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This week is Holy Week in the Orthodox Church, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Church of South Sudan. On May 1, 2016, Ethiopians and people of the Gambella region of South Sudan will celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Yet, the news from this region is heartbreaking. Last Friday more that 200 people were killed. Children and women were taken as hostages, and are held under the most horrible conditions, in the jungles of South Sudan and Ethiopia.

In the Orthodox liturgy of the churches of this region, during the first three days of the Passion Week, the people are supposed to be reading all three Gospels, not just the Passion account of the last week of Jesus the Messiah’s life. What a time to remember the words of Isaiah the Prophet regarding Jesus! “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6 NIV). This was the message which the angel gave to the lowly shepherds who were grazing their sheep, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NIV) These words were spoken to them right in the midst of so much fighting between the Roman soldiers and the militant Zealot freedom fighters.

The liturgical reading which begins this week reminds the Orthodox people of South Sudan and Ethiopia that this same Jesus, who was born, surrounded by so much killing, including the killing of baby boys, and the rape and abduction of women and children, came into Jerusalem, riding a donkey.

The Gospel reading simply says,

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Hosanna from the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Mat 21:4-11 NIV)

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem the people were not happily singing “Hosanna,” as is sung in so many churches in the west. The Hebrew word is a cry for help.

“Save us, Oh Lord! We are perishing!”

This is indeed the cry of the common people of South Sudan and Gambella: “Save us O LORD, we are perishing!”

My prayer today is the Jesus would enter into Gambella, riding a donkey, among the sheepherders of South Sudan and Ethiopia.

My prayer today is that Jesus would hear the cries of the women and children, “Save us, Oh Lord!”

My prayer today is that fighting and killing would stop, and the killers would allow the “Prince of Peace” to reign over the hurting people of South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Enough already!

 

This semester my students are helping refugee families in the Chicago area. They help them with learning English, regular chores, school work, etc.  Some of them are from Bhutan- Hindu Nepali refugees who were persecuted and expelled from Buddhist Bhutan. Yet, others are from Congo- refugees of infighting between Hutus and Tutsis, because of the policies of the Belgian colonial rule. Others are refugees from Myanmar- Muslim and Karen refugees from a Buddhist country. Yet others are from Syria.

These refugees have experienced so much pain, persecution, and rape.

My students are learning much from them.

The Great Lent scripture readings- the life of Abraham and Proverbs clearly respond to the question, “What must be done about the global refugee crisis?

Abraham’s life was the life of a sojourner and a refugee. He was a “wandering Aramean.”

The Bible simply says,

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; (Gen 12:1-4 NIV)

The context of Abraham’s journey, roughly 2000 BC, gives us a very sad picture of global society and religions. Not very much unlike the religious persecutions we see today. A minority of human beings- Egyptian, Sumerian, Chinese, Aryan rulers, began declaring themselves as gods. They began coming up with religions, which dehumanized the majority of the people in their nations, and enslaved them. Enuma Elish, a Sumerian religious document, e.g. claims complete control of common people by the divine king Marduk. To teach common people a lesson he destroys and dismembers the body of their leader Tiamat, who is portrayed as a demoness. Then he “kneads her blood into common human beings.” These common human beings were formed to be slaves to the high divine-kings, and divine-humans.  (Enuma Elish VI:5-8, 30-40). Similar religions appeared in China, India, and Egypt, around the same time. The religions of this time were designed to enslave the majority of peoples groups in these ancient civilizations.

When these divine-kings conquered other peoples groups, the people were enslaved with a far more merciless force.

Abraham was sent with a mission in this context.

He heard the word of God and set about the mission.

On the way he gathered allies- good kings like Melchizedek, King of Jerusalem. This was a king who sought the justice (zedek) of God in society. He worshipped the God Most High, El Elyom, the creator of heaven and earth. (Genesis 14:18).

Abraham’s life is summarized by a simple, yet powerful sentence, “Abraham believed the LORD, and he was regarded as a justice oriented person.” (Genesis 15:6, my translation)

In the context of blessing Abraham, the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and afflicted there for four hundred years. (Gen 15:13).

This indeed did happen. And, at the end of the 400 years of enslavement, they were saved under the leadership of Moses.

Moses then taught them they should always remember that their forefather Abraham was a wandering Aramean, and that they were also slaves in Egypt. This was the only way in which they would treat immigrants and refugees among them well. Every year they had to remember this historical reality when they went into the Temple to offer the Firstfruits offering. They had to say:

“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me.”  (Deu 26:5-10 NIV)

In addition to this experiential dimension of their life, God also gave them laws which reminded them never to treat a foreigner harshly, and to take care of them, and the poor in the land:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exo 22:21 NIV)

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exo 23:9 NIV)

Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God (Lev 19:10 NIV)

You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.'” (Lev 24:22)

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut 24:17-22 NIV)

The laws of the Torah provided several safeguards against poverty for everyone-strangers and the poor:

“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. (Lev 25:23 NIV)

The Great Lent Readings from the Book of Proverbs also constantly underlines this theme:

Sadly, in society, “The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends. (Pro 14:20 NIV)

However, “It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, and blessed is the one who is kind to the poor. (Pro 14:21 NIV)

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Pro 14:31 NIV)

It seems clear that God of the Bible, is always the God of the poor and the strangers.

 

What is the answer to the global refugee crisis today?

May we always remember that we are all strangers and foreigners.

If we remember this, then we will always treat “strangers and foreigners” with dignity, care and justice.

If we remember this then we will always care for the poor, the widows and the orphans.

 

 

I was reared in a New Delhi slum. There were no modern conveniences. Of course, the rich houses next to the slum had amazing things like TVs. So on Sunday nights, my friends and I would go outside the house of a kind, high caste, middle class family. They would keep their window curtains open so that girls and boys could watch the Bollywood movie from outside. This was a huge weekend treat for us slumdog-boys and girls.

Bollywood movies were always full of bad guys and good guys stories. The good guys were always from rich high caste societies. For some reason the bad guys always had western Christian names. The prostitute was always Mary or Helen. The bad guys were always John or Joseph.

I knew that my family was low caste. My father came from a low caste/tribal tribe of South India. My mother came from a low caste family of Lahore, Pakistan. They all had names like Mary, Helen, John, Joseph, etc.  When I watched those movies, it always bothered me, especially since I had to endure taunts from friends.

Is today any different? I open up to the New York Times and read about my brothers and sisters- Christians, all from low caste families, all called Mary, and John, and James Masih. They were killed, all because they were celebrating the resurrection of their Masih, in a children’s park in Lahore, Pakistan.

Why is it that the followers of Jesus, in the global south, are always targeted to be abused, and massacred? All this while western society, and the church in the global north just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, just another day!” And, all this while we are also celebrating Easter in the West!

So today, I decided to read the Resurrection account in Urdu, the language of my Pakistani brothers and sisters.

Reading the narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we must come to realize that this is nothing new.

The story of resurrection begins with the description of women- women who are all called Mary.

Why were all the women called Mary?

Why was Moses’ sister called Mary?

Why was Jesus’ mother called Mary?

Why were all the women at the foot of the Cross called Mary? (Well, of all the macho disciples of Jesus, one was there! His name was John).

Mary Magdalene, who headed the other group of Marys, was delivered from demonic forces, early in Jesus’ ministry- quite a scar on one’s reputation, then and now.

The word Mary, (or Maryam, Urdu; Miryam, in Hebrew) means bitter. During the time of Jesus, girls from low classes of societies, were taken and owned as sexual slaves by the Roman soldiers. So when a girl was born in a poor family, the parents would look at this baby, and say, “I am so sorry you were born. Your life will be bitter. You are Miriyam, Mary.

So all the girls from these poor villages were called, Miryam.

Mary the mother of Jesus was a virgin. How come, she was a virgin?

The Gospel narratives want to stress, that somehow, one Mary, of all the Marys was saved from the horrible sadistic clutches of the Roman soldiers.

Jesus must have seen many horrible things happen to the young Marys in his locality.

So, during his ministry, Jesus always touched and healed the Marys he encountered- women like Mary Magdalene.

No wonder the first person who encountered the Risen Lord, was Mary!

The Risen Christ looked at her, and gently said, “Mary!” (Maryam, in Urdu) (John 20:16)

She immediately recognized him and said, “Rabboni!”

Mary Magdalene immediately went, and proclaimed the first Gospel, “I have seen the Lord, (Khudawand, in Urdu, which means the Lord, God). (John 20:19)

In the Gospel of Matthew, the angel of the the Lord said to the Marys, “Go quickly and tell his disciples that He is risen from the dead.” (Matthew 28:7).

In the Gospel of Luke, they were told, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is Risen!” (Luke 24: 5, 6)

This was the Gospel that the modern day Marys of Pakistan were proclaiming, along with their kids, in the kids park of Lahore, Pakistan.

They were killed by suicide bombers.

Their voices were silenced.

But, were they?

Throughout history Marys and Josephs from low class and castes of societies have found salvation and hope in the Easter message, “He is Risen!”

Throughout history evil people have tried to silence these voices.

Thank God, these voices of Marys and Josephs, will never be silenced.

Wuh Ji Utha Hai! (Urdu)

!המשיח קם (Hebrew)

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! (Greek)

Christ is Risen !!!

Great Lent Readings:  Genesis 7:11-8:3; Isaiah 11:1-12:2; Proverbs 10, 11

Proverbs 10:1-22:16 is full of amazing couplets. In Hebrew poetry these are called antithetical aphorisms.

A wise son brings joy to his father,

but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. (Pro 10:1 NIV)

When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone,

but the righteous stand firm forever. (Pro 10:25 NIV)

The fear of the LORD adds length to life,

but the years of the wicked are cut short.

The prospect of the righteous is joy,

but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.

The way of the LORD is a refuge for the blameless,

but it is the ruin of those who do evil.

The righteous will never be uprooted,

but the wicked will not remain in the land. (Pro 10:27-30 NIV)

 

This series of proverbs underline that there are two kinds of people: the just and the unjust; the righteous and the wicked; the good and the evil; and so on.

Noah’s flood narrative is a profound, yet sad illustration of the two kind of people. Noah is an example par excellence of those who seek justice and righteousness. Sadly, on the other side are those who seek injustice and wickedness. The latter always lead to death and destruction.

Genesis 7 is a profound reminder of the meaning of the 40 days of Lent, “The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. (Genesis 7:17-18). There is a constant repetition of the phrase, “The waters flooded the earth.” (Genesis 7:18, 19, 20, 24).

It seems clear that Bible wants us to see this as a return back to Genesis 1:2, “The earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Yet, there is a note of hope, in Genesis 1:2 and in Genesis 8:1. Genesis 1:2 says, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Genesis 8:1 exclaims, “And God remembered Noah, and all the animals who were with him in the ark. And God made the Spirit to pass over the earth and the waters subsided.”

Noah’s flood reminds us of the biblical Gospel: Whenever, the historical or individual situation seems to be the bleakest, that is when the Spirit of God always “hovers over the face of the waters” to bring about life.

He always remembers the righteous and the just.

This is the lesson of Good Friday and Easter.

Right in the midst of much injustice, Isaiah the prophet peers into the distant future and proclaims:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD–

and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;

the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people (Isa 11:1-11 NIV)

Isaiah prophecies regarding the Messiah.

He will be the new Noah.

Right in the midst of the world falling part, the Messiah, full of the Holy Spirit, will bring about recreation, and the “earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”

 

Water itself is shown as a symbol of two opposite themes.

Water is a symbol of death and destruction.

Yet, water is also a symbol of life and recreation.

 

In the hands of the Messiah, who Isaiah proclaims, water is a symbol of life and recreation.

To Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5 NIV)

To the Samaritan woman, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14 NIV)

To the crowds of people, he said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:38 NIV)

 

In these days of the Great Lent, may we drink of the Water of Life.

 

 

 

 

 

Great Lent Readings: Genesis 6:9-22; Isaiah 8:13-9:7; Proverbs 8:1-21

Isaiah, the prophet lived in very sad and turbulent times. He exclaimed:

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the LORD has spoken:

“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.

The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger,

but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption!

They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

(Isa 1:2-4 NIV)

 

When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

(Isa 1:12-17 NIV)

 

Yet, right in the midst of this, Isaiah peered into the future, and exclaimed:

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan–

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

(Isa 9:1-2 NIV)

 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (

Isa 9:6-7 NIV)

 

The Great Lent readings remind us that the times of Isaiah were no different than the times of Noah:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.

God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

(Gen 6:11-12 NIV)

 

So God asked Noah to make an ark. This ark was a place of redemption.

A close look at the narrative dimensions of Noah’s ark suggested that this was just like the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2.

It was just like the Tabernacle which was later built by Moses in Exodus 25-40.

It was just like the Temple which was later constructed by Solomon in I Kings 4-7.

 

Proverbs chapter 9 says in very poetic fashion, that this is the house, which Wisdom has built.

Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars.

She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.

She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city,

“Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says,

“Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed.

Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.”

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

 (Pro 9:1-6, 10 NIV)

 

In the eyes of the early readers of the Bible, the House of Wisdom is none than the Ark of Noah, and the Tabernacle of Moses, and the Temple of Solomon.

Wisdom exhorts everyone to come into this House, this Temple.

Sadly, humanity in history, do not enter into this house.

Therefore, Isaiah the prophet peers into the future and declares that this Ark would be personified as a Child, as a Son.

He would be the new Ark.

He would be the new Temple.

He would be none other than God himself, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

He will bring about “justice and righteousness.”

 

In the New Testament the angel of the Lord proclaims to Mary:

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,

and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

(Luke 1:30-33 NIV)

 

Yet, when this Incarnate One was born and lived among humanity the religious leaders sought to kill him. They said, “”What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:18-19 NIV)

 

The Ark of God, the Tabernacle of God, the Wisdom of God, the Temple of God was destroyed.

But, Hallelujah, he rose from the grave!

Another prophet, the Apostle John, looks into the future and exclaims:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,

flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb

down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

No longer will there be any curse.

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city,

and his servants will serve him.

They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

(Rev 22:1-5 NIV)

 

 

 

 

 

Great Lent readings: Genesis 5:32-6:8; Isaiah 7:1-18; Prov. 6:20-35

Genesis 5:32-6:8 forms the prologue to the Noah’s flood narrative. Much is made of Noah’s flood. However, we would miss the whole point if we miss the finer details of the prologue. The focus is on the contrast between two kinds of human beings. Noah is paradigmatic of one kind of a human being. He was a just person, who sought justice for others. He lived by the grace of God (Genesis 6:8, 9).  This was not true of humanity in general, though. Genesis 6:1, 2, narrates that humanity (Hebrew, Adam) sought power and lordship over the land (Hebrew, Adamah). It seems clear that this was through violent means, just as in Genesis 4. Further, this text describes certain individuals, who are called the “sons of God.” A cursory reading of ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian, (Indian and Chinese) myths, makes it clear that these were divine rulers (high class priests), who used women as religious prostitutes to perform their religious rites. The kids who were born in this practice were regarded as divine beings, Nephillim, who were worshipped by masses of people. The core reason behind Noah’s flood is the widespread injustice and rape of common women, by high caste ruler-priests in global society.

Sadly, this practice is performed in societies of the world, even today!

Proverbs 6:20-35 describes this kind of a pattern in society during the days of the kings of Judah and Israel. The wisdom text urges:

My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

 Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck.

When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.

For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life,

(Pro 6:20-23 NIV)

The wisdom text declares that when one keeps the Torah of God, it will keep one from doing evil to women, and from the slippery practices of pagan religions (Pro. 6:24).

Isaiah 6:9-7:9 also mourns evil practices among the people who were supposed to be holy. Kings were practicing horrible kinds of injustices against common people. However, Isaiah exclaims, there will be a “holy seed,” which will emerge right in the midst of all this evil and destruction (Isaiah 6:13). The prophet continues to exclaim,

“The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isa 7:14 NIV).

This new Noah, will be none other than God himself, born of a virgin. He will bring about justice and rightness.

The Gospels proclaim this Good News:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Mat 1:18-23 NIV)

From Noah’s time, to Solomon’s time, to Isaiah’s time, to New Testament times, to today, this is the crux of the Gospel, “Jesus the Messiah, Immanuel- God with us.”

Human beings, throughout history have done evil, and destroyed society. But, God has always broken through into history to save humanity.

God descended in human form, through a virgin, to bring about justice and rightness in society-Immanuel, God is with us.

Great Lent Readings: Genesis 5:1-24; Isaiah 6:1-12; Proverbs 6:1-20

In the history of humanity there are some people who truly make a mark, and they are always remembered for the mark they made. One such individual is Enoch. The Bible simply says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was nothing, because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). The Greek translation of the Bible, the LXX says, “because God transformed him.”

The primary example of this is Jesus the Messiah. The ancient sang a hymn about this.

Christ Jesus

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

(Phi 2:5-8 NIV)

In many senses, this should be the goal of every individual who seeks to follow Christ.

Sadly, in the history of humanity, there are very few individuals who are like Enoch and Jesus the Messiah.

Isaiah, the prophet mourns this in the Isaiah 6 text which describes his calling. It begins begins with the words, “In the year that King Uzziah died.”  2 Chronicles 26 recounts the fact that King Uzziah was doing well while he remained humble, and nothing.  However, when he lifted up his ego to become divine, just like Pharaoh, and the divine kings of other nations, he was brought down, and he died an ignominious death.

In this context, Isaiah hears the voice of heavenly worship:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

(Isa 6:3 NIV)

Isaiah’s response to this vision of the LORD, and of heavenly worship is:

“Woe is me, I am nothing.”

Then God commissions him to transform society.

 

The Wisdom text, Proverbs 6 reiterates the same lesson, in the following way:

There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:

Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,

A heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,

A false witness who pours out lies

And a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

(Pro 6:16-19 NIV)

King Uzziah, who is paradigmatic of civilizations- then and now, sadly did these seven things.

Enoch did the opposite. The Bible describes this as, “He walked with God.”

He was humble and became nothing.

He lived the truth.

He was a peacemaker.

He strove for justice.

He always sought to bring about good in society.

He was a true witness to God and community.

Because of these, he built the community of God’s people- the kingdom of God.

 

Enoch became nothing, just like Jesus, and so caused the transformation of society around him.

If you and I want to be transformed and cause the transformation of the world around us, then we must also become nothing, just like Jesus.