Friday, October 27, 2006

Knowing Christ....

The knowledge of Christ that strives to make him known as Paul did by his life is possible only when we are willing to move on beyond ourselves.

In Philippians 3:10, when Paul talks about knowing Christ, he is not talking about a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. By this time (almost towards the end of ministry and life) Paul have had that knowledge. Nevertheless, he is talking about knowing Christ as a continuing process that culminates in attaining resurrection from the dead. I am even tempted to think that the expression "to know Christ" is a synonym for Christian life. Christian spirituality is a process of knowing Christ in increasing measure each day until we see him face to face in eternity.
This knowing of Jesus requires rejecting everything that stands on the way of intimacy with Jesus. Raimondo Panikkar, a leading Christian theologian once remarked: "To arrive at God, we should not stop at us." That means if we are on a journey to know Christ, we should explore beyond ourselves. Paul seems to be doing that. He wrote: "I Consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish..." (Phil. 3:8). This knowledge of Christ is at a cost. That is to lose everything that stands on the way of that knowledge.
Egoism is the greatest enemy of this knowledge. Egoism is the pre-occupation with oneself. In this thinking, the self become paramount in ones thinking. This is when I am at the centre of my thinking, and I strive to become the focus of attention. Such a pre-occupation with one's self hinders knowing Christ. That is why Panikkar's words become meaningful: "To arrive at God we should not stop at us." The knowledge of Christ that strives to make him known as Paul did by his life is possible only when we are willing to move on beyond ourselves.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Devotion: Sacrificial Extravagance

I looked up Wikipedia for a definition of the word "Devotion" and was surprised to find that in Christianity "devotion" is identified with Bible Study. And that is very much true. When someone says that s/he had devotion in the morning what they mean usually is that they read their Bible. However, the meaning of the word is quite different from studying the scriptures.

Devotion is being devoted to someone or something. It is ardent love or surrender in love. Many Hindu Bhaktas understand and practice devotion in that sense. However, in Christian spirituality we often tend to forget this aspect though it has a very prominent place in the Bible. For example, Jesus asking Peter if we love him more that all that he has is certainly a demand for ardent love and total surrender in love (John 21:15). Loving God is a dominant theme in both the Old and New Testaments. See for example the command in Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

John 12:1-8 is a passage that deals with this theme of devotion where we find Mary engaged in a practical act of devotion to the Lord. There is another story, which is similar to this in Luke's gospel (Luke 7:37-50) where a woman identified only as a "sinful woman" washes and anoints Jesus' feet. The woman mentioned there could be different from the one in John 12:1-8 or the same. However, that is definitely another act of devotion. Then again we see Mary's devotion expressed in contrast with that of Martha's service in Luke 10:38-42. Here Martha was involved in caring for Jesus, probably preparing food for Jesus and his group. However, Jesus commends Mary as he endorsed that he chose the better; that is to sit at his feet and listen to what he has to say.

There are a number of other cases that we cite in order to argue that devotion to God in the sense of ardent love and surrender is very much part of Christian and biblical practice. However, what I would like to focus here is on the act of devotion.

First of all devotion emerges out of a deep sense of obligation to God. This is very graphically expressed in Luke 7:37-50. What makes people resort to such acts of worship which humbles them and calls for self-sacrifice for the sake of expressing their love for their God? Jesus explains it as a sense of having received (in this case forgiveness) more from God. It is a matter of perception. A proper perception of what we have received from the Lord leads us to an obligation to reciprocate that in acts of love.

Secondly, devotion also involves listening to the Lord and enjoying his presence in our lives. This is what Jesus brought out through the contrast between Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. There is no question that Martha believed in Jesus as much as Mary did. However, the Lord expects us to express our faith in acts that please him. Just as two people who are love, enjoys being together and talking to each other, Jesus expects us to be with him and listens to him. Peter had learnt this early in his life with Jesus. John 6 talks about a crisis that arose in the Jesus movement. Many those who were following Jesus left him because they found his words hard. Then Jesus asked the twelve disciples who were in the inner circle if they also would like to leave him. However, Peter's reply to that is remarkable. He asked, "Lord! To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" That is Peter's reason for following Jesus; he has found the presence and words of Jesus indispensable to him.

There were two sisters and the eldest one has to read bed-time stories to the youngest every day. Tired of her chore, one day she decided to record the stories on tape and play to her little sister every night. When she introduced the tape to her sister, the little girl refused to use it saying, "it hasn't got a lap." That is important: it is not just the story that matters, the presence and voice of the sister matters too. So is the disciples' attachment to the Lord.

A final observation that I would like to make is that devotion also takes us to sacrificial extravagance. In John's gospel (John 12:1-8) Mary anointed Jesus with a very costly perfume. The cost of it is estimated by Jesus' treasurer (Judas Iscariot) as equal to one year's wage. To save that much money a person has to work more than a year! Critics of Mary's act called it "extravagance" and "waste". Ardent love for Jesus takes us to the extreme of sacrifices and giving. Giving to the cause of the Kingdom of God should not be considered as a funding the church or mission finances but expression of our love for God. Giving must be considered as an act of devotion. There is a joy that comes from giving out of love for Jesus. Augustine's words may someway illustrate it: "Where your pleasure is there is your treasure; where your treasure is, there is your heart; where your heart is, there is your happiness." Giving thus is an act of devotion: it is delighting in the Lord!

In order to inculcate devotion in us we need to have a sense of obligation or indebtedness to Jesus. This is thus expressed in acts of devotion as experiencing his presence and an eagerness to hear voice daily in our lives. Then it may take us to acts of devotion which involves sacrifice from our side.

Strength in Weakness

'For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy...