Song of Lamech I Hear Blaring (Why I Oppose Capital Punishment)

 

 

Text: Matthew 26: 47-56

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Message

Before we get to the text let me introduce you to Kenneth Bailey. He is a Scholar of New Testament who worked extensively with the Bedouin Tribe of Palestine. His hypothesis is that this tribe in the contemporary world is representative of the ethos of the audience that Jesus spoke to, and engaged with. This gave an idea of how people reacted to the teachings and actions of Jesus.  Kenneth told them many stories of Jesus and stories told by Jesus. Bedouins loved stories and they always gathered around bonfire to listen to them. There was something significant about their listening. They were not passive listeners like we find in many of our churches. If they loved something about the story they would raise both their hands and wave it. I wish we had such a practice in our churches. At least I would be assured that I did not put people to sleep. Now is the interesting part and I would prefer people sleeping than doing this. If they did not like some aspects of the story they would express their displeasure . How? They would start to spit together into the bonfire. (If this was a practice in the churches where people were allowed to participate in the sermon in this way, I am sure our churches would be flooded. Grouse thought). Kenneth says that in his narration of the parable of the Prodigal Son the listeners started spitting fiercely when he told that the father was ready to accept the wayward son and give a feast on his return. They felt that honor is everything and the son brought disgrace and was fit for being publicly stoned. Revenge had to be taken and forgiveness was cowardice.  But shortly the listeners started to wave vigorously in the air. Take a guess when that was. It was when they heard about the protest of the elder son who had disdain for the father for accepting a loser of a son and if that was not enough he was giving a feast in celebration. The elder son who had revenge in his heart was the ideal. Honour is prime. Revenge is imperative.

I am imagining that had the Beduion tribe heard the passage that is set before us, they would have waved vigorously at the act of bravery of the disciple who cut the ear of the soldier who dared to arrest his master. John 18: 10 says ‘Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)’. So we know that the disciple in question is Peter. So Peter did something commendable in the eyes of the viewers or listeners but Jesus reprimanded him. His ethics and response was not of honour or revenge. And this he had made it very clear to Peter. For this we have to take a flash back. There was a time when Peter went to Jesus with a question

 “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18: 21-22). Peter had an assumption that there is a limit to forgive. The Rabbis of his time taught one could forgive a person three times. So Peter asking 7 times was a very generous question. But Jesus said one has to forgive seventy times seven (that makes it 490 times). Interesting. Now let me introduce you to one more passage.

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for injuring me.

If Cain is avenged seven times,

then Lamech seventy-seven times. (Genesis 4.23-24)

This passage is called the Song of Lamech. This song is a song of vengeance. Richard Beck says when Jesus told Peter “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times”, he was refuting the logic of vengeance in the Song of Lamech where it is said “If Cain is avenged seven times,

then Lamech seventy-seven times. ”

 It was the Song of Vengeance that Jesus challenged. At the time of arrest of Jesus the Song of Lamech appealed to Peter more than the Song of Forgiveness. This is where we can see the passionate plea of Jesus screaming in disgust “Put your sword back in its place.” And then we hear his declaration that challenges the culture of violence that was prevalent in his time, “ For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus showed on his journey to the Cross that forgiveness was more scandalous than vengeance.

My dear friends, we live in a time where “The Song of Vengeance” is more popular than the “Song of Forgiveness.” I remember that the people all over India were enraged in reaction to the Delhi rape case where a girl was brutally raped and eventually murdered. This outrage led to people wanting instant justice where the accused be instantly  given capital punishment. Facebook and Internet was flooded with violent images of Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia where criminals were publicly executed or tortured. This was seen as the apt response. ‘The Song of Lamech’ was even more popular than the iconic ‘Gangnam Stye’. It is interesting to note that before Ajmal Kasab was hanged, in 2010 there was a Video Game developed called ‘Hang Kasab’ which gave the gamers an opportunity to hang Kasab vicariously through the video game. It was interesting to note that The Gamer Company promoted it by saying “Show your Patriotism. Hang Kasab.” It is noted that after the event of Hanging Kasab, this game was the most popular game online with maximum hits and usages. It was so popular that Android had a mobile app for the same. ‘The Song of Lamech’ has its own appeal. India again showed its credentials by secretly hanging Afzal Guru. This too was celebrated in many quarters. Song of Lamech is blaring in the air

In the shadows of Good Friday let us remember that “Crucifixion of an Innocent Man” was celebrated by the people who shouted the Song of Lamech “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” The public thought that justice was done when a rebel who taught dangerous ideas like grace and forgiveness was put to the cross.But Jesus sang the Song of Forgiveness on the Cross ““Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34). As a Disciple of Jesus I too denounce the ‘Song of Lamech.’ I am against Capital Punishment where the State has the right to Murder. This is the victory of ‘Song of Lamech.’ I am siding something very dangerous and scandalous. I sing the ‘Song of Forgiveness’. The challenge is daunting. It seems impractical and foolish. Are we foolish enough to expand our minds and hearts to embrace forgiveness? It is a very arduous journey. May the Song of Forgiveness sung by Jesus bring harmony to our lives. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Daiva Suthar: Children of God (Understanding Trinity)

Text:Romans 8: 12- 17

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 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. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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.

Message

This passage shows the Trinitarian nature of God. Trinity is a very important doctrine, so let me emphasize it before I concentrate on the passage above. There is always trouble in understanding the Trinity. Trinity emphasizes that God is one in three persons. That sounds like a paradox. The Infinity of God is beyond our understanding. But in the Three persons, God reveals three aspects of God-head, so that we can comprehend him. Bishop Kalistose Ware in his book The Orthodox Way explains the 3 Aspects or Persons in the following manner:

A) God Who is Beyond Us. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[a] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3: 14) This answer will help us understand that Moses here was trying to make God more tangible for the people. He wanted to accommodate God in the concepts of humans. But God cannot be domesticated or accommodated in our boxes of thoughts. “I am That I Am” can also be translated from Hebrew as “I Will Be Who I Will Be”. It points to a Dynamic God who is on the move and beyond our grasp. There are many things in our life that makes no sense to us. Many things is beyond our reach. We did not decide to be born on our own terms choosing our parents. We do not even choose our death. It is beyond us. When everything is fine in our lives something disturbing happens and we just do not know what the meaning of this is. There are so many aspects of our planning that has gone for a toss. We have to have the humility to accept that “God is beyond us and our understandings”. This is not a very comforting thought for a control freak generation like us. But accepting this reality helps us to open ourselves to many realities in lives. It helps us to fight against our patterned thinking and minds filled with hatred.

B) God Who is With Us. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1: 14 a). This passage like Matthew 1: 17 shows Emmanuel: God with us. Humans always struggle with uncertainties and change. If God Beyond us helps us to accept this reality, God who is with us helps us to deal with this reality. God has given assurance that he is always with us. God who suffers with us, who cries with us, who celebrates with us. In a world where we see purposelessness written writ all over the place, God who is with us gives meaning and purpose to our life.  Viktor Frankl says that “in the madness of the concentration camp where humans became beasts, the God who was with me helped me to carry on. I was not alone. I had hope. Friends we live in times where feeling lonely and alienated is very easy. With the boom in technology and communication one realizes that this does not assure fellowship and brotherhood but has pushed people to depression and acute loneliness. Let us remember that we are not alone. We have a God who is travelling with us. We are not alone.

 

C) God who is Within us: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. ( 1 Corinthians 6: 19.) Philip Yancey says that on the day of the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit took residence in our flawed and sinful human body. Holy Spirit lives within us. It is the Holy Spirit that helps us discern the presence of God in world that denies the very existence of God. There are moments in life that devastate us. We do not know what to do. We do not know what to pray for. We doubt ourselves. In such a moment the verse that gives me comfort and assurance is “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8: 26)

Well with that let us focus on the passage before us. Paul is talking about our slavery to flesh. We are slaves of our desires and think only of ourselves. This leads to a slavery of self-gratification where fellowship and relationship is just a means to fulfill our desires. It is here where Paul reminds us that by the Spirit of God we become the Children of God. “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.And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ( Romans 8: 15). The Holy Spirit has called us to be Sons and Daughters of God. It has called us to be in relationship and in perpetual love. My mentor Rev Sunny George says that the chant before the Holy Qurbana “Daiva Suthar……” conveys this meaning of adoption. “Daiva Suthar Naam Aayiduvaan, Jeevigalayi Nadanapol”. It says of the work of the Holy Spirit that has called us from our state of beastly nature (Jeevigalayi) to the possibility and grace of being the Children of God (Daiva Suthar).

After the Delhi rape case, Cousin of my wife, Vanessa updated on facebook as follows “Well the World did not end on 21st December 2012. So what? Humanity ended long ago. We live in times where calling humans as beasts is an insult to the beasts. It is in such times Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit has transformed us to be Children of God. This is just not a word of comfort. It is a call to be responsible human beings.

Yesterday when I was travelling in the train I happened to see the movie Schindler’s List. I was so moved by this movie of a man who was a Nazi official. He was a German industrialist who exploited the German invasion of Poland. He used the opportunities in Krakow by employing Jews in an enamel ware factory. He made a fortune out of sheer ambition. He bribed and looted people to get away in his business. His only reason to employ Jews was nothing noble. Jewish labour cost less. He was a favorite of the Nazi SS and was their frequent guest. While witnessing a 1943 raid on the Kraków Ghetto, where soldiers were used to round up the inhabitants for shipment to the concentration camp at Płaszów, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many of the Jews who had been working for him. This encounter changed him. He now tried to save the Jews who worked for him. He bribed and used his influence to get his work done. In the context of war he had to shut down the Factory of enamel ware. He therefore schemed to start an Ammunition factory where he had a list of Jews typed by his assistant Ishaq Stern. He listed 1, 100 Jews and they became part of his factory. Wives, children, and even persons with disability were shown to be necessary mechanics and metalworkers. His factory was a place where Jews were treated with utmost dignity, they were allowed to pray and follow the Sabbath. What was the most moving part of the movie was when in the end Schindler had to escape he cries as he believes he could have saved more Jews. He says “If I had sold my car I could have saved 10 more Jews”. Oskar Schindler died as a penniless man but solely responsible for the survival of a generation of Jews called the Schindler Jews.

We live in times where we see no hope. But the Holy Spirit calls us to be “Daiva Suthar”. It is a comfort but moreover it is a commission and a responsibility to realize the Kingdom of God. As it is said “Today we do not need successful people. We need people who are comforters, healers, story tellers and prophets.” May Triune God lead us on.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati