TOUCHING THE UNTOUCHABLE! REFLECTIONS ON GARBO SUNDAY: MARCH 5, 2017

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The study of the Bible is absolutely necessary for the nourishment of Christian life. The facts which the Scriptures present are the basis of faith in the Trinitarian God. Acquaintance with these prophetic and devotional facts in the light of the contemporary world realities is the only sensible means to imbibe and disseminate a true dynamic Christian faith. The nourishment of the Scriptures is necessary to the spiritual life as that of food to the body. The following Bible study is based on the Gospel reading on the ‘Sunday of the Leper’ from St. Luke 5: 12-16; and St. Luke 4: 40-42.

And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.” However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed (St. Luke 5: 12-16).

When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ (St. Luke 4: 40-42).

To me these beautiful verses portrait various dimensions of Jesus ministry; for example his Gospel ministry, Social ministry, Prayer ministry, and Healing ministry are all mentioned here in an integrated fashion.  The beginning of chapter five depicts Jesus gospel ministry; And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men” (St. Luke 5:10). This is followed by a portrait of Jesus social ministry; a depiction of his interaction with a marginalized, stigmatized and dehumanized leper is portrayed followed by a miracle of healing. Finally, Jesus prayer ministry is also depicted; he went to wilderness for prayer and to refuel the spirituality for sustaining his ministry.

Let’s have a look at the context of Jesus social and healing ministry with the leaper. Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him (St. Luke 5: 13).  If you look into this story, cracking the healing part, it is very clear that Jesus did something unconventional! He challenged the cultural misconceptions and social prejudice by ‘touching a leper’. The word challenging has got different meanings to different people. What does challenging means? Challenging does not mean ‘shoot first and ask questions later’, or disobeying parents or elders. Believe me sometimes they are sick, idiosyncratic in their value systems and Hippocratic! But challenging does not mean raise voice against something that stands in our way, I mean against our freedom of choice, our freedom to dress, to talk or to date!

The term challenging has got a social meaning and implication, especially in a Christian context. Number one, it assumes that we human beings are capable of using our freedom in a responsible way. Imagine you are standing on the top of the Sears Tower. You can see the traffic, cars and trucks moving on the road like ants marching. When you watched closely you could see a car moving in the wrong direction. You could easily anticipate that it’s going to hit another car coming in the opposite direction. Can you do something? Of course something can be done; but the point here is there are traffic rules and regulations and the car driver is supposed to follow them. She has the freedom to travel in wherever way she likes, the only presumption is that she will have to follow the driving regulations or rules. Friends, it’s up to us, whether to follow the right way or to head against the expectations; this is a kind of irresponsible and aimless challenging! Moreover, it’s our choice whether we want to enjoy the ‘myth of total freedom’ or behave in a responsible way.

Number two, challenging in a Christian context aims at social transformation. Social transformation is not a familiar concept in the Orthodox context. But it’s very important to live in the current sociopolitical context and to meaningfully involve and live in the present. Many times we are ignorant about the political and economic chaos and struggles around us. We may have little idea about what is happening in Syria or in Egypt; May not even heard that the fast-food employees in New York are on strike demanding minimum wages. The people and the world around us are going through various turmoil and challenges. What I’m trying to say is as an Orthodox Christian youth we also should get exposed to the social transformation activities like human rights-non-violence movements, Anti-war movements, and free software movements! The spirit of this argument is the bottom-line of Christian ideology; never dissociate our faith and life with the society, culture, art, work or with politics.

Young adulthood is the best time in human lifespan. You guys are full of energy, you guys look for fun, you guys look for innovation, and I believe you can also take part in Jesus social ministry. As we become older our energy level and enthusiasm declines. I believe in the power of youth. Take my words, the youth in our church can do lot of challenging activities in the ministry of social transformation.

Follow the daily news, not the Cowboy or Mavericks insider; but news about what is happening around the world. Get updated about people’s struggle like what is happening in Wall Street in New York? Who is helped by raising the minimum wages? Why does the richest country (USA) in the world have the second highest child poverty? Why the land of the free is the home of the world’s largest prison population? Many youths are very alive in the social networking sites. Get involved in the social campaigns for peace, justice and humanity by sharing or liking in Facebook or twitter. You may think you have better works to do, I know, but keep an eye on this too.

Why I’m saying this because, we should acknowledge one thing: the so called freedom we enjoy and the rights we have is not our privilege! We enjoy freedom because somebody fought for us sometime back and it’s truly Christian to do something back to society. Moreover, it’s a Christian ministry to take care of our fellow beings and our environment.

The bible verses says Jesus touched the leper; touching the leaper reflects the call for not to ‘discriminate’ anyone based on illness, cast, class, sex, race or even based on sexual preferences. This may be controversial, but the Kingdom of God is for everyone. Remember, touching a leper was controversial at the time of Jesus, but not in the 21st century. Believe in the magic of time and walk ahead of time!

At a more personal level, we can see Jesus is ‘empathizing’ with a leper. I mean there is an action component, not just the faith alone- he touched and healed. A proactive action is much higher than simply sympathizing (which we frequently do in our daily life). We feel sorry about a lot of things, we feel sorry about others illness, others fate, others helpless situations. We may say one hundred times that ‘I feel sorry about him/ her’ but there is any action. Of course it is easy to sympathize and move on with our busy schedule. And that’s quite okay. But do something meaningful in your daily life (at least occasionally!) that can relieve someone’s stress, pain, or burden.

If possible, get involved in volunteer work, be a good listener, listen to someone, especially listen to old people, listen to their stories (Please, do not charge on hourly basis!) reassure them to make them feel their existence meaningful, write a blog, tweet something that can help and inspire your friends about your experience with a helpless person or situation. Let all these become part of your efforts to empathize with your fellow-beings in a Christian way. Remember it’s very hard to be a Christian!

The next theme portrayed is the prayer ministry; So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed (St. Luke 5:16). Jesus withdraws to the wilderness for solitary prayer and meditation. And this is to refuel spirituality. We all need this kind of ‘spiritual refueling’ to get inspired for a meaningful life and to advance in our ministry as a true Christian.

The most important focus of this gospel passage is the fourth dimension; the ministry of healing. All those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them (St. Luke 4:40). However, I want to look healing in a broader perspective. We usually equate healing with well-being. We are working hard throughout our lives because we all need happiness, financial well-being, social well-being, health and security. And that’s quite okay. But that’s not complete, remember, Christian life is not a buffet! We are not supposed to take or eat what we like. And reject or ignore what we do not like. What I’m trying to say is, we need to accept illness just like health, bad things just like good things; sadness just like happiness, failures just like victories. And remember, healing need not always mean a ‘positive state of well-being’.

There are hundreds of Saints, Martyrs and Blessed fathers whose story depicts their agony, pain and suffering in their Christian life. They all accepted suffering, they all praised God even in the midst of deadly sorrow! That could be one reason why we call them Saints.

Orthodoxy is a way of life that is continuously inspired by the life stories of the Saints. Unfortunately, the popular modern pleasure theology depicted Saints as the agents or mediators of blessings. But they are actually the witnesses, inspirations and role models of Christian life. Keep in mind that God’s primary purpose is not to bless us with pleasures, wealth, or happiness. But he is there to heal you! I may have to use St. Paul’s words to facilitate our understanding of healing. My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I hope this bible study could illuminate some insights into our perceptions and help us to reflect on our attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, and actions in our faith journey. May God bless!

Great Lent Bible Reading Planner 2017

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PETHRATHA SUNDAY (ALSO CALLED KOTHANAE SUNDAY- MARRIAGE AT CANA): FEB 26, 2017

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The Sunday before the Great lent is called the PETHRATHA Sunday. The Syriac word, ‘Peturta’ means “looking back” or “reconciliation”.

The liturgical Season of Great Lent is one of the kinds of introspection- looking back to one’s own life, and of real reconciliation.

As a reminder one of the hymns in the Shubquono liturgy says, “Brethren, let us love one another, for it is the completion of the commandments.”

The reading is from St. John 2: 1-11; which depicts the Marriage at Cana, where we can see the first sign of the Son of Human.
We all know the episode at the marriage house in Cana; Jesus and his friends had been invited to a wedding feast in the city of Cana. The mother of Jesus was also there and she came to know that there was a problem with the supply of vine- they ran out of vine.

When she knew this, she said to Jesus “they have no vine”;
Jesus replied: O women, what have you to do with me; what does this mean?
Does it means that, he was so harsh and saying; crap, who are you?
No. But it means “What have I and you to do with this;
It further means, never mind; don’t be worried!
He further says, “My hour has not yet come”; which means “I must wait for the right opportunity”.

Though Jesus tried to find excuses, his mother was so confident in him; she asked the servants to “do whatever he tells you”. Mary was so confident; “do not worry, he will find some way”.
The servants filled six stone jars with water, and Jesus said “Now draw some out…start serving”

Water was turned into vine; transformed in to vine! And this became the first sign of Jesus and his disciples believed in him.

The take home is, reconciliation need to end-up with transformation!

WATCH VIDEO: https://youtu.be/gDNs-_wza-c

ANEEDE SUNDAY (REMEMBERING ALL THE DEPARTED BELIEVERS): FEB 19, 2017

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Aneede Sunday is to remembering all the departed believers. The Church wants the faithful to remember those forefathers and mothers who nurtured and maintained the true faith. Last Sunday the church remembered all the departed clergies. This Sunday is to remember all the departed faithful; our forefathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.

How blessed are we! How unique our faith is!

This is the only Christian faith where you are a part of the continuum; a continuum that begins with the birth to the second coming of the savior Lord Jesus Christ. Physical death is not a separation from the continuum and the departed believers are continuing their journey of salvation until the day of last judgment. We are so blessed because we are also in the journey where earthly life, death or anything is not going to separate us from the continuum so that we journey towards the final destination.  This is the only faith where you can participate in the Holy Communion along with the departed, living and the heavenly beings.

Let’s come together this Sunday to remember all our forefathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, and connect with the creator God, who is beyond our human comprehension, through praise and worship…

KOHNE (SUNDAY REMEMBERING ALL THE DEPARTED CLERGY): FEB 12, 2017

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Today is Kohene Sunday- A special day to remember all the departed priests. It’s good to remember at least once in a year our forefathers who helped us to sustain in true faith. Let’s take a couple of minutes to remember them. We have already attended countless holy Qurbanas. We have participated in Holy Communion numerous times. Just take a moment and try to remember the names of the priests, imagine their faces, and recollect the images of the holy altars where they offered the holy Eucharist for us. Especially, remember the priests who are deceased. You know they are with their master; participating in the worship and holy Qurbana along with their master in heaven. So they have better access and they can intercede for us.

Let this Sunday be a Thanksgiving Day to God for giving us the priests who are appointed to help us to imbibe and nurture us in faith.

Well, coming back to the today’s gospel reading. Today’s reading is from St. Matthew chapter 24 versus 42 to 51. And it’s about two metaphors regarding the second coming of Jesus and the need to stay awake. It says that no one knows what time the master comes to evaluate his servants. The parable of a master going for a long journey is similar to the parable of vineyard tenants, which is very familiar to us.

A master is going for a long journey. He is assigning duties to his servants. When he comes back he is going to evaluate what his servants did. The illustration here depicts two servants. One who is faithful and the other who thinks the master is delaying and does all wicked things. So the message is since you do not know when the master is coming you have to stay alert.

I’m not going to focus on the second coming of Jesus in today’s sermon. Rather I’m trying to elucidate why is the message stay awake is relevant in today’s context. For this I’m trying to find parallels between the gospel of Matthew and Mark. The same parable is depicted in both gospels.

In St. Mark the call to watch is replaced with a synonym- the command to “shake off sleep”. By commanding to shake off sleep Jesus is introducing a new theme. The struggle between staying awake and falling asleep.

Now I’m inviting your attention to what happened on Gethsemane. Jesus wanted his disciples to stay awake with him. But what happened, the tragedy is they will not stay awake with Jesus in Gethsemane. And they will sleep. They failed, because they do not understand the call to the cross; and the call to be awake with Jesus. We are failing to stay awake because we simply never understood the call and mission of Christian life.

I will make this theme very simple by telling a small story. Fiorello La Guardia was one of the most colorful and energetic and reformist mayor of New York City during some time after First World War. He was very active, he would ride the city fire trucks, and he takes the entire orphanages to the baseball games.

The story I am going to tell you was printed in New York Times sometime in 1935. Mayor LaGuardia turned up in a night court that served the poorest ward in the city. It was very late; so he dismissed the judge for the evening, and took over the bench himself. After he heard a few cases, an old woman was brought before him. She was accused of stealing a loaf of bread. She told the mayor that her daughter’s husband had deserted her; her daughter was sick; and her grandchildren were starving.

But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, insisted on pressing charges. He said, my store is in a very bad neighborhood. Therefore, she’s got to be punished in order to teach other people a lesson. The mayor was listening. He turned to the old woman and said, I have got to punish you. The law makes no exception. $10 or 10 days in jail. Remember in 1935 $10 was like $500.

But even as he spoke, LaGuardia was reaching into his pocket and pulling out a $10 bill. Here is the woman’s fine, he said. Furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone including me in this courtroom $.50. The reason he said, this is for being insensitive, for not staying awake, for not sensing the needs of others, for living in a city where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.

Well, are you getting the link, the meaning of Jesus command to stay awake. Unfortunately, whenever we talk about staying awake it land up in the theme of the second coming of Jesus, and people think that it exclusively mean you have to keep praying all the time and be ready and alert for the second coming. But here stay awake has a different meaning. It means and commands us to be mindful, to be alert, to be vigilant, and to be sensitive to the needs of the needy. Not only the material or tangible needs, but also the psychological and spiritual needs; like for example- love, compassion, understanding and so on.

I was on a mission trip last year to India. We had a chance to participate in the community mission of Bethsada/ Guardian Angel society. The community mission team there tries to reach out, and address the needs of the community. For example, they are supporting 25 local families with rice, vegetables groceries and other essential food every month; they have a group of 25 students whose educational expenses are taken care on a monthly basis; they help homeless families to build a house and so on. I know this is not the new mission. But what I’m trying to say is, during the interaction with George achan and Julio’s thirumeni-the people behind this mission-they said, we can easily ignore these people, I mean the people who are in need in the community; and we can be busy with the parish ministry, church and diocesan administration, worship liturgy and so on. Community mission is a big burden. It’s a long-term commitment. For example, if you are supporting a student who is in a professional college like nursing, you have to support him or her for four years. Though it is a big we still want to do this, because we are supposed to be sensitive, mindful, and vigilant to the needs of the needy.

I hope the message is much clearer now. It’s the duty of a priest to stay alert and make sure that his parish members are staying awake, vigilant, and sensitive to the needs of the fellow beings around us. I hope today’s gospel reading and message help us to stay awake, and help us to be sensitive, open, and watch for the needs of the needy. Thanks again, May God bless.

THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY (FEB 5, 2017)

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“Follow me…” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

The disciples’ fishing nets represent their income, their sense of accomplishment and their identity as enterprising fish catching businessmen. They’ve probably handled these nets most of their lives. No wonder they find it difficult to let go of them.

How about imagining ourselves clutching the tightly woven cords of fishing nets- how familiar they feel, how secure? But remember, Jesus is standing near to us, gazing at us with a look of invitation that’s somehow irresistible. He’s asking us to let go of the nets and find our security in him. Jesus walks daily through our life, calling us to follow him. What is God asking us to let go of today? What do we need to relinquish in order to confirm our heart to the heart of our savior Jesus Christ?

Gospel Reading- Mark 1:12-20

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[a] of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.