Mera Parmeshwar Chor Hai

Luke 23:39-43

 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Message

“Hello Rev Merin, how are you?” This was a phone call from an unknown number and whose voice I just could not manage to place. So I tried to act as if I know who this is. “I am fine. How are you?” I have highlighted the ‘How are you’ because I was just hoping the person across would reveal who it is and end the game of “Guess who?” But the person continued “So you remember who I am?” I was wondering if it was Malayalam Superstar Suresh Gopi as his favourite one liner is “Orme undo ee mukham? ” (Do you remember this face). Jokes apart this was not funny at all. “You do not remember right? You have forgotten us.” And this person disconnected the call. I was dumb founded. How irrational this person was? Why was he so offended? What is there to be so offended?

To be remembered is the basic need of all human beings. Our life is a consistent struggle to be remembered. When we are remembered it means we matter, we belong, we exist. There is life, presence and relationship in being remembered. Being remembered is to affirm of our wholeness. Remember is Re-membering. When you remember a person you say, you are a member of my life, you are connected to me, you are part of my story. And if you do not remember, the exact opposite is what happens. The person feels dis-membered, disconnected from your life and concludes that they are no more part of our stories and not members of our lives. That really hurts, there is an isolation that other person feels in being dis-membered.

The scene at Calvary with Jesus hanging on the cross with 2 thieves on both of his side has caught my imagination. Leonard Sweet at Maramon Convention said that the picture of Calvary is not that Jesus is alone on the cross. The scene at Calvary is the picture of 3 Crosses. Let us hear the prayer of one of the Thieves “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23: 42) The thief wants to be remembered. That is his prayer.

We have to now connect some dots. In Luke chapter 22 we see Jesus having Passover with his disciples.  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.” (Luke 22: 19) What was Jesus saying here? He was saying, I am giving you my body by being broken for you. Jesus is asking his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me”. Jesus wants to be Re-membered in the story and lives of the disciples. Jesus wants to be part of our stories and wants us to be part of his body. So the Holy Communion is allowing Jesus to be re-membered in our lives, to invade our lives. Are you ready to re-member Jesus in your lives?

Is this always possible?  After the Passover meal Jesus is arrested and let us see what one of his disciples does.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.”But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.”And after a little while another saw him and said, “You also are of them.”But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” (Luke 22: 55-60).

Peter is denying him? So what? Peter is dis-membering Jesus from his life by saying “I am not with him, I am not a member of his group.” Out of fear, Peter wants to forget that he is a member of Jesus’ group, a follower. Peter does not want to be part of Jesus’ body as he knows He is headed toward the Cross. We too wish to forget that we are members of Jesus’ body. It is dangerous. It is inconvenient. It is boring and we do not want Jesus to be part of our lives. We want Jesus to leave us alone in some aspects of our lives. We too deny like Peter.

And it is here that we see the thief at the Cross who has a life broken in regret, in pain, in contradictions, revenge, sin and remorse. He is a dis-membered person. He asks Jesus to Re-member him. Jesus promises him “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 43). Jesus says “You will be ‘with me’ (joining the dots) in Paradise. Jesus keeps saying to us that we who are alienated from ourselves and our Creator, Jesus through the Cross has re-membered us into the eternal story of God. It is such a beautiful thing that Jesus says, that we will never be forgotten. Not because of who we are. We will be remembered, because of “Whose we are”. That is Paradise.  My dear friends Jesus promises to Remember you. You are important to him. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49: 15)

At an early age Sam lost his father due to an unfortunate circumstance. There were some people responsible for it. He grew up with hatred and a sense of revenge. But Sam was blessed with a devout mother who had faith in God and abandoned herself and her 4 children in the hands of God. She taught Sam the importance of faith and worship. When Sam became a youth the hatred deepened surrounding the death of his father. The sense of revenge got louder. He was entrapped in the cage of regret, hatred and revenge. It affected his personality. He attended the worship and took part in the Holy Communion but he could never let go of his deep seated wounds. The only comfort was the love and prayer of his mother. Rev K.O. Philipose who was the Vicar of his church introduced him to the love and grace of Lord Jesus through his pastoral care. One day when he took part in the Holy Communion, Sam was moved by the words of Liturgy said by the priest before he administered the Holy Body and Blood. “The Holy Body and Holy Blood  of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, is given to you for the health of body and soul.” When he received the body and blood of Christ he remembers being moved beyond words. This encounter led him to experience the Cross and his fragmented body of hate, revenge, anger and self pity was re-membered into the beautiful promise of Jesus. His hatred had forced him to forget the promise and offer of Jesus. But the Broken Body of Christ and Blood poured out  on Calvary saw his life being invaded by Jesus with his wonderful promise of being remembered.  It was this encounter that turned his life around where he let go and waited for God to catch him. It was this act of surrender that shaped his course of life. This story is the true story of my friend and mentor Rev Sam who is currently the Vicar of Kuwait Mar Thoma Church.

Leonard Sweet Says the story is of the Thief on the left, the thief on the right and the thief in the middle. What? Jesus also is a thief who robbed from us our shame, our guilt, our regrets and pain. He has robbed us from the world that easily forgets and dismembers us. Jesus is the Holy Thief who 3-crosses re-members us. We are his Beloved and being remembered by him, we are eternally alive in Paradise.

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

Sun Raha Hai Na Tu…

1 Kings 19: 11-12
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper
Message:
Anyone following me on FB sure knows that I am a sports buff. As the T20 World Cup 2016 is going on, I am reminded of a World Cup match that I saw in 2003. This was the Semi Final Match between Australia and Sri Lanka at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Australia was batting with gusto and the destruction man Adam Gilchrist was on song. Aravinda De Silva was bowling his second ball to Adam Gilchrist, which he tried to hit but it was caught by the wicket keeper Kumar Sangakara and there was a huge appeal. The umpire said no, not out and the appeal was about to fizzle off when the unbelievable happened. Adam Gilchrist started walking to the pavilion. The Sri Lankan players could not believe it. The most destructive batsman was not given out but walks out. What really happened? Adam Gilchrist says “ I knew I had a thick edge to the ball”Catch it! Catch it!” I heard. I stood and turned to see that [Kumar] Sangakkara had it. I knew I was out. It was so obvious.
Then, to see the umpire shaking his head, meaning, “Not out”, gave me the strangest feeling. I don’t recall what my exact thoughts were, but somewhere in the back of my mind, all that history from the Ashes series was swirling around. Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain and other batsmen, both in my team and against us, who did not walk out even when they were out disturbed me and I wanted to know what would I do in moments like these. I had spent all summer wondering if it was possible to take ownership of these incidents and still be successful. I had wondered what I would do. I was about to find out.
The voice in my head was emphatic.
Go.
Walk.
And I did.
It was a really weird sensation to go against the grain of what 99 per cent of cricketers do these days, and what we’ve been doing for our whole careers. I was annoyed because I felt like I was batting well and had the chance to lay the foundation for a big team score – and it was me taking that away from myself. But I could not ignore the voice that told me walk, you are out.”
This story may look very silly for those who read it. But I witnessed this live and it changed the outlook of my life. As a youth it became very clear to me that there is a whisper of God that does not blast on your face like a wind. Neither does God shake your world like an Earthquake to prove a point./ He intervenes in your life through a gentle whisper, and you should be able to discern that voice and heed to it. Strangely Adam Gilchrist made a Biblical truth more clear than any sermon or advice.
Adam Gilchrist
I think that statement is a starting point for us today. I believe today the air is saturated with voices that we keep hearing. Voices that say “You are important because you have money.” “You are ugly because you are fat.” “You are useless as you have done nothing significant yet.” “You need to prove your worth. Ordinary people like you cannot survive.” “This world is favorable to the young. Old people have no place here.” “Morality has no place in the market. The mantra is to compromise and move forward.” These voices are like the powerful wind, the earthquake and the fire. All three forces that we see in the text in front of us have a very devastating effect. It is powerful and it compels our attention. These voices of spectacular effect drown out all other voices. These voices are everywhere that we go. We cannot escape them. It is common logic that the voices we hear are the voices we replicate. We are not just victims of such voices stated above. We are the perpetrators of the said voices. These voices determine our relationships. These voices determine our understanding of community and family. These voices help us decide who is worthy to be called a human and who is not. It dictates our every part of life. These voices also end up in deciding who we are. We are always at the mercy of outside voices that sets conditions based on our utility. One is judged on the basis of being productive. That is the rule of the market.
The more we believe in such voices the more absurd our life becomes. We become an emotional wreck and competition looks like the only way to survive. It is interesting that the word ‘absurd’ is derived from the Latin word ‘surdus’ which means being deaf. So we are deaf to what? “After the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19: 12b). That gentle whisper was the voice of God. This voice says to us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29: 11) or “This is my Son/ Daughter, the Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). But are we listening to such voices or are we turning deaf to it? The word ‘obedient’ has its roots in the Latin word ‘audiere’, which means to listen. Being obedient to God is to listen to his voice that is a gentle whisper. Listening to God is a discipline that we need to cultivate in the midst of the noise that we live in. The identity of Jesus’ followers are those who listen to his voice.“My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me.” (John 10: 27).
Prayer is that discipline that helps us listen to the gentle whispers of our God. As Henri Nouwen says “The toughest thing to do is, is to pray. Because the moment I remain silent I hear all the voices of the world that make me feel worthless. The silence makes me restless and to overcome it I start to talk to God. But I have to learn to listen to the gentle whispers of my Lord.” There are some voices that lead to death and destruction and some voices that lead to life and eternity. We are called to discern the voice of God that calls us “Beloved.” And when we listen to this voice, we spread this voice around us. We become a blessing to the people we work with and meet. Instead of gossiping, criticizing and spreading negative words, we become a blessing wherever we go. That is our calling and purpose of our life.
How to become a blessing? How to cut the chain of negative sequence? Let me end by telling you a story of my mentor Rev Dr Moni Mathew. During my internship with Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai, Rev Dr Moni was the director. Navjeevan is a Rehabilitation centre for children of commercial sex workers. It is a community living project for Children run by the Mar Thoma Church. We had a review session with the director. I had a feedback to give. I said “The children are not responsible about keeping their homes clean. Having surveyed their house (System where there will be 19-22 children per house with cooking facilities along with house parents), I find children have no sense of hygiene and their toilets and bathrooms are very filthy. Children are very irresponsible.” With the avalanche of my theatrics, Moni Achen just looked and said nothing. I was unsure as what steps would be taken. I was feeling let down by his response. After all I had given an Oscar winning performance in bashing the children up. Hope they who are now on Facebook, do not read this. All forgotten, next day all groggy eyed, I look out. I see Rev Moni walk out of the Farm house with a bucket, bathroom brushes, and some bottles. I was wondering what he was up to. I asked “What are you doing Achen?” He said “Let us clean the toilets of the children, I have some phenyl and acid, join me.” I was like “What?” But I did not dare to ask. He enters the house and starts cleaning the toilet to the utter shock of all the children. We all joined in the cleaning. With 6 hours, along with the Children and the director, all the toilets of 8 houses were cleaned and children all joined to the tune of a carnival.” No huge sermons of responsibility and no fire of wrath because of irresponsibility. An example where he got working and this picture I am sure remained with the children more than any other reprimand or sermon.
This example has become part of the “Gentle Whisper of God.” Whenever I am facing a situation where I judge people or condemn them, the image narrated above works as a gentle whisper of God. In our daily lives let us hear the gentle whispers of God to combat the negative voices and actions that surround and engulf.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal

Who Is Your ‘Onesimus’?

Who Is Your ‘Onesimus’?

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GeethaPhilemon: 8-20.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty,  yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.  I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.  I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel;  but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever,  no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.  So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.  Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

 

Message-.

 

Let me quote a story illustrated by Stephen Covey in his book “Eighth Habit” which I have adapted to my convenience. “ In  a school a teacher declared to the Class 8 that the next day he would conduct a written quiz. The quiz would have a question paper with 20 questions. The students were all excited and surveyed encyclopedia, google, Wikipedia, etc. to do their best in the quiz. The day came. The teacher distributed the question papers. Their pen were in a ready, get, set, go… mode. The questions were tough but their preparations were great. Till the 19th question the sailing was smooth. But the 20th question was a stumbling block. Nobody knew the answer. One of the students stood up and asked “What kind of a question is this? Name the woman who helps in cleaning the premises of your school? Is that a question worthy of a quiz?” The teacher patiently replied. “Son, you know the name of the president of Belaruz. The name of the Fifa Player of the year comes to you as easy as breath, but the lady who has been cleaning the school premises seems invisible to you. When she walks around you don’t even acknowledge her. It’s a danger when we recognize and acknowledge people only on basis of labels and merits. We need to respect people as humans. Even if you have answered 19 questions, if u can’t answer the 20th one, my students you have failed the quiz of being good humans.” Let us ask who the invisible people in our lives are.

 

Now, how many reading this note has written postal letters? As some of my cousins were far away in Kerala and when there were no emails, facebook, Whatsapp,  to be in touch and when phone calls were strictly to be spoken for 3 minutes maximum, Inland letters were the only way to be in touch. My cousin Rev Mathews George was the best at writing letters and I was very lousy at replying it. During my seminary days, I used to wait eagerly for the letter of my mother who used to give all the details of our home and used to assure her prayers for my seminary studies. The personal touch of a postal letter cannot be recaptured. Of all the letters Paul has written, letter of Philemon is the most personal one in my reckoning.  Paul’s Letter to Philemon is a classic letter to a Christian who had a runaway slave. Philemon seems to be a very devout Christian, with lavish praises from Paul. But then the shift in the letter is very disturbing and intriguing. It seems Philemon had a slave who ran away from him. Running away from a master was a crime worthy of imprisonment. Paul himself was imprisoned for reasons not mentioned here. Prison seems to be the contact point of Paul and Onesimus. We can assume that this slave had brought Philemon huge loss in his act of running away. This is where the appeal of Paul to accept Onesimus as a brother and not a slave becomes very important.

Let us analyse Philemon. He was a very zealous Christian but his slave was beyond the ambit of the Gospel or communion. He needed a Paul to remind him about the dignity of a slave. It was not in the stratification but the communion of Jesus that makes us all brothers and sisters in fellowship. Philemon thought that the gospel was only for people in the church and the slave at home was away from it. Probably he even did not recognize the personhood of Onesimus. It is here that Paul reminds that Onesimus is a human worthy of being called a brother. We too are like Philemon. We need a Paul to remind us about the dignity of people around us. Let us look around and ask ourselves what are our attitudes towards our servants at home, peons at our work places, the auto rickshaw drivers, coolies et al, and we will find that our attitudes are abysmal, marred with suspicion and prejudice. It may have basis too. But Paul reminds us we have to rise above these prejudices and accept people and respect them as our brothers and sisters. We may answer that we do not mistreat them. That is true, we hardly ill-treat any of them. But the problem lies somewhere else. The problem is that these people have become invisible for us. We behave as if they do not exist. Ignoring the existence of the personhood of people is a sin comparable to no other.

The meaning of Onesimus is useful. But Philemon considered him useless. The idea of seeing people in the binary or category of useful and useless itself is demeaning. Onesimus has incurred heavy loss to Philemon and Onesimus sure was in no position to repay him. This part of the letter is the climax and the zenith in verses 18 and 19 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” Boooom. Did you hear that? This letter is just not about platitudes. Just not free advice. Paul is ready to vouch for Onesimus by saying all the debts Onesimus has incurred, Charge that to my account. Paul is saying, I stand for him, I take the guarantee. Charge that to my account. It sounds like a blackmail or arm-twisting tactic. But he is doing it for a brother he found in prison and who is no more a slave but a son of Christ. When we keep saying Jesus died for the debts of my sin, it is just platitudes as we do not understand the magnitude of the cost. Paul knows it and brings into action by being ready to pay a debt for someone who can never pay the debt. I do not know about you, I am deeply moved by the passion with which Paul ends the letter. If I may say, I see his eyes pop out when he is writing it with intensity. What a wonderful letter

 

There is a ragged lady who kept coming to our Church in Bhopal. After the service, I kept ignoring her and behaved as if she does not exist. But she kept persisting. I used to give her token amounts of Rs 5 and 10 just to shoo her off. But still she kept coming. One day I told her “Amma, baar baar math aaya karo.” She went away with a sad countenance. But she came again. The day she came, I was reading a book my Paul Miller who said, if we look at people how Jesus saw them, we would enter into their lives and stories. I thought of giving it a try. I called the lady that I kept calling ‘Bai’. I asked her what is her story. Her husband was an alcoholic and used to abuse her and he died in a road accident long back. She had a wonderful son who looked after her very well. She conducted his marriage with whatever resources she had. He had two adorable daughters. Life was very peaceful. Son used to work in a construction site and died in a freak accident. Her life came crashing down. Within a year the wife of her son ran away with another man, leaving the daughters with “Bai”. Her name is Geetha. She said “Beta, I do not want anything. These two granddaughters are the reason why I am alive. Their need to go to school is what keeps me working and also asking for help.” I felt overwhelmingly guilty at how I treated her. With the story of her life she was no more a nuisance but a human being with great resolve. And whenever we offer her money now for the education of her granddaughters, she showers us with a lot of blessings that we earnestly need. One day she came saying “Tomorrow is Makarsankranti, and I have to make Laddoos of Til for my bacchas.” I smiled at her and said, I will give but when you make, we also want some Laddoos for us.” I meant it as a joke. But she came next day with 6 laddoos. Soji and I were competing to hog it as the taste was awesome. Now she wants us to come to her juggi (hut) so that we can have lunch with her and her granddaughters. All she really asks is “Please pray for Priya and Swathi”

(Irony of the story is Geetha the real person in front of me, needed a “Paul Miller” -{Paul again} the author who I have never heard or seen, to knock some sense into my head to consider the lady with worth and dignity. This story is a testimony of the Persistence of Geetha and her triumph)
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal

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

He taught me many things…

Merin Mathew, doing my Master of Social Work, 2nd year in the field of medical and psychiatry. My fieldwork is in Chaitanya Mental Health Centre, a rehabilitation center for the mentally ill patients. I was trying to learn and get acquainted with the work. i really did not know what is was doing n at the verge of disillusionment

I used to attend the Psychiatrist’s consultation, observe counselling and participate in the morning session of patients. Attending the morning session my attention was drawn towards a man who said the morning prayers with a lot of passion and involvement. He was a very pleasant looking man. His hair was jumbled, he had heavy stubble on his face, and it was accompanied by a wide smile. A short man, who could be called fat and had a slight hunch back. After the morning session he came to me and told me his name. I could very evidently say he was the first person who made me feel welcome at the agency.

After the first meeting we kept exchanging pleasantries. Those were the days when I was growing an ugly looking beard. He came and asked “Sir, why don’t you shave?” I used to smile and pass. His smile was something I got used to and I mechanically kept smiling at him. One day when I had finished my tea, this middle-aged man stopped me and asked me” Sir, do you know my name?” I was caught unaware. I wish I could tell him I don’t know. I remember him telling me, but I was not sure. I was feeling very sorry and with a lot of reluctance and a low voice that was hardly audible, I asked ”Are you Vivek?” After saying I imagined him saying on now, you don’t know me. I thought you would remember I smiled everyday thinking you know my name. But you don’t. All this I viewed in a split second of his reaction. He said ”You are absolutely right”. His smile became more radiant. And was that smile rewarding for me? Oh! Of the highest order. There are times when we surprise ourselves and this time I surprised myself. I gifted a smile to a person. Let me ask nothing more.

After this day I made a special effort to say hi to him. Asking his well-being.

On another field workday I went and attended the morning meeting. The prayer today lacked the passion and had a certain detachment. The person saying the prayer was same, the prayer was same, but the state of mind was different. The radiant smile was replaced by an unpleasant frown. The man who was most participatory in the session was most pre-occupied with his own thoughts. The Counsellor conducting the session also noticed the evident change. The Counsellor asked him what was bothering him, Vivek did not respond. Then he abruptly said ‘I do not believe in God’. The Counselor’s effort to motivate him was a failure. This deeply disturbed me and I decided to intervene. I called Mr. Vivek for counselling. The session started with a lot of reluctance and silence. Then I broke the silence asking ”Vivekji, how are you feeling?” He answered with a frown ”What is wrong with me, I am fine”. His defenses were in place and his message was clear, don’t intrude into my life. After a little silence he told me ‘I have lost my appetite for life’. After sometime he said ‘I want to die’.

The man who was so positive, so pleasant, was such a man of smiles, is suicidal. What went wrong? ”My life is meaningless. Nobody cares for me” . He had flight of ideas. He told me ”Sir you have double standards” . I was shocked when he said that, my natural reaction was ‘why?’ pleasant. ”Sir, you only say we should be clean, should be But look at yourself. You don’t shave, you look so unpleasant , if this is not double standards then what is it ?” I couldn’t help laughing but at the same time I was humbled. He taught me the importance of congruence in speech and action. Did I learn? I am doubtful. On this light note, we continued. He said that ” All my education has gone waste”. He had some traumatic memories of E.C.T. He spoke of his hatred for food. He had a lot of negativity in him that he could not channelise. So he kept silent looking at the ceiling as if looking for answer from the ceiling. Then I said ‘Vivekji, I understand”. He very skeptically answered ‘What you understand?”. This taught me how lightly we use words. Did I understand his emotions, his helplessness, his feelings, his fear? Hardly. Then I told him ”May be I don’t understand Vivekji, but you understand. I think you like to write, why, don’t you write your feelings?” He said ”You cant make it compulsory? ”I wont do anything that is compulsory”. I assured him that it is not compulsory. He said ”I will try, but I can’t promise”. The counseling ended. The outcome was uncertain. Did what I say make an effect? Did I make a difference? Time will tell. I tried. My intentions were earnest.

After this I spoke to his counsellor who briefed me about his illness. Vivek is a schizophrenic for last 20 years and his chance of recovery was very poor. The counsellor told me that he was very close to his mother and his mother is dead and Vivek does not know. This disturbed me even more. Knowing this, I went and spoke to him. but i could not tell him about his mother. Seeing me he said “I am very sad, n i dont want to live. Sir, but whatever you said, I will try”. I will try. Am I ready to try? I just spoke to him about his interests and he spoke in length about literature. He really looked different and spoke as an authority. I was so happy seeing his revived spirits. Sometimes we don’t need to try too much. Just listen. Thats all we got to do.

Next field work when I met him He smiled at me but it was not the same smile that I was used to. He came to me and said ”Good morning Sir, I am trying”. That’s all he said and went.

After sometime he spoke to me about Marathi literature, its high points, the importance of mother tongue and how its losing its importance. I was ignorant about it and listened to him like a child. I was impressed about his conviction. I wished I had atleast quarter of conviction that he had. What a pleasant site. After all this, he said ”Sir, my mother is dead”. I was shocked that he knew all this and spoke this way. I was speechless. ” I was told by the Doctor. I am sad but I dint cry. I loved her a lot. She understood me. I will come out of my feelings of worthlessness. I will try. I am going to write. I want to write. My mother wanted me to write. Sir, you want me to write. But I will write because I want to.” What a lesson to learn. “I will do it because I want to do it.” What a resiliency. In a matter of 3 days this man changed so much, He still had little negativity. But he was trying to come out. How important it is for us to keep trying.

Vivek was upset the next time when I visited him. He said” Sir, what bad words these patients speak. Language is so beautiful, why do they destroy it, with so much of filth?” He was disturbed.

After sometime he came and told me” Sir, I am not going to let these things affect me. I am going to write an article on ‘Film and Industry’ from a commerce perspective. I want to write”. After this he told something that moved me the most. He said ”There is a creation in all of us that compels us to rise above the destruction of our negativity”. I was dumb struck. How true from a man who was battling with his emotions. I was fortunate to learn this from him. I started getting a new perspective for my field work and my life.

We kept meeting and I kept learning. He wrote his article and showed it to me. It does not matter how it was. He conceived an idea and he did it. He was determined to do it. He kept saying ‘I will try’. He tried. That is the most important thing.

He kept telling me how he made himself happy. He spoke of his experiments with diet and how happy he was. He said he wanted to write short stories for children. He said” Telling the right story to the child prepares the child for the story called ‘Life.’ He said at times ”I feel bad but I have a lot of things to feel good about. I choose to be happy”. I felt ashamed of myself. I have so many things to be happy about but I choose to complain. Everything is about choices.

‘In this life we have more pain than pleasure. Pain is pleasurable’. This is what he said. It made so much of sense. Then he smilingly asked ‘Sir, hope I am not boring you?’ We both laughed together. ‘I am very happy talking to you. Because of you I started writing and made, myself happy. Thank you’. This is what he told me. He could tell me this so easily. He taught me so much but I could not tell him. Why? I still need to learn from him. My teacher.

Next day he again spoke to me about his experiments with diets. He told me ”Sir, it is a great feeling to be married. What a feeling when my child would call me ‘Papa’. Why dint I marry? But it’s OK. I am happy. I still can marry with a widow or someone. But chances are remote. I was in love with a girl in my eighth standard. She was very intelligent. She looked very cute in her frock. I respected her but she never knew about my feelings. Wish I could tell her. If I would tell her, I would be happy and may be I would not have had schizophrenia. But it’s OK. If I had a physical illness I would take treatment, so I took treatment during my productive years of my life. Its OK. It was for my good. Still nothing is lost. I can still do a lot of things. I am just 51. I have more to do”. What an attitude ? He told me ‘Sir, my eyes can be taken, my hands can be taken, but nobody can take away my attitude’. I was awestruck. Was I counselling or was I learning ?

I told him to write and he made himself worth writing about. I am still learning from a man who does not know he is teaching me? Sometimes God helps you to give without you realising how much you are about to get.

#This was written on 21st January 2005, as part of my report to my Institute Karve Institute of Social Service

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.

Message

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

 

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