Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I write these thoughts from the country of Colombia. I have been conducting seminars on a Gandhi, Jesus and Conflict Transformation in two cities- Medellin and El Bagre. During this time, I have spent time with amazing groups of young people who have had to deal with the aftereffects of much violence in these parts of Colombia. These are young people who have lost their fathers. Many have been displaced from farmlands. They now live in shanty towns on the hills surrounding the city of Medellin, and in El Bagre. Many girls and boys talked about much abuse that they have suffered and abuse their friends have suffered.

Colombian cities are divided into socio-economic classes. These range from 1 to 6, or some people classify them from 0 to 7. The 0 and 1 level people are below the poverty line. They usually belong to the indigenous communities of South America, or the descendants of African slaves, and the people displaced by 30+ years of violence. The 6 or 7 class categories are the richest and the most powerful. These come from the descendants of the Spanish people.

The poor are poor because of years and years of armed conflict between the drug lords, the army, and the paramilitaries. The people who suffered the most were the villagers, and the farmers. These were the ones who were killed, and their villages wiped out.

I spent much time in training young people from the 0 and 1 classes of society to bring about a peaceful change in society. They are called Peacemakers.

I fell in love with these amazing young people from the most destitute and poverty-stricken sections of society. They reminded me of my own upbringing among the poverty stricken outcaste and low caste sections of society in the New Delhi slum.

The Bible constantly reminds us that God has always chosen the poor, destitute, and powerless people’s groups. These have always been the people’s groups who have become followers of Jesus.

In his mission statement, from what could well have been Jesus’ Bar Mitzvah text, Jesus proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

This was the mission statement of his disciples, as they went to proclaim the Good News from one city to another.

Corinth was one of those cities. It was divided between the rich and the poor. The poor were always the immigrants and the people who had suffered the most at the hands of the different warring factions. In this context, Paul exclaims, “Has not God chosen the unknown, the inferior, and the despised in the world; the people who are treated with contempt and are regarded as nothing; people who are the weak of the world!”

The opposite of these were the well-known, who-is-who of society; the superior castes and classes; the most desired people; the people treated with much regard and awe; the rich and the powerful.

Sadly, this latter group of people were responsible for much violence against the former.

In Medellin and El Bagre, Colombia, I saw the result of this terrible calamity.

This is the context of the Peacebuilding Youth teams which I taught. The young people of the Covenant churches in both these cities are courageously seeking to do much to bring healing and peace to the girls and boys of the weak and the displaced people of these cities. They are given the opportunity to play soccer together to learn peaceful methods. These girls and boys discuss ideas to build peace and non-violently oppose sexual and physical abuse. They go from door to door in the shanty towns in their shantytown neighborhoods and spread this message of justice and peace.

Many times, I was in tears listening to the stories of these girls and boys. Yet, it was so awesome to see the courage of these young people to bring about lasting change in society. They told stories of how this girl or that boy- their friend, has found Jesus, and has come out of dependence on drugs, and is on the road to recovery.

These are the weak and the powerless that God has chosen to bring his message of peace and salvation to the world!

Read Full Post »

The Apostle Paul is always talking about suffering. It seems like a rather ominous attitude towards life. He says in the same affectionate letter to Timothy, his protégé, “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”  (2 Timothy 2:3).

Different World Religions have different attitudes towards suffering.

In Buddhism, this is what defines life. Life is dukkha, suffering. The only way to escape suffering is to gain the buddhi, knowledge that in reality life is nothing, shunyata. As long as one thinks life is reality, one will suffer.

In Hinduism, people suffer because of their karma, i.e., the consequences of the deeds they did in their last lives. If only they had lived the right kind of life, according to their caste, they would not suffer in this life. So, one must suffer to bear the consequences of the last life, and go through the cycle of karma and samsara, i.e. the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. This is re-incarnation.

In Islam, one suffers because it is insha Allah, i.e. it is the will of Allah. Therefore, one must suffer, when one is suffering.

There is much more complexity to the above. But, these summarize the teachings in a couple of world’s religions.

The Apostle Paul and the Bible look at suffering differently. Human beings were not created to suffer. Human beings were created to enjoy the presence of God and the “goodness” of creation, in the Garden of Eden. Sadly, human beings have left the presence of God, and as a result of that, cause suffering to each other, to themselves, and to God. Genesis 3 and the following chapters describe awful “evil” which human beings do to each other. The Greek word used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible is kakos, the same word used by Paul to suffer “evil.” (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 19:9, 19; Exodus 1:11; 3:7, and so on). Each time God sees “evil” he enters into human history to eradicate evil. More importantly, each time God himself suffers with the suffering, as in Exodus 3:7, 8, “Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the “suffering” of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them.”

In the Bible, human beings do not suffer because of bad karma; or because life is suffering; or that it is will of God. Human beings suffer because of human evil and sin.

The biblical answer is “God suffers with the suffering.”

Therefore, in a climactic way, God became human, in Christ, and suffered with the suffering. During his life, whenever Jesus the Messiah saw suffering he touched human beings to eradicate suffering. We read this throughout the Gospels. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, healed all those who suffered. Here are a few examples from the Gospel of Matthew (4:24; 8:16; 9:12; 14:35; and so on). Towards the end of his life Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, kept reminding his disciples that he must “suffer” many things, and be rejected by the religious leaders, and finally be crucified. Here are a few examples from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9: 22; 17:25; 22:15; 24:26, 46).

The biblical answer is also the community of God, in Christ the LORD. The community of God is asked to suffer with the suffering, just like the Messiah suffered with the suffering. Paul himself was told that this must be the centerpiece of his ministry (Acts 9:16). Therefore, throughout his own ministry Paul says, that just like his Messiah, he also must suffer (Romans 8:18; Philippians 3:10; 2 Timothy 3:11; and so on). He also urges the community of Christ to suffer for the suffering, just like their Messiah (2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Galatians 5:24; and so on).

In the Bible, yes, suffering is a reality. It is a reality because of human sin and injustice.  Yet, this reality also has a solution, which is profoundly experienced by the Church in the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. Human beings enter into the Garden of Eden, and participate in the body and the blood of Christ- the central focus of his suffering.

Yet, in the Bible, that is not the final word on suffering. Suffering will finally come to an end.

The Apostle John exclaims,

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Rev 21:1-6 NIV)

That will be the end of suffering. It will be the entrance into the Garden of Eden.

Read Full Post »

Jesus constantly taught his disciples lessons in education. The Gospel of John records some of these very profound moments of education. In John chapter 15 Jesus says, “I AM the True Vine, and my Father is the Gardner.” First, Jesus proclaims himself to be the LORD, who revealed himself to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. He says he is the everlasting I AM. Two, he declares that the image of God is that of a Father. Three, this Father is the Great Farmer. Four, this Farmer is one who prunes the branches, so that the vine becomes an immensely good and beautiful vine. Five, this happens when the human beings abide in the Vine.

Jesus stresses these lessons in education from the field of the agricultural sciences, botany, and farming. The theoretical and the professional education blend together. Much in contrast to modern methods of education, Jesus sees no distinction between the two. Theoretical and professional learn from each other. The sciences, humanities, and professions learn from each other. Each of these flow from a relationship between God the Son and God the Father.

God the Father is a Farmer God. This is a mindboggling picture of God. No one among the who-is-who of the society during the time of Jesus ever wanted to be farmer. The Sadducees and the Pharisees disdained farmers. They never wanted to go anywhere near farmers. This was also true of the larger Roman and Greek societies. Farmers were uncouth, uneducated people from far-flung areas like Nazareth. In calling God the Father, a Farmer, Jesus was making a strong counterculture statement. Learn from God the Father, the Farmer God.

In global society, even today, farmers are regarded as low level people. I was reared in India. Every year I go back to India to teach in the PhD program of a university called the Sam Higginbottom University of Agricultural and Technological Sciences. It was a university started by a Christian missionary, Sam Higginbottom, who sought to address the huge injustices against farmers in Indian religion and society. Even today, when I pick up the newspapers in India, I read about these injustices against farmers. The newspapers in India tell me that on an average 12,000 farmers commit suicide, every year. According to the United Nations reports, a farmer commits suicide every 32 minutes in India. These UN reports enumerate the plight of tens of thousands of women who are widowed, and endure much injustice and pain, including sexual trafficking, because of these injustices against low caste and outcaste farmers.

SHUATS university seeks to address these complex issues of injustice against low caste and outcaste peoples’ groups. In SHUATS education, theoretical sciences, humanities, and the professions meet in a profound way to address issues of injustices against low caste and outcaste peoples’ groups.

Jesus was addressing similar injustices of his day, when he said, “I AM the Vine, and my father is the Gardner.”

The Gardner prunes the branches.

In the Hebrew Bible, the word for pruning is zamar. It is the verb from which we get the Hebrew word for Psalms, Mizmor, or songs. When society is pruned by the Great Farmer, it becomes a society that is educated to make sweet music. Otherwise, it remains as a society which can only produce a cacophony. That is what injustice does to global society. The injustices against farmers, and other peoples’ groups, produces a sad, mournful cacophony. But, the pruning education of the Great Farmer God produces sweet melodious music.

This is one of the goals of education. Pruning. It is learning the art and science of pruning from the Great Farmer Father God so that society would produce a melodious harmony, as was global society in Genesis 1.

Another lesson that Jesus stresses is the act of Abiding in the True Vine.

In modern education, there is a distance between the subject and the teacher. In Jesus kind of education. The teacher and the subject become one. The teacher is the Farmer. The teacher is the subject- the Vine. The students are only students, when they become a part of the True Vine. Good students are urged to “Abide in the Vine.” This is the goal of Christ like education. It seeks to eradicate the distance between the teacher and the student; between the teacher and the subject; and between the student and the subject.

The goal of good Christian education enables the students to lose themselves and become a part of the Great Vine- Jesus the Messiah. It is to enable the Great Farmer to prune, zamar, the branches, so that they would produce a beautiful harmony of justice and righteousness in global society. This is the goal of Christian education.

Read Full Post »

The prophets always point out the sins of the people, as does Isaiah in the beginning of this book. They also offer solutions to the problem if human sin.

The question that we must ask is what is sin? Is it things like lying, theft, adultery, etc.? Or is it much deeper than that.

Generally, in the history of the Church, sins are put under two categories: One, sins of commission. The above sins would be characterized as sins of commission; Two, sins of omission. These would be sins where, e.g., one did not speak the truth, when one could have spoken the truth to a particular situation, and so on.

The usage of the word, “sin” in the Bible, seems to suggest to me, that “sin” is not merely a “doing” thing. It is a “being” thing. “Doing” sin is superficial. “Being” sin is deep and intrinsic to a person and society. The Bible addresses this right up front, before the first act of violence is committed. Cain and Abel, the two sons of Adam and Eve are doing the two kinds of works that humanity were supposed to be doing, i.e. “working” and “keeping.” In Genesis 2:15, these are both worship actions. The Hebrew words, avad, and shamar, are both worship words. The difference between Cain and Abel, is in their inner being. Abel brings to the LORD “the first fruits,” from the depth of his being (Genesis 4:4). Whereas, Cain brings to the LORD an offering, that he just picks up along the way. The LORD saw the stark difference between the depths of their beings in the quality of their offerings. He accepts the person of Abel and his offering. Cain, in response, goes deeper into his “sin.” Therefore, “The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your face fallen? If your being is not good, you will not be lifted up. You will go deeper into your sin and depression. And if you are not “good”, sin is crouching at the door of your very inner being. It desires you. It desires to consume you. However, you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:5, 6). Sadly, Cain did not listen to the voice of the LORD. Instead, he kills his own little brother! He kills a human being. In Hebrew, the word for human being, is adam. The LORD comes to Cain and says, “What have you done, the voice of your brother’s blood (Hebrew, dam), yes, your brother the human being, Adam, is crying out from the ground (Hebrew, adamah) (Genesis 4:10). The relationship between these words is intentional in the Hebrew Bible. We miss this intentionality completely, in our English translations.

This is sin. It is actions which flow from the deep being of humanity. It is usually between human brothers and sisters. It usually has religious animosity behind it, as is the case between Cain and Abel. The latter brings a “first fruits” offering, expressing the purity and honesty of his being. Cain, in contrast, brings an offering, which is demeaning to the Creator. He further gets consumed by religious jealousy against his own brother. It consumes and rots his being. As a result of this, he commits a gruesome act of violence, against his own little brother. It is important to note that this violence is against humanity. Yet, in the Hebrew text, it is more than that. The “ground, adamah,” or the creation itself, is impacted with acts of sin and violence. The “blood, dam” of a human being, adam, cries out from the ground, adamah.” Human sins, first emerge out of the depth of the being of humanity. It, then has vast and deep ramifications. It impacts all of God’s “good” creation, because human beings do not do “good.”

The prophets are constantly reminding the people of these complex ramifications.

I teach at a Christian university- North Park University. We have our students engage with whole range of subjects- sociology, economics, botany, chemistry, zoology, education, business, philosophy, and the such. It seems to me, just like the prophets of old, the mission of the Christian university is to first, hear and discern, the voice of the “blood”  of humanity, which cries out from the ground/creation. It is to discover how these sins have impacted the very being of humanity and creation. Then, a Christian university must, just like the prophets, come up with solutions, which bring about healing to the very being of humanity and creation. At a Christian university, we must do this in our complex liberal arts engagement with subjects of humanities and the sciences.

The biblical solution, is a very deep solution. It is the blood, dam, of God himself. The blood, dam, of Jesus the Messiah, on the cross. This is what Christians remember in the holy communion. “This is my blood,” says the LORD Jesus the Messiah. “This is my body,” says the LORD Jesus the Messiah. It seeps into the very being of humanity, and radically changes humanity from the inside out. The apostles call this is “mystery.” It is a mystical transformation of the very being of humanity.

In the Christian university, like North Park University, where I teach, the calling is to apply the fruit of this transformation to a robust, vast, and complex liberal arts education.

At North Park University, the city of Chicago is the classroom. We enable our students to engage with these issues in Chicago. We go into neighborhoods, where our students see the very being of society, impacted by sin and violence. Then, we enable them to come up with deep and lasting biblical solutions to these vast and complex sins. We also take our students to other parts of the USA, like the “Trail of Tears,” in southeastern USA; and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. We take them to other parts of the world, like the River Ganges in India; and the Zulu hills of South Africa. Our students encounter many “Cains” of modern history. But, they also hear the voices of “Abel,” and come up with Christian solutions to these deep sins of humanity.

This is Christian higher education.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Read Full Post »

In one of the most profound moments of sorrow, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He had just celebrated another profound existential moment with his disciples-the Passover. This was the remembrance of another great moment- the Exodus. During this Jewish moment of remembrance, the people partake of four cups- the cup of justice; the cup of judgement; the cup of redemption; and the cup of praise. The third cup was the cup of the blood of the lamb- the Pesach sacrificial lamb. While Jesus was explaining this cup, Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20). The Gospels make it plain that all four cups of the Passover imbibe the Cup to which Jesus refers.

Following the Passover meal, Jesus, with his disciples, goes to the Mount of Olives. They had to go through the “valley of shadow of death” on the way to the Mount of Olives. In Jewish tradition, this was the place from which the final great resurrection would take place. In the light of this, to this day, Jewish people prefer to be buried on the Mount of Olives.

On the Mount of Olives, Jesus was in profound grief. He took his closest disciples with him- Peter, James, and John. He asked them to experience this grief with him. Sadly, they fell asleep, like the Prophet Jonah, and could not care less about the grief of their Lord. It was at this profound moment of sorrow that Jesus uttered the above words.

What is nature and meaning of the cup?

In the Joseph narrative one encounters an insightful moment in an ancient context of the cup. Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, says to the cup bearer, “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer.” (Genesis 40:13). The cupbearer was the most intimate and trustworthy companion to the ancient king. He was willing to die for the king. He was the protector of the king, and the savior of the king. This is indeed what Jesus did. The Son of God drank the cup of suffering to bring together God the Father and humanity. Yet, sadly none of his disciples were with him when he faced this most profound moment of sorrow. Perhaps, if his disciples were with him at this moment of sorrow, they themselves would have stuck with him till the end, instead of running away helter-skelter.

Nathan, the prophet uses the same imagery, when he confronts David regarding his most horrible rape of a poor and alien woman- the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was a faithful servant of David. He died for David, while the king was taking advantage of his absence by abusing his wife. To drive home this point, Nathan tells the story of the poor man and his relationship to the lamb. He says, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.” (1 Samuel 12:1-3). The ewe lamb and the poor man had a close relationship, and this was seen in the most profound moment. They drank from the same cup. It is a cup that the rich man was not able to understand. Neither did he care about it. Because, he was intent on causing the poor to suffer to the most excruciating extent. Nathan was pointing out to David that this is indeed what he did when he abused the alien Uriah and his dear wife. It was the cup of suffering.

The Cup of Suffering, more poignantly, is also the Cup of Salvation. This is the mystery of the Cup. The Psalms would often refer to this cup. Following are a few examples: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD (Psalm 116:13); “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup (Psalm 16:5); “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23: 5). There is profound joy in the midst of excruciating pain.

This mystery of the cup, sadly, the first disciples of Jesus, did not experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the light of the lessons they had learnt, this very same mystery of suffering and joy of the Cup is what the early apostles of the Lord urged the Church to experience in the Holy Communion. The Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Holy Communion, is the clearest example of this mystery, in I Corinthians 11. He reprimands the early Church, because they were doing the exact opposite of the mystery of the cup. Their Communion was actually fostering divisions between the rich and the poor; and the powerful and the powerless; and so on. The Apostle Paul is flabbergasted by this. He says, “Don’t you understand this Cup of Suffering and Salvation is supposed to bring healing to all these systems of evil in society?”

What is the solution to this dilemma? One, the Cup of Suffering and Salvation are two sides of the same cup. Two, the Cup of Suffering precedes the Cup of Salvation in the Passover. We can only understand the meaning of the Salvation, when we first experience the Cup of Suffering.

Read Full Post »

 The Bible says much about shepherds and sheep. In Ancient Near Eastern society, shepherds were regarded as very low level people. No one wanted to be associated with shepherds. If one did so, one would bring oneself lower in the estimation of others.

The first murder of a human being in the Book of Genesis was the murder of a shepherd. Cain, the farmer, killed his brother Abel, the shepherd. After he killed him, the LORD said to Cain, what have you done, your brother is a man (Hebrew Adam). His blood (Hebrew dam) is crying out from the ground (Hebrew Adamah). This violence led to the desecration of the earth, God’s creation.

One finds this kind of a revulsion against shepherds throughout the Book of Genesis, especially against Abraham’s lineage, because they were all shepherds.

Towards the end of the Book of Genesis, when Jacob brings his whole family to dwell in Egypt, they had to settle a far distance from the Egyptian people, because “shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians.” (Genesis 46:34). It is therefore noteworthy that when Moses fled into the wilderness, from Pharaoh’s palace, he became a shepherd. He chose to become just like his people, rather than remain like a royal Egyptian. In some senses, it was like a revolt against the religious and social system of Egypt.

In Exodus 3, God reveals himself to Moses as a God of the shepherds, in the wilderness, at Mount Sinai. The Shepherd God says to Moses, “I have SEEN their affliction; I have HEARD their cries; I KNOW their sufferings; and I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians (Exodus 3:7-8). These are three things shepherds always do.

When this God delivers the people from the mighty power of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and his army, it is through the instrument of Moses’ shepherd’s staff. The shepherds staff is shown to be more powerful that the serpent god of the Egyptians; the shepherds staff has power over the holy river Nile (Exodus 4); and Moses uses the shepherds staff to create a dryland for the people to cross the Red Sea (Exodus 14). The Shepherd God uses the instrument of the shepherd- the staff, to do so many amazing miracles.

Three crucial shepherd Psalms capture the image of the shepherd and the sheep quite clearly. These are Psalms 22, 23 and 24. In ancient Jewish liturgy, all three of these Psalms were considered to be Messianic Psalms and were sung together. It is generally presumed that on the cross, Jesus recited just the first verse of Psalm 22.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1)

I am of the opinion that Jesus recited all three Psalms 22, 23 and 24. According to the Jewish liturgy and lectionary of his time, these three Psalms were always recited together.

In Psalm 22, Jesus cries out, the cries of the sheep, as he became a part of the human community, towards his Abba, the Shepherd.

He says:

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me;

they pierce my hands and my feet.

All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly, I will praise you.

(Psalm 22:11-22 NIV)

 

The sheep Messiah goes on to express his faith in the Abba, in Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

(Psalm 23:1-6 NIV)

On the cross, Jesus was in his darkest moment of life, yet he was able to say, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley. I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and staff the comfort me.” The rod is the offensive instrument of the shepherd. The staff is the defensive instrument of the shepherd. Jesus knows that the Abba God will protect him in his darkest hour with both of these instruments of protection and care. The Psalm ends with the thought that death is not the end. He will arise from the grave and conquer death.

Psalm 24, then looks toward the future glory of this Messiah. He became incarnate as a sheep. But, he will return as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

 Lift up your heads, you gates;

be lifted up, you ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?

The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

 Lift up your heads, you gates;

lift them up, you ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

 Who is he, this King of glory?

The LORD Almighty– he is the King of glory.

(Psalm 24:7-10 NIV)

 

Keeping all three of these psalms in mind, during his lifetime, Jesus declared:

“I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11).  Saying these words, Jesus declared that he is the I AM, Shepherd God, YHWH, who revealed himself to Moses in the wilderness. He led the people through the wilderness.

In this Good Shepherd passages Jesus goes on to say, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27).

I have learnt much in my observations of shepherds in the villages of India, and among the Bedouin shepherds of the Holy Land. The relationship between the sheep and shepherds is one of mutual trust, care, and love. For the shepherds, these are not just animals, they are family. The shepherds know each sheep by name, and will point out all the individual characteristics of the sheep. “That Yaqoub is a shy one,” they say. Or “that Jameel is a stubborn one.”

The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd. In India, as in the ancient and modern Middle East. Each shepherd has a distinctive call or whistle for the sheep. The sheep recognize the call of its shepherd and follows that call. Many times, it is from a great distance. But, they somehow hear, and they follow.

I must confess, I tried the call, and it did not work.

It is a mutual hearing. The shepherd hears the cries of the sheep. He recognizes the sound of pain, sorrow, danger, or whatever it may be. In turn the sheep also recognize the voice and call of the shepherd. They know this is a call of “we are done for the day. Let us go back.” Or “come back quickly, there is a lion lurking in the corner.” Problems arise for the sheep, when they get confused about the sound of their own shepherd, and they are led away into dangerous territory. That is when the shepherd come back to get them, and gather them, with  his shepherd’s staff. He gently counts them to make sure they are all accounted for, as he goes to each, and calls them by name.

I think that is what Abraham, Moses, David, and others learnt about being a shepherd. That is the logos, pathos and ethos of the God they encountered.

That is the kind of Shepherd Jesus is to those who follow him, and seek to always carefully listen to his unique and gentle voice.

That is the kind of shepherd he wants the leaders of the Christian church to be.

The very last words that Jesus spoke to Peter were repeated three times, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these . . . feed my lambs . . . feed my sheep . . . feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-19)

My mentor, in shepherding ministry, Pastor Charles Warren was just promoted to glory. He is in the presence of the Great Shepherd. Those are two things, he taught me so well, as a young 24 year old pastor, of a slum-church in Delhi.

Listen to the voice of the Great Shepherd. Love the Great Shepherd.

Listen to the voice of the sheep. Love the sheep.

“If you do these two things,” he said, “You will do well in pastoral ministry.”

Read Full Post »

Developing ethos, virtues, habits of life, is a very crucial thing. According to ethicist Alasdair McIntyre, a society or an individual practices virtue ethics, when good words and deeds flow from the depths of a person or society without even giving it a second thought. It is when a person says, “Do not call me a hero. I just did what I have developed a habit to do. Or, I just said what I developed a habit to say.”

At the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus celebrated the Passover Seder with his disciples, then he went to the Mount of Olives to pray, as was his “ethos,” and the disciples followed him (Luke 22:39). There was also a “place of encounter” on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus spent time in communion with his Abba, as was his “ethos.” There he urged his disciples, to pray, and he went on a little further, and prayed, “Abba, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Was this prayer his ethos, as well? Perhaps, it was. Jesus made it his ethos to do and say everything in communion with the Abba. He had an ethos of prayer, at a particular place of communion- Gethsemane.

“Being in agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). In Hebrew and in Aramaic- the language of Jesus, the words “blood” and “ground” are intrinsically connected to each other. A good example of this is found in Genesis 4, where Cain, killed his own brother Abel. Then, the LORD said to Cain, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood (Hebrew dam), is crying out from the ground (Hebrew adamah).” (Genesis 4:10). In Hebrew, this word is also related to the word for a human being or man- Adam. In the Luke 22:44, the Son of Man (Hebrew Ben Adam), Jesus the Messiah, is in deep agony, and his blood (Hebrew dam), is crying out from the ground (Hebrew adamah). It is as if Jesus’ ethos of prayer caused him to bear years and years of the results of violence, bloodshed, and sin in human history.

He was teaching is disciples to develop this ethos.

Sadly, when Jesus came to his disciples, he found them “sleeping for sorrow.” (Luke 22:45). In Greek, their sleep was as if they were as good as dead. This state of being dead to the world, and to God, was caused by deep sorrow. Jesus recognized this, and so had said to his disciples, “Develop an ethos of prayer-deep agonizing prayer, because human history has got so much pain, agony, sin, and violence.”

When one considers all that is going on in the world, even today, it is only natural for followers of Jesus to go into a state of slumber, in deep seclusion, and depression. The antidote to this, just like Jesus’ ethos is to “watch and pray.”

Jesus says to them, “Arise and pray. Develop an ethos of resurrection and prayer. That is the only way to overcome deep systemic sin in human history. If you do not do this, you will go into a state of deep slumber, and depression.”

 

 

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

 

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

The Tree of Life

The Great Lent Readings: Genesis 2:25-3:21; Isaiah 3:1-14; Proverbs 3:13-34

The reading from the third part of the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs 3:13-34 is full of themes from the Garden of Eden. The canonical intertextual connection of the three books- Genesis, Isaiah and Proverbs is quite poignant and clear, as is stressed in these Great Lent readings.

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew. (Pro 3:13-20 NIV)

The theme of a Blessed or Happy life it the big theme of the third part of the Hebrew Bible. It begins with Psalm 1.

Blessed or Happy is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither– whatever they do prospers. (Psa 1:1-3 NIV)

Woman Wisdom is the Tree of Life.

It is with Wisdom that God made the whole creation.

Sadly, in Genesis 3, the evil religion of the Serpent, caused the primeval parents to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge. It was a tree created by God. It was good. But, ancient religions misused this tree to commit horrible acts. Kings and priests would abuse women under this tree- usually fig tree, banyan tree or grape tree. This was a religious ritual. They committed these horrible acts after eating and drinking from the fruit of the tree. According to ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese and Indian religions, human beings experienced divinity, when they participated in this ritual.

In modern day terminology, this would be called human trafficking of women.

Isaiah the prophet mourns that this is what was happening in his day, as well. Both the men and women of Jerusalem were copying the heinous deeds of the other religions.

The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty. (Isa 3:14-15 NIV)

The antidote to these heinous acts is found in Psalm 1 and Proverbs 3. Humanity is urged to find the Wisdom of God. She is a Tree of Life. In biblical thought this Tree of Life is the Word of God, the Torah. When human beings dwell on the Tree of Life, it will wipe away all forms of injustices.  It will bring about the Kingdom of God, here on earth. This is the solution to all forms of injustices promulgated against “the widows and the orphans” of global society.

Read Full Post »