Why Do I Do This?


Why do I do this? "The Bible is like a telescope. If you look through it you can see worlds beyond, but if you look at it, you see only the telescope."-- Anon. I am learning to look through it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jesus and Beggers

I am conditioned not to give alms to beggers in the streets or in the trains. The reasons are many. Most of these people are able-bodied and they can work and earn their living. So, instead of giving alms to such beggers I try to support physically challenged people who earn a living through their efforts. I may buy things from them though I may not really need them. I believe everyone should work and make their living. There is another reason too. Giving to a begger is a way of encouraging the wrong system of begging in the streets. I don't want to promote this practice, so I don't give. I also know that there is a lot of cheating in the whole system. Friends who work among street children have told me that most of them have working parents but children just like to beg. It is fun for them! Sometimes, parents encourage this as it brings in some extra income. I am also told that many young woman give birth for the purpose of having a baby to draw more compassion from benefactors. They drug them to look pitiful. They also hire children from parents to carry around in their beegging rounds. Moreover, I give to charity work who identify those who are in real need, so why waste my money on beggers?

There is a lot of evil in the system. I had all my justifications for turning my head away from a beggar or to ask him to leave me alone. However, I have a new perspective now on it after a recent meeting with my spiritual mentor. He is 87 years old; quite an old age to gather so much of wisdom. While he was reminiscing, he just mentioned a verse from the Gospel of Luke in the Holy Bible. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."  He was describing a situation when a begger approached him for alms. The begger was not a genuine one, but he gave him something because he just wants to obey Jesus in this matter. Then he told me his policy is 'to give everyone who begs' just because Jesus commands so. Then he said that he does make a distinction in his giving. He may give a smaller sum to those who appears to be not genuine but a substantial amount to those who appear to be genuine.

It challenged me. Who am I to question the system and practice? When the Lord Jesus has said, 'give' I have to give. At the same time, we need to fight against poverty and hunger. Giving alms won't solve the problems but giving alms is certainly the duty of a follower of Christ Jesus.

Jesus and Beggers

I am conditioned not to give alms to beggers in the streets or in the trains. The reasons are many. Most of these people are able-bodied and they can work and earn their living. So, instead of giving alms to such beggers I try to support physically challenged people who earn a living through their efforts. I may buy things from them though I may not really need them. I believe everyone should work and make their living. There is another reason too. Giving to a begger is a way of encouraging the wrong system of begging in the streets. I don't want to promote this practice, so I don't give. I also know that there is a lot of cheating in the whole system. Friends who work among street children have told me that most of them have working parents but children just like to beg. It is fun for them! Sometimes, parents encourage this as it brings in some extra income. I am also told that many young woman give birth for the purpose of having a baby to draw more compassion from benefactors. They drug them to look pitiful. They also hire children from parents to carry around in their beegging rounds. Moreover, I give to charity work who identify those who are in real need, so why waste my money on beggers?

There is a lot of evil in the system. I had all my justifications for turning my head away from a beggar or to ask him to leave me alone. However, I have a new perspective now on it after a recent meeting with my spiritual mentor. He is 87 years old; quite an old age to gather so much of wisdom. While he was reminiscing, he just mentioned a verse from the Gospel of Luke in the Holy Bible. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."  He was describing a situation when a begger approached him for alms. The begger was not a genuine one, but he gave him something because he just wants to obey Jesus in this matter. Then he told me his policy is 'to give everyone who begs' just because Jesus commands so. Then he said that he does make a distinction in his giving. He may give a smaller sum to those who appears to be not genuine but a substantial amount to those who appear to be genuine.

It challenged me. Who am I to question the system and practice? When the Lord Jesus has said, 'give' I have to give. At the same time, we need to fight against poverty and hunger. Giving alms won't solve the problems but giving alms is certainly the duty of a follower of Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unworthy Servants

In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus told a very short parable of a master and his servant. It was a story that everyone who sat around him could easily connect. That is why he introduced it as, 'Will any one of you ... say?' The listeners might have nodded in agreement.
The story is of a person who might have owned a small farm, some sheep and just one servant in charge of all these and his household. Jesus said that when this servant returns from work--may be it ploughing, or tending the sheep--the master will expect him to cook and serve him before he finds sometimes to eat and rest at night. No master will not allow him to take rest when he returns from work. Serving the master is topmost priority. The master will not thank him for the work he done. The servant doesn't expect him to thank him because he has done only what he is supposed to do.
Jesus concluded this short story with an command: 'So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.' (Luke 17:10 ESV).
Jesus was teaching about the relationship between his disciples and God. They should not expect anything from God in return to what they have done for God. They are only following orders and only doing their duties.
The most important lesson here is contrary to the dominant motive of our Christian culture. People follow Christ for favours--healing, prosperity, deliverance. However, the servant here is not expecting any favours from his master but he serves the master because he has received favours from him. Moreover, he is not expecting any more favours than the privilege of serving the master. Serving God for favours and serving God because of the favours are two different things.
The disciples of Christ considered their role as servants of God and Jesus Christ as the most covetable status in the world. There are many metaphors in the Bible that explains the relationship between God and believers--Children of God, friends of Jesus, etc. However, the apostles preferred to describe themselves as 'servants.'
Paul is the one who elaborated the doctrine of adoption that is behind the metaphor of 'children of God.' However, in his epistles he preferred himself to be called, 'servant of Jesus Christ.' John was the beloved disciple of Jesus whom he trusted most, even to entrust his mother's care. However, John preferred to be known as 'servant John.'
The most important observation in this regard is the case of James and Jude. They are considered to be the sons of Jesus' mother Mary. Thus his brothers in his earthly family (Matthew 13:55). However, though they were his brothers and might have spent their childhood and most of their adulthood together they never claimed that status. James would call himself, 'a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ' (James 1:1). Jude would identify him as the brother of James but not of Jesus! He would call him, 'a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James' (Jude 1:1).
Being the servant of God was such a great privilege. The psalmists longed that they would love to dwell in the presence of God even in the capacity of a humble doorkeeper (Ps 84:10).
Jesus' portrayal of the servant is remarkable. No doubt he is the master storyteller. Not a word is found in the mouth of the servant in the story, though some indirect speech is attributed to the master. We get the picture of a silent, uncomplaining, dutiful servant.
The word translated as 'unworthy' or 'unprofitable' has various shades of meaning. It could carry the sense of a person who sold himself into slavery to pay of a financial debt. He owes the master a lot, no claims. There is no better picture than this to represent all of us who are redeemed by Jesus and set free. We are set free to serve God.
The master image suggests that our service to God is a submission to his sovereignty over our lives. Expecting nothing but the opportunity to serve him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Eccentric Employer

The behaviour of the main character in the parable we find in Matthew 20:1–16 is certainly eccentric to a large extent. Though this parable is known popularly as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, I came accross at least one commentator who suggested that this is the Parable of the Eccentric Employer! I think he is right.
On a surface level reading of the parable we find eccentric behaviour of the master of the vineyard. Normally owners of the vineyard will have an estimate of the work-force that they require and employ people accordingly. Why did this man employ everyone whom he could find. Normal daily work hours are from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. He had employed some people at 6:00 am but still visits the labour market to employ more people every three hours for more times. To add to the argument of eccentricity he employs another batch of workers when there is only one more hour for the bell to go. Not only that, this people employed in the last hour are those left behind. No one employed them--may be they were physically weak, had no skills for the work, or otherwise unemployable. Why did he employ such 'refuse' of the job market?
That is how it is with God. He may appear a bit 'eccentric' to us, who claim to be 'normal.' If God went by the norms and the rules none of us will be found in the Kingdom of God. It is his sheer mercy in going out of the way to find us that we are no the children of God.
There was surprise when the wages were given. First comes those unemployable people who came last to work. Though they came last--may not have done any work at all because by the time they reached the vineyard the bell must have gone--they were the first in the line at the payment counter. When they were given one days full wage (One Denarius) rest were excited. If this master gives away one Denarius for one hour then they will be paid according to the hours they put in. So, the first batch who had worked 12 hours in the scorching sun expected to get 12 Denarius. So, the other batches too. However, all of them were disappointed as they got only one Denarius the wage they had agreed upon. This master is unjust, they rightly concluded. He pays one days full wage to those who worked only an hour. However, the master's argument was valid too. He said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' (Matthew 20:13-15 ESV).
So, that was the secret motive of the Master. He was not concerned about how much work is done and who does it--skilled, muscular people or useless, sloggy guys. It was his 'generosity' that makes him appear to be 'eccentric.'
That is true! Grace doesn't depend on any merit of those who receive it. It is freely given, generously, lavished on those who doesn't deserve it.
A final observation. After concluding the parable Jesus turned to his disciples and said: 'So the last will be first, and the first last' (Matthew 20:16 ESV). This is the second time that he said this the same day. Earlier in the day the young rich man came to him seeking how to enter eternal life. However, he turned back when he was told that he has to sell all that he has and give to the poor. Then in reply to Peter's question Jesus assured his disciples that those who left their property, famiy and friends for the sake of the Kingdom of God will not be losers but will be gainers. They will receive 'a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life' (Matthew 19:29 ESV). He was saying that those who like to keep their wealth will lose eternal life. However, who would risk what they have in this world for the Kingdom of God/Eternal life will not be losers in any sense of the word. He concluded that conversation also in a sentence identical to the one we find in 20:16 in 19:30. "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
Was Jesus suggesting that those who entered the rule of God earlier than others has some kind of disadvantage? Or was he suggesting that those who came last to his grace has some undue advantage? A new truth emerges when we compare these two passages. The story of the rich youngman and the parable here. On many counts this man is first--his wealth, his spiritual hunger and his status in the society. However, this world which has accorded him the 'first' position will be superceded by another world to come--the Kingdom of God in its fullness or eternal life. In that world/age he will be last. At the same time, those who are last because they suffered loss for the sake of the world to come will be the foremost in the age to come. Jesus spelt that out clearly in Matthew 19:28. 'Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." There is a certain reversal of the order that is going to happen.
Grace may look a bit 'eccentric' because it doesn't follow our rules. That is why grae is grace, otherwise it would be somthing that we can claim or grab from God.