Meditation for Sunday before Pentecost (John 17:13-26)
Yuhanon Mor Meletius Metropolitan, Thrissur
The question about the difference between world and worldliness has always been an issue of ethics and conduct in all communities in one way or other. Genesis narratives (Chapters 1 and 2) say God created this world and everything in it. This is the content of the first clause of our Nicene – Constantinople creed also. We also read in the Genesis account of creation that God found everything He created good and He blessed the completion of His creative work on the seventh day. So we may say that world that God created is essentially good. But Cynicism says that the world is essentially evil. Of course there may be even Christian communities that would call the world evil and hence want to “fly away” from it (as some of the so called songs may suggest). Christian Gnostics would say, ‘matter is essentially evil’. That was why they argued that God cannot Incarnate and live in this world. But we may have to assert and say that since it was created by God and found good, it has to be essentially good (If God is essentially good, He can not create any thing evil or bad). That is why Jesus prayed to His Father, “I do not pray that they be taken away from the world…” (John 17 13- 26, Gospel reading for the Sunday before Pentecost). Jesus had set the disciples to be in the world and be “fishers of men” (meaning human. Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17), He also called them “the light of the world” (Mat. 5:14). To Him world certainly has essential existence and its core is good.
However, the questions of suffering and ‘evil’ in the world have always been a challenge before all who believed in a divine power. There are Old Testament passages that tried to address this ‘question of theodicy’. This question was dealt by the book of Genesis through the event of human eating the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). St. Paul calls it ‘disobedience’ on the part of human (Rom. 5:19). So the title of the Book of Genesis becomes quite relevant through the narration of the beginning of both ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The first was created by God and the other brought in by human.
One another good example is given in the book of Job. The question of innocent suffering is the theme taken up in the book. The first part suggests that ‘Satan’ who was able to stand before God wanted to test the dedication of Job and his faithfulness before God (Job 1). The chapter concludes that ‘Job did not sin or blame God’ for his misfortune (for the Biblical interpreters Chapter 2 introduces another Job with another question, that of reason for suffering to which God answers, ‘there are several things that human doesn’t know and this is one among them’ [Chs. 38 ff.]). According to the first chapter there was a choice before Job either not to blame God and prove his innocence or to blame God and sin. With his right choice Job avoided bringing any sinful atmosphere in to his world whereas human in the Garden of Eden, introduced sin into the world.
The New Testament too finds the reason for evil in the act of human in the Garden of Eden (Eph. 2:2). To the epistle to Ephesians, it was Satan (prince of the power of the air) who placed the attraction before human and tested that evil may be introduced in to the world and following generation may walk in it. According to both testimonies in the Bible, what all created by God were good, but when human start living in that world, he had the possibility of making evil come in to it. Of course there is the testing and tempting factor called by the Bible as ‘principalities, powers (Rom. 8:38) and Satan (Matt. 4:10; Luke 22:3; Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 7:5; 1 Tim. 5:15 etc.) which human many times fail to overcome and thus worldliness comes in to the world.
Jesus is praying before His Father that His disciples be protected from worldliness even while they are in the world. Only if they could overcome the temptation, they will be able to live and experience the good in the world. Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying, ‘…lead us not in to temptation…’ (Matt. 6:13). Temptations may come in different forms and shapes. Two of the most powerful temptations of our time are greed and luxury. Many a time development in political and social (including religion), scenario are interpreted in terms of big, wide and tall; big cars, wide roads, tall buildings including worship places or big functions, tall facades, and lavish spending. Malayalees fall prey to this temptation pretty fast, no matter which part of the world they may be living in. This is primarily because they are from a tiny little, tail like, piece of land in the southern tip of a big country, India. In our eagerness to achieve these heights, we fail to see ‘the little ones’ who are to be cared that humans be ‘caught’ instead of institutions and projects created and built. Human can be ‘caught’ only through loving and caring for them. But for our love of the larger, the bigger, the wider and the more colorful, we miss the good in the world. It was not that there were no other fruit for them to eat for hunger, human took the fruit out the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden and ate of it, because they saw “that the tree was good for food (of course without prior experience), and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” (only based on what the snake said. Gen. 3:6 – Commercials and advertisers still try the same trick on consumers!). This was just against the natural properties God put in the fruit which was proven a little while later.
Now, the world is turning in to a furnace with atmospheric temperature shooting up. Kerala, known for many rives and pleasant weather with plenty of rain has set a record in temperature this year and many people and animals are hit my heat wave and sun stroke. Scientists are calling for a reversal of people’s life style marked by felling trees, destroying water beds and pools, building huge buildings and houses, digging out hills and mountains and polluting air and water. We did all these for the temptations we had in our life. The snake is still active and is telling us “you will become one like god with all these” and on our part we follow.
Jesus prayed to His Father, “I do not pray that they be taken away from the world, but keep them from evil”. Evil in the form of temptations for big, tall, wide, tasty and colourful entered our culture and we fell for them. Now this passage with Jesus’ ‘High Priestly Prayer’ is brought to us again, to reconsider our ways. Have we ever heard the prayer of our Lord with due seriousness? Even though God tries to protect us from evil, just as He did in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16, 17), we are driven crazy with things we think ‘good for food, delightful for eyes, and desirable to make us wise and proud’. Just as our Lord addressed Saul at the gate of Damascus, we are also called to be His witness “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). We are too, just like Saul was, called to help others open their eyes. We will be able to do that only if we first open our own eyes and see the true nature of these attraction that bring in evil in to the world God created and found good. Of course our Lord is still praying before His Father the same prayer He did while on earth, but also pleading before us saying, ‘don’t be lured by those evil tendencies, but protect yourself from evil’. Any one listening? (Originally posted in ICON 2016)