Meditation on the Gospel Reading for Hudos Itho Sunday

Many of us want others say what we want to hear. Same was
the case between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Jesus’ talk about a new world
and a new regime gave the people hopes about history repeated in political
scenario. They had the sweet memory of Judas Maccabeus overthrowing the unholy
regime of Antiochius Ephiphanes and establishing a Hasamonian Kingdom in
Jerusalem in 165 BCE (Antiochius had defiled the temple by offering pigs on the
altar of burnt offering).  But Jesus’
interest was not on political power, rather on people and their lives. This is
what the leaders of his community failed to understand not only during Jesus’
time but even today.

The gospel reading for the second Sunday of the Orthodox Liturgical
Calendar, the Hoodos Itho Sunday (Establishment of the Church), comes from the
gospel according to St. John 10:22 to 38. This text talks about the unrealistic
expectation of the Jewish leaders and Jesus’ response to that. But for us today
it talks about the foundation of the community of Christ. That foundation is: ‘Jesus
is God incarnate and his kingdom transcends the petty concerns of this world’
(John 18:36).

People of Jesus’ time wanted to hear a war cry, a cry to
organize themselves against the Romans and a call to establish Jewish monarchy
in Jerusalem.  Jesus was less concerned
of who ruled the nation, rather of which all principles governed the people’s
lives. He very well knew that even the so called ‘monarchy of David established
by God’ did not care so much for the people. So the kingdom was divided in two
(1 Sam. 8:4 ff.). Later both nations ceased to exist and people had to go in to
exile (Ps. 137). Even when they came back they did not have any caring ruler to
govern them. During the Roman period, if the religious leaders wanted, they
could have given a better leadership in the community. Lack of political
independence was only an excuse for the religious leaders to give a lousy
leadership. If they had given the political leadership too, they would have
made the people suffer even more. The leaders were concerned of strengthening
their hold among the people through political authority.

According to Jesus, religious leaders had to, on the one hand
be studying the word of God and on the other hand relate it to the events
around them. If they had done that, Jesus was sure,  they would have seen the work of God in Jesus.
They could have also seen a quality difference between what Moses and the
prophets did in the name of God and what Jesus did with authority. This was
enough to help the leaders see that Jesus was truly the word of God in flesh.
On the contrary they relied on their own wrong understanding of God which was
guided by political and institutional interests. For them, God was too
transcendent that he cannot manifest himself in human form. They failed to see
the witness of their own scripture which addressed humans as gods (Ps. 82:6). The
fathers of the Orthodox Church assert that ‘God became human that humans may
become one like God’. Of course there is a quality difference between God
becoming human and humans becoming one like God. To the Jewish leaders Messiah
should be one who liberates people politically. For them political independence
would help bring religious and spiritual independence. But Old Testament prophets
are strong witnesses to the contrary. Work of God in history never primarily aimed
at establishing political leaders, rather was interested in organizing people
under God’s caring and protecting banner. It was to that goal God established
kings over Israel from Israel and from outside (cf. Cyrus. Isa. 45:1). During
Jesus’ time religious leaders in Jerusalem enjoyed considerable amount of
freedom to take care of the community affairs if they wanted. But they used it
only to cater to their own vested interests. 

To come back to the original statement, the people wanted to
hear from Jesus a call to establish a new political regime. But as Jesus said
before Pilot, ‘his kingdom was not of this world’ (This does not mean that he
was not concerned of this world at all. The truth is to the contrary [John
17:15]. Here by the word ‘world’ Jesus meant what is ‘material’ guided by petty
interests). Jesus while was the king of peace brought not passive peace in to
the world (Matt. 10:34 ff.). Jesus was talking about a division between those
who would accept the teaching of Jesus and those who would not. To those who negatively
respond to him, the message of Jesus was disturbing. This disturbing message
made them angry and they wanted to put Jesus to death. Gospel message should
always be disturbing to the effect that it should make us think of our lives
and its ways.

 This needs to be put
in to perspective in our own situation. Christians these days more and more want
to hear what is called ‘prosperity’ or ‘comfort’ gospel. Yes Gospel is
comforting. But not the way we usually understand it. Comfort can come only
through a proper understanding of the word of God and a correction brought in
the life style. Today our concept of Messiah is guided by our concern for better
education, lucrative career, lavish spending on material processions and an
acceptance by everyone. To us, blessing of God can be translated in to ‘experience
of prosperity and success’. We pray to God for all these thinking that they are
the symbols of God’s blessing. Yes they are gifts of God, but God does not give
them to one over against another. He cares for everyone while we care for only
for ourselves. The leaders of the Jewish community of Jesus’ time were not concerned
of the welfare and freedom of the people when they wanted to have political
freedom. They wanted to widen their power and authority over the people through
political independence.

God from the very beginning was trying to liberate his
creation, particularly humans from all kinds of limitations and was working with
them all the way up to make them able to enjoy fullness of the benefit of ‘form
and likeness of God’. Though humans through the initial act of trespass set the
pace in reverse order, God continued to work in human history to liberate them.
To that end God provided them with new possibilities. The last and final
possibility was His own son Jesus Christ. But for the leaders of the community
the work of God got frozen in a point in history and claimed that what all
Moses gave were the end of God’s work. They wanted to hear only what they
understood as Moses said. As a matter of fact what Moses proclaimed was what he
heard from God. God revealed to Moses only what he could understand under the
circumstance. Here is God’s son trying to convey what God really meant. To Jesus
God wanted to lead them to greater heights in relation to God and one another.
That can happen only if they followed Jesus and his purpose.

What Jesus said was disturbing to them. It was on this
disturbing reality that Jesus wanted to establish his community. What do we
think of our foundation of our faith? We need to think what we want to hear
from a preacher of the Gospel? Most of the times we wish to hear comforting
words. But comfort is not the starting point. Comfort and satisfaction in life
is the sum total of a life that walks with Jesus through all those difficult
moments to overcome them. Resurrection comes after physical suffering and
death. But Jewish leaders were not ready to accept this. They wanted to hear
that the day of political victory is near and that Jesus was going to lead them
to that goal.  They wanted to destroy
everything contrary to their expectation. They picked stones to throw at Jesus
to kill him. They thought they were acting according to the Law of Moses (Lev.
24:16) where as in fact they were acting just against the spirit of the Law of
Moses. They did not know that even God had made a human being (Moses) god to
another human being (Aron. See Ex. 4:16; 7:1). One becomes god to another for the
purpose of liberating the other. They read only certain parts of the law which
catered to their own needs (we do that all the time!).

By one becoming god to another, he/she is following the path
of Jesus with in a liberative mission. Jesu Christ established the Church
established that it may become god to God’s creation or to be a liberative
agent in the world.  Jesus asked them to
judge him by his works. The question is, can any one of us who claim to be
child of God say, ‘judge me by my work’? Can we as a Church challenge the world
by saying ‘judge us by our works?’ It is on this challenge the Church of Christ
is judged by the world.