Luke 22: 14- 30
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.
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
One of the childhood games that Sunday school competitions introduced me to is the ‘Breaking of balloons’. What does one need to do? The elders used to fill air in the balloon, tie it with strings and then the extended part of the string used to be tied to the ankle of the child. The rule of the game is very simple. Save your balloon and break the balloon of your fellow competitor. Whoever is good at breaking other balloons and saving your own balloon is the winner. “Break other and save yourself and you will be the winner.”
Now while you ponder over that tiny trivia let us look at the passage set before us. The context of this passage is Jesus and disciples celebrating the Passover. Please read Exodus 12 to know the detailed version of how and why a Passover was being celebrated. Passover was celebrating the liberative act of God, where the Israelites were rescued with an out stretched arm of God from the clutches of Pharaoh. So in the background of this celebration which is about liberation, Jesus takes the bread and breaks it. My friend Rev Eapen Mathew points out that in normal practice, it was just to dip the bread. But breaking shows a new act. It foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus. Eucharist emphasizes two aspects, one of Christ being broken and Christ shedding his blood for us on the cross. This great love of being broken and shedding is the key part of the remembrance of Christ. Christ’s love compelled him to be broken.
But if you read verse 24 the disciples seem to be playing the game of “Breaking the balloons”. They had a dispute of who is greatest among them. To prove that they had to break others balloons and save theirs. We too are like the disciples. Getting ahead of others is very important. What I did during the game, may be, defines who I really am. I did not go to break the balloons. I am a nice guy. All I tried was to save my balloon. I kept running away. Protecting my balloon was important. So taking no risks, playing safe defines me. But some want to get ahead and the only option is to break others balloon. Only then will you be great and safe. Jesus said to them, there is a change in rule, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22: 25- 27)
Jesus demonstrates the idea of not caring for your balloon. He says “Like me be ready to be broken.” It is here we should understand his act of washing the disciples’ feet. After this act he said “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13: 34). It is from this verse that we get the word Maundy Thursday. Maundy is derived from the Latin word ‘Mandatum’ which means a command. The command is to love one another. Eucharist is the time where we remember the costly love of our Lord who was ready to be broken for us. How did this change history? Sociologist Rodney Stark says that the reason for Jesus Movement was the response of Jesus’ disciples to the sick and the downtrodden. In the Roman Empire, the normal response to any epidemic or plague was to leave the one with the disease out in the open to die. This way they could assure that they would live. Greek Historian Thucydides wrote “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.” But what did the disciples of Jesus do. Dionysius a third century Bishop of Alexandria writes “In the wake of plague, heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And they embraced all those who were thrown away as their own. There was a heavy loss of life as these followers were infected by the disease. In a way they voluntarily embraced the disease of their neighbours and lost their lives serving others.” It is noteworthy to read the comments of Emperor Julian the Apostate who was an opponent of Christians. He scolded his priests of the Roman cult saying “When the people who are poor where neglected by you priests, the impious Galileans (That is how he called Christians) devoted their lives to them. The impious Galileans not only serve their own poor but ours too. They are ready to die for all those ruffians that we don’t care for.” The followers of Christ did not break any balloons, but were ready to be broken and shed.
The ‘Mandatum’ is to love. Eucharist reminds us to be broken. It reminds us of the great love that did so for us. I remember the movie ‘Untouchables’ with Kevin Cosner in the lead. It is about the mafia gangs in the US that ran bootlegging after US put a ban on Alcohol. The brilliant Robert De Niro plays the role of the Mafia king Al Capone. There is one scene where Al Capone is watching an Opera of some tragedy. He is moved by the tragedy and the music. He is shown as crying bucket full. In midst of this comes an aide informing him about his adversary. And in midst of the tears he instructs his aide to kill the adversary. The paradox or the irony cannot be missed in this scene. During the Eucharist we too try to observe the rituals with tears and reverence. We may not be as pronounced as Al Capone in this scene, but Eucharist asks us to be broken, to love for the other, but ain’t we busy saving our own balloons? Eucharist does not touch us beyond the boundaries of the church. When we come to the Lord’s Table may we be touched beyond the mere emotions. May our love be manifested with actions of compassion and solidarity.
Let us sing one verse of the Song below
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (2)
Thought to Ponder:
Do people know we are Christians by our Love? Are we are not more defined by what we hate?
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrain Church
Text: Mark 1: 40-45
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Leviticus 13 and 14 gave the Jews rules to follow when it came to skin diseases. They were to come to the priest and get examined. There is a laundry list of things that that the priest will look over and in the end pronounce him unclean. If that person had leprosy that meant that had to follow Leviticus 13:45,46 “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” So this was the state of the man who came in front of Jesus. He lived alone. He yelled “Unclean! Unclean!” That is what he thought of himself.
In those days a Rabbi was considered holy because of the distance he kept from mundane affairs. He was perceived to be closer to God because he avoided association with sinners and unclean people. One could only be holy if one distanced themselves from the common people. But here was the Rabbi of Rabbis who was God in the incarnate form, who had what one could call the “Miracle of Approachability”. Jesus was available for everyone. If being Holy means to keep distance from people and the world, the one is definitely not following Jesus. His gift to the people was His availability. As a Priest, I always feel tempted to be aloof and disengaged from mundane affairs. But I need to constantly ask myself, am I approachable? Am I available to people? Am I following Jesus?
It is this availability of Jesus that compelled the person with Leprosy to come out of his isolation. The law demanded that such people should never come out in public and never appear in front of rabbis. But this Man did come out. He knew that Jesus could cleanse him and heal him. But he was not sure if Jesus would engage with him. That is why he says “If you choose, you can make me clean.” What did Jesus do?
Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai is a rehabilitation Centre for children of Commercial Sex workers. Most of the children had something about them where we could call it the “touch-deficit” inscribed on them. Either they were touched for all the wrong reasons or were not touched at all. This affected their self-esteem and confidence. There was a phenomenon that I saw when the then Director Rev Dr Moni Mathew came to the Centre. Children would run towards him. Was he giving gifts for them to flock. Yes. He was giving them the biggest gift that he could give. The gift of ‘touch’. He would hold them, affirm them, pat them and encourage them. Children loved that moment of eternity where they were respected and touched as humans. To be honest it is that day it dawned to me how important a human touch is. A touch means the world to people who are deprived of it. It is the touch that makes them feel human.
This man with Leprosy was one who nobody touched. Imagine a life where no one touched you. No one held your hands. No one patted your back and said “Well done.” No one hugged. No one kissed. No one put hands on your shoulder and said “Do not worry. Everything will be fine.” It is here we understand the “Miracle of Touch” that Jesus uses. He could have just said “be healed” and that would have been enough. But he chose to touch him. He affirmed the man his dignity. And then he says “I do choose. Be made clean!”. The man’s biggest struggle was the fact that he was unclean. It bothered him more than being a leper. Jesus addresses his deepest struggle and made him clean.
What is the most fascinating part of this miracle? The man with Leprosy was believed to be infected. His disease was believed to be contagious. But here the Leper did not infect Jesus with his sickness. Jesus infected the Leper with his life. How beautiful! Jesus is life. And the life he has is infectious. When Jesus touched him it is said in vs 42 ‘Immediately the leprosy[e] left him, and he was made clean.’ The infection of life was so strong that even when Jesus warned the man with Leprosy to not tell this to anyone, But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word. He was filled with a new life that compelled him to spread the infection of life that Jesus promised.
When I am on facebook I come out feeling very miserable. There is so much of hatred, abuses, and negative comments all over. In our daily life we are faced with so much of anger in bus, work places and roads. We are all infected with hatred and we too are spreading this infection. I remember when in college, my best friend Sherin Abraham came and hugged me. I did not know what the matter was. Then he narrated to me a story. “I was riding my bike. I came to a signal where there was this old man. I partially nudged him and his tiffin fell on the ground and his food was all over the road. The people nearby yelled out in anger. I knew that was it. Then I looked at the old man who I had wronged. He looked and smiled at me. You know I was in tears. And he told me to go. He had every right to be angry. But he chose to smile. It was such a huge lesson of grace for me. He just ended the cycle of anger there and then.” In a time where prejudices, hatred and anger are so contagious and spreading like wild fire, Jesus is asking us to be contagious with life. Spread the joy of love. Celebrate life. Spread the infection of being human. Let us spread the joy of life. Life is truly wonderful.
Before giving the Holy Body and Holy Blood at the Eucharist, the Mar Thoma Liturgy has a passage where the Priest holds the Holy elements and turns to the congregation and says “Daivamaya karthaave Kaanapedavtha-alaatha Ninte Valath Kai Neeti……” (Lord Stretch out your invisible right hand…). We at the table of our Lord are infected with anger, jealousy, hatred and pride. The Priest beseeches Christ to Stretch out his hands like he stretched out to the Leper, so that we may be cleansed and be infected with the Life that only Christ can give. May Christ Stretch out His Invisible Right Hand and touch us. Let us hear him say “I do choose. Be made clean.” Amen
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church
Text: John 20: 24-29
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.
Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
If one plays a game of ‘Word Association’, every name of a person we know evokes an adjective associated with that person. This inevitably is the label we give to that particular person. For example Musician Jakes, Suave Jennifer, Lousy Neena, Fatso David. I had a practice of saving the adjectives associated with people to my mobile, rather than their actual names. One of my friends was scandalized when he found out that his name was stored as ‘Prodigal’. Let me not get into explaining how much I struggled to give him a reasonable explanation. Similarly, in common usage, the name of disciple ‘Thomas’ is usually prefixed with ‘Doubting’. The reason for the label that has just stuck to Thomas is thanks to the text we have just read. Every label needs a reality check and so does the label of ‘Doubting Thomas’. When we read John 20: 1-8, we see that Peter and the other disciples see the Empty Tomb, but are confused and still do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, too saw Jesus in person, to believe. John 20: 19-23 shows that the disciples were sitting locked in a room fearing the Jews. The Jews had killed their leader and now their next aim would be his disciples, was the reason for their fear. Jesus appears to the disciples to comfort them. Only then do they believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas clearly was deprived of the comfort that others had. Like others, he too had witnessed the brutal death of Jesus. The basic foundation of his life was swept off and all the certitude of faith was in limbo. He was a wounded man. I think, he had a right to doubt. When other disciples said that Jesus appeared to them, he expressed the need to touch the wounds of Jesus to ascertain the veracity of the claims of the disciples. This is what we think is scandalous. This is why the black mark of ‘Doubt’ is on the forehead of Thomas. But is Doubt and Faith as antithetical as it seems? I still remember the time when I had delivered a sermon on Easter about the Resurrection of Jesus. I had a call that evening from a friend who I will leave unnamed. He explained to me the battle of divorce that he is having with his wife who is mentally ill. He can’t meet his daughter, he has lost everything he held close. And most of all he knows he can’t blame his wife as she is suffering from mental illness. He told me something that totally shook me. “I have been a very spiritual person, my parents are the most devout people that one could meet. It is not my wife’s fault. But why did such things happen to me. What meaning is there to life? If Christ has Risen, why do I have so much of pain and struggle? Sometimes I feel Jesus has been unfair to me. But I pray and I keep struggling with God.” There are many events in our lives that lead us to the doorsteps of doubt. Maybe, not all are as extreme as I have quoted. But is a doubt wrong? Is struggling with your faith a sin? Russian Novelist Dostoevsky says “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Christ. My hosanna is ‘born in the furnace of Doubt.’ ” Selwyn Hughes in Everyday With Jesus says “Being honest about your doubts is a healthy sign of a living faith”. I agree. I would rather be honest about my doubts than fake certainty and certitude.
What is interesting in the text read above is that Jesus considers the doubt of Thomas ‘important’ and therefore appears to him not in private, but in front of those he expressed his doubt. He did not come down with fire of retribution and sword of anger for the lack of faith. The first words he said to Thomas were “Peace be with you.” Jesus then asked him to put his fingers in His hands, to touch His wounds. What is most significant about the body of Jesus Christ after resurrection? It is not a flawless Fair and Lovely body. It still has wounds of crucifixion. The resurrected body does not make us forget the cross. The wounds on Jesus’ body still points to the Cross. “There is no resurrection without the Cross.” The most fascinating aspect of this narrative is that“Jesus through His wounds heals the wounds of Thomas.” Jesus uses his brokenness to give Thomas the comfort and commission of Resurrection. In the Holy Communion, the Priest breaks the bread that symbolizes the broken body of Jesus. I always wondered, why even after resurrection the broken body of Jesus was remembered. The narrative of Thomas is an answer. The Resurrected body is a wounded and broken body that has space for our wounds and doubts. According to the Mar Thoma liturgy, before administering the Bread the priest says “The Holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins, is given to you for the health of the body and soul.” When one goes to the Lord’s table weary and burdened with doubts and confusions, the broken bread is a reminder of the broken body of Christ that has resurrected and triumphed over all the odds in life. But, because of the routine hearing of these verses and ritual practice of receiving bread and wine, the profound meaning and application of Communion is lost. So may I urge you to meaningfully participate at the Lord’s Table understanding that God can accommodate you, in spite of your failings, struggles, doubts and confusions.
After Thomas was healed, he declared Christ as “My Lord and My God.” This is one of the biggest faith affirmations. The story of Thomas sums up our journey that starts with doubts, borders on denials but ends up with declaration of faith. From Emptiness of Doubt may God lead you to the Healing of your body and soul so as to be Witnesses for Him in declaration of faith through words and action.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church,