Friday, September 19, 2014

Celebrating Onam: Why festivals and celebrations should not be shunted out of churches

The festival of Onam is an attribute of inter religious harmony and a fact that Christians exist in society with other people. This realisation brings us to the fact that traditions and celebrations have to be done together. Togetherness can be fostered only when we celebrate it together.

Onam in particular is not the festival of the other, the unknown, the infidel or the pagan. Onam is the festival of all because it talks of a king who fought injustice and encouraged equality. Mahabali’s sacrifice is a reminder that all have to stand up against injustice. It is not an option, as justice can never be an option. Justice can only be attained by fighting collectively. Justice is the precursor to peace. So for peace, we all have to strive for justice.

Further, the usage pagan is archaic, old and uncouth for our times. We cannot humiliate others by using such terms. Luke 10:27 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The fight of the ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria is also against whom they term infidels, in essence, us. If we have now collectively come together against the inhuman ISIS, we also have to stop inhuman usages and terminologies in our own spaces.

The sanctity given for the church cannot be limited to the church. It only means that the sanctity is Sanctus sanctorum within prescribed limits but sanctity also extends to the outside of the church and further beyond the walls of the church. So every inch of the world is holy because it is God’s creation. We cannot behave in one way in church and in another way outside the church. If we do that, we are lying to ourselves and playing games with our conscience. So to not have festivities in church means we should not have it anywhere. The oft quoted concept of ‘liturgy after liturgy’ reminds us that goodness is not limited to the church and to a Sunday. John 10:10 says “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Purity is a very dangerous concept and has been used to keep out women and people from lower castes, using the purview of holiness. This is profoundly dangerous. One cannot associate and approach festivities with purity. Purity should be broken down to include everything into our domain of spirituality. Galatians 3:28 perhaps mentions that no one is purer than the other while saying “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Onam festivities also become a problem because we associate it with morality. Morality is one of the biggest sins of religion and Jesus rubbishes it when he says in John 8:7 “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One should not talk of what is moral and what is not and should instead accept justice, equality and peace as the central pillars of Christianity. Whatever goes along with this can be associated with the church.

Christianity in Kerala has had its ups and downs as is the case with the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. But the church has also managed inculturation and understanding which is reflected in the church architecture, traditional lamps and minnu or thali used by the bride. Will the church now ask all the married women to break their minnu or thali as it is un Christian? St. Paul in Acts 17 is aware and uses the language and themes of the local culture to speak to people there. It is another thing that he uses this to his advantage.

Christianity has from old adopted to and adapted local culture and has used it to their advantage and given it their own form. Indian religious beliefs have done the same with Jesus. Jesus is very wise when he tells his disciples in Mark 9:39-40 “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” One has to suspect a resurgent belief to throw everything out of the church as an Americanised, homogenized form of Christianity. Homogenization, as the media teaches us is essential for wide distribution of a message. But this message may not be relevant for all people.

One cannot be a Christian in church, hybrid at work, a Keralite in the house, an ‘anything goes’ with friends and a conservative at rallies. Faith and life go together. It is important for us to stop the ISIS-ization and US-ization of the world, which brands everyone as wrong, sinful, pagan, infidel and impure. As Jesus shows in John 4 in his interaction with the Samaritan woman, one should in the process of maintaining one’s belief respect the belief of others. One should also come together in collectives and co-operatives to root out injustice and violence and encourage justice and peace.

Onam and other festivals are an opportunity to understand each other. This time in our small church in Bangalore we are celebrating Onam and we have invited our Christian, Muslim and Hindu neighbours to come and join us and share our food. They have eagerly agreed because they also want blessings from God and want acceptence from our community of faith. In this process we will undergo a self purification and self correction and allow the real Christ to speak for himself, instead of putting words into his mouth. 1 John 4:7-8 clarifies “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Churches outside Kerala are sometimes service centres which have services in class rooms, auditoriums and the like. What happens when the sacred steps into the so called profane? If it is a problem when the profane steps into the sacred, the same should apply in the reverse as well! If the understanding to keep the church off limits for certain things is to keep the profane away, what happens when after service one week the altar is again placed at the so called profane in the process of the following service?

Congregations outside Kerala rarely meet each other and the church becomes a conglomeration of everything put together. Birth, life, death, joy, festivities, togetherness, protests, prayer and the world itself becomes the church. The church becomes ‘everything’ for the believer rather than ‘something.’

Flowers, lights, colour and graceful dancing are all part of Christian culture as much as anything else. We think it is un-Christian and pagan because we associate it with the stranger across the road, chanting prayers in a language not understood by us. But our prayers are equally confusing for others. Festivities in church are a coming together, an in between, a strange but comforting place, a thought which says, I am a Christian, you are a non-Christian, but here is something which can bring us together to share a meal on a warm, green leaf.

Picture courtesy

Monday, September 15, 2014

Black Sunday: Protest march and meeting held to show solidarity with Christians and Minorities in Iraq and Syria

The Federation of Karnataka Christian and Catholic Associations (FKCCA), the Indian Christian Union (ICU), the United Christian Forum (UCF), the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and several like minded churches including the CSI, Methodist and Pentecostal churches held a protest march and meeting yesterday at 2:00 P.M. to protest against the atrocities, violence and genocide against Christians and minorities in Iraq and Syria.

The protest march and meeting was attended by over 10,000 people from various walks of life. The march which started from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at 2:00 P.M. ended at St. Joseph’s Indian School ground at 3 o clock. The meeting was presided over by the Catholic Arch bishop of the Bangalore diocese, Arch bishop Dr. Bernard Moras, and attended by the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church metropolitan of the Bangalore diocese, H.G. Pathros Mor Osthatheos, Sri Shanthaveera, Kolada Math Swamiji, Vicar General Msgr S. Jayanathan, CSI, Methodist and Baptist pastors, as well as Sikh representive Sri Doni, Muslim representative Mr. Agha Khan, former deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sri R. Ashok and Shanthinagar MLA and Congress leader Mr. N. A. Harris. Mr. Abraham T.J., President of FKCCA and ICU was present with a sea of priests, nuns, educators, lay leaders, church members, students and volunteers.

The speakers were unanimous in saying that no religion practises violence and what is now being seen is the misinterpretation of religion by certain elements in society. The Arch bishop Bernard Moras talked of the importance of expressing solidarity with those afflicted by human and natural calamities all over the world. This included floods in Kashmir over a week ago. He said that human beings and Christians have to come together to express a credible response to anything which is anti human and anti life. He explained the video of Pope Francis which was showed during the meeting and said how many more lives would it take for people to speak up. The Arch bishop ended by quoting Rev. Niemoller’s provocative poem saying
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Bishop H.G. Pathros Osthatheos sang a Syriac song, translated into Malayalam as well, which spoke of the prayer to God to shower grace and mercy upon his creation always and give good sense to the creation of God to act well. The bishop reiterated what other religious leaders spoke of and said that human beings are basically peace loving and the ecumenical get together to protest against the atrocities in Iraq and Syria showed that human beings care for each other. There are many regional and religious considerations which one has to take into consideration when thinking of the present crisis but above all we all have to come together for a strong response and call to peace. He informed the gathering that his church was in the direct line of conflict and that the Patriarch of the church was in talks with world leaders to bring an end to this horrendous conflict. The bishop hoped that everyone would follow the bidding of God and act according to the will of God instead of their own wills.

Sri Shantaveera Swamiji remembered the contribution of Christians in the field of education and service to the poor. He said that the Hindu way of life also calls for peace and Christians have offered so much to Hindus in India. Sri R. Ashok said that all religions are peaceful and anyone who said otherwise was not religious. Mr. N.A. Harris said that any Muslim who does not believe in Christ is not a Muslim and said that he is a public representative who tries to see everyone as human beings.

Sri Doni talked about the beatitudes and said that the message of Christ was so peaceful. He said that he was an Indian by birth, a Sikh by faith and a Christian by practise. Mr. Agha Khan stressed that he was a Muslim and a Josephite and was thankful for the contribution that his education made in his life. He urged the audience to not make the mistake of thinking that Islam is anti Christian. He talked about his own experiences in Iraq and said that the present crisis was a result of those who did not know what the Quran was all about. He then went on to promise that he was willing to give his life for the sake of others. Mr. Abraham T.J. reminded everyone that this was the time to be bold in responding against injustice in society instead of being spineless people. He repeated that silence is violence and it is time that Christians and minorities stood up and spoke instead of remaining silent saying that it is not their concern.

The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by Fr. Ronnie Prabhu who thanked the big gathering and wished that peace would replace violence in the world.

Pictures courtesy:
Benjamin Raphael



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Black Sunday: Public Protest Rally to be held tomorrow in Bangalore

The Federation of Karnataka Christian and Catholic Associations (FKCCA), the Indian Christian Union (ICU), the United Christian Forum (UCF), the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and several like minded churches including the CSI, Methodist, Pentecostal and Orthodox will be holding a protest march and meeting to protest against the atrocities, violence and genocide against Christians and minorities in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. The protest rally will start tomorrow, Sunday, September 14, 2014 at St. Patrick's Church on Museum Road, Bangalore at 2:00 P.M.and culminate at the St. Joseph's Indian School ground, near Mallya Hospital, and opposite the Sree Kanteerava stadium, Bangalore. (Google maps can be seen here)

The public meeting at St. Joseph's Indian school ground will start at 3:00 P.M. Archbishop Dr. Bernard Moras of the Catholic Church, H.G. Bishop Pathros Osthatheos, Bishop of the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Mr. Abraham T.J., President of FKCCA and ICU and other bishops, priests and lay leaders will be present. Dharmaram seminary has produced a short video on the crisis in Iraq. It can be found here.

Following is a report of the meeting held on August 27, 2014 to plan the above meeting.

The Meeting coordinated on 27/08/2014 by Mr.Abraham T.J-President FKCCA & ICU, to discuss the genocide of Christians in Iraq, at the Palana Bhavan, in the vicinity of the Bangalore Archbishop’s House, which was benevolently provided by His Grace, Most.Rev.Dr.Bernard Moras, the Archbishop of Bangalore, had the following participants:- Fr.Jose Kumblolickal-Provincial, Missionaries of St.Francis de Sales (msfs), Sr.Alice P.T, fsi,-Superior, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate (fsi), Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad (CSI), Sr.Lincy Cherian, scsc-Provincial, Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, Fr.Thomas Kallukalam, cmi,-Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, cmi, Parish Priest, St.Thomas Florane Church, Rev.N.J.Samson,-Chairman & President, Karnataka Baptist Federation, Pastor. Rev. Robinson Paul Gen-Sec Bangalore City Pentecost, Fr.Jerry Kurian-Representing Bishop, H.G.Pathrose Orthathies, Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Fr.Ronnie Prabhu-PRO of the Bangalore Arch dioceses, Sr.Rashmi, ccst,-Superior, St.Tresa’s Convent, Gadddelahalli, Fr.Peter D’Souza-Director Sumanahalli, Sr.Victoria William-Delegate Superior, Daughters of St.Mary of Providence (Guanellians) (dsmp), Sr.Mercy Abraham, rgs,-Superior, Good Shepherd Community, Fr.John Solomon-Parish Priest, Immaculate Conception Church, Fr.Thomaiar-Parish Priest, Holy Family Church R.M.Nagar, Fr.Alwyn Dias- Vicar Provincial, Capuchin Province of Karnataka, Rev.Alfred Sudarshan–CSI, Koramangala Church, Mr.Augustine Prashanth-CSI, Shaffer Memorial Church, Sr.Mable D’Silva-Superior, Sisters of St.Charles Borromeo (scb), Sr.Maxime, scs,-Superior, Satyaseva Catechist Sisters of the Families (scs), Sr.Rosa Ittira, rmi, -Superior, Relegious pf Mary Immaculate (rmi), Fr.Herald Christopher, msfs,-Principal, St.Francis De Sales P.U.College, Mr.D.William Pratap–CSI, Hudson Memorial Church, Sr.Adeena Mary, fih,-Superior, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (fih), Sr.Francis Xavier Mary Vedamuthu,sjl-Superior, Sisters of St.Joseph of Lyon (sjl), Sr.M.Jyotsna, ac, -Headmistress, St.Antony’s Kannada Higher Primary School, Sr. Jessilia Mendonsa O.Ss.S-Superior, Order of the Our Most Holy Saviour (Bridgettiness), Sr.Vimala Savarimuttu,fsp,-Superior, Daughters of St Paul (fsp), Rev.D.N.Samuel-Faith Tabernacle Ministries and also several priests and nuns representing the Sisters of St.Charles Borromeo (scb), St.Tresa’s Generalite, Gaddalahalli, the Society of Jesuits, Carmel Ministries, Order of Friars of Minor Capuchins (ofm cap) Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions (rndm), Sisters of St.Joseph of Cluny (sjc), Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Missionary Sisters) (sac), Relegious pf Mary Immaculate (rmi), Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions (rndm), Prison Ministry, Sisters of St.Charles Borromeo (scb), Order of Disabled Carmelites (ocd), Sacred Heart Congregation for Women (kerala) (sh)
The deliberations got underway with the introduction of the subject by Abraham T.J, and the commencement prayer by Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad of the CSI church, after which Fr.Jose Kumblolickal, Provincial Missionaries of St.Francis de Sales (msfs) spoke of the need to collectively take a stand immediately to demonstrate and let the world know that we the Christians in Bangalore are concerned about the happenings in Iraq against Christians, especially those Christians who have preferred to sacrifice their lives, instead of embracing Islam. Sr.Alice P.T, fsi, Superior of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate (fsi), expressed solidarity and offered all the help of her community that would be required in this direction and also expressing pain about the way in which those people’s lives have been cut short for upholding the faith. Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad (CSI) spoke of the need for the Christians the people of the Covenants to go into what is happening to the Palestinians in Israel also and that these holocausts were infectious and could spread into India also. Condemnation of any kind of violence and genocide was the need of the hour and we need to come together to express our disapproval of the same. Sr.Lincy Cherian, scsc Provincial of Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, Holy Cross Provincialate, felt that there is a need for us to also remember the sufferings our brothers and sisters in Syria, Ukraine and so on, hence along with a protest against what is happening in Iraq against Christians we need to also send out our opinion of non-acceptance of violence. Further stated that any kind of a voice from Bangalore will be heard by the world, hence there was a need to invite the attention of world leaders, Human Rights forum and even the UNO. She also felt that along with this we need to physically demonstrate our anguish against the happenings in Iraq. Fr.Thomas Kallukalam, cmi, representing Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, cmi, Parish Priest of St.Thomas Florane Church felt that we need to firstly observe a day of prayer and fasting and secondly bring all denominations together and have a march or a rally to demonstrate that we are opposed to the inhuman genocide in Iraq and also else where. He felt the need to enlighten Christian’s at our parish and church level itself about the happenings in Iraq. Rev. N.J. Samson, Chairman & President, Karnataka Baptist Federation felt that it was easy for Samson to bring 400 foxes together but it was difficult to bring all Christians together and yet so many denominations have come together to discuss the action plan on Iraq. He suggested that everyone together as a Christian body and observe a day of prayer and also an action plan to chalk out the form of protest against the persecution in Iraq. Pastor. Rev. Robinson Pal, representing the Pentecostal Church felt that our protest in Bangalore, which has thousands of Churches and several Lakhs of Christians, some or most of whom have non-Christian names should let the entire Country know that we are not happy with what is happening in Iraq. Fr.Alwyn Dias- Vicar Provincial, Capuchin Province of Karnataka strongly felt “when we see violence our silence is also an equally condemnable violence and injustice against humanity, when we do not raise our voice against it”, and urged everyone to raise their voice or be ready to accept the blame that we are also a part of the violence by our silence. Fr.Jerry Kurian representing the Bishop, H.G.Pathros Osthathios of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, spoke about the need to understand the Israel and U.S. interference before coming to Iraq, and seeing Iraq, Syria and Palestine together. He felt that as per unofficial estimates One lakh 70 thousand people have been killed in Syria and the Indian media or the American media has not reported this because it is of no interest to them. Five percent of the population in Iraq consisted of Christians and now it is dwindling and this started in 2003 itself. He strongly felt that the problem in Iraq was caused by a “misunderstanding of Islam” and a misunderstanding of Christians in the Middle East as well. Those who propagate the holocaust were unaware of true Islam. Fr.Ronnie Prabhu-PRO of the Bangalore Arch dioceses, representing the Arch Bishop of Bangalore felt that we need to exercise the power of meditation and communicate vehemently, others may not listen yet there would be an effect on all of them when we communicate through protests and felt that there must be a reflection of the sufferings, the pain, the anguish and the brokenness of Christians in Iraq in every church and in every community, Fr.Herald Christopher, msfs,-Principal, St.Francis De Sales P.U.College, suggested the using of electronic media extensively and also suggested that Christians of all denominations should not only in Bangalore or Karnataka but all over India if possible observe a Sunday as a “BLACK SUNDAY”, by wearing black dress or a black badge or a black band to publicly express our resentment of the massacre of Christians in Iraq.
The meeting concluded with all those gathered there resolving firstly, that Christians of all denominations observe Friday the 12th of September as a day of ‘Fasting and Prayer’ for the suffering Christians in Iraq, all over Karnataka and if possible spread it across India also. Secondly, observe a ‘BLACK SUNDAY’ and also hold a public rally on Sunday the 14th of September in Bangalore, with the participation of all the denominations and finally to draw the attention of the State and the Central government, demanding them to condemn the genocide of Christians in Iraq.

Picture courtesy

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fast and pray for the minorities in Iraq, Syria and Palestine on September 12

The Federation of Karnataka Christian and Catholic Associations (FKCCA), the Indian Christian Union (ICU), the United Christian Forum (UCF) and several like minded body's have come together and decided on a fast and prayer on Friday, September 12, 2014 to protest against the genocide against minorities and Christians in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Churches all over Karnataka will be having prayer and fasting in churches and wherever possible on Friday. The idea is to feel the pain of the hundreds of thousands suffering and to pray to God to help those who are fleeing from the aggression of the ISIS (IS) aggressors.

The Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church under its bishop H.G. Pathros Mor Osthatheos is also passing on the message to churches in Bangalore and asking people to fast and pray wherever they are; in churches, offices, schools and public places and tell their friends as to why they are not eating. Many members of the church are directly affected by the violence in Iraq and Syria.

The press note of the press conference held on August 30, 2014 in the Bangalore Press Club is given below.

PRESS NOTE 30/08/2014
1. Five percent of the population in Iraq consisted of Christians and now it is dwindling and this has started in 2003 itself not just today. The ‘New American’ reported that- “Before the U.S. government imposed so-called “democracy” on Iraq, estimates suggested there were as many as 1.5 million Christians throughout the diverse country. They had survived centuries of invasions, persecution, and more — but in many respects, the community was still thriving. Today, experts and Christian leaders suggest the number of Christians still in Iraq is somewhere closer to 200,000. Many of those would leave if they could”.
2. As per unofficial estimates One lakh and 70 thousand people have already been killed, yet the Indian Media or the American Media has not reported this because the American Media considers it as a Middle East problem, and the Indian Media has not reported it because it’s not the OTHERS, Non-Christians who are killed or suffering in Iraq.
3. We strongly feel that the problem in Iraq is caused by a “misunderstanding of Islam”, those who propagate the holocaust are actually unaware of true Islam and Quran’s teachings.
4. The silence of Christian’s in India and also the other communities regarding the persecution of innocent children, men and women in Iraq is by itself violence in silence. When we see violence our silence is also an equally condemnable violence and injustice against humanity, if we do not raise our voice against it. Hence we urge everyone to raise their voice or be ready to accept the blame that you are also a part of the violence by your silence.
5. Today it’s us Christian’s but, tomorrow it could be you, all the others such as the Hindus, Sikhs, Jain, Buddhists & Parsi’s
6. We, Christians belonging to all denominations would be observing September 12th Friday as a day of fast.
7. We, would be observing a ‘BLACK SUNDAY’ and also hold a public demonstration of protest on September 14th Sunday, at the St.Joseph’s Indian High School grounds at 3.00 pm and later a delegation of Bishops and leaders of all denominations led by the Arch Bishop of Bangalore, His Grace. Most.Rev.Bernard Moras would submit a memorandum to the Governor of Karnataka, inviting the attention of the central government to the plight of Christian’s in Iraq and demanding a strong denouncement by India of the holocaust of Christians in Iraq.
We appeal to all right thinking people Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jain, Buddhists and Parsi’s to condemn the execution of Christian’s in Iraq in the name of religion.
Abraham T.J
President, Federation of Karnataka Christian& Catholic Associations-FKCCA
President, Indian Christian Union-ICU

Also addressing the press are Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad,CSI Pastor, Sr.Lincy Cherian,Provincial of Holy Cross Provincialate, Fr.Thomas Kallukalam, Parish Priest, St.Thomas Frlorane Church, Dharmaram College P.O, Rev.N.J.Samson, Chairman & President, Karnataka Baptist Federation, Fr.Jerry Kurian-Representing Bishop H.G.Pathros Osthatheos of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Fr.Victor Fernandes, Capuchin Fathers & Mr.Dolphy D'Cuna, President –Carmel Kutam.

Top picture courtesy

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ask for needs, seek forgiveness and knock on the door of justice

Luke 11:9-20
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”
Jesus and Beelzebul
14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16 Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists[g] cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find and knock and the door will be opened for you. This was a clear exhortation from Jesus to those who were listening to and arguing with him. On the one hand it suggests persistence and perseverance. Never let go and keep persisting with God till God relents and gives us what we want. But on the other hand it also talks about believing that God as a parent will never forsake us. The relationship God has with human beings is so special that our needs will always be taken care of.

When Jesus’ disciples ask him on how they should pray, his prayer guideline include three prominent things. One, give us each day our daily bread, two, forgive our sins as we forgive others and three, do not bring us to the time of trial. All three resonate ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find and knock and the door will be opened for you.

We are guided to ask for our basic needs which may change from time to time but which are limited to the needs that a lot of people can get and should not be limited to a few. The prayer is also a community prayer and therefore how can there be poor and rich in the same community? All get together and pray to God and therefore any disproportion should be rectified. God gives a clear path to ask and everyone who asks will be answered and there is no question about that.

Forgive our sins as we forgive others goes along with seek and you will find. Seeking is not just wandering, researching and looking but seeking also becomes seeking and searching for forgiveness from those who we have wronged. Forgiveness is a two way process of forgiving others and seeking forgiveness from others. Jesus leads us to this narrow but bright path of seeking and finding.

Do not bring us to trial and knock and the door will be opened to you is the final part of Jesus’ framework. Our hesitation to knock is not just because we are suspicious and unsure about what God will do but because we are guilt ridden of what we have done. The step taken back along with the prayer to not bring us to trial is converted by Jesus into a step taken forward and knocking on the door which will be opened for us. The imagery is wonderful. Even as we see sections 11:3-4 and 11:9-10 as different, there is a great spiritual bridge which links them together.

Luke 9:11-20 provides a great framework for Christian life. Jesus reminds everyone of the real meaning of ask, seek and knock. Ask for needs, seek forgiveness and knock on the door knowing fully well that we have rectified our wrongs. The beauty of the writer’s explanation of Jesus and God is given a true expression when the mute man speaks. Jesus’ message is so powerful that the man who remained silent is exorcised of his demons and knocks on the door of justice. This unsettles the others. They have no where to go and they immediately accuse Jesus of being the ruler of the demons. This is a classic example of how people accuse us of vague things when they know that we are nearing in on the truth.

The setting is one of euphoria on the one side and fear on the other. Jesus and the man are talking the truth. On the other hand the people are scared of the truth and false accusations are all they know to make. Jesus is not shaken by this and shows them the senselessness of what they have just said. Instead of asking for what is rightfully theirs, seeking forgiveness for what they have done and knocking on the door for absolution, they justify their acts by coming up with an absurd accusation.

The church is also filled with such examples. People who are truly close to God have the experience of asking, seeking and knocking. But this Godly experience is made difficult for them by those who refuse to accept the societal justice and truth of God. Church then becomes a place where we struggle for justice and ask, seek and knock. Jesus assures us that God will never forsake us and will love us more than a father and a mother. Whenever we are silenced by those who usurp power and practise injustice, we should be assured that God will open our mouths against injustice and answer our prayers. Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Give me my chair

Luke 14:7-11.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Don’t go for the best seat so that if the host comes and asks us to move, we won’t be embarrassed. Rather go for the last seat or the seat with no consequence so that when the host comes and asks to sit at a higher and better seat, it will be an honour for us.Perhaps the musical chair is one of the prominent games children are made to play in public. The game cuts across ages and is therefore popular among all age groups in church.

The concept is that we keep going for the available chairs, with many falling away without chairs and the winner being the person in possession of the final chair. It is not the final chair that Jesus talks about, but the final chair achieved through competition. The game is ingrained in each and every person that we won’t even hesitate to push others and get a chair. The chair and its possession becomes a primary skill one has to acquire at a young age itself.
What this does is to turn on its head the biblical message that we should not expect places of honour. This has been turned around to mean that we should fight for the final chair to win! How then can Jesus’ advise that the first will be last and the last first work in this instance? The musical chair is perhaps the wrong name. It should rather be the ‘final chair’ or the last wo/man sitting (standing)!

But where did this concept of musical chair come from? Competition, calculation and luck are very much a business model that one is told of in a business school. But can this be a model for the church? Actually not. Competition, calculation and luck (CCL) are all not supposed to be church language. Rather they are very anti church because they lead to division and hatred rather than love and community.Can we turn around the competition and start with one chair and go to many chairs rather? The first chair will only be a beginning and will lead to several chairs and people, bringing about the thrill of community, caring and togetherness (CCT). Everyone, big and small, tall and short, gets a seat or chair. But every opportunity of not getting a chair is only going to be an excitement that the next could be mine instead of thinking that we are out and all is lost.

Perhaps this is the way of looking at the parable of Jesus today. There are chairs for everyone. The last will be first and the first last. Everyone gets a chair and everyone gets to be someone on the chair because every chair is unique. An opportunity for one today is an opportunity for someone else tomorrow.The church should definitely be the place where people feel there is a chair for them. This is not a chair of competition, calculation and luck but a chair of rights, opportunities and goodwill and a chair of community, caring and togetherness. This way everyone who walks into church will be assured of getting a chair. The last being the first and the first last. If this can be brought to fruition the musical chair will change in essence and style to what it should be! Amen.

(Picture courtesy

Friday, August 1, 2014

Christians and minorities in Iraq, Syria and Palestine: A plea to wake up

It is essential on a quiet day and in times like this to be quiet and listen. Listen to what is happening around us. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the Israeli aggression has been heard but have we heard the voices of the Christian minorities in Syria, Iraq and Palestine? What usually happens in the predominantly U.S. leaning media is that any media narrative is written for an audience which has been brought up on a Jewish (Zionist)- non Jewish story, where the Christian audience may likely support the Jewish aggression as the reaction of a retributive and revengeful God. In the midst of such narratives, one should listen carefully in such a time as this and on such a day as this.
There should be an alternative listening. Where are the stories of Syria, Iraq and Palestine? Where are the stories of minorities, including Christians in these countries? When are we going to stop this act of wilful blindness whereby we refuse to see certain things?

Syria has suffered from civil war for more than three years. Ishan Tharoor writes that 1,70,000 lives have been claimed in three years. The Christian population in Homs according to Barnini Chakraborthy has reduced from 1,60,000 to 1,000. In Iraq, in and around Mosul especially, the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) group had a July 19 deadline to convert to Islam or pay a Zizya tax or face execution. Unconfirmed reports have also said that ISIS asked all girls and women between 11 and 46 to be circumcised. In June 6,00,000 Iraqi’s were driven away from their homes.The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said, “How in the 21st century could people be forced from their houses just because they are Christian, Shia, Sumi or Yazidi?

There has been a lack of understanding from the West, partly coming from the ignorance that there are no Christians in the Middle East. A Christian, Palestinian tourist guide who told the tourist that he was Christian was asked by the visitor in Jerusalem, "When did you convert to Christianity?" Such is the unwillingness to understand the culture and background of Christians in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. It is a lack of understanding stemming from years of neglect and ignorance about other ancient forms of Christianity.

Christian and other places of worship in Iraq have been destroyed and manuscripts burned. Christianity was introduced in Iraq in the 1st century by St. Thomas and St. Thaddeus (St. Jude). ISIS militants have beheaded, mutilated, raped, stoned and even crucified people. Christianity and pluralism have been crucified! The threats are “Leave with the clothes you are wearing” and doors are marked as Christian. Churches have been converted by the ISIS group and Christians along with others are on the run. A Syrian Orthodox bishop and a Greek Orthodox bishop were kidnapped in Syria in April 2013 and are yet to be released. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch has asked all churches to pray for peace on August 3. We urge you to join us and voice your protest against this inhuman act by a group of people who have no religion and humanity on their mind.

(Excerpts from a presentation done on July 30, 2014 for the Quiet day worship in the United Theological College, Bangalore.)

Photo credits:,, and

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The spirit of goodness

Mark 3:20-30
20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

1. There is no appropriate time to do good, rather do good always.
In the beginning of Mark chapter 3 a man with a withered hand approaches Jesus. Jesus asks those there whether it is lawful to do good or to harm on the Sabbath and whether to save life or to kill? They remain silent and Jesus asks the man to stretch out his hand and heals it.
The very famous one liner of the comedian Sreenivasan to Mohanlal is very popular among Keralites. “Ellathinum athindethaya samayam undu daasa.” It can be translated as "everything has it’s time". But Jesus here questions this concept of good and bad time. The time is when it comes. It is the urge to do good when we see injustice and suffering. The people in Syria, Iraq and Palestine are suffering for reasons not theirs. But the international community continues to wait for an appropriate time to do something. When will this time come? Is it dependent on rules and conventions?
The truth of the matter is that there is no appropriate or correct time. Suffering should force us into action instead of waiting to see whether we can or not. Jesus asked the Pharisees whether it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath. They kept quiet and waited. Jesus on the other hand asked the man with the withered hand to stretch it out and healed him.

2. Never blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, rather affirm your neighbours.
When the scribes accused Jesus of having an unclean spirit they were in essence questioning his character and actions. They were suggesting bad over good and death over life. There was a clear character assassination of Jesus’ self and being. This unwarranted criticism was not done for good but in the effort of destroying the spirit of Jesus. Jesus hit back by saying that they can get away with everything else but won’t get away with blaspheming against the spirit.
What does this mean for us today? What it means is that we should stop criticizing and attacking others in church. If everyone truly believes in the invocation of the Holy Spirit during baptism and communion, how can the other person be bad? How then can we allege bad character, immorality and imperfectness in our neighbour in the church and other places? How can this happen when they also possess the same spirit that we have. This then is an attack on the Holy Spirit itself and an attack on the very essence of a human being, both female and male. How on earth can be get away with this unwarranted and uncalled for attack on others who are the same as us? What on the other hand can be followed is the affirmation that Jesus does for the man with the withered hand. Jesus does not wonder or question the reason for why the man's hand was withered. Rather he asks him to stretch it out. It works out into a handshake of good faith and affirmation.
The call to all of us is clear. Look around and continue to do good instead of looking for appropriate times and the clarity of the rule book and stop humiliating and insulting our neighbours in church and society and start affirming them.

(Picture courtesy

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Break to make

Matthew 14:14-21
14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus finishes his ministry to the crowd and it is close to evening. The disciples request Jesus to send the crowd away so that they may eat something. Jesus asks his disciples to give the people something to eat. They reply that they have only 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus requests the crowd to sit on the grass. He then blesses and breaks the loaves and gives to the disciples to distribute. Everyone eats their fill and 12 baskets of broken pieces are collected.

The miracle story clearly talks of a symbolic communion as Jesus breaks bread and his disciples distribute it. The passage though gives a couple of pointers to think about.

Firstly, breaking bread or in essence breaking oneself for others is a clear moment of being able to offer a solution when none is available. The disciples cannot think about a solution to the crisis of having a hungry multitude of people. This is clearly something which comes from Jesus’ unique background and experience on earth. He was born in a manger, grew up as a refugee, and trained as a carpenter. This gave him certain mundane and critical skills which someone born in a palace would not have. In the time of a crisis, this comes to the forefront and he is able to offer a solution to hunger.

Secondly, Jesus’ solution is a third world outlook of life. Jesus’ wish to break bread is an ordinary step to share what he had. This is not what we usually do but definitely something which we can do. Indians are known in the business world and other places as people who can offer solutions when there appear to be none. Jesus does just that. “The wealth of one percent of the richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion—15x more than the wealth held by the bottom 70 percent.” Yet we struggle with poverty and scarcity. There is enough in the world for everyone and yet the mind to share does not come through.

This is when a third world mentality helps, because it associates with the mentality of Jesus. This is not easy but has to be experienced in several ways. In India, the poor share what they have in a very matter of fact way. Several of us would have noticed how the poor share the food they get on the street with one another. This is a normal reaction.

Many of us have come from an ordinary background. Today things might have changed but we can’t forget that we have been brought up in a culture of sharing. This is our strength. Jesus associated with the same culture. He continued to share even in his richness and continued to give even in his power and glory. This is what is being asked of us today. We have shown our creativity and hard work in offering solutions for business and creating jobs. Can we use the same creativity and hard work for alleviating poverty and suffering? Can we break ourselves like Jesus did and understand that in breaking and sharing lies our richness? Amen.

(Picture courtesy

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Matthew 20:1-16: Exploring a theology of football

Matthew 20:1-16

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage,[a] he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.[b] 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.[c] 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?[d] 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’[e] 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”[f]

The FIFA world cup in Brazil is progressing fast amidst the knock out pre quarter final stage and strong teams have already fallen by the way side even as new inexperienced teams with lesser rankings are making surprising strides forward. The Brazilian people are divided into the ones who want to showcase Brazil as a country capable of conducting such an extravagant sporting event and those who say that food and not a football is what everyone wants on their plate.

Pope Francis has come out with a statement on football and world cup himself and it tries to say that solidarity with the poor and people should be the primary concerns of such a sporting event. Such a team event has to be played with a spirit of camaraderie and foster goodwill. The message goes on to say that "sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also a tool to communicate the values ​​that promote the good of the human person and help to build a more peaceful and fraternal coexistence" and that "football can and should be a school for the formation of a "culture of encounter", leading to harmony and peace among people – teaching as it does the value of fair play and authentic team effort – values, the message concludes, without which all of society is damaged."

Can football have a theology and does God have anything to do with football? What we should realise is that football as we see it on television as an event is not what football actually is. Football is played on the streets, in backyards, schools, churches and homes. It brings people together but also has a Christian spirit hidden in the game.

Matthew 20:1-16 talks about the owner who wanted work in his vineyard done. He hires people in the morning but then realises that several need to be hired at several times because there are people without work. His mind to give work is criticized finally by the first timers who complain that despite being out in the sun from the beginning, they get the same wage that is given to the last timers. The owner then asks them as to what their problem is. What is it to them as he has already given them what he had promised. Why are they concerned with what the others are getting? This passage can always be used by the rich to suggest that Christianity is not a religion of the rich and that it is following Marxist thoughts in justifying the lesser work done by workers. It is another thing that this passage as also the beatitudes along with several other passages of the bible were already existent much earlier than Marx. The passage also suggests a more just way of looking at work and life as such and does not speak about working and not working but putting the usually elusive justice to work in the situation.

This is where understanding the theological message of the game of football offers some help. The game of football is played with eleven players in a team, each player having his or her role to play. But the most intriguing part of the game is the substitution of players and in some cases the super subs who come at almost the end of the match and steal the thunder from other players by scoring the all elusive goal. The other players can say like the workers in the passage that they were there from the beginning of the match and how can a substitute who comes in at the last moment get the lime light and equal payment?

Football is not just a man’s game or a game played in expensive stadiums, and in world cup like situations. Rather football is played wherever people want to come together. It is played by ordinary people who come together in solidarity and a spirit of hope and reconciliation. It is not war on the field but belief in human potential and team spirit.

The bible passage is clear. It is the master’s prerogative to pay how much ever he wants to whomever. The pay is not based on who was there first but on recurring justice. It is the inclusion of the excluded and the bringing about of joy and cheer to the faces of all. This is a season therefore to feel this excitement of sitting out so that someone can play, knowing that when we play, we play for the team and that the first will be last and the last will be first. It is not to take away the entrepreneurial spirit of anyone but to rather say that our toils will be rewarded when others also come into the picture.

(Picture courtesy

Monday, June 9, 2014

Experiencing Pentecost: Go where the spirit leads and build relationships

Acts 2: 1-13
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

The true experience of Pentecost in the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church is one of renewal and re commitment. It is knowing that God is reality in the trinity and the speciality of the trinity is being in relationship with one another. It is also knowing that the Holy Spirit will lead and that true discernment comes from feeling, listening and going along with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ advises his disciples that the way to the Father is through him and now that he has ascended the Holy Spirit will be there to guide and empower. But he tells his disciples that the best way to know God is to love each other just like the love of the father for the son, the son for the father and the spirit for the father and son. In essence it is saying that no one is great or greater but all are equal and all bring true value to the relationship.

The Jacobite church has a detailed and long service for Pentecost which is divided into three parts. The essence of the Holy Spirit is explained and the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is expounded. This brings about a clear picture of what and how things should be. The Father has no qualms in sending the son into the world and he believes that the son will do the job. The son on the other hand keeps promoting the father and in the end paves the way for the spirit. There is no staying back and saying that the son is capable by himself of doing what is needed. Jesus understands it is time to move away and make way for the spirit and in all humbleness and without any qualms or regrets he does just that. There is a special collegiality being expressed here. It is a special relationship of believing and trusting in the other person. This is not easy but we are shown that it is not impossible.

We are shown that relationships are not planned and have no emphasis on one person. Rather, relationships come across as something which celebrate each other and use the opportunity to work on what one is given but at the same time share the accolades that come along.

This being the case one needs to come to terms with the experience of Pentecost. What happened when the apostles received the spirit? They started speaking in tongues and others assembled there understood what was being spoken as each of the assembled one’s language. The relationship that Christ had with his disciples extended through his admission to the relationship Christ had with the Father and therefore the disciples were initiated into that relationship. The relationship Christ had with his disciples was then opened up to include the spirit in the relationship. This does not end here but rather becomes the extending of this openness and relationship to all people whereby the experience of the indwelling of the spirit during Pentecost leads to the opening up of the relationship to all.

The experience of Pentecost calls upon us to open up. It asks us to include, accept, celebrate and be free. There is no road map and there is no plan. The map and the plan are where the spirit leads us and frankly we don’t know where that could be. One should use this opportunity of the Pentecost to follow the spirit, open ourselves up to the liberation offered by relationships and have the courage to follow God even when we actually are uncomfortable with the initial paths that the spirit is taking us through.

(Picture courtesy

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: A call to be equal

The breaking of bread, sharing of the cup and washing of the feet is perhaps the strongest message of love and sacrifice that comes from Christian belief. It is the message which comes from the top that as disciples and believers we are called to sacrifice ourselves just as Christ sacrificed himself for us. The sacrifice though is not to say that we are to continue serving and be servants but rather that we are called to humiliate and embarrass ourselves in a culture where respect and honour are important.

Jesus’ sharing of bread and drink was profound in itself but more powerful was his message that this sharing was a call to say that all are equal and there is no master but only servant in the kindom of God. The message of servitude has almost been mis- interpreted to suggest that women, the weak and the poor should serve in continuance with the message of Jesus. This message though is more about being equal than anything else.

We forget this in church and in our lives. Why don’t men cut mangoes for pickle for Good Friday rice gruel in church? Why do people make fun of a husband who is concerned and caring about his wife? Why are children in church treated during service like they know nothing and are there to make the numbers than contribute to worship? Why do preachers turn towards the side of women while preaching about the responsibility of serving and why are the rich excused from serving in any manner?

Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet is such a strong act of equality and acceptance that Peter is against this and says that this can never be. Jesus then insists and says that without this there can be no true sharing. Peter then agrees with full enthusiasm. Galatians 3:28 clearly reflects this feeling in the verse “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Hierarchy is done away with and all kinds of classifications and differences based on gender, class, caste, sexuality and other baseless categories are negated. The act of communion and feet washing is thus liberating.

Instead, the most powerful acts of communion and feet washing continue to become acts of expressing and legitimising one’s position in the hierarchy and celebrating that position of power, rather than becoming vulnerable and humiliating and embarrassing oneself for the sake of the true expression of God’s will on earth. Jesus celebrates his decision to become an equal and a co-sufferer rather than an over seer. His act is humiliating and embarrassing as it questions the very notion of hierarchy. The baseless explanation that hierarchy is essential for stability in society is undone by Jesus who does away with hierarchy itself and sacrifices himself for the undoing of hierarchy.

It is humbling to note that Maundy Thursday becomes a reminder that once we have become a part of hierarchy we have to undo hierarchy itself instead of strengthening it for our own gains. Communion and washing of feet should then become the liberating acts that they are supposed to be. This poses a serious challenge to us to become the true followers of Christ who broke hierarchy to come down, break bread, share drink and wash feet. This is the real experience of Maundy Thursday when we don’t get away with just saying that we have to love one another and share but to say that we have to give up the superior places that we have gained, occupied, and unquestioningly accepted. By this we become the table/s of true communion and go through the really embarrassing experience of washing of feet.

Picture courtesy

Feet washing: Reading the scriptures publicly and sensually

Sensuality is expressed in the most mundane and simple terms and yet it has its own complexity which attaches a certain sacredness to it. In the present era we even have festivals to celebrate our love and sensuality. Valentine’s Day is one such festival where flowers are exchanged and love is expressed openly. It is another matter that this has been commercialized and made artificial at the same time.

Luke 7:36-50 brings to us the encounter of the woman and Jesus. Jesus who is invited to a Pharisee’s house for dinner is attended to by the woman who was perceived as sinful. She weeps onto his feet, wipes it with her hair, kisses his feet and puts perfume on it. This brings about a negative reaction from those in the house.

Worship involves the activation and constant interpolation of the five senses of a human being. The senses include touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. We obviously do not give much thought to the activation and the coherent expression of these five senses and many a time maybe even forget about their existence. Nevertheless these senses when used in various combinations bring forth very effective interaction. Two of the important senses are touch and smell.

1. Touch is one of the most active steps of sense activation that we can undertake. In many of Jesus’ miracle acts what he does, goes beyond the miracle because it involves touching those who were not touched. This is not just a spiritual and inward touch but a clear physical touch which involved challenging the prevalent system of untouchability which was practised in various forms. When Jesus arrives at the Pharisee’s house there seems to be no indication that anyone received him with a welcome touch. Rather what we see is a woman referred to as a sinner who comes with an alabaster jar of perfume. She wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them and pours perfume on them. As we usually concentrate on the woman who lived a sinful life in the town, what we ignore is the woman who touched Jesus with her physical and sensual touch. Our feet are one of our most sensitive yet most ignored body parts. The sensation we feel when we are touched by someone at the feet is indeed very arousing. Yet we usually refer to the touching of the feet as a mark of respect (as is done in Indian culture) and forget that it also has a very distinct and clear meaning which goes beyond just mere respect. In the church, the main part of touching is the kiss of peace, which again should have been a kiss but is now a shake of both hands and even that is done half heartedly. At times members of the opposite sex try to avoid touching each other in this otherwise very meaningful ritual practised in church. The washing of the feet during Passion Week in the Jacobite-Orthodox churches also becomes an act of service, humility and discipleship and is never seen as anything beyond that. The kissing of the feet by the woman takes us towards a sensual awakening. How can then a woman who had led a sinful life bring about a sensual awakening? Her love as mentioned by Jesus covers any sin that she may have been accused of. So what for many may seem as a passage of servitude, discipleship, and confession may very well also be seen as a passage of love, passion and sensuality. When everybody goes for Jesus’ upper body, the woman goes for his feet. The church is always seen as shying away from touch. We refuse to touch the untouchable, we refuse to acknowledge that touch is sensual and we in the mean time run the business of touching souls, while the bodies wither away. Maybe we need to look at scriptures more publicly and sensually for us to come to a different understanding of touch. Valentine’s day (looking at the positive side of it) is a perfect punching bag for different religious groups and I wonder whether it is only because of the commercialisation of Valentine’s day or is it because of the refusal to acknowledge that expressing one’s sensuality is not religiously acceptable?

2. Smell is another of the senses which can arouse our feelings. Aromatherapy is now marketed in India as a spiritual and mental well being that we can feel when we use certain products which arouse and bring out our sense of smell. In India we live amidst the dichotomy of smell. We have what we can call the rich, ‘produced’ smell and what is the poor, ‘natural’ smell. The woman in the passage has a strange mix of both! She wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and then pours perfume on them. Her tears are her own and they are as therapeutic for her as for Jesus. The drops which fall on Jesus’ feet may have caused the first arousal, the touch and smell the second arousal, the kissing the third arousal and the perfume the fourth arousal. She wipes off the tears with her own hair and then puts perfume. The base smell which she provides is her own. This is followed by the constructed smell of the perfume. The perfume adds to the olfactory delight that Jesus was being put through. Truly a great experience! The church more or less relies on incense to provide for the awakening of the sense of smell. This is complimented by the hundreds of smells emanating from the bodies of the congregation. If we care to take a dig into the variety of smells we will be aroused into action in church. What actually happens is that we turn off our smell sense and in our aim to attain holiness we keep away from everything which may awaken our minds. But think of using the smell as a welcome arousal of our senses to function better and to espouse this great feeling of love just like the woman who toyed with the feet of Jesus? In essence what happens in church is that we take away the senses of people or we try to numb them. This keeps our bodies in a state of non-orgasmic existence while our spirits are taken into ecstasy. The woman in the passage arouses us to our senses just like she may have aroused Jesus. Are we ashamed by our arousal or are we tickled to action? As others ignore Jesus, the woman welcomes him by arousing him and Jesus likes it! Are we willing to allow others to be aroused? The incense is only one particular way of doing this but there are other smells as well. This rounds up as the smell of love and warmth felt towards one another as well as the smell of passion which couples will sense and feel towards one another. Who are we to prevent this? The Pharisee tries to unlike the touch of the woman but Jesus reminds him of the woman’s love which refuses to subside. I am aroused, are you?

(Already published by NCCI)
Picture courtesy

Monday, April 14, 2014

Palm Sunday: Give peace a chance

Palm Sunday is perhaps one of the most popular pictures that we may remember from austerity and popular memory. The picture of women and men standing and holding palm leaves fills up the entire frame due to the leaves of various sizes. The picture also reminds one of an entire army standing in anticipation for the orders to carry out the mission. In a world consumed by the thought that power and force will bring about victory and conquer insignificant others into submission, the main stream picture of Palm Sunday may strongly bend us over to a similar line of thought.

But far from that, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem should be seen as the courageous and single minded journey of one man in the hope that he could turn around popular notion into correct notion and unruly crowds into peaceful ones. Two symbols suggest very clear meanings about what Palm Sunday should be for each one of us and why Hosanna is not a war cry but a yearning for peace.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey has been interpreted to already suggest that this was a symbol of humility and humbleness even though it could also suggest that his journey on a donkey (colt) could also be a sign that he was being welcomed just like a king. Two bible passages which throw light on this are Matthew 21:1-9 and Zechariah 9:9-10. In the gospel of St. Matthew unlike other gospels, Jesus tells his disciples to go to the village where they will find a donkey and her colt (or a colt). This suggests a she donkey and in all likelihood her off spring in the form of a colt (male). The symbolism is strongly suggestive of a nursing mother who stands for life, peace and sustenance. Zechariah 9:9 after announcing the arrival of the king says in verse 10 “ He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

John Dominic Crossan puts this beautifully by suggesting ‘Matthew wants two animals, a donkey with her little colt beside her, and that Jesus rides “them” in the sense of having them both as part of his demonstration’s highly visible symbolism. In other words, Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.'

Both passages suggest a clear message of a messiah who comes for peace and stands for peace in the midst of violence and death. The symbolism of palm leaves adds to the message from the two passages. It signified heaven, victory and peace. It continues to be a symbol of hope and resurrection. The picture of the multitude in church holding palm leaves is a picture that arms, power and violence can all be left at the way side and instead the palm leaf of hope can become a significant symbol against all forms of violence and force.

The palm leaf is both straight and willing to bend, willing to make adjustments so that a common good can be attained. It is not wavering faith but unwavering commitment being expressed through a grounded expression of theology, that come what may, we will stand our ground and continue this struggle for justice and peace. The Palm Sunday procession with palm leaves becomes the anti thesis of the republic day procession with arms. Even as the arms bring about awe and fear, the palm leaves bring about awe and faith. It is a faith that Jesus will accompany us in every struggle and there can be no end to the struggle with the leader Jesus arising like a Phoenix bird, dying only to rise again in full strength. The struggle does not die out by his death but rather gains more strength and momentum to carry on with multiplied strength and commitment.

The Palm Sunday liturgy of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church has a prayer which says that God becomes small and low so that we may become holy. Jesus brings himself down so that humans may be exalted.
The first Kolo-Quqoyo further says
“Get stones and receive the One Who comes to Jerusalem
Children of Israel were asked by the oldest there
For receiving they picked stones and went to Him
On seeing Him; olive branches, instead, they carried,
And shouted, “Welcome the King of Israel;
Halleluiah, blessed is Your coming”
The young and children who were instigated by the elders to carry stones as Jesus enters, by themselves, drop the stones and carry olive branches instead, suggesting that the way of the world is not a way at all. The children and the young realise that when Jesus comes in seated on a she donkey and colt, he is suggesting to them that the only way forward is to give peace a chance.

Palm Sunday and the palm leaves become so significant in our world today. Holding the palm leaves and keeping them home remind us that we can’t resort to violence against the poor and helpless but rather should keep looking at the leaves as a symbol to follow and emulate Jesus. One has to die in order to resurrect with full force. Dying is indeed victory. The palm leaves and the spirit of Hosanna should remind our household that there can be no domestic violence, disrespect of spouses, mistreating parents, abusing and beating children, humiliating those who work for us, cheating others for short term gains and driving away people from God by using force and violent means. “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Come Lord Jesus, set me free!

Luke 13:10-17
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

The passage talks of Jesus healing the crippled woman who was crippled for 18 years. The setting free of the woman is questioned by the leader of the synagogue who tells the others there that there are six days to help people and the Sabbath being holy should not be used for such things. Jesus notes the hypocrisy of the statement and says that people give water to their ox or donkey on the Sabbath and what then is wrong of helping the crippled woman.

Though it seems an open and shut case of Jesus healing the crippled woman we could also interpret it from the perspective of lent as a case of Jesus healing the woman of the complex she may have had because of how people looked at her. It seems to offer a good case of how we treat people and create a system where children and adults alike are graded in a certain way to suggest what success is and isn’t.

The education system that we have and the way we bring up our children and look at the aged are determined by certain factors in the capitalist system that we are a part of. Children have to fulfill certain criteria right from the time of getting an admission to play school and Kindergarten. This is a system that has been founded on old perspectives of right and wrong. Such systems and grading will make a person shrink inwards instead of coming out and expressing themselves. Such shrinking leads to a crippling of the self and makes a person bends inwards. Perhaps this could have been why the woman was bent over.

The mind to tell the crippled woman that she has been set free could be seen from this perspective. It tells us that the very way we look at people is flawed. It leads to inferiority in people that they do not measure up to our expectations. This makes people quiet, walk with their heads down, stammer while they talk, not look people in the eye, not write and do everything different from whatever is called and understood as mainline and traditional. Parents will only be looking at how many marks their children score instead of seeing what ability they have. They will look to make them what their neighbour’s children are instead of what their children want to be and will always talk of what they are not instead of celebrating what they are. Jesus becomes a graceful and understanding parent, guide and brother to the crippled woman telling her that she is free to do what she wants rather than have the burden of what others want her to be. This burden has loomed over her for so long and it is time to bring a stop to that.

We can use this lent season to understand the gifts of people rather than harping on what they could have and should become. It is a time to stop being hypocrites and become human beings who care. It is also a time when we can turn churches and seminaries into places that accept people how they are instead of having difficult exams and grading systems to check whether they have learnt anything and become what we want them to be. The question that we need to pose here is “What does God want them to be?” rather than “What do we want them to be?” This brings in a change in perspective wherein it does not matter anymore as to what we want but it matters a lot as to what God wants. Such a commitment is necessary in true places of worship and teaching where we not only commit our children and students to God but then listen to and discern God’s plan and wish for them.

The synagogue leader had several six days in the week to make a difference in the life of the woman but he does not do anything. When Jesus does something he quotes the law and tradition. We will have similar instances to deal with when we would want to change the system and people will question us saying that it is against the constitution, syllabus, curriculum and whatever else. Lent brings about a time when we should feel strengthened and emboldened to take a step towards what God wants and not what we want. Truly that will bring about a setting free of those who have been crippled in society due to our wrong methods of looking at them. It will also set us free of our narrow mind sets and attitudes.

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