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Archive for the ‘Lenten Thought’ Category

The core Lenten readings for the fourth Saturday of Lent are Genesis 18:1-15, and Luke 9:10-17.  “At the Appointed time next year I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:14). This text forms the heart of this crucial narrative of the LORD’s revelation to Abraham. The introduction says, “The LORD appeared to him;” (Genesis 18:1); the next verse says, “three men” appeared to him (Genesis 18:2). This, quite clearly is the human revelation of God- a series of revelations in the Hebrew Bible, which ultimately culminate in the final revelation of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah, God Incarnate.

The LORD promises to return at the “appointed time.” In Hebrew, this word connotes a miraculous revelation of God to do a supernatural miracle. This miracle was the conception, and birth of a son through a couple who were way, way, beyond their childbearing time. Sure enough, “Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son, in his old age, at the appointed time” (Genesis 21:2).  Throughout the Bible, these “appointed times,” were times of dramatic, divine encounters.  This Hebrew word is found for the first time in the Bible in the creation narrative, when God placed the lights in the expanse of the skies to be “for signs and appointed times” (Genesis 1:14).  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, these were reminders of God’s appointed times of encounter with humanity.  Finally, the New Testament claims, “at the fullness of the appointed time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman,” (Galatians 4:4). This miracle of the birth of the Incarnate One was very much in the mold of the miracle of the birth of the son of Abraham and Sarah.

The Gospel reading reminds the Lenten worshipper that this incarnate one did many “signs and miracles-“ ones that only the Divine One could do.  The rest of the New Testament reminds us that the same God who revealed himself to Abraham, Sarah and the disciples is able to do “signs and miracles,” even today, at “the appointed times.”

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The lectionary readings on the fourth Thursday of Lent, in the churches of the East, reminds the worshipper of a very central thesis of the Bible- “God is a forgiving Father.” Two texts, which are highlighted are the Ten Commandments passage, Deut. 5:6-21; and the story of the lost and dead son, Luke 15:11-32).

The Ten Commandments are based on the concept of the fatherhood of God. He saves the people from the systemic evils of the world. For this reason the people are told that they are to worship him, and him alone (Deuteronomy 5:6).  This command was not given merely to portray haughty and dogmatic exclusivism. A study of the religions of the world reveals that other ideas of divinity in the religions of society were designed to propagate slavery and systemic forms of evil. The worshipper is reminded that the God of the Bible is the only true God and savior, who eschews all these forms of systemic and personal evil.

One might ask the question, what if one goes astray from this central thesis of the Ten Commandments? Is one a gone case? Jesus says, “No.” He illustrates this with the story of the younger son in Luke 15:11-32.  The younger son rejected his father by asking for his share of the property, and goes away to explore society and religions. He is thrilled by the initial euphoria and freedom to explore. Sadly, he finds out that it eventually leads him to despair. He finds himself subjected to enslavement and pig-animal like treatment- pretty much like the original Exodus community experienced in their enslavement in Egypt. Thankfully, he decides to “arise-” very interestingly, the Greek word used to describe Jesus’ resurrection, and go back to his father.  Starkly, the picture, which Jesus paints of this father, is very unlike the proud Eastern father. This father has been eagerly looking for the “lost and dead son.” This father has a deep surge of compassion, which rises from the depth of his bowels (Greek, splangchna). This father runs like an Eastern patriarch would never run. He throws himself at his son, like a proud old man in the East never would. This father showers his lost and dead son with many kisses. Then this father throws a party!

The Lenten worshipper is reminded, “God is a forgiving Father.” He is not a despot who must be pleased with all kinds of rituals.

The call to the Lenten reader is, “Return to this Father, oh lost and dead child! Arise, for he is your father and longs for you to arise and return!”

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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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