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Month: March 2021

Lenten Reflections 2021: The Tears of the Weeping Prophet

Jésus pleura by James Tissot, courtesy

@johnvinod | March 31, 2021

Please begin today by reading Luke 19: 41-44. During the last days of Jesus, also known as the passion week, he stayed a stone’s throw from the city of Jerusalem. It is believed that the family of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha hosted him in their home in Bethany. From there, it appears that Jesus walked to the temple almost every day to teach to whoever would care to listen. On one such trips, as Jesus approaches a ledge on a rocky road, he is greeted by a magnificent panoramic view of the city of Jerusalem situated on the mount Zion. What happens next is one of the most poignant moments in Jesus’ life during the passion week. Only Luke recorded it for us writing without comments, “As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19: 41 NRSV).

Luke uses a strong word, which is more than just shedding tears, as the term often conveys inconsolable sobbing. It could also be translated “he mourned over it,” which could mean weeping with a loud voice or bursting into tears. We are not told how long Jesus wept or how hard he mourned. But let us pause for a few moments and let this sink in… Jesus Christ, the Creator, the Messiah, the Lord, and the Savior, sobbing, lamenting, over his own city/nation. A young man, surrounded by a band of twelve adult men, weeping with a loud voice.

This is particularly sobering to read in the context of the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the crowds shouting hosanna and hallelujahs on the day he rode into Jerusalem. Because of raising Lazarus from the dead, many Jews now believed in him (John 11:45; 12: 11). And he was receiving much praise, adoration, name and fame, more than ever before. Nevertheless, this did not matter much to Jesus, as he knew the same crowds would soon be screaming “crucify him”! Therefore, instead of celebrating, Jesus inconsolably wept…. He was weeping over his people and his nation.

In the tears of Jesus was distilled an eternity of God’s grief over his people whom he had chosen, provided, and protected, but who rejected him when he came to them. If you and I were to travel the same road today, I am pretty sure we would weep, too. Because watching from the same ledge today, you would look, but you will not find the temple anymore! In its place, there is a shrine called the Dome of the Rock located on the temple mount.

As a prophet, Jesus foresaw their future and he wept. Then he went on predicting what would happen to the temple mount in the coming days:

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19: 42-44 NRSV).

Jesus’ prophecy came to fulfillment in 70 AD when a Roman general, Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem during the Passover Festival. His armies devastated the city, killing at least a million Jews and enslaving others.

Jesus wept over a friend’s death, but he was able to raise Lazarus from the dead by calling him out from his grave.

Jesus also wept over his nation’s spiritual death, but he was unable to revive it, because they would not obey when he called them out of their slumber.

Today, how about you and me? How about our churches? Would we heed his words and his tears? Today, what is he calling us from? What is Jesus calling us to do? Let us pray that we would listen and obey. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: WWJD Do to the Religious Flea Market?

Giovanni Antonio Fumiani: The Cleansing of the Temple detail from Wikimedia commons

 @johnvinod | March 30, 2021

Today’s reading is Mark 11: 15-19. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it was the Passover Festival. The city was bustling with people from all over Israel, along with visitors from other nations.

In preparation for the Passover, every household was busy thoroughly and religiously cleaning their dwellings. The remembrance and celebration of the Passover were a serious business for the Jews. It was an opportunity not only to thank God for the liberation from Egyptian slavery, but also for passing on their religion to the next generation (Exodus 13). Therefore, they ceremonially searched every nook and even the tiniest bit of yeast, or food containing yeast, was wiped out of the house.

However, the only house that was overlooked year after year was the House of God. They had only one temple where sacrifices were accepted. Over the years, the temple and its sacrificial system became a symbol of a religion gone bad. It became a seat of corruption, exploitation, and commercialization of all sorts.  

When Jesus entered the temple, he was greeted by the clinking of metal coins, flapping of a bird’s wings, bleating of lambs, the stench of the animal dung and bird droppings, along with the irritating noise of negotiations. However, what made him really furious, to the extent that he made a whip and drove out the sellers and exchangers from the temple? It was the fact that it was all being carried out in the court of the Gentiles.

By design, the temple welcomed and provided a spacious court for the people of all nations to come and pray there. This court was now filled with stalls, tents, animals, and sellers engaged in a profitable commerce. This outraged Jesus as he recalled the prayer of king Solomon, offered at the dedication of this Temple:

“Likewise when foreigners, who are not of your people Israel, come from a distant land because of your great name, and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, 33 may you hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33 NRSV).

He also remembered prophet Isaiah’s powerful words:

“…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56: 7b-8 NRSV).

With all that Jesus witnessed in the Gentile’s court, there was hardly any room left for the foreigners to assemble. The commercialization was hindering the nations from seeking God and praying to him. Jesus knew that those who pushed prayer out of the temple, turning it instead into a religious flea market, must be driven out! Jesus finally cleansed the house of God, which the people of God had neglected for long.

May the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem lead us to look into our own churches. The institutionalization of a spiritual movement that Jesus started has been turned into a full-fledged profitable, professional, commercial enterprise. We are proud of running our churches like companies where prayers and missions…reaching out to the foreigners, the refugees, the vulnerable people, and those seeking God has been pushed out. We have become so inward looking and businesslike that the original mission of the church has been all but forgotten. Would we allow the Lord Jesus Christ to thoroughly search and clean us, and our businesses,…err…churches today?

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What Did Jesus Riding a Donkey Symbolize?

Image from Wikimedia

     @johnvinod | March 29, 2021

Today’s readings are Matthew 21: 1-11 and Zechariah 9: 9-11. All gospel writers refer to Jesus Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem during the passion week. They include a reference to a donkey, the animal selected for riding into Jerusalem. Matthew directly quotes the prophet Zechariah 9:9, who uses three different words for the animal. These words are difficult to render into languages such as English. I find that the new Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanakh translation renders it much better than others:

Rejoice greatly, Fair Zion; Raise a shout, Fair Jerusalem! Lo, your king is coming to you. He is victorious, triumphant, Yet humble, riding on an ass, On a donkey foaled by a she-ass (Zechariah 9: 9 NJPS).

The reason Zechariah used different words for a donkey is to distinguish the animal from other species. The prophets of Israel used symbols and symbolic language to convey their message to a mostly oral culture. The original readers of the prophecy would have understood the distinction Zechariah was at pains to convey with his choice of words. The Messiah will come riding an ass, not just an ass, but a donkey, which is foaled or birthed by a she-ass, that is, a purebred jackass. Thus, ruling out a horse, a mule, or a mixed breed.

For this reason, Jesus Christ deliberately rode a donkey, not just any donkey, but a purebred jackass as opposed to a royal horse or a mule used by the kings and princes for wars and conquests. As in the very next verse, Zechariah clearly associated horses with chariots and wars:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;

his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9: 10 ESV).

Therefore, Jesus Christ wished to signify once and for all that even though he is indeed the messiah and the king, he does not come as the conquering, colonizing, military ruler subduing everything and everyone under his power. The battles, wars, and conquests do not belong to his mission. People of his time expected such a messiah, especially as they suffered under the Roman Empire. Our history is replete with the examples of how Christian churches and missions misunderstood Jesus as the conquering messiah when they went about colonizing and civilizing places and people around the world. That is why in most cases; the cross followed the colonial flag. Alas! All in the name of Jesus Christ!

Our readings today remind us what Jesus Christ had already stated in no uncertain terms that he comes as the humble One. He comes riding a purebred jackass, representing humility and peace. And he comes with Shalom for all rather than the conquest of peoples and places! The Hebrew word shalom is not just peace or the absence of conflict and war. Rather, it means a holistic life full of freedom, health, peace, prosperity, and the presence of God for all who would follow him. May we follow this Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Purpose of the Disciples

Image by jamie-street at pexels.

@johnvinod | March 27, 2021

Please read again Mark 3: 13-18. Jesus Christ calls, selects, and then appoints or commissions the twelve Apostles. However, what was Jesus’ purpose in this act? What was the mandate or what were they to do as the Apostles? Mark gives us a clear statement not found in other gospels:

And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3: 14-15).

The mandate of those who were called and chosen was three-fold:

  • To be with him,
  • To be sent out to proclaim the message,
  • And to have authority over demons.

Notice the order here because it is crucial. The first and foremost purpose of the calling and commission of his disciples is to be with Jesus Christ, the Master. Everything else is secondary and flows from this primary objective to always remain in the company of their guru. They were to be united with Jesus in such a way that they might draw the power and authority of his Kingdom that they were to announce later. They were to spend the rest of their lives in close communion with him. It was so critical for Jesus and for the mission of the disciples, that Jesus repeatedly said to them when he was about to physically depart from them:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love (John 15: 4-9).

Second, the disciples were to be prepared so that Jesus might send them out to proclaim or preach the message. This called for using both their words as well as actions. The message was not theirs; it was the good news of Jesus that needed to be clearly communicated to others.

Third, the disciples were to “have authority to cast out demons.” By virtue of their being with Jesus, they were to draw from his authority with which he did signs and wonders. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to do what he has been doing would entail power and authority. He had exclusive authority, and now he passes on the same to his disciples to deliver people from whatever tormented them.

In a culture that persuades us to do more; those of us who consider ourselves as Jesus’ chosen disciples and particularly those in any kind of ministry of the Kingdom, must pause during this Lenten season. Take a break to withdraw, sit back, and reflect. Are we called to do or to be? What does it entail to focus primarily on being rather than doing? Have we made ourselves so enthralled in the business of busyness that we have no time to do the primary thing Jesus demands—to be with him? Are we prepared to be sent out for the purpose he has called us? Are we able to draw power and authority from being in his constant company, or are we running dry in our own strength? May the Holy Spirit help us reflect and answer these questions honestly. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Discipleship is a Matter of Responding to God’s Call

Image by Falco from Pixabay

 @johnvinod | March 26, 2021

Today let us read Mark 3: 13- 18. Note that this key passage about the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ is different from the calling of his disciples earlier. Soon after Jesus Christ came out of his wilderness experience, he called the disciples, as seen in Mark 1: 16-20. We are not informed how many Jesus had called to follow him, but I believe, there were dozens of people. However, today’s incident of Mark 3 occurred some time later, when he had already gained a steady following. In this event, Jesus does something absolutely crucial for the church he was beginning.

As was his practice, Jesus accomplished this on a retreat at a mountain away from the lakeside to withdraw from the crowds. Luke informs us that Jesus spent a whole night in prayer there (Luke 6: 12). And then Jesus called to himself only the twelve men whom he “desired” or “wanted.” The original has it as ‘whom he would’ or ‘whom he himself would.’ Thus, it rules out anyone offering themselves to be his apostles! And they came to him without delay. Mark is providing a contrast here between the general crowds that flocked to Jesus on their own and those whom Jesus wanted, selected, and called unto himself, before he “appointed” or ordained/commissioned them.

Then he appointed and named them the “apostles” (Mark 3:14). The word means the sent-out ones with a specific purpose who maintain with Jesus a close relationship. They also received personal hands-on training from him. They were not merely to pass on the teachings of Jesus, but they were to represent and extend the Kingdom he had inaugurated.

In the whole process, the initiative is that of Jesus from the beginning. It was his sovereign idea, in calling, in choosing from among those he had called to follow him, and then in appointing those whom he had chosen. Therefore, discipleship in the sense of belonging to Jesus and following him is a matter of God’s initiative and his work in our lives rather than our choice. The missions or ministry of the Kingdom is not something we can select ourselves as one would undertake a profession. That is why, these words of Jesus must have always rung in the mind of these apostles, which Jesus said just before he was betrayed and arrested:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you (John 15: 16 ESV)

The Lord has not changed his mind or the process about calling and appointing. It is still his way for us. As I reflect upon my life and calling, I am amazed to see the hand of God in every step of the way…. how God picked me up from a tiny unknown hamlet and orchestrated everything for me to be equipped for His ministry. In the same way, the Lord knows from the beginning about everyone of us. He not only calls, but equally prepares and shapes everything in us toward the fulfillment that he has planned through us for His Kingdom.

On the other hand, down through the centuries, much irreparable damage has been done in the mission fields or in the churches by those who chose to dub themselves into missions. They often did so because they wanted to accomplish something great for themselves using the name of God. May the Lord help us today to ascertain his calling and purpose in each one of our lives. Amen!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Tradition of Othering and Jesus’ Imperative to Love

Image by Ono Kosu at Pexels

@johnvinod | March 25, 2021

Please begin by reading Matthew 5: 43-48. Soon after Jesus victoriously came out of his wilderness experience, he preached his inaugural sermon. This is often known as the “Sermon on the Mount” and is found in Matthew chapters 5-7 and also in Luke ch. 6. A close observer may find several similarities between Jesus’ first sermon and the Old Testament scriptures –the Torah and the Prophets. This should not be surprising. As we noticed in the wilderness, Jesus knew the Scriptures so thoroughly and employed them as his defense against the assaults of the devil.

However, Jesus’ teaching on love, in today’s passage, is the most distinctive and revolutionary part of Jesus’ teachings in his inaugural message to the people of Israel. Simply put, it is: “love your enemies!”

Jesus Christ included this teaching among his other high ethic imperatives for a reason. Since Jesus was a Jewish man and was brought up in Galilee, he perfectly understood the Jewish practice of “othering” the Gentiles. He knew their prejudices about “others.” The other nations in Jewish tradition were regarded as their enemies and they were justified in doing so because of what has been traditionally said about the other. Judaism expected people to struggle for the sake and in the name of God. They were expected to resist evil. Often, the “other” or the “nations” were evil because they were enemies of God and his people. The Torah was even used to justify warfare against the enemies. Therefore, through this revolutionary teaching on loving their enemies, Jesus was undercutting their centuries old stereotyping of “others” thus setting a tone for the rest of his ministry in the upcoming days.

The way Jesus dealt with the Samaritan woman (John 4), how he handled a Samaritan village’s rejection (Luke 9: 51-56), and how he raised up a Samaritan in his parable as a hero in relation with the Jews (Luke 10: 25-37), were all demonstrations of this central teaching.

Jesus’ response to his tradition, in the inaugural sermon, is not just an extension of the Torah prescription of loving God and loving your neighbor, but it is indeed revolutionary. The imperative to love your enemies was primarily directed to the people of Israel. This would not make the “other” or the “nations” as Israelites. The “other” will still be different from them, but they would no longer be treated as their “enemies.” Instead, the other becomes the object of their love in the same manner as they love God and their Jewish neighbor.

The same challenge is passed on to us who believe in Jesus Christ and read his teachings. If you and I were to follow Jesus and approach the “other” about whom we do not always know much, and who we habitually stereotype and develop certain prejudices against; then, the imperative is for us, too, to love the “other.” And if we loved our “enemies” there would be no racial discrimination, no hatred, and indeed there would be no war! I completely understand it is easier said than done; however, this revolutionary high ethic of Jesus demands us that we obey him. May we pray for God’s enabling grace because we need it now more than ever. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Purpose of the Vision of Transfiguration

Icon from the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in the Sinai desert. ca 1200, by Tim on Flickr

@johnvinod | March 24, 2021

Let us begin by reading once again the episode of the “transfiguration” of Jesus Christ, but today from Luke’s gospel chapter 9: 28-36, rather than from Matthew’s gospel which we read yesterday.

I want to reflect today on the purpose of this unusual but significant event. Manifestly, the objective of the event, in the form of a “vision” or divine epiphany, was not for the sake of Jesus. Instead, it was for the sake of his disciples represented on the mount by Peter, James, and John. It was to clarify and convince them of Jesus’ identity, suffering, death, and mission.

Peter, who frequently seems to speak first and regret leisurely, was quick to respond. Luke is the only writer who adds a side note about Peter:

Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said (Luke 9: 33 ESV).

The issue here is Peter places Jesus on the same platform along with two of the most charismatic leaders of his religion, i.e., Moses and Elijah. They were indeed incredible leaders of their time. However, Jesus was not only superior to them, but he was divine. That is why, even before Peter could finish his suggestion (“not knowing what he said”), a voice intervened. In a way rebuking Peter’s suggestion of ranking Jesus on the same level with his Jewish leaders, the voice plainly told them:

As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9: 34-35 ESV)

The announcement was to derive the point of his divinity home to the disciples as noted in the letter to Hebrews, later: “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant,… but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:5-6 ESV).

Further, the purpose of the “vision” of the transfiguration was for the sake of his disciples. Because the voice was to command them that they were to listen and heed what Jesus had to say from now on. Even if Jesus candidly briefed them that he was to suffer and die a cruel death on the cross. They were to keep complete trust in God that whatever happened to Jesus in the upcoming days was all divinely orchestrated. And as the later events of the passion of Christ inform us, like any Jew, it was not easy for them because they did not anticipate a Messiah who would suffer and die.

God knew it was hard for them to accept a suffering Messiah. Therefore, the purpose of the transfiguration was to aid them believe and prepare to accept that even though Christ would be arrested, physically tortured, and die, it is not going to be his defeat. Rather, all these events were truly according to the will of God, and Jesus willingly submitted to it to carry out the plan of God for the salvation of humanity.

May the Holy Spirit encourage us today to trust God and have confidence in his infinite wisdom even when it appears, like it was for the disciples, almost impossible to trust and obey him. God is God because he knows the end from the beginning. And he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, so that we would “listen to him”! Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Who did They See with Jesus on the Mountain?

Image by Tony Basilio on Flickr

 @johnvinod | March 23, 2021

Let us begin by reading Matthew 17: 1-13. When Jesus’ suffering and death were imminent, Jesus shared this with the Twelve in no uncertain terms. Jesus might have also been tempted to withdraw from it all, God permitting, in light of the looming suffering and a cruel death. If not, he was willing to obey the will of God in everything. Therefore, he aspired for much needed strength from his Father before the descent, from now onward, into the dark valley of loneliness, misunderstanding, and suffering that awaits him.

He often withdrew from the demands of his busy ministry to spend time in communion with his Father. So, one day, Jesus went up a mountain, taking with him only three of his closest disciples—Peter, James, and John.

As soon as Jesus knelt down in the posture of prayer, I assume, the trio of weary disciples fell asleep in the cool breeze of the serene mountain top. They were woken up by a burst of intense light around them. Luke states, “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him (Luke 9: 32 ESV).

They could not believe their eyes and must have immediately jumped to their feet as they saw Jesus completely transformed in his appearance. A form they had never seen before. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17: 2 NRSV).

As though this transfiguration was not sufficient, when the disciples adjust their sleepy eyes to the bright light around them, they “see” Jesus engaged in a conversation with Moses and Elijah. What a fabulous privilege of the trio to witness a glimpse of God’s glory.

However, the main question to reflect for me today is: How did the trio recognize who the other two persons were with Jesus? There was no photography then and the Jewish people were forbidden from making images. There could be several conjectures:

  • Jesus himself shared with his stunned disciples, as he introduced his visitors, Moses and Elijah, to them.
  • They probably heard it announced. For the sake of Jesus’ disciples, a heavenly voice revealed the identity of the two visitors to further affirm Jesus’ divine glory (Matthew 17:5).
  • Perhaps, the disciples recognized the two most renowned celebrities of Judaism through the conversations they overheard among Jesus and his visitors. Only Luke gives us a glimpse of their conversation saying, “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 31 NRSV). Any Jewish child could associate it with the memories of the great “exodus” under Moses, and Elijah’s departure from earth without facing death.
  • Perhaps, Jesus himself was talking to his visitors by their names that the disciples overheard and believed.
  • I would like to go with yet another possibility: Remember, the disciples wrote down this account after quite some time. When the four of them were descending down from the mountain, Jesus clearly instructed the trio not to share this “vision” with anyone else until after his resurrection. The word “vision” holds the key for this possibility:

“As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17: 9 NRSV).

Therefore, I think, more than a literal, physical appearance per se, it was a spiritual “vision” of Moses (the Lawgiver) and Elijah (the Prophet) conversing with Jesus (the Messiah) to confirm him as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Just as in a dream, no one tells us who we “saw” or “met,” we just know it, and we also recall having conversations with people dead or alive. Likewise, in a spiritual vision on the mountain top, the disciples just knew it, by the nature of the vision, who they had “seen”! They celebrated the confirmation of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Subsequently, they were willing to lay down their lives later for the sake of Jesus’ mission. May they inspire us, too, today.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What does Following Jesus Have to do with Racism?

Credit Jansel Ferma at Pexels

 @johnvinod | March 22, 2021

In an unending series of racial violence and hate crimes, the latest to break our hearts is a young Christian man in Georgia, USA, last week. He went on a killing spree, especially targeting Asian women. One of his victims was a single mother of South Korean descent, Hyun Jung Grant, who was raising two young boys working hard in a spa. As the followers of Christ, we cannot overlook this when members of our own families and churches pick up guns and go around destroying innocent families and leaving young orphans in its aftermath. Let us, therefore, read today Luke 10: 25-37.

One of the reasons, racial violence and hate crimes go on unabated in the majority Christian countries, targeting people of color, is because our churches have not been bold enough to teach or preach on the issues of racism and ethnocentrism. Not just churches, but it is rare to find among the luminaries of western theologians, in the past centuries, who have included the issues of racism or colonialism in their theological treatises. The reason is simple: it was not an issue they had to deal with.

However, reading the gospels, we come across Jesus who was born, raised, and ministered during the Roman colonization of Israel. Even within Israel, he was aware of the racial intolerance among the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Samaritans. Therefore, Jesus made it his business to address the issue of racial discrimination and hatred throughout his ministry. One such teaching is in today’s text in Luke 10: 25-37. It is a familiar parable of Jesus found only in Luke’s gospel. Everything in his story was going normal until Jesus introduced a Samaritan. The lawyer who was testing him, Jesus’ disciples, and the those who were listening in were all Jewish people and they did not anticipate that Jesus, being a Jewish guru, would show the Samaritan in the limelight as he did.

Imagine the predicament of the lawyer. He had to answer Jesus’ probing question after listening to the shocking parable of the Samaritan who showed compassion and mercy to the Jewish man, he had found laying wounded on the side of the road. The lawyer knew the honest answer to Jesus’s question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10: 36). However, he could not bring himself up to openly say, “the Samaritan”! His prejudices of the Samaritan people would not permit him to agree with Jesus’ proposition that a Samaritan would demonstrate how to value human life in need, irrespective his ethnic differences with the needy. He did not expect the Samaritan man to come out as the hero of the story because he had always stereotyped them as evil and unclean people who would never do good for the Jewish people. It was Jesus’ purpose to shatter such prejudices and stereotypes about the other.

Jesus dumbfounded not only the lawyer, but each of us today who reads this story by saying, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37 ESV). This parable forces listeners to decide what they should be doing. Do like the Samaritan, not like what your own people are doing. The lawyer had asked Jesus what he should do, Jesus told him exactly what to do, i.e., get in the habit of demonstrating your mercy like the Samaritan did for the needy and wounded people on the margins of your busy life. Permit such people often to interrupt and pause our schedules and business as usual rut. So that we may reach out to them to be good neighbors irrespective of their color of skin, physical appearance, social status, or ethnic background.

To “what must I do,” even today Jesus replies: “Go, and do likewise,” as the Samaritan man did. May we choose to follow Jesus Christ.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Jesus and an Unnamed, Unwanted, Uninvited, Unacceptable Woman


@johnvinod | March 20, 2021

Continuing our focus on Jesus Christ reaching out to the rejected and socially marginalized men and women of his time, let us begin by reading Luke 7: 36-50. It is a familiar story of an unnamed, unwanted, and uninvited woman. She came to Jesus at a dinner party hosted by a self-righteous Pharisee named Simon.

In the Middle Eastern culture of Jesus’ time, such dinners were open to the public. They normally had large courtyards where anyone could walk in uninvited and sit around observing and listening to a guest as the meal progressed. This woman seized the opportunity upon learning that Jesus was in her neighborhood. And she brought one of her most precious possessions, an alabaster flask full of expensive perfume, for the guest of honor. Obviously, she must have learned who Jesus was and what he has been doing.

The people in Jesus’ time did not sit at a dining table with upright chairs with their feet stuck underneath the table, as all western painters would have us believe. Instead, the Jews reclined/leaned on cushions around a low-rise platform/table, leaving their feet stretched out behind them and away from the table. The original text states, Jesus reclined on the couch at a table (Luke 7: 36-37). His feet must have been bare as it was customary to leave the sandals at the entrance and wash one’s feet before entering the house (Luke 7: 44). This is the kind of arrangement which made it easy for Jesus to go around as he washed his disciple’s feet in John 13: 1-7. And in our story today, for this unnamed woman to walk in and approach Jesus’ feet:

She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment (Luke 7: 38 NRSV).

This woman is introduced as a “sinner” (Luke 7: 37 & 39), but the nature of her sin is not revealed. Whatsoever it may have been, a conviction and remorse for her sins were evoked in the presence of Jesus Christ and it flowed through her tears. She kept wiping her tears off Jesus’ feet with her hair and kissing them fervently as she applied the highly scented oil/perfume/ointment.

The Pharisee host was scandalized by what he saw happening at his dining table. He doubted Jesus’ identity as a prophet because he did not shrink from the woman’s presence and actions that others perceived as immodest.

The story ends with Jesus teaching Simon and others more than one lesson. Despite knowing her sins, Jesus did not shrink from her adoration. Instead, he declared: “Your sins are forgiven!” (Luke 7: 48). What an assurance to someone who was being whispered about and weeping with penitence at the savior’s feet. You can imagine her joy. Not only forgiven, but she was also sent home with the assurance of salvation and wholesome peace (Luke 7:50).   

Jesus teaches us that anyone rejected and unacceptable by the society and their religious leaders can be accepted and loved in his presence. People gossiped about her, made her feel unwanted and unworthy. They wanted her condemned and would have hailed Jesus for condemning her. However, Christ’s presence induced conviction of her sins, and his acceptance gave her a fresh start in life. Despite her past life Jesus offered her acceptance, forgiveness, salvation, and peace.

We often tend to label and stereotype people like this woman whom we consider worthless. Jesus teaches us once again to reach out to such misfits with the message of love, grace, and forgiveness, if we are to follow Christ. If we are ever tempted to think of our faith as too sophisticated, pure, and self-righteous like the Pharisee, which can only accept perfect saints, may we be reminded how Jesus dealt with people like Zacchaeus and this unnamed woman.

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