Monday, February 27, 2017

Lent: A time to go hungry

St. John 2:1-12

As we enter into lent, the passage St. John 2:1-12 is of essence to us. We may wonder what a celebratory passage linked to a wedding will give us leading to lent. But at the same time it offers us a few great things for lent. LENT very simply put can be expanded to mean “Let’s eliminate negative thoughts”. Many a time this one thing can make the Lenten experience meaningful and leaving out this one aspect will negate everything else we do.

Mother Mary, Jesus and his disciples go for a wedding at Cana and in between Mary tells Jesus that the wine is over. Jesus’ reply suggests negativity by saying what is it to us that the wine is over. Mother Mary on the other hand tells the helpers to do as Jesus says. It has positive thinking written all over it. Jesus then shows us an important thing to follow during lent. He asks the helpers to fill the six stone jars with water. We also are capable of doing this. But what happens later suggests what Jesus actually did. He tells the helpers to take the water to the steward and make him taste it. The helpers know it is water. But the steward doesn’t! After tasting it he calls the bride groom and says that usually people give inferior wine after the guests have had some, but in this case it appears that the best was saved for the last.

In our lives we do a lot of charity. But should the model of our charity be changed during this lent? Jesus suggests so. He does not simply listen to his mother and do something. They may have not brought any gift for the wedding. But Jesus gives the best gift possible for him at the time by turning the water into wine. Do we give our best for charity? Isn’t the word charity itself coined to suggest that we are doing a favour to someone? Our help or rather our responsibility during lent is to give our best to the church, to the people and to those who need food, shelter and clothing. This is not a charity but this is our responsibility. Mother Mary is also asking us to provide our best. This lent, can we start off by saying that we can indeed give our best.

Secondly, lent should also be a time when we provide the most basic of needs of human beings and that is food. Jesus provides wine so that the people had something to drink. And this should not be seen as strong wine but wine for subsistence and celebration. Can we start a kitchen for the poor, or cook in our houses and give to those who are hungry? Lent does not mean living comfortable lives and eating vegetarian food but giving to others till it hurts us. Jesus did his first miracle when Mother Mary asked. It was not his time but he does it. It hurts for him to do it and that is why the quality of the wine was exceptional. We should similarly lent till it hurts. Our lent could be giving ourselves in sacrifice or our lent could be lending something to others till it hurts us, or our lent could be helping the church till it hurts.

There is a Sri Lankan priest I know. The interesting thing about him is that he works among the poor and refugees. One thing he does week after week and not just during lent is to cook food for his congregation, which comprises very ordinary people. He cooks the food on Saturday evening and takes service on Sunday morning. After service he serves the food that he cooked to the people who attended the service. His work is not something simple and it is not just charity. Rather he shares and eats with the people who are there. His giving hurts so much that he does not have money for his needs and the needs of his family. Can we lent like this?

To sum it up, our lent should be an experience. We should not just be concerned about the diet and eating vegetarian food but helping others with food and shelter till it hurts us. It is not just our stomach which should growl in hunger but our body, mind and soul which should feel the hunger that others feel every day of their lives. May this lent make us experience hunger and reach out to people who are hungry and helpless. It is not easy to help them but if we are ready to be hurt and hungry, we can easily help them. Wishing you a lent which will make us go hungry so that others may be fed. Amen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine’s day : A spiritual explanation of a popular celebration

Valentine’s day has over the years become a celebration used to sell cards, flowers and goodies meant for couples to exchange. Many shops convert entire floors into Valentine’s themes with red being the dominant colour. There are also many groups which come out against the celebration, calling it a Western import and a blot on Indian culture. This being the case it always comes out, with or without the story of St. Valentine, as an unwanted and avoidable youth celebration.

But just like Father’s day, Mother’s day and even Independence day and Republic day celebrations are a remembrance of several things, Valentine’s day is also a remembrance of something. From that perspective Valentine’s day can also be a learning for age groups other than the young and single.
Love and relationships are also cornered as something which single women and men do and it is seen as having nothing to do with married couples and the aged. So much that love is not seen as a significant aspect of marriage but instead fidelity, faithfulness, morality and longevity are. This brings me to the point that celebrations about love should be seen as an opportunity to reenergize and reevaluate existing relationships.

The criticism of celebrating Valentine’s day is always centered around the fact that it has nothing to do with a marriage or a serious relationship going towards marriage but is rather a non-serious attempt of couples professing their love to a losing cause. This is why Valentine’s day is looked at with animosity and this is also why love marriages are looked at with animosity by traditional families. Even though times are changing, this animosity still exists and parents are worried about such celebrations. But if such traditions become part of family exercises in which the aged, middle aged and young are a part of, then this animosity will change.

What does the bible say about love? 1 Corinthians 13:13 says “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” and it shows that love is the foundation of all religions. 1 John 4:7 says “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” again suggesting that without love we cannot know God and this is a clear message to families who are against love. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” meaning that our very salvation is based on the fact that God loves us. The basis of every family and church thus must be love. We must do everything on this basis and whenever we question love, we are questioning God God’s self. Learning from this, we can question commercialization in society but we can’t question love, we can question erosion of true love but we can’t question love, we can question love which ferments abuse in relationships based on gender and caste but we can’t question love.

In today’s culture perhaps the biggest problem is that religion overall and Christianity specifically is adjusting itself to popular notions of security, gender relations, caste, race and class. A Valentine’s day celebration is an opportunity to pray and write that love is not a problem but the abuse of love in unequal relationships is. We need not jump onto the band wagon of love haters and groups which question love but rather need to read the bible closely and meditate on what God wants us to do.

In this context a Valentine’s day prayer would be
Lord of love, help me to pray for love that I may preach and live the gospel of love which Christ Jesus did. God of love, help me to be in active relationships of love in my house, school, college, work place and church which will make me sacrifice for the benefit of others. Holy Spirit, help me question love haters who reject couples and relationships, and thereby lead us together to spread the love of God on the cross. Amen.   

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

A prayer for the new year

Loving God, may this new year be one which realizes our potential and does not seek to satisfy others. It is not new resolutions that we need dear God, but the fulfillment of your promises. Inspire us Lord to be compassionate, merciful, understanding and adjusting. Offer the year 2017 for us and make it perfect enough for each of us in a special and different way. Instead of pressures give us challenges, instead of dejection give us new possibilities and instead of negative thoughts give us positive vibes of your wonderful energy. We pray gracious God that every day of this year 2017 be a new beginning and that these beginnings will give the passion to work hard in our lives. Help us to be formed by you and not just educated by society. May this formation offer the guidance of the Holy Spirit to recognize what is right and wrong.  Merciful God, form us to be you, so that 2017 need not be the most perfect year, but just perfect for us. Amen.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

The cries of children from Bethlehem: An inspiration to fight for good

St. Matthew 2:16-18
One of the most tragic incidents mentioned in the bible and that too in very few words, is the killing (cold blooded murder) of children two years and below in and around Bethlehem by Herod. The usual reaction to the story is wondering about the cruelty of Herod and about why the birth of Jesus led to the killing of several babies and how justified is such a birth of the savior of the world. It has parallels to the saying “mother killer” when a birth of a baby leads to the death of the mother due to some birth complication.

The association comes for many people and the more one thinks about it, the more one is perplexed by the association of how this can happen. This association is what prevents us from raising our voice and doing good. We think that if we say something and that leads to something happening to someone, that we are responsible for that. It is though a very naïve understanding of the situation. We have to sometimes say things for the common good and for the benefit of society. We are not opposing a person but the evil in a person which even he/she may or may not be aware of.

Herod was a leader and the birth of Jesus needn’t have bothered him too much. Yet he is surprisingly rattled. The birth of a baby upsets him! This also makes us think what kind of a leader he was. But what he ends up doing through the murder of innocent children is that he reiterates that he is inherently evil. So who was the reason of the deaths?  Herod or Jesus? Many a time we think that if not for Jesus the children would not have died.

One must come out of the understanding that Jesus was responsible for the death of the children. There was only one planner and executioner and that was Herod and perhaps his advisors. If we do not accept this, many of us will step back from doing any good because we will think that others will be sacrificed in the process of what we are going to do. The thought is always “I can sacrifice whatever but why should others be affected?” This thinking is not helpful because it will prevent us from doing any good even though we are capable of it. The celebration of Christmas and the time which follows up to new year will be like this. It is a time to not just remember the birth of Christ, but to do what he did. In the process we are bound to ruffle feathers, bring discomfort to others and be a thorn in the flesh to many. This is why we must understand that celebration and dejection go hand in hand. There was wailing and sadness in Ramah and mothers were crying because they had lost their young ones. But we need to cry only if Jesus lead to the death of the children. Contrary to this he did not. It was Herod who had planned and implemented this. Jesus was only a ploy he used.

There are many leaders who do likewise. Someone else is made out to be the reason of a cruel decision. It appears so in the case of the death of the young here as well. But that is where we err and we must know that the birth of Jesus leads to the birth of courage and expression of views and opinions in a culture that cannot express itself. The murder of the babies is the cowardice of Herod and nothing else. The women wailing are made to think that the reason is something/someone else. But as soon as they would have known who the conspirator was, they would have stopped crying because the children died cruelly at the hands of a dictator.

Civil wars rife in Syria and Iraq and international conflicts like in the case of Israel and Palestine and internal conflicts in many parts of the world all lead to genocide and the brutal killing of children. The killers will always say that it happened because of some rebels and external forces. The truth though is that it happens because the regime wants to quell dissent in various forms. The killing of the babies by Herod reminds us of the danger of regimes who will justify their actions and use religious symbolisms to say that they are right. The killing of the children instead should remind us of the birth of Jesus who went against the shrewdness and injustice of repressive regimes and instead stood with the people and fought for life and human dignity.

The birth of Jesus is not a time to cry but a time to raise our heads and question countries and dispensations that are anti people and oppress people. The people of Syria and Palestine among many other countries deserve to have access to their mother land and live a life of dignity there. We must not allow the creation and continuance of Herod like figures who use the birth as an excuse to take life instead of encouraging life and dignity. The innocent children died a violent death due to such sinful characters and this should not continue to happen during the commemoration of Jesus’ birth narrative.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A prayer for Christmas

A baby is born, he is crying in the manger. It is not a cry of fear, but one of life and life in abundance. Christ is born so that the poor may be exalted and the proud may be humbled, he is born for you and me, outside an inn he is born. We may not hear the cry because it is not harmonized to our liking. We may not see the baby because we are used to looking inside swanky buildings and not stench filled streets. Christmas is here and Christ is born.

Loving God, allow us to close our eyes and listen to the cry of the baby and be inspired to be what Jesus stands for on earth and in heaven. Jesus, hold our hand and walk us through places we avoid and allow us to feel your birth in every step we take and in everything we see. Holy Spirit, help us overcome the fear of the unknown and as we be a part of the service of nativity may our sins be absolved as we try to reach out, smile, help and be with those around us. Amen.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas.