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.”
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.
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

Main Aisa Kyu Hoon, Mai Jaisa Hoon, Mai Vaisa Kyu Hoon?

Romans 7:15-25

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.


As an intern Psychiatric social worker (yes, I am cool you see), I was assigned a Halfway Home called Chaitanya for the mentally ill. Every morning I had to start a session where basic skills like combing hair, brushing teeth, how to shave, buttoning up shirt, saying good morning was instilled. Due to the mental illness, their basic skills broke down and Halfway home is a place that tries to integrate people with mental illness into the society where they can live their lives in the best possible way. So one day after the routine after saying bye, when I was about to leave, Mr Vivek, one of the inmates, met me at the door. He said “Sir, I appreciate your inputs on a daily basis. It is very helpful. But you are a man of double standards.” I looked at him with disbelief and my mouth wide open could have swallowed an elephant. He continued “You tell us to be hygienic by shaving, but look at your ugly beard and you tell that we should always be pleasant and greet each other. But when we come for lunch you never greet us and you always look sad and unpleasant. You should smile and moreover practice what you preach.”

The above incident punctured my ego beyond recognition and also reminds us what Paul so wonderfully says. We have set of ideals that we preach, believe and want to live by, but keep failing. I have lived with my inner struggles all my life. Some struggles keep nagging me.

I have asked myself about my personal life and the civil wars going on in me seems to be raging every day. I have come up with the following observations about it. I do want to be more spiritual. Honest, I am a priest. I am supposed to be a spiritual leader. I do want to pray and have a closer walk with God. I want to have a deeper interior life with God. When I wake up in the morning, I want to be able to sit down and pray, read the Bible. When I go about my meditations, I want to concentrate on my prayers and not have so many random thoughts that come wiggling in between my sentences of prayers. What do I do? I want to lead my worship with utmost sincerity without bothering about my voice and presentation. But my thoughts are distracted and my focus is on myself than on God.  I do put a lot of effort into my sermon, but it is more to please people than to deliver the powerful word of God. I want to do what is right. I actually demand my youths and parish members to pray and read the bible daily. But do I do it? That which I want to do, I confess to you, I don’t do.

Throughout my life, I have wanted to live a simpler life style, as a means of identifying with the poor and the oppressed of the world. To have compassion on people who are poor and deprived. But when I see them that compassion evaporates and I have devised new justifications to hold on to my “hard earned money”.  And I find myself accumulating more books and goodies around the house. And my practice of giving is far from being consistent. It fluctuates according to my whims.  I want to do what I perceive to be right, to do what I perceive is God’s will for our lives, but do I do it? No. What is wrong with me?

I want to live a life not ruled by gadgets and social media. But the opposite is true. I always need a phone to fidget with. Either the laptop or my mobile is always a necessity. I need to message someone on Whatsapp or keep updating inane nonsense on Facebook. And also I lecture on how these things are ruining our lives and therefore one should regulate the use. But is that what I do? No, not at all. Even though I know it is wrong I keep indulging.

Jimmie Carter, when he was President of the United States and also the most famous Bible teacher in the Baptist church, made the front page of TIME magazine by confessing he still had feelings of lust, even though happily married. He didn’t want to have such feelings. Neither do I, as I believe one should not objectify women. But I nonetheless do have feelings of lust. What do I do?

So I come to the conclusion that I am not a worthy person.  I must not be a very good Christian. Worse still I am a horrible priest. I must be a weak Christian. I must be a compromising Christian. I must be a sinful, imperfect Christian. What is wrong with me? Why are there so many contradictions living inside me. What kind of a man is this that lives inside of me? These are the ramblings of my mind.

We all know that the man who wrote Romans 7 was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old; a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who prayed fervently, who worked mighty miracles, who wrote numerous letters to the churches. Here was Paul who spoke courageously before governments, kings, and rulers. Here was Paul who was tossed into prison, beaten and stoned. Here was Paul, the most mature person of the Christ-centered life, at the high point of his Christian journey.  In contemporary scenario it would be like Lionel Messi, the winner of 5th Ballon d’Or saying “I do not know how to play football. I am learning to play it. Similarly Paul says, “I don’t get it. I do the things that I hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a wretched person?”

And then it begins to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the awareness of this struggle with evil in our lives. To be  honest about this civil war within us shows our confidence in our living relation with our Lord. It is to struggle with evil until our day of dying. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves, “O wretched person that I am.”

So is Paul giving us an excuse to live a wayward life? We see that the very depressing chapter 7 ends with “Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord..” (vs 25a). What does that mean? The Chapter 7 makes us ready for the glorious promises of Chapter 8. Let us see what it is

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:15-17)

Paul reminds us of our identity as Children of God. It is the Holy Spirit that has brought us to adoption and calls us into a relation with our God where we call him, “Abba Father”. We are like the prodigal son who keeps leaving the Home of the father and the communion. But Spirit helps us to confess and come to our senses and return to our Lord who reaches out with outstretched arms to receive us. Paul reminds us our thirst for Grace.

I remember a time when I was struggling to make a decision to go for ministry. Many people knew I had dedicated my life for ordained ministry and here suddenly I was backtracking. I must admit I had lost my focus; I questioned my capability and my commitment and was very confused. The struggle was very harrowing and my reservations for ordained ministry had become very vocal. Some of it was a defense mechanism to wriggle out of the situation. This created a lot of tension in my life. But I must highlight the role of my parents who were very disappointed at my wavering decisions. But in spite of that I can’t forget the confrontation with my parents which I thought would be very ugly. But my dad always surprised me and still surprises me. He precisely said these words when I was feeling the worst about myself, “Mon, we are proud that you are our son. We see that you are struggling. We are with you in whatever decision you make. We wish you take the right decision. We love you and as parents we will support you the best that we can.” Tears still well up when I remember those words. In the scorching heat of loneliness the word “Mon (malayalam for son)” was like the waters of the streams that gushed into my soul. I am sure God is daily calling us “Mon/Mol” when He sees our endless struggle. He promises us that His grace will fill the vacuum of our hearts. Like the Samaritan woman who wanted to know which mountain to scale in her effort to please God. Jesus reminded her, “Lady, forget about the mountain and concentrate on the fountain that is available inside you through the Spirit.”

Baptism affirms our identity as Daughters and Sons of God and at Holy Communion, Christ calls us to His table as a loving mother calls her children to have food at the dinner table. In Mar Thoma Liturgy the procession for Holy Communion starts with liturgical song “Daiva Suthar Naam Aai Iduvan, Jeevikal aayi nadanapol…”. The song is a call for all the confused and burdened people who were condemned to beastly (jeevikal) living because of our struggle with sin. But Christ has called us as his children (Daiva Suthar), where he offers His body and blood to nourish our parched souls.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church,

Kolar Road, Bhopal




Baptism Reloaded: Listening to God’s Original Love Song

Matthew 3: 13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”


Early Church pictured Jesus going down or dipping in the River Jordan, and as he comes out of the water the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and the voice speaks from Heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17).Reflecting on this, they soon began to make connections with the Creation story which involved Water and spirit. At the beginning of creation, Genesis tells us, there was watery chaos. And over the watery chaos, Holy Spirit was hovering. There is watery chaos, there is wind of God’s spirit. Out of the watery chaos comes the world. And God says ‘This is good.’ This is how St Paul connected Baptism of Jesus to the Creation account and therefore gave the apt title to Christian life as New Creation. So the beginning of Christian life is a new beginning of God’s New Creative work. Just as Jesus came out of the water, receiving the the Spirit and hearing the voice of the Father, so for the newly baptized Christian the voice of God gives a new identity saying “This is my son/daughter, whom I love; with her/him I am well pleased.”

There is a tribe in Sierra Leone  called the Himba Tribe where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind.And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him.And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it. And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee,someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song. In this African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.
The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything to prove yourself or usurp what is not yours.

God is singing the original song at our Baptism where he says “You are my beloved son/daughter.” That is our identity and we should often be reminded of the original song.

What is the significance of Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus restores the creation to its purpose of ‘It is good’. When Jesus who restored humanity to the Original love song of God, entered into the river Jordan, symbolizing entry into the chaos of the human world. Jesus entered into our level, where things are broken, shapeless and meaningless, in a state of vulnerability and risk, to give birth to a New Creation of humanity. So when we share in the baptism of Jesus, it is not going to be a life that is going to be successful and in control of things, but it is going to be a life that reaches out from the pain of brokenness and loneliness (chaos), to be touched by the hand of God. So where do we find the Baptized? In the midst of brokenness, pain, death, illness, risk, in short “in the neighbourhood of chaos.”Being baptized means to be lead to where Jesus is. Therefore baptism means being led to the chaos and neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its identity and destiny. But more so, Baptism touches the depths of not just outside chaos, but also the chaos of her or his own life. Because the chaos is not just outside but also there is a lot of inhumanity and muddle inside us. A baptized person should have the honesty and courage to look at the chaos inside and should combat the chaos outside. If this is so, baptism does not confer on us a status that makes us special or a claim of privilege. It is a claim a new level of soladiruty with other people through Christ. Therefore Baptism never is a convocation or graduation ceremony for the privileged elite, but it is an entry into the messy, needy, contaminated world with Jesus. When Jesus rose from the water, it symbolizes that, through the resurrection of Christ, we will also overcome the forces of death and destruction. Baptism opens us to the chaos of the world and at the same time it opens us to the Holy Spirit. Baptism opens up to the brokenness and pain of the world and also gives us the joy of communion, with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It helps us listen to the voice of God, constantly reminding our identity as His beloved.

Now we have wasted a lot of energy, debating the validity of infant baptism and adult baptism. We have turned baptism into a validity contest of who is right and who has the entry visa to Paradise. That is how we completely miss the point. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4) It calls for a complete identification with Jesus. . Church identifies Jesus to have lived a threefold identity: the prophet, priest and king. Baptism calls us to live a life identifying with these 3 roles. We do not see ourselves in such a perspective. Let us analyse these 3 roles

  1. Prophet: We have reduced a prophet to just foretelling the future. But biblically if we analyze, the role of a prophet is to challenge the community to be what it is meant to be. So the baptized person, reflecting the prop[hetic role of Jesus Christ is a person who needs to be critical, a questioner. A person who asks, “Have you forgetten what you are here for?” “Have you forgotten the gift God gave you?” Prophetic role reminds us that we are God’s beloved and therefore questions the human practices in the wake of our identity. Prophetic role is a risky role as we pose uncomfortable questions to ourselves and to people around us, commiting ourselves to the identity that God has given us. We hold each other accountable to our faith and action. Prophetic role is not just about having a private life of faith, but a faith that overflows to combat injustice, discrimination and suffering. Let us remember our prophetic role.
  2. Priest: The role of a priest in Old Testament is one who interprets God and humanity to each other. Priest was seen as somebody who builds bridges between God and humanity when that relationship has been wrecked; somebody who by offering sacrifice to God recreates a shattered relationship. This is the priestly role Jesus espoused and we can try to identify with that role of being peacemakers and bridge builders. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:2). In a world characterized by brokenness and estrangement, Baptism calls us to the priestly role of building bridges between communities, races and people from different hues
  3. King: King is a one who had the freedom and power to shape the law and justice of society. King is a one who had the power to bring to fruition what he wishes to see. While prophets are those who break dividing walls and dismantle new structures, kingly role calls to build alternative structures. Kingly role calls us to shape our lives and human environment in accordance with the justice of God. We are part takers of the freedom and liberty that God gives us to make the world a better place.

So Baptism is not just a vain speculation of whose Baptism is valid, but it initiates us to a life of playing the role of Prophet, Priest and King. We live in times of mediocre faith that makes us feel that one must just tag along. Baptism is just seen as a societal necessity. There is a theory called Pygmalion effect. In the Greek mythology Pygmalion is a sculptor from the city of Crete. His statues were very popular and he was deeply admired. There were many girls who wished to marry him but he refused to do so. One day he sculpted a beautiful woman. It is said he fell in love with this statue. He kept telling the people of the city that the statue of the woman is his wife. People thought he had lost it to call a statue a stone, as his wife. It is said that his constant love and affection on the statue gave breath to the sculpture and the lifeless body came to life. Pygmallion effect says that any person ordinary, if endowed with expectation, love and responsibility can rise up perform beyond expectation. Through baptism, ordinary humans like us are endowed the love and expectation of our Lord to rise up to live the divine-human life of discipleship consisting of the roles of Prophet, Priest and King.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

Ps: This article is adapted from Archbishop Rowan Williams’ book ‘Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, PrayerBaptism 2






Eucharist Reloaded: Meditation Before Receiving Holy Communion

Luke 22: 14-23
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
As a person who celebrates the communion, I retrospect to look at how casually I celebrate the Holy Communion or Eucharist or how casually people receive the Eucharist. We have become numb to the great privilege it is to be invited to the Lord’s table and to be partakers of his meal. We live in a world that highlights the absence in our lives which becomes our voice. We say “I do not have this…, I lack— quality,…Only if I had this job…., Only if my partner had—-quality,…..I do not have —Model Car,…. Wish I had better friends who understood me.” In the matrix of the “Absence” of our lives, Holy Communion reminds us the Presence of Christ. Let us see through this text the few dimensions of Holy Communion so that we participate meaningfully and prayerfully.
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. “ (Vs 15) Christ eagerly waits to have this fellowship with you and me. It is his desire where he has invited you to the table. That is the call that brings us to the table where Christ extends his hospitality and love. Christ calls us very passionately. He has taken the initiative. In the time of Jesus, to invite a person to your table means you find him worthy. Therefore it was a scandal when Jesus dined with Lepers, tax-colectors, prostitutes and the rejects. While Jesus calls us to the table, let us remember we are a community that is there not because of fulfilling some criteria of righteousness or qualification, but that in his invitation he qualifies us as his Sons and Daughters, a community around the table. He is the host.
Now while saying this that Jesus is the host, there is a paradoxical part in it. He is also the guest. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3: 20) While Christ invites us to the table, he also waits to be invited to your house (lives). In the story of Zacchaeus, when he was far and distant on a Sycamore tree, satisfied with a glimpse of Jesus, time freezes. It is not that He sees Jesus. He is shocked to know that Jesus is seeing him. Archbishop Rowan Williams says that Jesus looks at him and says “Zacchaeus are you not inviting me to your home?” And we know what a dramatic effect it had on Zacchaeus once Jesus came to His home. When I was studying in the seminary, final year, I had a habit of keeping my room in a mess. With assignments piling, my room just had madness written all over. And at the height of the piling of mess, without any notice my parents arrive at the Seminary. Normally there is a guest room where we entertain our relatives, so I did not bother to set my room in order. While talking to my parents in the guest room, my mother said “ I want to see your room.” I had an earthquake in my heart and shuddered. I gave her a reason that no one is allowed in the rooms and my mother had to comply by rules. My mother went straight to the Hostel Secretary, who was my friend, Brijith. My mom asked “I want to see Merin’s room”. I prayed to Triune God that he says no. But this Brutus said “Parents are allowed to go to rooms” I did not know where to hide or what to do. So like a lamb about to be slaughtered I was led to my room and my meticulous parents had a heart attack seeing the room. My mother in her characteristic way said “Seminary vannitum nee nanaayi illelo da (You did not improve coming to seminary)”. My poor mother in her enthusiasm set the room straight in a matter of 10 minutes. Jesus also asks us “Are you not inviting me into your lives?” We are afraid to expose the mess we have got ourselves in. But Eucharist reminds us that he is eager to come and set straight the mess that only he can get us out of. Jesus is knocking… Will you open up?
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. (Luke 22: 21-23)
Jesus said that betrayer is with him at the table. Interestingly disciples question which of them it would be. It is not important who would betray. The point is that all of them had the potential to betray. At the table let us remind ourselves that “I too have the potential to be the ‘One who betrays’” Instead of asking who will it be, Richard Rohr says that Jesus makes us realize that I have potential for evil rather than pointing fingers at the other and making a scapegoat. So it is a time of repentance saying “Lord, I am capable of betraying you. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As once the famous Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen was giving invitation to the congregation people were expecting him to say “Only Catholics are allowed to receive the communion.” But he shocked the people by saying “Only sinners are allowed to receive the communion.” Dear friends “Only sinners are allowed…”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22: 19-20)
Here Jesus is looking towards the experience of cross by connecting it to the broken bread and wine poured out as his body and blood which are about to be broken. He is saying “This is the definitive sign of God’s welcome and God’s mercy.” Instead of this being the ultimate tragedy, it is an open door into the glorious welcome of the father. It is the commemoration of the death of Christ in affirmation of his resurrection. Eucharist points us forward to the mystery of both the cross and resurrection. Jesus looking most clearly and vividly to his death on the cross, He gives thanks. Jesus giving thanks at the moment before breaking and spilling, before the wounds and blood, it is as if he is connecting the darkest places of human experience with God the Giver. He is saying that even in these dark places God continues to give. The disciples later on made the connection as the earliest name for Holy Communion is Eucharist which comes from the Greek word “Eucharistia” which means thanksgiving. So Holy Communion is a time when we meet to give thanks, even in the heart of the darkest experience. When we make the connection of all gifts to God the Giver, we are filled with thanksgiving, and the absence in our heart recedes to the over powering presence of Christ and we realize that He is enough. Aatami Kuortti, a Lutheran pastor in Russia, was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a concentration camp because of his refusal to become a spy for the government. A very large proportion of the prisoners were Christians, whose only offense was their Christian faith. One of the Finnish believers received a package from home, a little bread and a few apples. The first thing he thought of was that it would be possible now to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He proposed this to Pastor Kuortti. The pastor thought it impossible. “The guards would certainly interfere.” “But it is all arranged,” said Kajada. “I have already crushed the apple juice in a mug and the crusts will serve as communion bread. We can have the holy ordinance in the corner where my brother and I have our place, and the Russians if they see us will think we are drinking tea.” “I gladly fell in with the proposal of the brethren. After repetition of Scripture, I blessed the bread and the mug of apple juice, and we ate the Lord’s Holy Communion. The altar was but a dirty plank, and the pastor, as well as his flock, was in rags, yet we realized the presence of Christ.
For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Vs 16-18)
Jesus is saying to his disciples here that he will not  eat and drink again until the kingdom of God comes. Jesus when he is inviting to this fellowship of the table also is pointing us to a beyond. The Great Banquet of eternity and kingdom of God. While Holy Communion is an exercise in giving meaning to our lives in the world, but Jesus also points us to a beyond that his resurrection brings us. It is the hope that only He can give. In my 8th standard, I had the dreaded Jaundice. My parents took the Ayurveda route for my treatment. The diet was very strict with no salt and no non-veg food. One day, I became very adamant and said I want to have chicken and fish. My mother in tears in her eyes said “Once you are well, I will prepare a grand meal, where you can have what you want. But till then Papa and I will not have any non-veg food. We will have it only with you once all the effects of Jaundice is over.” Christ is eagerly waiting for us in the rooms that he has gone to prepare, waiting to have a grand banquet. We live in that hope.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal

Sorry For the Interruption- Rukavat Ke Liye Khed hai

Matthew 1: 18- 25


This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yetdid not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”


All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.



I may be the last of the remnant generation who grew up on the steady and bland diet of watching Doordarshan, as my father refused to give in to my endless rants to subscribe cable TV.  So I tried all the tricks to tune in cable TV as very grainy versions I could manage by wasting my time on the terrace, trying endlessly to make the TV antennae and the cable wire meet. Don’t ask me what was the science or the logic of it. Sometimes it worked and most times it did not, which is not surprising. To cut the long story short, I had to live on endless nonsense on DD like Alif Laila, Alibaba when my friends discussed ‘Friends’ and ‘Bold and the Beautiful’. My friend asked me what is my favorite serial, and I remarked “Rukavat ke liye khed hai: Sorry for the interruption”. And he looked puzzled. It was just my attempt of being sarcastic as a teenager, I had to paint everything in dark by exaggerating. The transmission of the programme went off air, with rainbow colors on your screen and a very annoying tone accompanying,  right at the time of an interesting cricket match, when the ball is in the air and you kept guessing what happened and there comes the most hated lines “Rukavat Ke liye khed hai: Sorry for the interruption”


In our lives we have certain calculations and goals that we set. These become your milestones in life. After my graduation I will try to write GRE and study abroad. In another 2 years I should get a job to pay off my loans. By the age of 27, I should get married. As my friend Wret used to say “Dude I wanna earn real quick and fast and before you give that awful judgmental look, I wanna earn so that I can retire by the age of 35 and then chill.” So we all have such expectations, dreams, desires that give meaning to our pursuit for happiness. But more often than not, life is not privy to our dreams or our goals. We hit roadblocks. Expectedly or unexpectedly one fails in a subject, fails to get the job she/he dreamed of. One loses a job with lots of loans and dues to clear. Dreamt of a fairytale wedding and ended up in a nightmare.  A near one dies, leaving a huge vacuum in our lives. These are all the scenarios and even more when life gets seriously interrupted and God is not kind enough to say “Sorry for the interruption”.

Joseph too had very ordinary dreams. Dreams to get married to his beloved and have a quiet family life. And his betrothed Mary comes up with the news of being pregnant. What a scandal? And even more she comes up with a weird explanation. She says that she has conceived by the Holy Spirit. Who would believe it? He could see people talking about it. When in the market he could imagine the stares that he would undergo. Life is seriously interrupted. And he has two options in front of him. One is to expose her so that she is publicly stoned as per the law, and the other is to silently divorce her.

When life gets interrupted, we get anxious to fix it. We are dismayed that our own expectations hurt us and resolve never to expect anything. The hurt of betrayal is a deep wound. And to top it all, the endless questions and stares of the people to deal with.  And divorce it is. Joseph decides that the first thing that he will do tomorrow is to get rid of Mary silently. With great clarity he knows that he is now in control. And then he goes to sleep. Sleep is very tricky. You are just not in control. I unrealistically set the alarm at 5 AM. But sleep rules me down to fail my New Year resolution to wake up early. When we used to go to youth camps my friends were afraid to sleep next to me as I kick those who sleep next to me and snore annoyingly and to top it all, I used to even talk. My only consolation was that another friend of mine sleep walked. I cannot say I will not snore, or kick or talk while asleep. Soji seems like a gladiator to have put up with all this. In sleep, we are not in control of the dreams that come to us. So when Joseph was not in control, in a dream, an angel invaded him saying “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 20-21). He is now to decide, whether to be compelled by his hurt, the stares and talks of the people or to consider the gentle whisper of God in the night to accept Mary as his wife and to protect the child. It is a matter of interpretation. One who’s cynical can easily rubbish this off and work from the logic of hurt and revenge. But Joseph interpreted the dream accordingly and acted upon it. Michael J Marsh beautifully says that Joseph had to let go off the fear, anxieties, and imagined scandals and let God take control. He emptied himself and became the womb that would protect Mary and the child from the rage of Herod and the stares of the community. His interpretation led to a creative action. Christmas is the story of two wombs where Mary offers her womb to bear the Child Jesus and Joseph who emptied himself and became the womb. When life interrupts let us not succumb to knee jerk reaction. Let us submit to God by letting go off our anxieties, worries, panic and wait for God to talk in the silence of night, in the deafening pain of waiting.

Joseph realized the scandal was not that Mary was pregnant, but the scandal was that God is in our midst. Scandal is not about the question of faithfulness of Mary but the divine faithfulness of God who would condescend to be man. God would be installed in our midst. God is in our midst. God is here. He is Immanuel. But in circumstances like the above, he seems absent. He seems distant. How do we make sense of Immanuel? The question is are we emptying ourselves to bear the message of God to reach out to people in pain? If this statement makes no sense, let me close with an illustration.

Rev E.J. George is a stalwart priest of the Mar Thoma Church. My first experience of him was when I was rushing to the Kottayam Market to buy vegetables for the seminary mess. Achen, who had never met asked me if I am from the seminary. I answered in the affirmative. He asked me all my family details. And I very impatiently kept answering him. And I thought this would finish with the answers, so that I can be back on track, buying vegetables, I was wrong. In midst of the market, he held my hands and prayed. I was shocked. I never knew somebody would pray for me in midst of a busy market. My rush was over. I had deeply felt the presence and nearness of God. If this was not enough, in 3 days time I get a postcard addressed to me from E.J.George Achen with a quote on it and assurance of prayer for my parents.  But that’s not where the story ends. It is only the beginning of another beautiful strand of story. My cousins Mary and Susan lost their mother on 26th November 2014. My cousin Rev. Mathews George and I received this news when we were at the Annual Clergy Conference. I recollected the 13 months struggle that this family went through when Kunjumol aunty suffered from Cancer. But I was truly amazed at how aunt and the entire family faced this. Mary and Susan tried their best with prayer and service to prolong their dear mother’s life. Even Babu Uncle was hopeful and realistic. Everytime she succumbed to a series of illness, the trend was she would overcome it and comeback by God’s grace. So when in the end of November when she was seriously ill with a lot of complications, we all hoped that she would once again triumph. More so, both the daughters hoped this would be the case. But it was not to be. When we reached Mumbai at our aunt’s house, we were moved to see the mortal remains of our dear aunt and heartbroken to see the tears of our cousins. Once the funeral service at home was over, we were ready to head towards the church. My cousin Mathews George Achen, Mary, Susan and myself were in the same car. It is at that time Georgie aka Mathews George achen told us that while he was rushing home from the Annual Clergy Conference at Kozhencherry, Kerala, he happened to meet Rev E. J. George Achen. When Georgie tried to excuse himself by saying that he was rushing to the funeral in Mumbai of his aunt, Achen insisted to know more. He asked about the daughters and family. And after hearing all this, E.J. George achen took two hand written notes from his Bible to be given to the daughters. The note is a poem that is credited to anonymity. The poem “He takes only the best” is as follows.


“God saw she was getting tired

And a cure was not to be

So he put his arms around her

And whispered, ‘Come with me’


With tear filled eyes we saw her

Suffer and fade away

Although we loved her deeply

We could not make her stay


A golden heart stopped beating

Hardworking hands put to rest

God broke our hearts to prove to us

He takes only the best”


After reading the note, both daughters were deeply surprised. How could an achen who is a complete stranger talk to them miles away directly to their hearts? Mary quipped “This poem is the answer to our prayer. God definitely has spoken to us.” I could see how much this great gesture had partly healed the sisters. Achen who is ready to stop and know about others, who writes small notes of healing and comfort for people he has not seen, became the womb that carried the message “Immanuel, God is in midst of this. He is here”


(The photo inserted is the photo of the note given by Rev E.J. George)


Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal



ej george.jpg

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,