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Archive for July, 2019

Ephesians 5:1, 2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

All of us need role models. All of us, whether we like it or not, are role models. Unfortunately, in modern history, people do not want to carry the burden of being role models. We say, “I am good musician, or a good athlete, or a good politician, or a good professor . . . do not expect me to be a role model.”

The Apostle Paul underlines this over and over again. On several occasions he asks the young disciples of Jesus to imitate him in their lives (I Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). In other epistles, he asks them to imitate those churches which are further along in maturity and relationship with the Messiah Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14). In yet other places he asks them to imitate the great heroes of faith in the Hebrew Bible (Hebrews 6:12).

Several of the above, are doable imitations. However, the Apostle Paul goes further. He urges the new Christians to be “imitators of God.” He urges this because they are now children of God. Children reflect the logos, pathos, and ethos of the Father.

The highest attribute of God, which he underlines is LOVE. He urges them to walk in love, as the Messiah loved us, and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice. (Ephesians 5:1, 2).

The whole of the Old Testament sacrificial system can be expressed in one word- LOVE. God is constantly showing his sacrificial love to humanity, and in response, the children of God are required to express their sacrificial love towards him and towards each other.

This is an awesome calling.
This is an awesome vocation.
May we always remember to imitate God!

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“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16, 17)

The first commandment has to do with the LORD. It reminds the people of God that he is the God who brought them out of slavery. The next two commands underline the nature of religions. Polytheism is designed to enslave and unjustly abuse people in the name of religion. Polytheism divides people into conquerors and the conquered. The conquered are supposed to be worshipping the conquerors and their images as gods. This is what happened in the history of civilizations. The people of God, in contrast to this ethos are told that they must never bring in any such practices among them. They must remember that God is always the God who rescues the enslaved.

The rest of the commandments underline that the people of God have to live by the ethos of this God who took them out of slavery, so that there is never any slavery among them. They must always live a life of restfulness. Restlessness results in slavery. They must always honor their father and mother, so that they are not put into positions of being enslaved. They must always honor their neighbors. Do not murder your neighbors. Do not commit adultery with your neighbors. Do not steal from your neighbors. Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The worship of God is intrinsically tied to ethics and care for the neighbor.

Of course, the big question is, “Who is my neighbor?” This was a question which was asked of Jesus by a scribe. He could have belonged to one of the two religio-political parties- the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They had their own very narrowly and sectarianly defined concept of the word neighbor. For a Pharisee, you are a neighbor only if you are a Pharisee, who lived by their laws. For a Sadducee, you are a neighbor only if you are rich or upper middle class person. Others are not neighbors. There were the Samaritans. They could never be neighbors. They were the progeny of mixed blood of low classes of women who were raped by waves of invading armies of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and the such. Of course, they were not a pure race. They could never be neighbors. They were scorned, and were forced to live at a distance from anyone considered to be a neighbor.

Jesus tells the story of a person who was beaten up by militant extremists from among their own. Yet, none of their own neighbors came to his rescue. None of the Pharisees, Sadducees, or experts of the Torah came to his rescue. It was a `Godforsaken and human forsaken” Samaritan who came to his rescue. It was a Samaritan who truly lived out the essence of the Ten Commandments, not the people who were supposed to be the keepers of the Ten Commandments. It was the completely Other person who lived out the Ten Commandments.

Oh LORD enable me to be like that Samaritan! Enable me to love my neighbor, the completely Other person!

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The Book of Proverbs has much to say about friendship and companionship. The Hebrew word ra’ah is used in a lot of contexts.

The Proverbs are poetry which use play on words on several occasions.

The Hebrew words for friendship (Hebrew, ra’ah), and doing evil (Hebrew ra’ah) are very similar. It is a friend (ra’ah) who knows you the best, and so can take advantage of the friendship to plan to do harm or evil (ra’ah) against you.

Similarly, the Hebrew words for friendship (Hebrew, ra’ah), and to see with clarity (Hebrew, ra’ah), are also similar. The Proverbs suggest that friendship should be used as a ground for mutual mentoring and sharpening, so that both may see life and situations with clarity.

Here are 10 commandments on friendship from the Book of Proverbs:

  1. Be generous to your friend: A friend is supposed to be generous in times of need (Proverbs 3:28).
  2. Do no harm to your friend: “Do not plan harm (Hebrew ra’ah) against your friend (Hebrew ra’ah), who lives a life of trust with you.” (Proverbs 3:29)
  3. Marital faithfulness: A friend is never supposed to sleep with his friend’s wife (Proverbs 6:29)
  4. Do not destroy your friend: A friend must never take advantage of the knowledge of one’s friend to destroy the friend (Proverbs 11:9)
  5. Be a friend forever: Be a friend in all circumstances and for all time (Proverbs 17:17)
  6. Do not be a false witness against your friend: A friend never deceives a friend or becomes a false witness against a friend (Proverbs 24:28; 26:18)
  7. Do not use jokes as a pretext to put down your friend or take advantage of your friend (Proverbs 26:19).
  8. Always be faithful to your friend (Proverbs 27:10)
  9. Do not give worthless and false praise to your friend (Proverbs 27:14; 29:5)
  10. Let friendship be the place where you sharpen your friend and yourself, just like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 3:14)

Jesus said, “I call you friends. All that I have heard from the father, I make known to you.” (John 15:15)

May we be like Jesus!

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History of the humanity has shown that those people who regard themselves as “the strong” have always taken advantage of those people they regard as “the weak.” “The strong” have always come up with political, economic, social, religious, etc. systems, which have always been designed to keep “the weak” weak, and indeed to make them weaker, so that the “the strong” can become stronger.

The Greek word, astheneia describes all of the above weaknesses.

The Gospels make it clear that Jesus always reached out to bring healing to all of these people- religiously, socially, economically, physically, etc. weak people. This is the Good News. This is the Gospel. The Gospels show that in doing so Jesus was fulfilling all the prophesies of the Hebrew Bible, e.g., “He took our weaknesses (astheneia) and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:17). It was always the crowds of people, with all of the above weaknesses, who followed Jesus (e.g., Luke 5: 15). More often than not, it was women like all the Marys (e.g. Luke 8:2), or the paradigmatic woman, who was ashamed to make her weakness known in public (Luke 13:11, 12). Complex forms of weaknesses always led to premature death. To these Jesus provided resurrection, as in the case of Lazarus (John 11).

It is with this knowledge that apostles like Paul would unashamedly say to a group of people who boasted in being strong, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” (1 Corinthians 2:3). He is able to say this because of the hope in the Messiah, who gave hope to all the weak people he encountered. The Messiah said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Jesus and Paul’s model of ministry, quite clearly, is to reach out to the weak and the handicapped- physically, spiritually, economically, socially, and so on.

In our day, two people were amazing examples of Jesus’ engagement with weakness- Mother Teressa and Jean Vanier. The former on the streets of Calcutta, India; and the latter, in the communities called L’Arche.

May we follow these models?

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Peter was not inherently inclined towards peace. Right after the Last Passover which Jesus had with his disciples, he talked about his impending arrest and death. He said that all the disciples will disown him, and run helter-skelter. In response to this Peter exclaimed, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will . . . Even if I die with you, I will never deny you” (Matthew 26:33, 35). Later, when a large crowd of the High Priest’s private militia came to arrest Jesus, with swords and batons, Peter drew his own sword and attacked them. He drew blood (Matthew 26:51; John 18:10, 11).

In the years that followed Peter experienced a life changing transformation. In his An older Peter wrote in his epistle to the young church, “Seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11). His transformation comes from his encounters with the Risen Living Word, Jesus the Messiah, and the Written Word. He quotes this dictum from Psalm 34. He comes to realize that, just like his Lord Yeshua the Messiah, his main mission in life was to incessantly pursue peace. He did this with the realization that God was ultimately in control of his life, and circumstances.

Incessant pursuing of peace is a primary mission of those who follow the Messiah Jesus.

Gandhi was introduced to the teachings of Jesus by Tolstoy. He writes in his An Autobiography: The Story of my Experiments with Truth, “Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You overwhelmed me. It left an abiding impression on me. Before the independent thinking, profound morality, and the truthfulness of this book, all the books given me by Mr. Coates seemed to pale into insignificance.” In his publication Harijan, dated December 123, 1931, he wrote, “As my contact with real Christians i.e., men living in fear of God, increased, I saw that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for him who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that Sermon which has endeared Jesus to me.”

In his autobiography he writes, The verses ‘But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloke [=cloak] too’, delighted me beyond measure.” (An Autobiography, p. 34)

Jesus taught that peacemaking was the central characteristic of a child of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Gandhi saw Jesus as the model par excellence of non-violence and peacemaking.

May those of us who profess to follow Jesus the Messiah pursue peace and peacemaking at all times, and at all costs!

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On one occasion, a learned and elder rabbi came to Jesus. He sought to have a deeper life with God. Jesus responded to him with the words, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).

This should be the aspiration of all who seek to follow Jesus.

The Psalm reflects the same aspiration- “create in me a clean heart.” The Hebrew word “create,” bara, is the word which is used right at the very beginning of creation. God created a new creation (Genesis 1:1); a new animal kingdom (Genesis 1:21); a new humanity (Genesis 1:27). The Psalms always express the thought that God is about the task of creation and renewal all the time. And, this work of creation is always accomplished by his Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:10, 11; Psalm 104:30). However, in order for God to accomplish this work of creation, one has to die to oneself. One cannot be a new creation, unless one lets the old person die.

The apostles describe the new community of Messiah followers to be a new creation. The old barriers which divided human being are put to death, and in Messiah, a new community is born (Ephesians 2:10). The aspiration of all Messiah-followers therefore should be to create a brand new community, “created after the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:24), just like in Genesis 1:27. This is the mission of the new Messiah-community.

The Book of Acts, chapter 2, describes the birth of this new community with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It must be noted that this is just like the act of creation in Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit gave birth to the new universe (Genesis 1:2).

We are living the next chapter of the Book of Acts.

May we seek to be a new being and a new community, so that the creation work of the Holy Spirit may be accomplished around us, and world around us would become a new creation.

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You my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But, do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13, NIV)

I write this blog on the 4th of July 2019. It is the day that recognizes the declaration of independence of the USA from the British monarch in 1776. This is celebrated with much pomp and celebration.

Human beings were created to be free. Sadly, in the history of humanity, kings and despots, usually regarded as gods, have always enslaved other human beings. The latter were abused with horrible forms of injustice.

In the Hebrew Bible, the exodus community is always reminded to remember that they were slaves in Egypt. They were forced to worship Pharaoh and the Egyptian pantheon of gods. Therefore, the Torah warned them never allowed to enslave other human beings. In order to make sure, the newly freed people are told, that they must always practice a sabbatical year. This is year in which all debt was supposed to be forgiven (Deuteronomy 15). There was not supposed to be any poverty among the people, because people- everyone, was supposed to be free. This was political freedom, economic freedom, social freedom, psychological freedom- freedom in every area of life.

Sadly, later in history, Jeremiah the prophet mourns the fact that the people of God did not observe this crucial God-given human right- to be free (Jeremiah 34). He declares that if they do not consider human rights and environmental rights, as the core status of society, then the land itself will vomit them out, according to the Torah, Leviticus 25:18.

The last book of the Hebrew Bible is Chronicles. It declares that the people of God were driven out of the land, because they enslaved fellow human beings and God’s good land. Therefore, “the land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” (2 Chronicles 36:11-14, 21).

Jesus and the apostles, in the New Testament, always underline this core teaching of the Torah. Jesus says to the Sadducees and the Pharisees, “You are doing to me what your ancestors did to Jeremiah and the prophets. However `If you hold to my Torah, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:31-32).”

Paul the Apostle warns the early Church not to repeat the unjust practices of the people of Jeremiah’s days. He writes, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But, do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13, NIV). The antidote to the problem of slavery and injustice, in history, is counterintuitive. True freedom is when people serve each other and God’s good creation, in love.

May we serve each other, and serve God’s good creation, in love.

Blessed Day of Freedom, my friends!

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