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Category: Lenten

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: Return to the Lord!

Locust invasion

Rev. Dr. Vinod John @johnvinod | February 18, 2021

I would invite you today to read again the tiny book of Joel in one sitting as it has only three chapters. The message of the book of Joel is never passé. In fact, Joel’s message has relevance for the whole world today more than ever no matter where you live. It is expressly because Joel’s context and ours are quite similar today. In Joel’s time, Israel went through a devastating plague—an invasion of devouring locusts. They had eaten and destroyed everything in their way and turned the green pastures of Israel to desolate. The food supply was almost destroyed, and people were crying out for help.

 “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
 How do the beasts groan!
 the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate” (Joel 1: 18 KJV). 

Moreover, the liturgical worship of God in the Temple was also adversely affected to the extent that its daily offerings had almost diminished:

 “The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord” …
 “Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar.
Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God!
Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1: 9; 13 NRSV) 

We are in the second year of an unprecedented and deadly pandemic since 2020 and there seems to be no end in site, despite the new vaccines that might help prevent Covid-19 infections. The world economies are faltering and will remain unstable in the aftermath of this pandemic. Therefore, I think we need to heed prophet Joel’s timely call to repentance. While prophesying in the context of a dreadful plague of locusts that affected all aspects of their life, including the religious worship, Joel pleads with Israel to return to the Lord. He preaches a message of hope. He reveals the nature and intent of God, that is not to destroy the people of Israel but to save them. If they repented of their disobedience and returned from their evil ways to the living God, Joel promises that God would pity them and restore them. Joel also reveals that in a post repentance and restoration era, God would bring about a new reality, that is, the Spirit of God abiding with them (see, Joel 2: 28-29). We shall ponder on this aspect in the coming days along with Joel’s apocalyptic predictions.

However, today, let us shift our focus from the death, loss, and destruction brought about by the pandemic that we find ourselves in and instead let us focus upon the areas in our lives that need amending. What specific areas in our personal and church life do we need to do penitence? What are the specific areas in which we need to turn back from disobedience to obedience? May the Lord help us locate these areas and let us return to the Lord seeking His grace and forgiveness for our Creator God is merciful and will restore us.

In our churches, what we loved the most—our in-person corporate worship and fellowship—have been curtailed by this evil pandemic. However, let us use this time to reflect upon our church life and its sins, disobedience, and complicity. How has our church been doing in the midst of racism, sexism, bigotry, sectarianism, favoritism, ethnocentricity, preferentialism, xenophobia, discrimination, immorality, dogmatism, celebrity worship, false saviors, and several other areas that this Lent season may reveal to us? Perhaps, you do not see this visibly in your church, but has your church been apathetic to these issues and their presence in and around the church? If so, may we heed the call of Joel who called the Temple priests, too, to repentance:

"Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar.
Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God!" (Joel 1:13 NRSV).
“Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, …” (Joel 2: 17 KJV).

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What is Lent and Why I like the Lenten Season?

By Rev. Dr. Vinod John @johnvinod
Ash Wednesday | February 17, 2021

The word “Lent” emerged as an abbreviation of an old English term, “Lencten” meaning lengthening of days and pointing to the onset of the much-awaited springtime or spring season after a long and cold winter in Europe. The Lent or the passion season is one of the most beautiful times of the year. I like it more than the Christmas season for several reasons.

First, though the birth of Jesus Christ was unique in several ways; however, his birth and the three decades that Jesus spent after his birth living almost in anonymity in Galilee of Israel would not have mattered much if he had not launched into the divine ministry for which he came.

Second, I like the Lenten season better than Christmas because Lent is yet uncommercialized and has not yet lost its spiritual meaning like Christmas.

Third, Lent has not become as popular as the Christmas season and only the spiritually inclined followers of Christ still show some interest in the disciplines associated with the Lenten Season such as prayer, fasting, sacrifice, and giving up certain things we love most to gain something higher and deeper.

Fourth, Lenten season commemorates literally the forty days of Jesus’ experiences and struggles in the wilderness, unlike Christmas and its traditions, which hardly have anything to do with the reality of what truly happened at the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, no one knows exactly when Jesus was born…certainly not on December 25th!

Fifth, I admire how the Lenten season is about looking within and deeper into ourselves and it is an opportunity for us to learn and draw from the deep spirituality of Jesus Christ rather than looking outside at the pompous celebrations, opulent festivities, and show-off of what money and power can buy during the Christmas season.

Sixth, I like how the Lenten season begins and how it concludes. It is the Lent—the forty days of physical and spiritual solitude in the wilderness—that ushered Jesus Christ into this divine calling and ministry. This sacred season in the church tradition today culminates in a requisite reminder of the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially in the context we find ourselves in since 2020.

Seventh, I also love the Lenten season, because it follows an ancient tradition of the early Christianity in which the followers of Jesus were prepared and discipled before they were baptized on Easter Sunday. This Lenten season, therefore, is another opportunity for us to examine our lives and ask ourselves if it is really the biblical Jesus Christ we are following or the Jesus of own making as per our own culture or religion.

Eighth, and lastly, I appreciate the Lenten Season because it affords us the unique opportunity to take our eyes off everything else and focus on Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. This is particularly true in the current pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus which has claimed millions of lives around the world, crippling economies of all nations, siphoning off lives of most people and churches and leaving many of us literally and figuratively gasping for a fresh breath of hope. The lent/springtime is a time of hope. And what better hope can we think of than the fact of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in time of death and destruction that we see around us today? What better hope than the hope of a bodily resurrection of our loved ones who we have lost in the past year or so? What better hope can there be than this that we, too, shall be resurrected to eternal life even if we departed from this earth during this pandemic in 2021?

Therefore, I invite you to journey with me in this current season of Lent 2021 with much expectation, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12: 2 NRSV). And as we focus on Him this Ash Wednesday, February 17th, the first day of the Lenten season of 2021, let us sincerely heed to the earnest plea of prophet Joel in the Old Testament and let us return to the Lord!

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2: 12-13 ESV).


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For a paperback, please contact vinod@vinodjohn.com

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