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