from my settled life but there was a voice that wanted to give this a shot. Therefore on the insistence of Dr Johny I visited the hospital at Bissam Cuttack. The place I found was very backward but I was impressed by the work and witness of the Hospital. The hospital was the vision and labour of Dr Elizabeth Madson, who set up the hospital knowing about the death of women in the village due to the lack of medical facilities. It is the inspired witness of Late Dr Elizabeth Madson that evolved into a 200 bed Hospital called the Christian Hospital. After visiting, we did not have clarity and did not see the sense in uprooting our life but felt the prompting of the Spirit. So I thought of asking the then Metropolitan Most Rev Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom who was the President of Mar Thoma Academy where I was the Principal. I was sure that the Metropolitan would not relieve me. After initial enquiry and after hearing about Dr Johny, Thirumeni said that the work is credible and gave me the permission to go. I honestly did not expect it. When Thirumeni gave the permission, I knew this was God’s plan and we reluctantly thought of giving it a shot. We decided to go for 2 years in the month of June in 2000. Slowly but surely we could put a system in the New Life English Medium School with 530 students from the village nearby, where Annie was the Head Mistress and I was the Principal. We went for 2 years but remained there for 15 years. We were away from our family, relatives, people and church but God used us. I truly believe I did nothing extraordinary, but realized God was leading us. Initially all the events made no sense to us and the people around. But God used us in ways that we could never imagine and to dear God we are grateful. We have nothing to boast or to put forward. I remember my brother telling me that when I was about to be born there were huge complications. They said we will save the mother and the child will die. After my birth, Doctor said, I will live for 7 days. Achen, today this man who was supposed to live for just 7 days is 72 years, you have called me on my birthday (12th May 2016). Mysterious are God’s ways”

I truly believe Mr P.O. Mathew and his wife Annie were Pentecosted. The couple found their identity in Christ Jesus and the purpose in life was to be the witnesses of His resurrection, whether we like it or not. The Holy Spirit is not what we acquire. Holy Spirit takes hold of us and brings us out of our secure and calculated life. We do not find a purpose. The purpose finds us.  I am reminded that one day one of our member entered in an absent minded way with helmet on. I chuckled. But then I realized, church sure is a very dangerous place. You better sit with helmets  and seat belts on. Because God will not settle for your small plans. He will Pentecost you and that will mightily cost you. So are you ready to be pentecosted?

 

P.S. The Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter which signifies the Gift of Holy Spirit promised by Jesus Christ and also the Birth of the Church

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Easter? Think Twice Before You Wish

Matthew 28: 1-10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Message

When I was in Seminary, we had a practical assignment at The Leprosy Mission at Madurai, run by Christian Doctors. Along with me was Binu Cherian (now Rev Binu Cherian). After a long journey we reached the destination from Kottayam, Kerala. The first day we were asked to take rest. Next day the first task assigned to us was the medical dressing of the wounds of the patients with Leprosy. I had read many books about heroes who served patients with Leprosy and was really looking forward to this adventure. There was a nurse assigned to us to show how to do it. I volunteered to go first and whooshhhh. I just could not bear the sight of the wounds and almost blanked out. I just could not bring myself to even touch with gloves. I just gave up and in came Binu. He was shaky but could manage to do his best. I was so annoyed with myself that I took a week to bring myself to even get to start doing my basic job and that too with a lot of reluctance. But Binu Cherian who is by nature a very caring and nurturing person had become adept in the process. This incident always reminds me of the disciples who kept away from the site of crucifixion and the suffering of Jesus. About Peter we read that during the trial of Jesus, he maintained a distance and eventually denied any association with Jesus. Disciples did not know how to handle pain and always tried to distance from any sufferings. Rev Binu always reminds me of people who do not avoid serving or uncomfortable situations like stated before. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary dared to walk to the tomb to apply spices on the mutilated and wounded dead body of Christ. They are ready to revisit the ordeal and  pain that they saw on Friday when Jesus died a brutal death. The women teach us an important lesson in life. We are living in a generation where the brutality, blood, gory violence and mayhem are very much the order of the day in movies, television and videogames. But in reality, we are terribly ill equipped to face the harsh realities of life and try to avoid it by indulging into entertainment, excessive food, alcohol, sex and everything that helps us to be anesthetized from our surroundings.

When the women were walking towards the tomb Mark 16: 3 says that the women asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking at the insurmountable odds in front of them the women did not budge. When the odds are stacked high there is an Earthquake that shakes the world as they know it. Dead person can be embalmed as far as they know. But the Angel brings an earthquake in the lives of the women where they see the stone being rolled away. Angel informs “ He is not here, He is Risen” The tomb could not contain Him. Our God cannot be preserved with spices as he is not where we expect him to be. He goes ahead of us in Galilee. The women had to inform the disciples to follow him to Galilee which was 130 kms away from Jerusalem. Why Galilee? What does this all mean? Can you hear any of the disciples saying “Wow, all is going according to plan how Jesus said”. No.

Remember Jesus is calling the disciples to Galilee, the spot of their ministry which is away from the power centres of Jerusalem. Jesus is calling disciples to travel 130 kms further to engage in the ordinary situations of life. Remember, if Jesus had died and if that was the end of the story, it sure would be tragic. But disciples could get back to their life as usual. They could live a normal life, doing things for themselves. But this resurrection actually brought an earthquake in their life. It would not leave them as ordinary as they wanted to be. Their life from now on had become dangerous as they became the practitioners of resurrection in a culture and society that declared death and destruction. Jesus did not call them to live in a secluded place away from civilization. But called them for commission to ordinary place like Galilee, to involve in the lives of people and give them something that nobody can take away. What is that? Some say it is the most dangerous thing in the world. There is a saying in Malayalam that says “Aana kodathalum, asha kodukalle” (roughly translated it means, it is OKhe is risen if you give elephant but do not give anyone hope). The hope of resurrection is a very risky business. So when we say “Happy Easter” remember, the day of resurrection was a day of great joy and great fear. Resurrection of our Lord said “No force in the world can arrest our Lord in a tomb. He is not where people expect him to be. He goes ahead of us. Following him is risky and very stupid. Are you stupid enough to follow him to Galilee?

Let me introduce you to my batch mate and friend who I respect a lot, Rev Nebu Varghese. Right from our seminary days, Nebu marked himself as a person of few words and a great living witness. Nebu as of  today is the missionary of a Mission called the Tibetan Border Mission of the Mar Thoma Church. This project is work of education and health in Munshiyari in Uttarakhand. It is far too away from the power centres and metropolitan and cosmopolitan cities. The travel in itself is an adventure. His wife Christina and Nebu have worked for last 4 years in this really remote village where extreme cold is the order of the day along with constant shortage of electricity. With the team of evangelists they are doing their best to add new dimensions to the village life out there. Remember, for any emergency, they need to travel 14 hours on long winding roads. Even to buy basic stuff like vegetables this is the case. In spite of all the odds he is entering into the 5th year of his ministry there even when everyone of his well wishers and family members advised him to take a transfer. His wife Christina and Nebu, both feel that their work and vision that God has assigned them, is far from over.  Let me tell you Nebu is a person who detests anything written about him or in no way does he find what he is doing very heroic. He is just concerned about people and how the lives of the people can be bettered. There is one statement that he made that struck me like a thunder bolt. “ Christina and myself have seen the awesome work of God. I used to believe slogans like ‘God is sufficient’ but I have tasted it and know it is true. One needs to get out our comfort zones to see where God is leading us” I can admire such people but can I risk my life and make my life dangerous for spreading the news of resurrection?

Before wishing anyone Happy Easter, please think twice. Resurrection makes life risky, uncomfortable and very dangerous. Embrace it at your own risk.

P.S.

To contact Rev Nebu Varghese and find out more about Tibetan Border Mission Field of the Mar Thoma Church, you can mail him : nebuothara@yahoo.co.in

You can call him on : 7533965556

Also this link could be useful to get to know about Tibetan Border Mission Field: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1286463004713710.1073742073.226203707406317&type=3&uploaded=14

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

“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.”
Message
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

Nathaniel Factor: Aaaah Se Aaha Tak *(Are we Racists?)

John 1:45-51
Philip found Nathaniel and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite.There is no duplicity in him.” Nathaniel said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Message
We Indians have fought racism. We have fought it in the developed countries, in work places, universities and cities. We have also lost precious lives to this sickening malice of humanity. We have held dharnas and questioned this discrimination. Effectively all these dharnas portrayed us as people with unparalleled virtues who do not have a bone that discriminates. Something spectacular is always needed to shatter some well nurtured myths. In a shocking incident in Bangalore/Bengaluru, a 21 year Old Tanzanian Woman was attacked by 200-300 people where she was pulled out of her car, beaten and stripped and her car was torched. The reason was in an unrelated event, a Sudanese driver had a case of hit and run with a local woman and since the Sudanese man was elusive, the next most intelligent option is to hunt and find somebody similar and punish them. Wow. And we have tried to show it as a mob justice. Since then many African students have come out and expressed their horrifying experiences of racism that they encounter in the cities of India, just because of their skin colour. They have problems of finding accommodation, are subject to strange stares, abuses and taunts like “drug dealers and pimps.”But there have been many ‘patriotic Indians’ who have denied the accusation that we are racists. The fact of the matter is, we are racists and to accept it is the beginning of our healing process. Richard Rohr, taking clue from Carl Jung has explored the idea of Shadow Self where we like to project an idealized version of ourselves with all virtues and positive image. But we have our shadow selves where we like to hide the dark sides of ourselves which are part of us and keeps manifesting in our interactions no matter how much we try to hide it. Being racists is part of our collective conscience which we need to be aware and deal with.
In today’s passage we see Philip with a lot of excitement introducing the Messiah to his friend Nathaniel. But Nathaniel gives one of the most cynical replies recorded in the Bible where he says “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Wow. When we learn about Nazareth, it was an obscure town, populated mostly with manual laborers who didn’t have money, status, or power. So the assumption that a people from certain places because of their language, ethnicity, religion and caste are simply of no value, is only getting intensified. We have strong prejudices against people from Bihar and U.P. In my experience in the Northeast India, exposed me to the resentment people of Nagaland and Manipur have towards the people of so called “Mainland India” who discriminate against them in various walks of life. So some or the other way, we have a “Nathaniel Factor” in us that refuses to be hidden. The “all knowing” Jesus is aware of the prejudice that Nathaniel has harbored against him. But Jesus changes the equation in the encounter. In vs 47 we see Jesus saying “Here is a true Israelite, there is no duplicity in him.” This statement of Jesus opens up Nathaniel. The gaze of Jesus that penetrates through the shadow self of ours, reveals what we can truly become. Sometimes we are so filled with frustrations, complexes and hatred towards ourselves that we look out for the perceived inferior to find a scapegoat and hate her/him. But Jesus sees us. He knows who we are and he knows what we can become. Jesus’ opinion forms us. It reveals our shadow selves. He sees what our self is. That is the starting point. My Lord knows who I am. He loves me. That is the point of “Formation”.
Before the passage ends Jesus gives Nathaniel a promise. “You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen,[e] I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (vs 50b, 51). Did he see anything as promised? The Gospel of John is known for using words like a painter. Now we come to Chapter 2 where we have the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus and his disciples were invited to the feast. And as the story goes, the wine runs dry. We know the crux of the miracle is that Jesus tells the workers to fill water in the 6 Jars used for ceremonial cleansing. They filled it to the brim. It was taken to the steward who certifies the great quality of the wine. The Water was turned into wine. So what’s the story? Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. Disciples believed him. Nathaniel was a disciple. Still not clear? Now if you see the question still lingers on “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The answer is the miracle at the Wedding of Cana. Certainly a memorable event has occurred. But still what does it have to do with Nathaniel? “ Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathaniel from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons,[a] and two others of his disciples.” (John 21:2) Boom. Nathaniel was from Cana. A person from a place of no good did a miracle in his own backyard in Cana. It is like the time when I was an expert at criticizing Sachin Tendulkar. I used to say “He has lost his touch. He cannot bat. He is past his prime.” And the next match he comes with a century. Baam. Slap in the face. As it was said “Tendulkar does not answer with his mouth. He lets the bat do the talking”. The miracle at Cana was a point of transformation for Nathaniel. Jesus made tasteless water to turn it into the most wonderful wine. Jesus who provides taste to our lives. A racist Nathaniel is transformed to a believing and life giving Nathaniel. With Jesus in our lives our bland existence with hidden prejudices and hatred is transformed to a life giving ministry and vocation for life.
Now when the transformation happens, we stop at that. But our faith is like an obscure language. It needs translation. What happened to Nathaniel? Do you know what happened to Peter? It is said he was crucified upside down. What happened to Thomas. It is said he came to India and was martyred at Mylapore. Is this in the Bible? No. But Church tradition preserves their memory and contributions. So what happened to Nathaniel? It is said after encountering the resurrected Christ, he set to North India with a scroll of Gospel of Matthew. He opened up the gospel proceedings in North India though this is not popularly known. It is said, Nathaniel reached out to people. He travelled to many places as a witness of the Gospel. He was persecuted and hunted down. And finally it is said he was crucified upside down in Albania. A man who was full of prejudice and bigotry goes from Formation-Transformation-Translation. The Great Lent is a time to deal with our Shadow selves. The hatred, the prejudices that we have is making us turn into beasts. We are connecting ourselves to the Grand Story of Salvation where through Jesus Christ, God calls us his beloved Daughter/Son. He forms us in his love and we get transformed in our encounter with him. Our transformation through the Holy Spirit enables us to translate our faith from abstract belief to concrete works.
Noble
As a priest, I have talked enough on formation and transformation. But I always struggle with the translation part. One day when I was just checking FB, I saw a status update by my friend Rev Noble Abraham who is the Director of Wardha Mission run by the Jerusalem Mar Thoma Yuvajan Sakhyam, New Delhi. Rev Noble is a dear friend and a fellow parishioner in Pune and a co-travelling brother in faith. Let me verbatim paste his status
“I was on a casual talk along with Johny Uncle, Prabhakar and Valmik (all part of wardha Mission). That’s when the topic of the plight of people staying on the pavements of Sevagram hospital came into the focus. Our words matched and found meaning when we all vouched why not we initiate at least one time meal for the needy. We left saying let’s pray over it.
Then after days I watched an interview of Azhar Maqsusi. He had initiated a feeding program in Hyderabad and is successfully feeding more that 150 people for that past 1382 days and still counting. And to everyone’s surprise including mine, my wife and me were invited to hyderabad early this month to lead a children’s camp. To cut it short, I met Azhar bhai myself and also participated in his work to know and understand how he worked out this initiative. Also, this reminded me of my Kottayam Seminary days when we used to assist the Navjeevan staff to distribute food at Kottayam Medical College. And here we are on the 26th day of January 2016 joining hands with many such as Azhar bhai, P U Thomas sir of Navjeevan and many whom we don’t know. But all I know is one that in the Gospel of Mathew 25:35a it says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food….” I praise God that he choose Wardha Jmys Mission for this movement. Do pray for us.”
Jerusalem Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam (JMYS) Mission, Wardha has initiated a feeding program called Arpandhara that undertakes to feed more than 100 people from the Sevagram Hospital.
This example is just one of the examples of translating our faith. We need to make a conscious decision to combat the shadow selves in our community and us and strive to be translating our faith into action to be co-participants in the Kingdom of God.
*If you are wondering, what is ‘Aah Se Aaha Tak’ well it is a tag line of MOOV Pain Relief which shows transformation from being in pain to being relieved, alive and kicking
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church,
Kolar Road, Bhopal