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 www.rev-elution.blogspot.in)

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: www.womennewsnetwork.net, www.patheos.com, www.independent.ie and blog.opendoorsusa.org