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

Doubting Thomas, Wounded Christ!!!!!!!!!

 

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.’

Message:

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.

 Image

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, 

Guwahati

 

 

How to Respond to the Fall of Heroes???

 

Text: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food  and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Message:

Today this text was the passage when we read the “Our Daily Bread”. And it was titled ‘When Someone Falls’. And I told Soji how apt this passage is when the world is waking up to the fall of grace of Iconic Cyclist Lance Armstrong after his candid confessions to Oprah Winfrey. I read a tweet that said “He is a disgrace. He polluted the cleanest mode of travelling (cycling)’. There were many people who had seen him as an icon especially after his battle with cancer and ultimate survival. His foundation “Livestrong” and his autobiography “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” were a legacy that transcended sports to the realm of a symbol of hope and survival. For us in India he was more personal as he was an inspiration for our own cricket star “Yuvraj Singh” in battling cancer. We always get jolted when the people we idolize fall from grace. As I have said in an earlier meditation that these heroes help us to live a vicarious life which we aspire to but cant live. That is why when an icon falls, the fall is very very personal. I remember when I had finished my standard 12 in the year 2000, the news of the fall from grace of my personal icon came to the fore. The news of Hansie Cronje caught in match fixing was a very personal jolt for me. He was one person I admired both as a cricketer and a human being. I had a taken a vow that I will never follow cricket again. Obviously I did not live up to my oath. But it did hamper me in more ways than one.

So what does the text above tell us? Paul is reminding the Church of Corinth of the fallings in the history of Israel. They were people journeying with Moses; God gave them the hope of a Promised Land and nourished them with Manna. But the people who began the journey fell midway in the desert. But this recounting of history had a purpose clearly stated in vs 6. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” Paul is orienting us to the purpose and journey of our lives. In the Journey, God is not only interested in where we reach but who we become. He urges us that the heroes who fall are an example to us. It reminds us of our fallibility too. We are in a culture of competition where everyone believes winning is all that matters. Lance Armstrong epitomized that. In our daily lives let us stop for a while. Look at our lives. Don’t we too subscribe to the notion of “end justifies the means. Win at all costs. Nobody remembers who came second”.

The common response to Public failings is a head shaking in disbelief asking “How could he do that?” As David McCasland says “More helpful response would be the head that nods, ‘Yes, even I am capable of doing such a thing’, then bows in prayer for the one who has fallen.”

Whenever there are such failings of heroes and icons I remember what my parents taught me as a child. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12: 2. I live by that. There are examples that still give us hope. I have a friend Biren Subba who is a commando in the Indian Army. He is from Sikkim. He was my batchmate when I was doing my under graduation studies. Biren was a National Kickboxing Champion for two consecutive years (1999, 2000). He trained hard to defend his title in the year 2001. He was involved in 8 hours of rigorous practice for 6 months. As friends we wished him luck to go for a hat-trick. The competition was in Mumbai. It was supposed to be on for 2 weeks. But Biren returned to Pune within two days. My friends concluded that he had an early exit from the tourney. When we asked him about the proceedings of the tournament he replied “Every year the registration fee is Rs 1,500. But this year they made it Rs 5,000. There was a boy who had come to the tournament from my village in Sikkim. I had not seen him before. But he did not have the money to register. I know my place. When somebody goes for such a big tournament they have a lot of hopes.I did not want him to return home disappointed just because he did not have money. So I gave my money to him, as that was all that I had. I wished him luck.” He gave his chance to the boy from his land. A National Champion who had the magnanimity to let go his chance to win the glory for the third time is a story that has been part of my personal journey. I ask myself “Am I capable of that?” I need to grow to become somebody like that. That too is an example. Such stories point to the divinity in humanity and the potential we can achieve as humans. I fix my eyes on Jesus. Amen. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Paul What Were You Thinking? Pray Without Ceasing?

Text: Psalms 139: 1- 4, 23-24

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

 You search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

 Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Message:

Psalm 139 written by King David talks to us of a God who is inescapable. He is everywhere. He is a God with us. He is Emmanuel. Before we go further down that road let us take a break and find out if it is so in our lives. Is God so present in our lives? Do we actually believe that? Ok if we believe that do we live like that? Psalms 139: 4 says “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” That statement has a lot of implication for our times. Rev Jacob Thomas, whom we called JT, is one of the most dynamic speakers that I have come across. When I was a teen I heard his ever thought provoking talk in a Teen Camp where he asked us the question “What is that one word that comes to your tongue when you are angry?” There was a long silence. The silence prolonged. He broke it by saying “I am sure that it is not God Bless You.” And we roared in laughter. We understood what he meant. I am sure even the readers have guessed it. It is 4 letter magic word that starts with ‘F’. Acharya Osho has a very interesting analysis of how this word became so prominent. Fredrick Neitzche propounded the philosophical statement that “God is Dead.” When this statement became accepted in the American Culture, Sex was the next obsession that took over. So this 4 letter word displaced God from the conversations. So this word espoused all the various range of emotions. More than a bad word it became an adverb which defines various ranges of emotions like ecstasy, anger, frustration, beauty, irritation and curiosity. This seems to be a very apt analysis. This 4 letter word is indispensable to our conversations. It is splashed out in our mental landscapes. You have songs, movies, dialogues all splashed with these words. If one follows Facebook this word is used very liberally and extensively. ‘WTF’ has become part of our accepted cool dude lingo. Now why am I insisting so much on this word? It is not just a word but it displays our attitude. Unlike the Psalmist, we feel that God is Dead. We act like that. Or if not that radical, we have assigned God to private spaces of prayer, church and songs.

Apostle Paul completely believed in this Psalm. That’s why he exhorted the people of Thessalonica to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). He does not talk about taking some time to pray or an hour to pray or about the benefits of having a quiet time. He says something more radical. He says pray without ceasing. Now the question arises is that “How is it possible?”The answer we may come to is “It is impossible.” This is because of our understandings about prayer. We normally divide our daily life into thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events. Therefore we have assigned God a space and time where we converse with him and think Holy thoughts and say holy things. God is therefore removed from our daily life and events. But Paul reminds us that Prayer is an unceasing conversation with God. It means to think and live in the presence of God. It is the joyful affirmation that God knows our minds and our hearts and that nothing is hidden from Him. Prayer is the presentation of all thoughts divine and mundane, ugly and pervert, daydreams and night dreams to our God. When I write it I know how easy it is to write such wonderful sounding good thoughts. But in my personal experience this is far from easy. This is asking too much. There is a deep resistance to making ourselves so vulnerable, so totally unprotected. I indeed want to love God and worship Him, but I also want to keep a huge part of my inner corner for myself,where I can hide and think of my own secret thoughts, where I can nurture my hatred, where I can fan my lust and speak whatever I want to. And when I come to pray I select the thoughts carefully and make it sound very pious and lofty.My fear is, can God tolerate what goes in my heart and my mind. Can he handle my cruel fantasies, shameful dreams, inflated illusions and my deep seated selfishness?Sometimes we just want to hold on to these things.

Paul is asking me to get into a fearless conversation with my God where I bring my good and bad, ordinary and extraordinary, evil and divine thoughts and deeds to the Lord. From unceasing thoughts I am asked to move to unceasing prayers where the touch of God heals my deepest contradictions and pains. Only then can we pray along with David with confidence “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me,and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139: 23, 24) But then when we come to this point, I am reminded of a conversation where my friend asked “How do we feel God in a world that is so brutal and nasty. In my workplace and in the market it is very difficult to feel the presence of God. And to pray unceasingly is so much tougher in such circumstances. It is easier to worry than to pray.” Whenever we say this or that is difficult i am reminded of the words of Dr P. C. Mathews, who is a personal mentor to me. He says “Who told you that Christian life is easy? Who told you that being a disciple is a cake walk?”

John Newton, was converted to Christianity when he was on the sea and a terrible storm broke out. He cried out to God and he was saved. But even after his conversion he continued the trade slave that he was involved in.  He traded many African slaves. He prayed everyday but he also traded slaves. He was inhuman in his dealings but never missed to read the bible and pray. He had a friend in John Wesley who showed him that his prayer life and his practices are contradictory. But John Newton kept resisting it. But once in midst of prayer he felt convicted of his ways. He quit his life of a slave trader and became a crusader against Slave trade. It is in midst of his struggles that he wrote one of the most immortal songs“Amazing grace, How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” John Newton owned his wretchedness in the presence of the Lord and found that he was blind. He felt found by God and started seeing and feeling the presence of God.

In a world that denies the presence of God, we are called to‘Pray without ceasing.’ Prayer is a protest against the godlessness and the chaos of the world. Let us enter into a fearless, unceasing conversation with a God who searches our thoughts and minds and still loves us.

Let us close this meditation with a song that sums our life and journey as Christians.

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun.

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

 Amen.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

Fix Your Eyes On Jesus

Text: Hebrews 12:2

 

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Message

As a  child whenever we went out as a family to visit relatives I feasted upon the snacks served to the embarrassment of my mother. I saw to it that not even a trace of mixture or sweets remains. Seeing this continuing she took me to task. “The snacks served are not for you to sweep it clean as if you don’t get anything at home. Take only as much as you need.” But when was obedience part of childhood. Next time when we went for our family visit my mom gave me the ‘Statutory Warning’. The snacks were served. And I pounced as instincts dictated me. Had one hand full. Then the next and suddenly conscience pricked and like Peter looked at Jesus after  denying him, I looked at my mom and those eyes that did Kathakalli instructed me to put those snack back. I looked into her eyes and my hands involuntarily became loose. Down went the snack. Power of a look I say.  Next terrain was the church. My friends and I played cross and knots, gossiped endlessly and displayed our art on our sunday school books when the Priest gave sermon in full gusto. This annoyed my mother. And whenever we played or spoke I just gave a glance to see if she is looking and to my disappointment always she was busy rolling her eyes. When I look back in retrospect, looking at my mother’s eye helped me understand what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus. This fixing of my eye on my mother instructed me, disciplined me and it also exuded comfort and assurance. I remember when I was in standard 8 I had failed in the subject of Marathi and when I went home when I broke this news I looked into her eyes. But her eyes said “it is ok.” Try again. How comforting.

The author of Hebrews uses the  imagery of race. The church is made aware of the great cloud of witnesses that would inspire them to run the race by countering all the hurdles that come in the way. The Epistle is addressed to a church that is facing immense persecution and trouble.  Therefore the imagery of race becomes meaningful when the Icon of Jesus as the perfecter and pioneer of faith is used. In vs 2 the author asks the people to fix their eyes on Jesus. The participle aphorontes in Greek which means fixing the eye makes sense in a Greek Olympics where the athlete had to fix the eye on the image of the Greek God that was fixed at the end of the race. This helped the athletes to run so as to become like the God and imbibe divinity through their running. The icon of the Greek god propelled the athletes to overcome the cruelties of the terrain and the competitive attitude of the opponents. In this context the author uses the imagery of the crucified Jesus for them to continue their race and withstand the persecution of the context in order to transcend it.  In such a context the author formulates a response that shows them the possibility of a faith and presents to them a Christ who has taken the shame of the cross and endured it through absolute faith. The hostility and the shedding of the blood of Christ are emphasized for the people to relate to their everyday experiences. In the context of persecution the people had submissive attitudes that made them think low of themselves. Since Christ is what made the community possible, the author makes a self formation possible by presenting Christ as crucified and humiliated. This makes their experiences real and bearable. An imagery that helped them accept the reality of suffering.

My dear friends fixing our eyes on Jesus has two dimensions. One it comforts us to carry on in life when every situation militates against us. It gives us hope to carry on when everything seems lost. Recently one of my friend Abraham George cleared his C.A. examinations. He has been doing it for past 7 years. I really admire him for his tenacity and perseverance. There might have been so many voices that deterred him, there may be millions of self doubts as to the possibility of clearing the exams. When I spoke to him he said in a very emotional tone. “Every single day in the last 7 years I was living and dying. By God’s grace I have made it.” Abraham had fixed his eyes on Jesus to get to his goal. I know many friends who are pursuing some goal at this point of time. Please don’t give up on it. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Slowly but surely by the will of God you will reach there.

The second dimension  of Fixing the eyes is that of responsibility. This eyes disciplines us, helps us to correct our track in life. It helps us to accept our failures to move on. Nobody knew this more than Peter. Let us turn our Bibles to Luke 22: 60- 62

 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  And he went outside and wept bitterly.

It says after Peter denied Jesus, Jesus looked straight at Peter. And then Peter went out and wept bitterly. Anthony DeMello in his book Song Of the Bird says that He wondered why did Peter cry after Jesus looked at Peter. What did Peter see in Jesus’ eyes? Anthony continued “While I was praying I started practicing the Early Church style of prayer where they raised their arms and looked to the sky as if looking into Jesus’ eye. I started it but after a month my heart was filled with guilt. I did not have the strength in me to lift my eyes and fix it on Jesus as I felt in his eye I would find him condemning me for the sins that I have done. I feared his judgment. So for 3 months I continued to pray this way. My soul was restless. I had no peace. And I told myself that tomorrow when I pray I will look into Jesus eye and face the consequences. I can’t live like this. I have to fix my eye on him. The next day when I raised my eye and looked into the Eye of Jesus, I saw in his eyes abundant love for me. I was expecting judgment and I would handle that. But in spite of everything the love was too much for me. I went out and wept bitterly. Then I realized what Peter that day saw in Jesus’ eye. That look restored the denying disciple to become the rock on which the church was to be built.”

Every time when we come to the Lord ’s Table we should be aware of the abundant love that has made us whole. It is a comfort to see love for us in Jesus eye. But let us not stop at that. We have a responsibility to measure up to that love. It calls to be like Jesus. Christian life is not just about being intoxicated by the Grace of God. It is also a life of responsibility where we are called to be healers, comforters, story tellers and beacon of hope in a world that is groaning with pain. My fellow pilgrims let us fix your eyes on Jesus. Amen

ImageRev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

You Fool??? Did I Hear That Right???

 

Text: Luke 12: 13- 21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

  “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Message

Let me begin this with a contemporary parable that has given me a lot of perspective. A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups have been taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.

Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups… And then you began eyeing each other’s cups.

Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of life we live.

Keeping this parable in perspective let us look at our Biblical passage set in front of us. Jesus is asked to be an arbiter of a case where we have two brothers warring over an inheritance. In response to this request Jesus narrates the Parable of the Rich Fool. What exactly was wrong with this man? Was he a sinner? Did he abuse his wife? Did he cheat? I guess the answer is not that easy. It looks like he was a man who had a lot of things going well for him. He was focused on the harvest that had brought bonus to his life. He was a man who was building his riches on possessions. He was celebrating on the riches that he had. His future was secure. Life was a song. But then when everything is right God calls him a fool. Fool? Why? He was the man that the world would love to know. He would be the first one to be called to our parties. He would be one of those who we would request to inaugurate our establishments. He would be a very important person in our Church and Committee.

Many of us are very particular about our lifestyles. Many I know are very focused about their careers. The cars and phones we have, display our success. The locality in which we live is a testimony of the influence that we have. The home we have is the trophy of our dedication in pursuit of security and prestige. The Wedding receptions we hold shout out the clout we have. To get here we work 16 hours. Get into overtime. Get into loans after loans. We try to fit in. In this chase we have no time for God, for family and friends. In the name of doing it for family, one gets even more far from family. Husband has no time for wife and vice versa. Both have no time for children. No time for people around. Life is just a mad race to get somewhere. If one can identify with any of the above, God is saying to you“You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Now, that sounds rude! We are very used to seeing Jesus comforting us. But the truth is, He confronted many a people.  Now He is confronting you. He is asking you some very disturbing questions. Talmud the interpretation of the Torah(First 5 Books of the Bible) says “One should repent the previous day one is going to die.” Then the question is how one knows when we are going to die. The answer in it is “Live like today is your last day.” This is a parable that asks us to reset our priorities. Are we rich towards God? Are we investing in relation and people that have eternal value? Where do we stand?

I will end with a story. Once there was a clergy. He had a visitor from the United States. They were meeting for the first time. The man and his wife gifted the Clergy a gold coin. The Clergy refused. He said “I cannot accept this.” The woman said “Achen you have to.” Then she narrated a story. “When your mother Simoni was  teacher in Anjal (a small village in Kerala) we lived in your neighbourhood. Your mother was a very prayerful woman. She was available for everyone. I had finished by matriculation (10th grade) and wished to go for nursing. My family was very poor and had no source to help me accomplish my dream. But my parents approached your mother who was fondly called as Simoni Teacher. When my father expressed our predicament, this lady of 7 children did not think twice. She removed her gold locket and gave it to my father. It is because of that great gesture I could study further and become a nurse. That is how I got a Job in the U.S. Today I have come back to return that Gold Locket with gratitude to God and your mother..”  This Simoni teacher died in Anjal itself in 1961. But her deed lived on. She invested in people. She was rich toward God and her richness was the relationships that are eternal. Her witness was this Nurse who could live her dream because this Simoni teacher was ready to sacrifice her riches. My dear friends it is time to review our attitude towards God. It is time to examine our spirituality. Are we investing in people? Is our money, our possessions instrumental in realizing the dreams of students who do not have the means to do so? Are we people with a social conscience? May God help us to set our priorities. May we hear God saying “Good and faithful Servant…..”

P.S. Simoni teacher is my paternal Grand Mother. (My father lost his mother when he was 8 yrs old and the youngest of the siblings was 1 and a half years). The Clergy in the story is my uncle Rev Dr George Mathew, Kuttiyil, who has dedicated a Scholarship in the Mar Thoma Seminary in the name of Simoni Mathew to make her investment an eternal one. 

 Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

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Jesus Calls Ordinary People To Do Extraordinary Works (Matthew 28: 16 – 20)

 

Text: Matthew 28: 16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Message

In the field of education we have a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect. Before we explore what it means let us explore the myth of Pygmalion. It is said that Pygmalion was a Sculptor from Cyprus. He was not interested in any woman in his country and therefore delayed his marriage. Finally he decided to make a statue of a woman with all love and creativity. He invested all hopes and aspirations into it. Once when he kissed the statue, the lips became warm and the lifeless form breathed life. So the Pygmalion Effect challenges the grading of a student as intelligent, average or below average. It supposes that if we expect a student to do well despite his/her poor academic record, chances are great he/she will rise to our expectations. This approach is also useful for managers and team leaders who with their positive expectations and encouragements can transform their team to do wonders.

We are meditating the very well known passage which is popularly called as the Great Commission. Jesus commissions the 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee. It is said that when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. When we look at the people we refer as disciples, their inconsistency strikes us the most. James and John said they wanted to be on Jesus’ left and right when he came in his glory. At Gethsemane, when Jesus asked Peter, James and John to pray along with him, they dozed off. During the crucifixion they all deserted him. Peter denied him thrice. When the news of his resurrection was around, they chose not to believe it. Even when fellow disciples said they saw Resurrected Christ, Thomas chose to doubt. To such a group of men with huge inconsistencies and failures, Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is investing his expectations on a band of so called ‘losers’. But by the help of the Trinity these 11 losers change and transform the history of the world. They rise up to the commission laid down by their Master. Not only that, he also assures his presence to the end of the age.

Personally when I look at myself and evaluate my call and commission, I am aware that with all my internal contradictions and failures, I do not fit the bill. When I was ordained and commissioned to the Northeast, the thought troubled me, whether I was ready for something so challenging. But I realized that God does not call perfect people to do His work. He makes imperfect people perfect in the journey of doing His will. He also assures us his presence and guidance.

My dear friends, we live in times where negativity has become order of the day. In this fast and competitive world, where 95 and 96 is also average, there seems to be no place for ordinary people. One of my friends doing M.B.A. confided that “This is a cruel world. You have to be extraordinary and different to be in the race. Ordinary people like me have no chance of survival.” We live in times where we need to prove our worth or else we are good for nothing. What does one do? Where does one go? What is the purpose of life? My dear friends this passage is a testimony where our Saviour used very ordinary people to do extra ordinary things. There will be many people who will question our worth and integrity. But take heart. Our creator has created us for a purpose; He has invested his expectation on us. He has called us to do great things. Are we ready to rise up to His expectations?

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Roshen George is from Vashi Mar Thoma Church. I happened to know Roshen through my association with Navjeevan Centre Mumbai where I volunteered for nearly 2 years. The imprint of Roshen in the lives of the Children of Navjeevan Centre is very unique and distinct. He initially volunteered to be a house brother at Navjeevan to mould the lives of the children. He also taught children maths and science. I realized his presence and guidance was an inspiration for children who were in search for role models. But who is Roshen? What is his past? After his twelth grade Roshen decided to do Engineering. After venturing into it he realized that he was not meant for it. He failed in many subjects, got back log after back log. His self esteem took a beating, he started to venture into the realm of addiction. He lost track of his life becoming a headache for his parents and a matter of ridicule and scorn for the people who knew him. He decided that he is no good and plunged into despair and depression. It is at this time that Rev Kurien George was the Director of Navjeevan Centre. He was renowned as a counselor par excellence. Roshen’s parent’s in their countless effort to help Roshen out, also approached Rev Kurien. Achen called Roshen to Navjeevan and Roshen too very reluctantly went tired of the many efforts of people to straighten him up. But when they first met, Reverend asked him what he is good at. This was a much unexpected question. He had come to believe he was good for nothing. But strangely he said he loves mathematics. Reverend assigned him the task of teaching math for the children of 9th and 10th statndard of Navjeevan Centre. He was not used to being given responsibilities. But he took this one up. He dedicated himself to teach the children. In the meanwhile Rev Kurien engaged with him and helped him to deal with his problems of addiction and failure. Through prayers, fellowship and new sense of responsibility, Roshen was slowly being transformed. Roshen confided with me “It is these children who have changed me, they taught me how to pray, I learnt the love of Jesus observing their life, and therefore I will live for these Children. I will help them in their faith journey.” This was not a momentary decision. Even today, Roshen is the mentor of the boys at the Halfway home of Navjeevan Centre at Vashi. He is a role model and a brother to them. A person who was deemed as a failure and a headache was touched by the Love of God. He was endowed with expectations that he lived up to. This ordinary man did extraordinary things because Rev Kurien used the Grace of Jesus to transform him. The transformed became the transformer. Remember, when people write you off and discard you as a failure, Jesus invests expectations on you, believes in you and transforms you. Are you ready to live up to it? 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati