Nathaniel Factor: Aaaah Se Aaha Tak *(Are we Racists?)

John 1:45-51
Philip found Nathaniel and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite.There is no duplicity in him.” Nathaniel said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We Indians have fought racism. We have fought it in the developed countries, in work places, universities and cities. We have also lost precious lives to this sickening malice of humanity. We have held dharnas and questioned this discrimination. Effectively all these dharnas portrayed us as people with unparalleled virtues who do not have a bone that discriminates. Something spectacular is always needed to shatter some well nurtured myths. In a shocking incident in Bangalore/Bengaluru, a 21 year Old Tanzanian Woman was attacked by 200-300 people where she was pulled out of her car, beaten and stripped and her car was torched. The reason was in an unrelated event, a Sudanese driver had a case of hit and run with a local woman and since the Sudanese man was elusive, the next most intelligent option is to hunt and find somebody similar and punish them. Wow. And we have tried to show it as a mob justice. Since then many African students have come out and expressed their horrifying experiences of racism that they encounter in the cities of India, just because of their skin colour. They have problems of finding accommodation, are subject to strange stares, abuses and taunts like “drug dealers and pimps.”But there have been many ‘patriotic Indians’ who have denied the accusation that we are racists. The fact of the matter is, we are racists and to accept it is the beginning of our healing process. Richard Rohr, taking clue from Carl Jung has explored the idea of Shadow Self where we like to project an idealized version of ourselves with all virtues and positive image. But we have our shadow selves where we like to hide the dark sides of ourselves which are part of us and keeps manifesting in our interactions no matter how much we try to hide it. Being racists is part of our collective conscience which we need to be aware and deal with.
In today’s passage we see Philip with a lot of excitement introducing the Messiah to his friend Nathaniel. But Nathaniel gives one of the most cynical replies recorded in the Bible where he says “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Wow. When we learn about Nazareth, it was an obscure town, populated mostly with manual laborers who didn’t have money, status, or power. So the assumption that a people from certain places because of their language, ethnicity, religion and caste are simply of no value, is only getting intensified. We have strong prejudices against people from Bihar and U.P. In my experience in the Northeast India, exposed me to the resentment people of Nagaland and Manipur have towards the people of so called “Mainland India” who discriminate against them in various walks of life. So some or the other way, we have a “Nathaniel Factor” in us that refuses to be hidden. The “all knowing” Jesus is aware of the prejudice that Nathaniel has harbored against him. But Jesus changes the equation in the encounter. In vs 47 we see Jesus saying “Here is a true Israelite, there is no duplicity in him.” This statement of Jesus opens up Nathaniel. The gaze of Jesus that penetrates through the shadow self of ours, reveals what we can truly become. Sometimes we are so filled with frustrations, complexes and hatred towards ourselves that we look out for the perceived inferior to find a scapegoat and hate her/him. But Jesus sees us. He knows who we are and he knows what we can become. Jesus’ opinion forms us. It reveals our shadow selves. He sees what our self is. That is the starting point. My Lord knows who I am. He loves me. That is the point of “Formation”.
Before the passage ends Jesus gives Nathaniel a promise. “You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen,[e] I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (vs 50b, 51). Did he see anything as promised? The Gospel of John is known for using words like a painter. Now we come to Chapter 2 where we have the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus and his disciples were invited to the feast. And as the story goes, the wine runs dry. We know the crux of the miracle is that Jesus tells the workers to fill water in the 6 Jars used for ceremonial cleansing. They filled it to the brim. It was taken to the steward who certifies the great quality of the wine. The Water was turned into wine. So what’s the story? Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. Disciples believed him. Nathaniel was a disciple. Still not clear? Now if you see the question still lingers on “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The answer is the miracle at the Wedding of Cana. Certainly a memorable event has occurred. But still what does it have to do with Nathaniel? “ Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathaniel from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons,[a] and two others of his disciples.” (John 21:2) Boom. Nathaniel was from Cana. A person from a place of no good did a miracle in his own backyard in Cana. It is like the time when I was an expert at criticizing Sachin Tendulkar. I used to say “He has lost his touch. He cannot bat. He is past his prime.” And the next match he comes with a century. Baam. Slap in the face. As it was said “Tendulkar does not answer with his mouth. He lets the bat do the talking”. The miracle at Cana was a point of transformation for Nathaniel. Jesus made tasteless water to turn it into the most wonderful wine. Jesus who provides taste to our lives. A racist Nathaniel is transformed to a believing and life giving Nathaniel. With Jesus in our lives our bland existence with hidden prejudices and hatred is transformed to a life giving ministry and vocation for life.
Now when the transformation happens, we stop at that. But our faith is like an obscure language. It needs translation. What happened to Nathaniel? Do you know what happened to Peter? It is said he was crucified upside down. What happened to Thomas. It is said he came to India and was martyred at Mylapore. Is this in the Bible? No. But Church tradition preserves their memory and contributions. So what happened to Nathaniel? It is said after encountering the resurrected Christ, he set to North India with a scroll of Gospel of Matthew. He opened up the gospel proceedings in North India though this is not popularly known. It is said, Nathaniel reached out to people. He travelled to many places as a witness of the Gospel. He was persecuted and hunted down. And finally it is said he was crucified upside down in Albania. A man who was full of prejudice and bigotry goes from Formation-Transformation-Translation. The Great Lent is a time to deal with our Shadow selves. The hatred, the prejudices that we have is making us turn into beasts. We are connecting ourselves to the Grand Story of Salvation where through Jesus Christ, God calls us his beloved Daughter/Son. He forms us in his love and we get transformed in our encounter with him. Our transformation through the Holy Spirit enables us to translate our faith from abstract belief to concrete works.
As a priest, I have talked enough on formation and transformation. But I always struggle with the translation part. One day when I was just checking FB, I saw a status update by my friend Rev Noble Abraham who is the Director of Wardha Mission run by the Jerusalem Mar Thoma Yuvajan Sakhyam, New Delhi. Rev Noble is a dear friend and a fellow parishioner in Pune and a co-travelling brother in faith. Let me verbatim paste his status
“I was on a casual talk along with Johny Uncle, Prabhakar and Valmik (all part of wardha Mission). That’s when the topic of the plight of people staying on the pavements of Sevagram hospital came into the focus. Our words matched and found meaning when we all vouched why not we initiate at least one time meal for the needy. We left saying let’s pray over it.
Then after days I watched an interview of Azhar Maqsusi. He had initiated a feeding program in Hyderabad and is successfully feeding more that 150 people for that past 1382 days and still counting. And to everyone’s surprise including mine, my wife and me were invited to hyderabad early this month to lead a children’s camp. To cut it short, I met Azhar bhai myself and also participated in his work to know and understand how he worked out this initiative. Also, this reminded me of my Kottayam Seminary days when we used to assist the Navjeevan staff to distribute food at Kottayam Medical College. And here we are on the 26th day of January 2016 joining hands with many such as Azhar bhai, P U Thomas sir of Navjeevan and many whom we don’t know. But all I know is one that in the Gospel of Mathew 25:35a it says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food….” I praise God that he choose Wardha Jmys Mission for this movement. Do pray for us.”
Jerusalem Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam (JMYS) Mission, Wardha has initiated a feeding program called Arpandhara that undertakes to feed more than 100 people from the Sevagram Hospital.
This example is just one of the examples of translating our faith. We need to make a conscious decision to combat the shadow selves in our community and us and strive to be translating our faith into action to be co-participants in the Kingdom of God.
*If you are wondering, what is ‘Aah Se Aaha Tak’ well it is a tag line of MOOV Pain Relief which shows transformation from being in pain to being relieved, alive and kicking
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church,
Kolar Road, Bhopal

Shah Rukh Khan, Pakistan, Award Wapasi and The Debate of Tolerance

John 1: 43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him,“Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him,“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,[a] you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
I am a pathetic sportsperson, let me assure you that. But that does not deter my enthusiasm for sports. As a child, when it came to one day Cricket, I was always glued to the television. I always preferred to sit down while watching and used to spring up in excitement when something went according to my desire, like a six by Sachin Tendulkar or a clean bowled by Zaheer Khan. The toxicity of my madness used to double and triple up if the match is between India and Pakistan, the mother of all contests. I distinctly remember when I was in standard 10 we were seeing a match between India and Pakistan and all my classmates were together at my friends place. It was a huge total India had to chase , 315. It was an awful bowling and we had lost all hopes that this match could be won. We had a friend Mustafa Khan,(I have changed the name) who out of fun to irritate us supported Pakistan. He truly got on our nerves. He was irritating us by mocking the batting. We had sure no hopes but wished for the best. The match was building up slowly. The scores were coming quite near. And a Pune Lad who was playing cricker for the first time was at the crease. His name was Hrishikesh Kanitkar. The bowler was Saqlain Mushtaq. 3 balls and 4 runs were needed. We were all glued to the television. I was praying to the Triune God, bribing him with “I will do all you say, just defeat these idiots, please please.” And God seemed to answer it. Next ball, Kanitkar hit a4 runs and all our friends went wild with jubilation. And I was hugging and thumping chests with my buddies and that scene still makes me go wild. But what happened next is I blurted out “Mustafa Khan, go to Pakistan.” Within no time I had a fist at my collar. And all my friends came to our rescue and separated us. I kept provoking him knowing quite well, alone he will swing me in the air and throw me to Mars. But with support that my friends will support me, I kept provoking “Pakistani hai tu, bhaag idar se” (You are a Pakistani, go from here.) I still feel the coldness of that statement in my spine.
The text in front of us is a very important one. We see that Philip goes to his friend with a lot of excitement and blurts out ““We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (Vs 45). Now Nathaniel’s reply is a classic one. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Vs 46). To be honest Nathaniel sneers with disgust shouting “Nazareth?” Everybody in Jerusalem looked down on people from Galilee. This kind of attitude is characteristic of the Human race. Enemy nations have looked down on each other just because an artificial boundary separates them. Psychologists say it is human need to look down on people and we keep searching for scapegoats. Always there are smart people, right people, and then there are those others who we detest and abhor. Nazareth embodied backwardness and otherness in the mind of Nathaniel. No good could ever come from such places. People of such places are not smart, evil and below our standard.
There is an interesting story to illustrate this. There was a black man who lived in a ghetto who went to a white church to get membership. As the black man belongs to ‘Nazareth’, the white pastor tells him some excuse and sends him away. After several attempts to shoo the black man the pastor advised “Ask the Lord whether you should take membership here. If the Lord says yes, then we shall go ahead.” The pastor was relieved as he thought that wuld be the end of the nuisance and the black man would never return. But return he did. Pastor asked “I told you to pray and you have come back, do you have a message from Our Lord Jesus?” This was a mock. The black man answered very coolly. “Yes, Lord spoke to me saying, you are trying in vain to enter into that Church. For the last 20 years, I have been trying to enter it but have been denied entry.”
For some time now, the political landscape of our country, Pakistan has emerged as a Nazareth. Actually it always has been. But now the emphasis is more pronounced. Anyone who does not agree to or subscribe to the mainline views, the rhetoric is that such people should be sent to Pakistan. Those who oppose Modi, should be sent to Pakistan. Those who wish to have beef should go to Pakistan. If BJP loses Bihar Elections, there will be celebrations in Pakistan. All the artists who are returning Awards should be sent to Pakistan. And the latest is the demand of Shah Rukh Khan, who expressed his concerns over intolerance in India, who was targeted by saying that it is because of Hindu fans that he is a superstar and if he finds India intolerant, he should leave for Pakistan. Some even called him Pakistani. This has created tremendous furore all over the media, twitter, facebook and memes on whatsapp. There are two groups slinging mud at each other.
While we describe the nature of intolerance in our country, it is important to realize the point made by novelist Manu Joseph who says that the so called right wingers and so called liberals, both are intolerant. Both are defined by their world views and the “other” is beyond redemption. And in such an atmosphere we will keep scoring brownie by humiliating the other and there won’t be any solution. The endless battles on twitter, the madness in newsrooms has made us all alarmed as to where the country is heading towards. There are many arguments and counter arguments.
Now fully sure of Nathaniel’s prejudice towards Jesus, response of Jesus is very interesting. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”(vs 47.) He sure knew what he did under the fig tree so he sure knew what Nathaniel thought of him. But he ended the cycle of prejudice, by breaking it. He was not defined by Nathaniel’s attitude. Jesus shows a freedom that we seldom exercise. We believe in exchange system. If a person says good about us we return favour by saying something good. If a person offends, we offend and then the person offends and this cycle continues. But Jesus ends this cycle of offense and prejudice and whole heartedly appreciates that this person has no deceit. So when we keep saying about intolerance, we must realize we are promoting Tolerance. But Jesus shows that it is not tolerance but forgiveness that builds relationships and breaks dividing walls. Reinhold Niebuhr says that “Forgiveness, not tolerance, furnishes the proper corrective to egoism and self-righteousness of groups. The religious ideals of forgiveness promotes engagement between groups which fosters relations. Tolerance makes two separate compartments which does not engage with each other. This only promotes ghettoism. Forgiveness, on the other hand, makes it possible for contending groups to fight without denying each other’s humanity and self worth.”
Present situation calls for a healer who breaks down the distinction and helps us to heal the wounds that is festering without any end to the cycle. The problem is very complex and we cannot be simplistic in dealing with it. To illustrate my point let me end with a story that happened in a village where there was a man called Faraz, a 25 year old young bachelor boy. He was a mechanic and a very enterprising man. People liked him for his cheerful nature and for his skill as a automobile mechanic. One day when he was going home, he saw Shyam,a 23 year old man, son of Savitri, a widow, fallen on the road. When Faraz went to lift him, he realized that Shyam was heavily drunk. When Faraz tried to lift him, Shyam woke up with a violent stupor. He started to abuse Faraz and kept intimidating him. Faraz for self defence tried to push Shyam away but Shyam lost balance and hit a stone that was on the road. Shyam lost conscience. People gathered and took Shyam to hospital where he was declared dead. Now this created communal tensions, as people said Shyam was killed by a muslim called Faraz. The Muslim community came to the defense of Faraz while the hindu community held him responsible for the death. There was a huge tension going on. But Faraz decided to go to the funeral of Shyam. The people of his community tried to make sense with him . But Faraz was very determined. Shyam’s home was 3 km away from his home. He started his Hero Honda Splendor and headed towards Shyam’s home. Some youths to protect Faraz, followed him. They entered the vicinity. Angry youths were staring at him. Ladies were crying. 63 year old maternal uncle of Shyam, Raju came with utter rage seeing Faraz. Faraz just stood there. And running came Savitri, the mother of the deceased Shyam. She stopped Raju and hugged Faraz. She cried and said “I know you purposely did not kill my son. I know your mother. I used to take care of you when your mother worked in the Rice mill. I am also your mother and you are my son. I knew you would come. You are my son.” Both hugged each other and cried. The act of Savitri defused the imminent communal tension by her act of forgiveness and love. It not only healed them, but the two communities that were up in arms. We need more healers who overcome the group egoism that is building up. This is dangerous and we need to end this climate of suspicion and condescension. May God lead us to be healers, forgivers and peacemakers.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Kolar Road,