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Archive for March, 2012

The fourth Wednesday of Lent is mid-Lent. It is the nucleus of the Lenten season. In the liturgical cycle of the churches of the East, on this day, the focus is on Zechariah’s prophecy, “I will pour out on the kingship of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they will mourn for him, as one mourns for the One and only, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps for the Firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).

The Lenten worshipper is reminded that the main focus of the season of Lent is the one who was pierced. He is the One and only, in Hebrew, the Yachid. This is the word, which describes the son whom Abraham was asked to sacrifice in Genesis 22. It also describes the sacrificial Messiah in Psalm 22. Texts like these prefigure the pierced Messiah.

The Gospel reading is the most famous text from the Bible, John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he have his One and only Son, that whoever believes him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Keeping these two central texts in mind, the Lenten worshipper prays, “Oh Lord pour out your Spirit today on all- both Jews and Gentiles, who pierced the Yachid– the One and Only, the Firstborn. May there be a spirit of grace and supplication. May all acknowledge the pierced one as the divine Messiah of humanity, so that humanity may experience eternal life. Oh Lord, may this happen in my time!”

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The fourth Sunday in the Days of Lent, in the churches of the East, is called the Sunday of the Canaanite woman. It is based on Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in Mark 7:24-37. Her daughter is possessed by demonic spirits, stemming from Canaanite religious practices. When she comes to Jesus for help and healing, he quotes a popular saying among the Orthodox religious community of that time. They regarded the Gentiles, especially the Gentiles, as “dogs.”  Jesus goes against this sentiment. He delivers the little girl from the demonic spirits and heals her.

The Prophets reading on this Sunday, Isaiah 56, reminds the Lenten worshipper that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. It claims that during the times of the Messiah there would be Justice and Right-ness. This Justice and Right-ness would not only be for the Jewish people. Rather, it will also be for peoples groups like the Stranger (Hebrew, Nekar), and the Eunuch- peoples groups who were regarded as the discards of society.

The texts on this Sunday of the Canaanite woman give clear direction to the followers of Jesus. Those who seek to truly follow him are called upon to decisively go into the territories of the Other- one’s own Canaanite territories. Followers of Jesus are urged to reach out to the people who are regarded as discards in society-aliens, and eunuchs, and Canaanite women. The Kingdom of God is made up of these kinds of people.

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The Lectionary readings of the Churches of the East, on the third Friday of the fifty days of Lent focus on the nature and impetus of Christian devotion. The Gospel reading focuses on Jesus the Messiah’s teaching on the distinction between the devotional attitude of the religious leader, the Pharisee, and the utter sinner, the toll gatherer. The religious leader extols in his righteous deeds, while the toll gatherer goes to God in utter humility, acknowledging that he is a vile sinner, and is not worthy to even enter into God’s presence. Following his stress on the attitude of utter humility, the Messiah stresses another kind of devotional attitude- the attitude of childlikeness, the attitude of one who has known neither self-righteous haughtiness, nor vile sinfulness. (Luke 18:9-17).

The Torah text reminds the Lenten worshipper to focus on the Deuteronomic theme- “remember.” “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt” (Deut. 5:15); “Remember the whole way the LORD your God has led you . . . to humble you.” (Deut. 8:2). The word occurs over and over again in the book of Deuteronomy. It is the same word, which is used to describe the Holy Communion- “remember.” It is a theme, which puts the emphasis not on the self, but rather on God.

It is clear that the religious leader, the Pharisee, did not recognize this Deuteronomic principle. The Messiah emphasizes, “Remember, always that you are utter sinners and children.” This attitude constantly keeps the follower of the Messiah in a humble and exciting Lent attitude.

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The Eastern lectionary Gospel reading for the 3rd Wednesday of the 50 days of Lent stresses Jesus’ teaching on attitude towards wealth and poverty. In Luke 12:32, 33 (and in the parallel Matthew 6:19-20) Jesus urges his followers to “not lay up treasures on earth . . . lay up treasures in heaven;” “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It is a matter of intrinsic priority.

The Torah reading reminds the Lenten worshipper regarding the principle of Jubilee- a time and a state when there is no poverty (Leviticus 25). The poorest of poor will be given back their land. There will be no poverty or slavery. The people are reminded that they should live their lives keeping in mind the central principle that the whole earth, and everything in it, ultimately belongs to the LORD (Leviticus 25:23). Human beings are stewards of God’s creation. Keeping this in mind, they were supposed to be insuring that there was no poverty and slavery among the people- the Jubilee principle.

Every follower of Jesus, during these days of Lent, must ask oneself questions like these:

Am I living my life in the light of eternal priorities, or am I living my life merely in the light of temporal priorities?

Am I being a good steward of everything that God has given me?

Am I living my life by the Jubilee principle?

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The Lenten reading for the 3rd Monday of Lent, both from the Old Testament and the New Testament, puts the focus on the central goal of the Missio Dei- the salvation of people who are regarded by society as the uttermost and the guttermost.

In the Old Testament reading, Abraham is shown interceding for the most vile peoples group during his time- the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18: 22-33). Human injustices had reached their lowest valley in this society. High caste/class humans took low caste/class men and women and sexually abused them as a part of the religious rituals, which they had designed. Yet, Abraham intercedes for them.

In the New Testament reading (Mark 2:13-22), Jesus does the unthinkable. He dines with the vilest group of people during his time, “toll collectors and sinners.” The kind of people he associated with came from those who perpetrated injustices- the high-class toll collectors, from the right wing. From the left wing, he associated with those who were at the receiving end of human trafficking injustices- the low class “sinners.” Both were considered scum by the “righteous” religious leaders of the day. Yet, Jesus reached out to them, and enabled them to find salvation- spiritual, social, psychological, racial salvation. The human traffickers and the human trafficked both found salvation and reconciliation at the feet of Jesus.

This Missio Dei is the focus of Lent.

May we reach out to the human traffickers- just like Levi, Matthew, the ugly toll gatherer.

May we reach out to the human trafficked “sinners-“ just like Jesus reached out to the so-called “scum” of his time.

Lent healing happens when the traffickers and the trafficked both find healing in the name of Jesus the Messiah.

 

 

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The third Sunday in the fifty days of Lent, in the Orthodox churches of the East, is called the Paralytic Sunday. On this day the Lenten worshipper encounters the Jesus who heals the paralytic man in Mark 2:1-12. In the account, Jesus first says to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This, of course, causes a huge debate, because in Jewish thought no one has the authority to forgive sins but God himself. Jesus addresses the core issue of the debate by saying, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, `Your sins be forgiven you,’ or to say, `Arise, take your stretcher and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, – – He said to the paralytic – – `I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher and go home.’ And he arose, and immediately picked up his stretcher and went out before all of them” (Mark 2:10-12).

Wow, wow!

This narrative is a clear reminder to the Lenten worshipper that Jesus the Messiah is no ordinary Messiah. He is God. He heals like only God can heal. He forgives sins like only God can forgive sins.

The Old Testament reading is the narrative of Moses in Exodus 4:10-17. Moses was always mindful of that fact that he was not a man of learning, and wisdom. In Exodus 6:12, 30, he argues with God, “I am a man of uncircumcised lips.”  Yet, the rest of the narrative shows how God used Moses- this ordinary, weak, and fallible person to manifest his great power and salvation.

He used a weak person like Moses. He used a weak person like the paralytic.

He uses weak and paralytic people today, immediately!

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The Lenten readings for the second Saturday of Lent in the churches of the East focus on a crucial theme of “urgency,” and “immediacy.” The Old Testament reading is from Moses’ final words in Deuteronomy 30. Moses gives three closing speeches in the book of Deuteronomy. In these speeches, seven times, he stresses that the community of people, who have been saved from slavery must “urgently see,” take stock, and move forward. (Deut. 1:8, 21, 24; 2:31; 4:5; 11:26; 30:15). Finally, in Deuteronomy 30:15, 19 he stresses, “See, I have set before you today, life and the good, death and the evil . . . choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” This is the primary thesis statement of the whole Torah.

The Gospel reading from Mark’s Gospel, Mark 1, similarly stresses “urgency” (Greek, euthus). In Mark 1 alone, the word “immediately” is used 12 times. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus does things with a sense of urgency and immediacy. There is a sense of urgency in John’s mission (Mark 1:3). Jesus’ mission begins with a sense of urgency (Mark 1:12). When Jesus heals people, he does so with a sense of urgency (Mark 1:42). This is the primary thrust of Jesus’ life throughout the Gospel.

The Lenten reading, it seems clear, asks people not to merely go into a shell, and reflect on personal piety. It rather, asks the worshipper to keep going forward with a sense of urgency, with the persona and Gospel of the Messiah. This is the central theme of the Torah and of the life of Jesus.

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