Lenten Devotions 2015: Karma, grace, love, and service.

Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of a Hindu fundamentalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), recently raised a storm in India by his callous, ignorant, and malicious comment on Mother Teresa. Bhagwat remarked that behind all her social service of helping the orphans and poor people, Mother Teresa had a “hidden agenda” of converting them to her Christian faith. Many people in India and abroad, including prominent Hindus, have taken exception to Bhagwat’s comments. The Upper House of the Parliament of India, too, discussed the matter and has demanded an apology from Mr. Bhagwat. However, this is not a new issue in India as it is tied to the debate on religious conversion, and India has always shown aversion to conversion.

Therefore, the question I want to deal with today relates to the reason Mother Teresa did what she did, that is, serving the poor in India. The first thing to note is that Mother Teresa found the streets and slums of Kolkata lined up with destitute lepers, orphans, disabled people, elderly parents deserted by their well-to-do children, and young children abandoned on the streets because they were either born out-of-wedlock or born with deformities.

Secondly, one must pause to think, why did Mother Teresa encounter what she did in Kolkata? Why did people behave as they did with their sick relatives and disabled children or parents? The answer is very simple: because of their belief in the theory of karma. People believed and continue to hold that whatever you suffer today in your life is the consequence of your karma in the past life. If one is born with physical deformities or develops sicknesses like leprosy, it is the curse of deities as well as the punishment for their bad karma. No one can do anything to alter the consequences of bad karma. And if I do well in my life, it is because of my good karma. Therefore, I should fully enjoy my life without being bothered about those suffering around me due to their bad karma.

Thirdly, why did Mother Teresa choose to intervene in the lives of destitute suffering in the slums of Kolkata? Why would she decide to leave the comfort and security of a convent to go out and risk her life and dignity serving on the filthy streets of Kolkata? It is certainly not because there were no wealthy people in the city with money to spare for the poor and needy. It is also not because there were no hospitals to look after the lepers and abandoned children and the elderly. It is definitely not because there was dearth of temples and ashrams in the city. Nope, none of the above is true. She did it, instead, because of her livid vibrant faith in Jesus Christ, which she always openly acknowledged. She never hid the fact that it is the love of Christ that compelled her to engage what others had conveniently ignored. If Mother Teresa also believed in the theory of karma, it would not lead her to helping others. Thank God that she believed in the inherent dignity, value, equality, and worth of human beings as they are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1: 27) and not as low-caste or high-caste people. Mother Teresa also believed in the grace of God freely available to all people irrespective of their caste and creed and particularly to the destitute, needy, rejected, disabled, abandoned, marginalized, and oppressed human beings in our society. Her faith in Jesus Christ and his command—“love your neighbors as yourself”—did not limit her to keep her time, talents, and resources to herself or to waste them on feeding animals, birds, or idols; instead, her faith led her to use them in the service of fellow human beings who were created in the image of God just like herself. May our belief in the love of God and his grace lead us, too, to be in the service of humanity wherever we find a need around us. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 38

Day 38, Thursday, April 4, 2012

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is sh...

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Jesus was in Jerusalem in His last days during the festival of Passover for which Jews had gathered from around the world. The city was bustling with activities related to the Passover feast. Jesus, too, wanted to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. Therefore, He didn’t leave anything to chance, but planned in advance where He wanted to celebrate the Passover—an upper Room in Jerusalem, because it was difficult to find a suitable place in the city at this time (please read John 13:1-11). As Jesus gathered with His disciples in that upper room, John states, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus’ love for His disciples did not diminish over the years. His love was not dependent on circumstances or what these men would do to Him or after Him. In fact, He knew that one of them, Judas, is going to betray Him with thirty silver coins in just a couple of hours. He knew that one by one, they will all leave Him alone to be persecuted by the Jewish authorities. He knew that Peter was going to deny Him that very night. He knew about each one of them and their motives for following Him in the past years. And yet, the Bible says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1) It was not a love to the end of the day or years, it was not even a love that lasted until “death do us apart.” Rather, it was Jesus’ genuine, divine, self-giving love, which He continued to shower upon them. He loved them so much that He expressed it by taking his garments off, picking up a basin and a towel, and stooping down like a slave to wash their smelly feet! Thus, He loved the Twelve to the point of being hurt and wounded by them.

 Jesus loves us all the same way, today. Whether we’re faithful to Him or not, whether our service to Him depends on our circumstances or not, Jesus still loves us and will continue to do so until the end. His love is eternal and will take us into eternity. Jesus loves us today even when we hurt him and bring His name into shame every day through our actions. There’s no true love than Jesus’ love for us to the point that He becomes vulnerable to be betrayed by the object of His love. No one ever said it better than C. S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell” (The Four Loves, p. 169). Amen!