Follow Me


FOLLOW ME

Yuhanon Mor Meletius

“Follow me” is a call seen in the New Testament at many places. Most of them come from occasions where Jesus calls his disciples. Follow whom is the fundamental question raised before us. It is God in Jesus that we are called to follow. It is easy to say we should follow Jesus Christ or God. But what exactly mean by Jesus Christ or God is to be addressed.

Any search in to the divine leads us to the content of the work of the divine. But many a time we search in to his essence through a philosophical methodology. But only though his work we can know him. The primary knowledge of Israel about God was based on the liberation from Egypt. God was always known in Israel, as Jeremiah would put it, as a liberating God (2:6; 11:7; 34:13 etc.). That is why when Israel codified its creed, the liberative work of God and its effect on the people gathered prominent role (Deut. 26:5-11). God reveals himself through his work in history. When he was asked by Moses what his name was, he said ‘I shall be that I shall be’ (Ex. 3:13, 14). Phrases like ‘I have come down’, ‘to liberate’, ‘to lead’ etc. also further explains this point. What Israel saw in the acts of God helped them to understand God as a loving, caring, just, protecting and judging God.

Jesus did not accept Peter’s confession ‘that he was the Son of God’ as some thing that could be proclaimed in public at that point of time (Matt. 16:16, 20). Before it was proclaimed verbally, he had to show to the world and to his disciples what kind of Son of God he was through his passion, death and resurrection. Even the word of explanation regarding all these that came soon after did not help the disciples to understand Matt. 16:21 ff.). Peter’s response to that evidently shows that he did not understand the full meaning of what he said just a while ago. It is through the work of Jesus at the court of Sanhedrin and Pilate, on the road to Golgotha, on the Cross and in the empty tomb that he had to tell the people what kind of Son of God he was. This is a clear lesson for the Church and its leadership that tries to proclaim their presence in the world though claims of absoluteness and uniqueness.

In the history of the Church we could see the Church trying to explain God through philosophical categories. Unfortunately it only helped divisions in the community. Phrases like blasphemy, excommunication, anathema etc. became key phrase in this context. This was further taken to imply that the essence of God can be represented in the essence of the representatives of God or in the clerical office. Thus a new equation emerged: God’s essence is shared by God-men (not women. Remember Gn. 1:27) and so what God-men would say ex-cathedra would be exactly what God says (God has no other choice!!). Disobedience to God-men can be interpreted as disobedience to God himself. Thus the God-men will get all justification to expel people who do not agree with them. This will not be possible if we follow the work oriented understanding of God.

Knowledge based on work will be dynamic, relevant and live. The journey of Abraham in search of the unseen land was of constant struggle and movement. It was in this journey that he understood God as el-elion (Supremacy of God. Gen. 14:22), maker of heaven and earth (universality of God. Gen. 14:22), el-shaddai (Power. Gn. 17:1) etc. This God was experienced as the destroyer of evil people at Sodom and was know as the shield (Gen. 15:1). We have other instances too where name of God is derived out of life experiences. Only God who works in history of humans can make quality influence on lives of humans. What happens here is, God and human together creating history and through that new faces of God-human relationship are evolved.

Hence we need to search for the content of the personality of God in what he does in human situations. This is the message we get in Matt. 25:36 where Jesus says that any thing that was not done to one of those little ones was not done to him and any thing that was done to them was done to him. God needs to be searched in the struggle of humans to make their lives better and meaningful. Take for example Jesus’ temptation (Matt. 4:1 ff.). Jesus displayed his divine power not in his search for food, rather in his attempt to satisfy the hunger of tens of thousands of people who were with him for several days. He was not worried about hitting his feet against rock, rather was concerned of keeping the lives of humans from breaking in to pieces. He was not worried about his glory before others, rather was anxious of the divinization of the creation.

Consider for a moment what we, the so called ‘called ones’, are worried about. Today the Church which is worried about its own bread, power and acceptance is snatching away the bread from the hands of humans; and surrender all honor and glory for the sake of power. Let me say without prejudice, the litigation history in our own church is an excellent example.

God who reveals himself in the human life situations through his works, requires of us participate in his redeeming work. This is what is meant by following him. This makes Christ, us and the Church relevant in the world. But unfortunately we do things the old fashion. We think old stories are still meaningful and effective. On the contrary we are in fact making God and his Church irrelevant and outdated. Today God and the Church do not play any vital role in many of the areas of crucial struggle of humans to make life better. We have kept God resting in the altar and in palaces. People who search him do so not in divine works in history rather in the noisy crowd of charismatic gatherings and in pilgrim centers. We are not able to see the presence of God in the ‘burning but not consumed bush’ which is just the situation humans are put in these days.

To follow may also mean to follow the revelation of the divine in history. History is always dynamic. But we prefer to embrace some of the frozen moments in history. This is what we do when we talk about the throne of the patriarch of the catholicos, in the argument regarding cross with or without the crucifix, in the sweet memory of once upon a time happened reformation and six decades old Church unity. Those of us who build beautiful tombs to our beloved departed ones do not see the moments and events that make them live even today. This makes us too frozen in time and space. We do not have any adventurous or innovative areas of work apart from those traditionally been handed down and got outdated. We are not able to find any new area of mission. This adversely affects the nature, visibility and witness of the Church.

God does not want us to follow him blindly, it is not a slaves’ attitude he wants from us. Jesus said, I do not call you slaves any more, rather call you friends (John 15:15). Since following is not slavish, there will be committed and definite stand taken. And this stand is that of solidarity with every situation in human history that strives for liberation. Jesus even while dining with the rich and famous Simon did not forget his mission to proclaim his solidarity with the marginalized. (Matt. 26:6). This was at the risk of losing his reputation and acceptance in the community along with losing the friendship of his host. He was ready to go and spend night with Zacchaeus even when people were trying to find fault in him (Lk. 19:7). He was ready to reveal the littleness of law before human hunger even when the Damocles’ sword of Sabbath violation was over his head (Mk. 2:27). He did not hesitate to proclaim that he was in the world to testify to the truth even before the judge who had the authority to sentence him for death for what he claimed (John 18:37). They were all based on his definite stand he took without change even at the face of challenges, attractions and threats. Only one who can keep his stand unaltered can proclaim solidarity with those salvific situations.

This is where we see the Church many times stumble. To those leaders who reside in mansions and travel in moving palaces the struggle of common humans on the street is unfamiliar. Hence the utterances and proclamations of these leaders in the ivory tower never touch the dark corners of human survival. Most of the time there comes from the Church not a word regarding the dehumanizing situation in history. We are most of the time satisfied with few traditional gimmicks that we learned from our fore-fathers and fore-mothers. But the Church is called by God to be dynamic and that is what the world expects of the Church. When nationalism in India is celebrated through nuclear test explosions, when the country is sold piece by piece to trans- national corporations, when our air, water and land are polluted, when aboriginal are denied their rights, when dignity of women are sold in ice cream parlors and official rest houses, when the childhood is snatched away from children in the name of education, when high interest banking mafia rule the economy, when agriculture becomes no culture and when family suicide rate escalates, the Church has no comment about them. The Church has no stand regarding them and its voice never heard in public.

It could be a very risky and dangerous matter to take a definite stand. Jesus had to face death due to what stand he took in his life. But only through this change can be brought and there is no short cut to solution. The attitude of Peter who said, ‘Lord, it shall not happen to you’ was a satanic stand for Jesus (Matt. 16:23). Mahatma Gandhi who fought for the freedom of India was rewarded with a bullet; Martin Luther King who worked for the liberation of the blacks in US had the same fate; Nelson Mandela in South Africa had to spend most his life time behind the apartheid bars. Those few Christian missionaries who work in North India in educational and health care sector and through that try to create in the oppressed lot a sense of self respect and awareness of their rights face persecution and death. But does the Church take an official position in various areas of its activities similar to this? There is the risk of loosing the political power and riches of the Church. May be it will invite the displeasure of the administration. When the Church in Latin America was confronted with similar threat, it was able to stand up and fight for the rights of the people. If the Church has to occupy the seat where Christ is seated, there is no other way, but the way of the cross. We are asked to follow the one who had no place to lay his head (Mtt. 8:20).

Actually this is the kind of share the Church should have in the glory of Christ. The meaning of the word ‘glory’ for Jesus was what lied beyond the dreadful experience in life (John 17:1 ff.). This is how the Epistle to Hebrews sees it (Heb. 2:9). But most of the time we considered the foundation of our glory in our claims about out Brahmin origin, about the Syriac tradition and the institutions and buildings we created. We many times failed in participating in the people’s struggle for another world, even though we talked about the theme ‘another world is possible’. We some times even found fault with those who raised their voice for their rights. In cases of land reform act, education bill, inheritance and succession bill, and the recent self financing institutions bill and several other instances our stand was not so much in line with Jesus’ attitude. Yes, we failed to follow him.

Instead a new prosperity theology was promoted by the Church. Blessing of God was interpreted in terms of material gains. This material prosperity can be had through women-trade or private banking called ‘Blade companies’, or Teak, Mamchium or Jasmine companies or Abkari contract or even by selling Gospel in retail. Recently the Church has been so concerned of minority rights. By minority rights we mean our right to collect any amount of capitation fee and tuition fee from students of Christian institutions, to protest against drama like sixth wound of Jesus or movies like The Da Vinci code. We forget that this is what the majority fundamentals also do. On the other hand we had no prick of conscience to say that BJP and its allies are not untouchables to Christian communities. Until recently, until they lost the last Parliament election of course, majority fundamentalist party leaders were regular speakers in our Gospel Convention meetings. This double standard shows that the Church has no true commitment to the cause of calling. What is needed is to stand with the oppressed and the marginalized and work for their equal participation in the community and through that help them gain self respect and independence. We also need to address situations where injustice is promoted and slavery is brought in. This is what we are called for. This is how we should follow him.

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