Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: John, The Baptist

Volume 3 No. 119 January 10, 2013

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John, the Baptist, in Prison
Table of Contents
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Editor's Note

What we learn from the martyrdom of John the Baptist and St. Stephen.

Bible Readings for This Sunday (Jan 13)

First Sunday after Denho

Sermons for This Sunday (Jan 13)

Sermons for the First Sunday After Denho

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_1st-sunday-after-denaha.htm

Featured: On the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

The Baptist does not limit himself to preaching repentance and conversion; rather, in recognizing Jesus as "the Lamb of God" who has come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), he has the deep humility to point to Jesus as the One truly sent by God, and he steps aside so that Christ might increase, be heard and followed. ...

On the Martyrdom of John the Baptist

As forerunner of our Lord’s birth, preaching and death, the blessed John showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven. In the words of Scripture: Though in the sight of men he suffered torments, his hope is full of immortality. ...

Ministry of John the Baptist

Repentance (preached by John the Baptist) appears to be about being socially responsible. Real repentance is prophetic in that it is focused on very tangible actions of mercy and loving-kindness. It is about caring for all with whom we interact to the point of self-sacrifice. To love others so much in our actions that it could actually deprive us so far as our wants and desires are concerned. ...

John the Baptist and Jesus

As often as we need to look at John, we find fearsome John pointing away from himself to Jesus, the Word Incarnate, the lamb of God and the Saviour of the world; someone no less rigorous than John to be sure, but also so much more than John – someone so very winsome, compelling, inviting as to be beautiful. ..

Someone to Lean On

This story challenged me to change my position from a bystander to that of a gap-stander. A bystander is an onlooker who watches, but does not to get involved. A gap-stander has empathy and takes action, using the strength of her faith to help the fighter stand until victory comes. A gap-stander is someone the one in battle can lean on. ...

Family: Recovering God's Plan for Marriage and Family

Here is God's basic teaching on family and marriage. Here is the basic structure for the family, as God sets it forth: a man who loves his wife, a woman, who loves her husband. And in this stable, lasting, and faithful union of mutual support and love, they conceive and raise their children in the holy fear of the Lord. ...

Malankara World Journal Special on Women - January 21, 2013

We invite contributions from the readers for the Malankara World Journal Special on Women to be released on January 20, 2013. ...

Health: Declining Circumcision Rates Will Raise Health-care Costs by Billions

In a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a team of economists and epidemiologists estimated that every circumcision not performed would lead to significant increases in lifetime medical expenses to treat sexually transmitted diseases and related cancers. ...

Recipe: Pumpkin Cheesecake

A family favorite.

Going the Extra Mile Pays

Today many people are talking about what they get for nothing. With the total emphasis on getting, there is little emphasis on giving. Let's reverse the order and ask ourselves what we give instead of what we get! ...

Humor: When Insults Had Class

From an era before the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words.

About Malankara World

Editor's Note
Our church celebrated the memory of two martyrs  this week:

Martyrdom (beheading) of John the Baptist on Jan 7 and
Martyrdom (stoning) of St. Stephen on Jan 8

Because these fall very close to the Denho feast, they are often overlooked. But they are important events in the history of our church. In this issue of Malankara World Journal, we would like to examine the role of John, the Baptist, and what we can learn from his example.

John the Baptist, as we all know, was the forerunner of Jesus. His sole mission was to "make way for the coming messiah." He knew that he need to decrease so Jesus can increase. This is something human beings have great difficulty of. Once we get comfortable with the recognition and position we are reluctant to leave these things and pass it on to someone else. Many problems we have in our church today is from this human trait. In fact, that was the reason for the fall of Lucifer, who became Satan. He thought that he can outshine God! It is important that we surrender ourselves to God and allow him to do what He wants to do with us. When we accept the Holy Baptism and become member of the God's family, our 'self' dies and the resurrected Jesus comes and dwell in us. We should let God guide us and willing to accept the passions that may come with that.

St. Stephen was the first martyr of the New Testament. Later we see that all the disciples of Jesus (except St. John) had violent death. They have embraced the suffering as they knew that the road to eternity is rough. Jesus, himself, had reminded them earlier:

"In this world you will have trouble." (John 16:33).

Troubles in life are a sure thing. But facing them as Job did is difficult for most of us.

St. Paul said:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

We should be willing to die our 'selves' (ego) and completely rely on Christ in us. When we do that, we will experience His resurrection power. When we drain ourselves out, Jesus will fill the void. This is the miracle of Christianity. More we drain out of us, more of God will fill the void! So, less is more!! John, the Baptist, knew that he need to decrease or deplete his self so that Jesus can grow in that place.

Renee Swope described it best:

"Jesus did not die on the cross just to get us out of hell and into heaven. He died on the cross to get Himself out of heaven and into us! That is resurrection life. ...!

If you have been crucified with Christ, you no longer live, but Christ lives in you. The life you now live in your body, you can choose to live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you."

St. Paul explained it in Philippians 1:21,

"For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better."

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

So, take a few minutes out of your busy lives and reflect on what John, the Baptist, and St. Stephen did. Their eyes were focused on the Kingdom of God. They allowed God to work within them so that God can fulfill the purpose He had in their lives. Remember, less is more in Christianity.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (Jan 13)

Sermons for This Sunday (Jan 13)
This Week's Features

Featured: On the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

by Pope Benedict XVI

"The Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise"

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the Gospels, the role of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, in relation to Jesus is quite prominent. In particular, St. Luke recounts his birth, his life in the desert and his preaching, and in today's Gospel St. Mark speaks to us about his dramatic death. John the Baptist begins his preaching under the emperor Tiberius, in 27-28 A.D., and the clear invitation he addresses to the people who come out to hear him is to prepare the way to welcome the Lord, to make straight the paths of their lives through a radical conversion of heart (cf. Luke 3:4).

But the Baptist does not limit himself to preaching repentance and conversion; rather, in recognizing Jesus as "the Lamb of God" who has come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), he has the deep humility to point to Jesus as the One truly sent by God, and he steps aside so that Christ might increase, be heard and followed.

As a last act, the Baptist bears witness with his blood to his fidelity to God's commandments, without giving up or turning back, thus fulfilling his mission to the end. St. Bede, a 9th century monk, in his Homilies says: St. John, for Christ, gave up his life, even though [his persecutor] had not demanded that he should deny Jesus Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth (cf. Hom. 23: CCL 122, 354). And he did not keep silent about the truth, and thus he died for Christ who is the Truth. For love of the truth, he did not give in to compromises with those who were powerful, nor was he afraid to address strong words to the one who lost his way to God.

Now we see this great figure -- this force -- in his passion, in his resistance against the powerful. We ask: where does this life come from, this interiority, which is so strong, so principled, so consistent, which is spent so totally for God and in preparing the way for Jesus? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from prayer, which is the guiding thread of his entire life. John is the divine gift long besought by his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:13); a great gift, humanly unhoped-for since both of them were advanced in years and Elizabeth was barren (cf. Luke 1:7); but nothing is impossible for God (cf. Luke 1:36). The announcement of this birth occurred precisely in a place of prayer, in the temple of Jerusalem; indeed, it took place when, to Zechariah, there fell the great privilege of entering the temple's most sacred place, in order to offer incense to the Lord (cf. Luke 1:8-20). Even the Baptist's birth is marked by prayer: the hymn of joy, praise and thanksgiving that Zechariah raises to the Lord and that we recite each morning in Lauds -- the "Benedictus" -- extols God's action in history and prophetically points to the mission of His son John: to go before the Son of God made flesh in order to prepare the way for Him (Luke 1:67-79).

The entire life of Jesus' precursor was nourished by his relationship with God, especially during the time he spent in the wilderness (cf. Luke 1:80); the wilderness, a place of temptation, but also a place where man feels his own poverty, for there he is deprived of all support and material security, and he comes to understand that the only secure reference point is God Himself.

But John the Baptist is not only a man of prayer, of constant contact with God; he is also a guide in this relationship. The Evangelist Luke, in relating the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples -- the "Our Father" -- notes that the request made by the disciples was formulated with these words: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" (cf. Luke 11:1).

Dear brothers and sisters, celebrating the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist also reminds us -- Christians in our own times -- that we cannot give into compromise when it comes to our love for Christ, for His Word, for His Truth. The Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise. The Christian life requires, as it were, the "martyrdom" of daily fidelity to the Gospel; the courage, that is, to allow Christ to increase in us and to direct our thoughts and actions. But this can only occur in our lives if our relationship with God is strong. Prayer is not time lost, nor does it steal space away from our activities, even those that are apostolic; it is exactly the opposite: only if we are able to have a life of faithful, constant, trusting prayer, will God Himself give us the ability and strength to live in happiness and peace, to overcome difficulties and to courageously bear witness to Him. May St. John the Baptist intercede for us, that we might always maintain the primacy of God in our lives. Thank you.

Source: Adapted from the catechesis Pope Benedict XVI gave on Aug. 29, 2012 during the general audience held in the main square at Castel Gandolfo, Italy. © Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

On the Martyrdom of John the Baptist

by Saint Bede the Venerable

As forerunner of our Lord’s birth, preaching and death, the blessed John showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven. In the words of Scripture: Though in the sight of men he suffered torments, his hope is full of immortality. We justly commemorate the day of his birth with a joyful celebration, a day which he himself made festive for us through his suffering and which he adorned with the crimson splendor of his own blood. We do rightly revere his memory with joyful hearts, for he stamped with the seal of martyrdom the testimony which he delivered on behalf of our Lord.

There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.

Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.

Since death was ever near at hand through the inescapable necessity of nature, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.

Editor's Note:

This reading on the martyrdom of John the Baptist was taken from a sermon of St. Bede the Venerable (Hom 23: CCL 122, 354, 356-357).


Here is John the Baptist talking to God in a St Bridget vision:

John the Baptist suddenly appeared and said:

"Blessed are you, God! You preexist all things. There has never been another god together with you or besides you nor will there ever be any after you, for you are and were one God forever. You are the truth promised by the prophets. While yet unborn I rejoiced in you. I recognized you more fully when I pointed you out.

You are our joy and our glory, our longing and our delight. The sight of you fills us with an indescribable pleasure, which none knows but the one who has tasted of it. You are our only love. It is no wonder that we love you, for you are love itself, and you love not only those who love you but, being the creator of all, you are even charitable to those who scorn to know you. Now then, my Lord, because we are rich through you and in you, we ask you to give of our spiritual riches to those who lack riches so that more people may partake of our good fortune, just as we rejoice not in our own merits but in you." 

Ministry of John the Baptist
Gospel: Luke 3:1-18

Introduction

In the first two chapters of Luke we are told that the Messiah, the savior of the world is coming. The first two chapters are all about anticipation.

Now, here in chapter three, the ministry of the messiah begins, first with John the Baptist, and then with Jesus.

Luke again begins a section in the same way he has all the other sections of the Jesus story so far - by grounding it in the reality of 1st century Palestine. He does so by listing off a number of different rulers and priests, which allows us to establish a fairly precise date for when John the Baptist began his ministry - AD 28.

But this isn't just a dating exercise - these kings and priests are all challenged by the ministries of John and Jesus, and these first words tell us who John and Jesus will be up against as their ministry unfolds:

John spoke out against Herod Antipas and was imprisoned and then executed by him.

Jesus was interrogated by the High Priest Caiaphas and Annas, the Roman governor Pilate, and then Herod Antipas

In other words then, the redemptive work that Mary sang about in the Magnificat in 1:52 is beginning, "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly."

The Essential Gospel Message

This bringing down of the powerful and lifting up of the lowly begins with John's preaching, which is the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This message of repentance and forgiveness is the essential gospel message: in Luke 5:31 Jesus said that he had "come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance"; at the end of Luke in 24:47 just prior to his ascension Jesus Christ tells his disciples to preach "47 repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [Jesus] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem"

It is the essential message that Peter preaches at Pentecost in Acts 2:38 when he says to the assembled crowd "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Children of Abraham

The call the repentance is essentially a call to focus and stay focused on God, and to act according to that focus.

According to verse 8 there were apparently some people in the first century who thought that they didn't need to 'stay focused on God' or turn towards him; they seemed to think that they had a special status and so were exempt from any talk of repentance.

In verses 7-8 John the Baptist takes direct aim at them and in no uncertain terms tells the crowds that that is nonsense: special birth is no special privilege, there are no exceptions where the righteousness of God is concerned.

Rather than relying on some conceived special status they could do what absolutely anyone can do - we can repent, we can turn towards God, stay focused on Him and act according to that God-centered focus.

Application:

The crowd essentially tries to blow God off by saying 'we are Abraham's descendants; our ethnic heritage will protect us, and these prophetic words are not for us.

The temptation to self-justification is universal, so that the question for us is, 'Are there ways in which we attempt to down-play or minimize the gospel message of repentance? With what rationalizations do we dismiss God's call to us?

Do we believe that problems of the world are too big for us? That only government can solve them and that my small contribution will not make a big difference? The call to the fruit of repentance says that our small contribution will make a big difference

Do we believe in prayer and worship? That is good. But do we believe that that is more important than acts of mercy and lovingkindness? Now we have gone to far. Neither the old nor the new testament every teach that it is one over against the other - true faith integrates both.

Do we believe that eternal life is all about going to heaven when we die? Do we believe that life after death is the focus of salvation and that what we do here and now is irrelevant compared to eternity after we die? Eternal life after death is real and it matters, the bible teaches that. But it also teaches with greater emphasis that eternal life is walking with Jesus right here and right now. And that to walk with him right now is to walk with others.

And so John is emphatic is teaching that the crowds must 'bear fruit in keeping with repentance', they must live lives that are consistent with their faith in Christ.

Fruit in keeping with repentance

How do we do this? What a great question, and thankfully John had some suggestions!

John's answer is particularly interesting to me in light of how unspiritual it is: At the time that John was preaching there was a group of devout followers of Judaism who withdrawn from the rest of society and preached judgement on the larger society. Some scholars think that John belonged to this 'Qumran' sect, but John doesn't say here that the fruit of repentance means going out into the desert and waiting for God to judge and condemn those ungodly people.

Neither does he say that the fruit of repentance is to read our bible all the time or to pray all the time or to go to worship services - there are many other passages in the bible that emphasize their importance, but that's not what John describes as the 'fruit of repentance'.

No, apparently the fruit of repentance is seen in how we look out for and care for our fellow human being! John calls for a radical generosity! Again, John is speaking like an Old Testament prophet with his concerns for mercy, justice and loving-kindness.

The crowd

The crowd asks John, 'What should we do?'. His answer stands out to me for how precise it is; he isn't abstract, he doesn't tell them to 'love their neighbour', he doesn't tell them to be kind and merciful, he tells them that if they have clothes that they are not wearing right now, to share those clothes with someone who has none;

That if they have eaten and still have food, to share that food with someone who has not eaten.

It doesn't seem to me that John tells them to share out of their abundance so much as he tells them to share out of anything that they aren't using right now.

The tax collectors

John in a very specific way tells the crowds to be merciful. His commands to the tax collectors and the soldiers were a bit different: they were to be honest, they were to be so honest that it could actually hurt them.

The Romans had figured out that the easiest way to collect taxes was to let others do it for them - they would put out a bid for a region and the highest bidder won the tax contract. That bidder did so hoping that they could collect more than the bid, and then keep the surplus for themselves. The tax collector who had his contract from Rome was the chief tax collector, and he would then let out contracts to other, local tax collectors who also made their bids hoping to collect more than they needed to pass on to their boss.

The taxes we are talking about here are sales taxes. So the amount was set, and there was still the possibility that the tax collector could still make a living. But John is speaking into a system that is dependant on corruption and abuse, so that the honesty of the tax collector means that he could become as poor as the people he is taxing.

Soldiers

The same goes with the soldiers. These were probably not gentile, Roman soldiers, they were instead the Israeli mercenaries who worked for Herod Antipas whose primary job was to protect tax collectors.

They were therefore a part of the same corrupt system that the tax collectors were a part of, and it seems as though they were paid with the assumption that they would augment their income in their work. Here in verse 14 we see essentially that: John tells them to be satisfied with their wages and to not augment their salaries through extortion, bribery threats.

Essentially then, he was telling the tax collectors to live within their means, and to be so honest that it hurt. If they worked within the corrupt system as it was set up they were guaranteed to do very well, but if they simply lived within their means and behaved honestly, that was seriously in doubt.

Application:

There a number of interesting things about the sort of repentance that John is talking about here:

Repentance is apparently not about beating ourselves up or feeling guilty. He does not tell people to dress in sackcloth or sit in a pool of ashes. He does not tell people to mope and fall into negative self-talk. Repentance is apparently not about feeling guilty.

Repentance is also not about withdrawal, it does not appear to be about pulling back from people or about pulling back into a holy, spiritual huddle. Repentance and its implied spirituality are in fact very engaged, it is very involved in people's lives.

Repentance appears instead to be about being socially responsible. Real repentance is prophetic in that it is focused on very tangible actions of mercy and loving-kindness. It is about caring for all with whom we interact to the point of self-sacrifice. To love others so much in our actions that it could actually deprive us so far as our wants and desires are concerned.

Things move on from here…

Things move on from here: The people ask John if he is the Messiah and he says no; he is arrested by Herod Antipas because he condemns Herod for marrying his sister-in-law, who is also his niece, which is just completely repugnant even by Pagan standards. Jesus is baptized, and then we have the genealogy of Jesus, which emphasizes to us his humanity, as well as the fact that salvation is for all people.

We're not going to be going through every section of the book from here on in - that can happen in the devotionals

Conclusion

We began the message by looking at the people in verses 1-2 and saying that they are the same people that were threatened by and eventually squashed both John the Baptist and Jesus.

One question that many people have asked is, why on earth were these people threatened by the message of Jesus? What on earth is there about a message of love that could possibly threaten emperors and despots?

One of the ingredients, and it would seem to me that there are several, but one of the necessary ingredients of the message of Jesus that is so threatening to the powerful is the fact that the sort of repentance that John is describing here is incredibly unifying, and one of the ways that dictators and despots maintain their power and control is by keeping the people they rule divided and mistrustful of one another.

In first century Palestine one great way to set your subjects against one another was to make sure that the local tax collectors and soldiers were in fact local people, of the same ethnic background, so that the people would be cruel towards one another and resentful of one another, sapping any energy and unity necessary for rebellion.

But the repentance that john the Baptist and Jesus and we as his followers preach works against that divisiveness because it unites people and lifts others up.

Good news

In verse 18 we are told that with these and many other words John preached the good news to them' - this message of repentance is good news! Isn't that almost counter-intuitive to our ears?

Culturally we tend to see repentance as an act of personal weakness, as dis-empowering and humiliating.

The call to repentance, far from being dehumanizing, is incredibly empowering. It tells us that, by the power of Jesus Christ, we have power over our own lives and that we can take positive actions towards others. This sort of repentance does not say that it is us against the world, rather it declares that we are with God and God is with us and we can all battle the forces of evil together with God on our side.

This is good news because there is hope and forgiveness - repentance is worthwhile!

There continues to be evil in the world. There continues to be injustice and oppression. And it continues to thrive when people conspire against one another for survival instead of working together sacrificially in order to overcome the evil.

Repentance and forgiveness are essential, indeed central, parts of the salvation Jesus brings, and when we live these active and progressive lives of repentance we talk part in the work of bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly.

Source: Herb's Sermons, posted on January 11th, 2010

John the Baptist and Jesus

by Victor Shepherd

Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12

We expect to find a family resemblance among relatives. John and Jesus were cousins. Not surprisingly, then, they were "look-alikes" in many respects.

  • Both were at home in the wilderness, the venue of extraordinary temptation and trial and testing, but also the venue of extraordinary intimacy with the Father.

  • Both preached out-of doors when they began their public ministry.

  • Both gave their disciples a characteristic prayer. John gave his followers a prayer that outwardly identified them as his disciples and inwardly welded them to each other. In no time the disciples of Jesus asked him for the same kind of characteristic prayer, with the result that we shall never be without the "Lord's Prayer."

  • Both John and Jesus lashed hearers whenever they spoke of God's severity and the inescapability of God's judgement.

  • Both summoned people to repent.

  • Both discounted the popular notion that God favoured Israel with political or national pre-eminence.

  • Both were born through an uncommon act of God.

  • And both died through having provoked uncommon rage among men and women.

John insisted that the sole purpose of his mission was to point away from himself to his younger cousin, Jesus. Jesus, for his part, never uttered one negative word about John. Jesus even endorsed John's ministry by submitting to baptism at John's hand. Indeed Jesus said, "Among those born of women (that is, of all the people in the world), there is none greater than John."

I: Elizabeth and Zechariah named their long-awaited son "Yochan." "Yochan" means "gift of God." This gift, however, didn't come with the pretty ribbons and bows and curlicues of fancy gift-wrapping. This gift came in a plain brown wrapper.

Think of John's appearance. He wore a camel-hide wrap-around, and it stank as only camels can stink. (Jesus, by contrast, wore a robe fine enough that soldiers gambled for it.)

Then there was John's diet: wild honey. How many bee stings did he have to endure to procure the honey? No doubt he had been stung so many times he was impervious, bees being now no more bothersome than fruit flies. And the locusts? There's lots of protein in grasshoppers, since small creatures like grasshoppers are the most efficient in converting grain protein into animal protein. Grasshoppers are good to eat, as long as you don't mind crunching their long legs and occasionally getting them stuck in your teeth. John was anything but effete, anything but dainty, anything but a reed shaken by the wind.

John's habitat was noteworthy. The wilderness, everywhere in scripture, is the symbol for a radical break with the posturing and the pretence, the falsehoods and phoniness of the big city and its inherent corruption. Jerusalem , hier shalem, describes itself as the city of salvation. But is it? Jerusalem kills the prophets and crucifies the Messiah. By living in the wilderness John contradicted everything the city represented.

And of course there was John's manner. He had relatively few tools in his toolbox. When he saw that the truth of God had to be upheld and the sin of the powerful rebuked, he reached into his toolbox and came up with its one and only tool: confrontation. It wasn't long before he confronted Herodias, wife of Herod the ruler. John looked her in the eye and said, "First you married Phillip, your uncle Phillip, no less. Then you ‘fooled around' with the man who is currently your husband. Then you allowed your daughter, Salome, to dance like a stripper in order to inflame a crowd of half-drunk military officers. You, Mrs. Herod, are incestuous, adulterous, and a pimp all at once. It's an abomination to God; you yourself are a disgrace; and the stench of it all looms larger than a mushroom cloud." Whereupon Mrs. Herod had said, "I'll have your head for that. Watch me."

We mustn't forget John's singlemindedness. Because his camel-hide loincloth lacked pockets, John's one-and-only sermon he kept in his head and his heart. It was a simple sermon. The judgement of God is so close at hand that even now you can feel God's fiery breath scorching you and withering everything about you that can't stand the conflagration. And in the face of this judgement, thundered John, there are three things that cosy, comfortable people think they can take refuge in when there is no refuge; namely, parentage, piety and prestige.

Parentage. "Abraham is our parent. We are safe because we are descendants from the grand progenitor of our people, Abraham our father." We are Abraham's son or daughter only if we have Abraham's faith, John knew. In light of the crisis that God's judgement brings on everyone, we're silly for putting stock in the fact that our grandmother was once a missionary in China and our father once shook hands with Billy Graham.

Piety. "We are Israelites. Only last week we had our son circumcised." "We've been members of St.Matthew's-by-the-Gas Station for forty years. We had all our children ‘done' there; we also contributed to the repairs to the steeple." Piety, said John, is a religious inoculation. Like any inoculation it keeps people from getting the real thing. For this reason piety is worse than useless: it guarantees that what can save us we shall never want.

Prestige. "We are the Jerusalem aristocrats." In 18th Century England an aristocrat was asked what she thought of John Wesley's movement. "A perfectly horrid thing", the Duchess of Buckingham had replied, turning up her nose as if someone had just taken the lid off an 18th Century chamber pot; "Imagine being told you are as vile as the wretches that crawl about on the earth."

It was little wonder that those who found John too much to take eased their discomfort by ridiculing him. Baptizein is the everyday Greek verb meaning to dip or to dunk. John the dipper. "Well, Yochan, what'll it be today? Dunk your doughnuts or dip your paintbrush? Here comes the dippy dunker."

Might John have been deranged? His enemies said he was crazy. But the same people who said John was crazy said Jesus was an alcoholic. Certainly John was crude. Jesus admitted as much when he told those whom John had shocked, "What did you expect to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A feeble fellow smelling of perfume?" John lacked the polish of the cocktail crowd. But he was sane.

II: -- Regardless of the family resemblance between John and Jesus they're not identical.

John came to bear witness to the light. Jesus was (and is) that light.

John pointed to Jesus as the coming one. Jesus pointed to himself as the Incarnate one.

John reminded the people of God's centuries-old promises. Jesus was, and is, the fulfillment of all God's promises.

John administered a baptism of water as an outward sign of repentance. Jesus administered a baptism of fire as the Spirit inwardly torched his people.

With this lattermost point we have highlighted the crucial difference between John and Jesus. John could only point to the kingdom of God , the all-determining reality that was to heal a creation disfigured by the Fall. Jesus, on the other hand, didn't point to it: he brought it inasmuch as he was the new creation, fraught with cosmic significance, the one in whom all things are restored. John's ministry prepared people for a coming kingdom that the king would bring with him. Jesus' ministry gathered people into that kingdom which was operative wherever the king himself presided -- which is to say, everywhere.

It's not that Jesus contradicted John. Rather, Jesus effected within people what John could only hold out for them. Because the ministry of Jesus gathered up the ministry of John, nothing about John was lost. At the same time, the ministry of Jesus contained so much more than John's -- as John himself gladly admitted. In other words, the ministry of Jesus was the ministry of John plus all that was unique to our Lord.

Ponder, for instance, the note of repentance sounded by both men. John thundered. He threatened. There was a bad time coming, and John, entirely appropriately, had his hearers scared. Jesus agreed. There is a bad time coming. Throughout the written gospels we find on the lips of Jesus pronouncements every bit as severe as anything John said. Nonetheless, Jesus promised a good time coming too. To be sure, Jesus could flay the hide off phoneys as surely as John, yet flaying didn't characterize him; mercy did. While Jesus could speak, like John, of a coming judgement that couldn't be avoided, Jesus also spoke of an amnesty, a provision, a refuge that reflected the heart of his Father. Everything John said, the whole world needs to hear. Yet we need to hear even more urgently what Jesus alone said: "There's a party underway, and at this party all who are weary and worn down, frenzied and fed up, overwhelmed and overrun -- at this party all such people are going to find rest and restoration, help, healing and hope."

Jesus, like John, spoke to the defiant self-righteous who not only disdained entering the kingdom themselves but also, whether deliberately or left-handedly, impeded others from entering it; Jesus spoke to these people in a vocabulary that would take the varnish off a door. Jesus, however, also had his heart broken over people who were like sheep without a shepherd, about to follow cluelessly the next religious hireling -- the religious "huckster" of any era who exploits the most needy and the most defenseless.

Because John's message was the penultimate word of judgement, the mood surrounding John was as stark, spare, ascetic as John's word: he drank no wine and he ate survival rations. Because Jesus' message was the ultimate word of the kingdom, the mood surrounding Jesus was the mood of a celebration, a party. He turned 150 gallons of water into wine – a huge amount for a huge party. He is the wine of life; he profoundly gladdens the hearts of men and women. His joy floods his people.

With his laser vision Jesus stared into the hearts of those who faulted him and said, "You spoil- sports with shrivelled hearts and acidulated tongues, you wouldn't heed John because his asceticism left you thinking he wasn't sane; now you won't heed me because my partying leaves you thinking I'm not moral. Still, those people you've despised and duped and defrauded: your victims are victors now; they're going to be vindicated. And their exuberance in the celebrations they have with me not even your sullenness can diminish." Whereupon our Lord turned from the scornful snobs that religion forever breeds and welcomed yet another wounded, worn down person who wouldn't know a hymnbook from a homily yet knew as much as she needed to know: life in the company of Jesus is indescribably better than life in the company of his detractors.

I'm always moved at our Lord's simple assertion, "I am the good shepherd." What did he mean by "good"? Merely that he is a competent shepherd, as any competent shepherd can protect the flock against marauders, thieves and disease? There are two Greek words for "good": agathos and kalos. Agathos means "good" in the sense of upright, proper, correct. Kalos, on the other hand (the word Jesus used of himself), includes everything that agathos connotes plus "winsome, attractive, endearing, appealing, compelling, comely, inviting." I am the fine shepherd.

Malcolm Muggeridge accompanied a film crew to India in order to narrate a documentary on the late Mother Teresa. He already knew she was a good woman or he wouldn't have bothered going. When he met her, however, he found a good woman who was also so very compelling, wooing, endearing that he titled his documentary, Something Beautiful for God.

John was good, agathos. Many people feared him and many admired him. Jesus was good, kalos. Many people feared him, many admired him, and many loved him. Paul speaks in Ephesians 6:24 of those who "love our Lord with love undying." Did anyone love John with love undying? If we've grasped the difference between agathos and kalos, between what is good, correct, upright and what is so very inviting and attractive as to be beautiful, then we've grasped the relation of John to Jesus.


There's another dimension to Jesus that carries him beyond John. It's reflected in the word he used uniquely at prayer, abba, "Father." Now the Newer Testament is written in Greek, even though Jesus customarily spoke Aramaic. In other words what our Lord said day-by-day has been translated into another language. Then why wasn't the Aramaic word, abba, translated into Greek? The word was left untranslated in that Jesus had first used it in a special way, and to translate it would seem to sully its distinctiveness.

Abba was the word used by a Palestinian youth to speak of his or her father respectfully, obediently, confidently, securely, and of course intimately. It wasn't so "palsy walsy" as to be disrespectful. Neither was it so gushing as to be sentimental. It was intimate without being impertinent, confident without being smug. Abba was trusting one's father without trading on the father's trustworthiness, familiar without being forward, secure without being saccharine.

We must be sure to understand that when early-day Christians came to use the word abba in their prayers they weren't repeating the word just because they knew Jesus had used it and they thought it cute to imitate him. Neither were they mumbling it mindlessly like a mantra thinking that if they kept on saying it, mantra-like, whatever it was within him that had given rise to it would eventually appear within them. On the contrary, they were impelled to use the word for one reason: as companions of Jesus they had been admitted to such an intimacy with the Father that the word Jesus had used uniquely of his Father they were now constrained to use too, so closely did their intimacy resemble his. When Paul writes in Romans 8:15 that Christians can't help uttering the cry, "Abba, Father", any more than a person in pain can help groaning or a person bereaved can help weeping or a person tickled by a good joke can help laughing; when Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that this is normal Christian experience, "normal" means being introduced by the Son to the Father in such a way and at such a depth that the Son's intimacy with the Father induces the believer's intimacy. Abba.

We should note that the written gospels show us that Jesus used this word in Gethsemane; Gethsemane , of all places, when he was utterly alone at the most tormented hour of his life. I understand this. William Stringfellow, Harvard-taught lawyer and self-taught theologian who went to Harlem in a store-front law practice on behalf of the impoverished people he loved; Stringfellow, ridiculed by his denomination, suspected by the Kennedys and arrested finally by the FBI for harbouring Daniel Berrigan (a Jesuit anti-Viet Nam War protester); Stringfellow wrote in a little confirmation class book he prepared for teenagers, "Prayer is being so alone that God is the only witness to your existence."

The day comes for all of us when we are so thoroughly alone we couldn't be more alone. And in the isolation and torment of such a day we are going to find that God is the only witness to our existence. But he will be witness enough. And because it's the Father who is the only witness to our existence, we shall find ourself crying spontaneously, "Abba." Surely Jesus had this in mind when he said, "There has never appeared anyone greater than John the Baptist. Yet the least in the kingdom is greater than John."

We all need to be shaken up by the wild man from the wilderness, the grasshopper-eating, hide-wearing prophet whom no one should have mistaken for a reed shaken by the wind. Yet as often as we need to look at John, we find fearsome John pointing away from himself to Jesus, the Word Incarnate, the lamb of God and the Saviour of the world; someone no less rigorous than John to be sure, but also so much more than John – someone so very winsome, compelling, inviting as to be beautiful.  

Someone to Lean On

by Wendy Pope

"When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up - one on one side, one on the other - so that his hands remained steady till sunset." Exodus 17:12 (NIV)

Someone very dear to me is in the fight of her life ... she's wrestling with her belief in God and searching to know with certainty that Scripture is true. She's fighting for her faith. Watching from the sidelines is difficult to endure for me. But the battle is one that only she can combat.

I love her so much and want to jump in the ring with my fighting gloves and slay the enemy. As one who came out victorious from the same struggle of my own, I long to bottle the knowledge I learned and give it to her. Handing my wisdom and faith to her would surely spare her the agony associated with a fight for faith in the Lord.

Watching the conflict as a bystander is arduous. But while I watch, I pray. And through prayer I am reminded of two men in the Bible who stood by their friend Moses in battle.

Moses sent Joshua into battle to fight an army of their enemies. While Joshua and the men waged war, Moses stood on top of the mountain holding his staff over the valley. Joshua and his men were victorious as long as Moses held the staff up. When Moses lowered the staff, their enemies gained on them.

Moses' friends, Aaron and Hur, followed him up the mountain. They saw the pressure and agony Moses experienced as he held the staff. With compassion, these men pushed a large rock under Moses for him to rest upon. Then, in a selfless act of love and friendship, they each held up one of Moses' arms as he held the staff high.

They could not hold the staff for Moses but they could stand with him through the long battle.

They filled in the gap created by Moses' weakness with the strength of their faith.

This story challenged me to change my position from a bystander to that of a gap-stander. A bystander is an onlooker who watches, but does not to get involved.

A gap-stander has empathy and takes action, using the strength of her faith to help the fighter stand until victory comes. A gap-stander is someone the one in battle can lean on.

Are you watching someone you care about fight for faith, whether in God, for healing, restoration of a marriage, or something else? Do you feel helpless?

We cannot give our faith to our loved ones or fight for them, but we can stand with them and support them as they fight to have their own faith.

The job of the gap-stander isn't easy, but it is a place of honor. Gap-standers are committed to encouragement, prayer, and spiritual and practical support. As we watch the battle rage, we also share in and observe God's great work and their victory. Who can you stand in the gap for today?

Dear Lord, someone I love is fighting and is tired. Will You show me how I can help? I choose to change positions from a bystander to a gap-stander. Help me have patience and be compassionate as I stand in the gap. I praise You for the victory that awaits for my loved one. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Reflect and Respond:

Read Moses' story in Exodus 17:8-13.

Power Verses:

1 Peter 5:6, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." (NIV)

Isaiah 41:10, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (NIV)

© 2012 by Wendy Pope. All rights reserved.

Source: Encouragement for Today; Proverbs 31 Ministries

Family: Recovering God's Plan for Marriage and Family

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Perhaps, this is a good time to reflect on family life. For, at Christmas time, family, and extended family, often gather together. Let us look at the family along three angles: Structure, Struggles, and Strategy.

I. Structure–All through the readings for today's mass we are instructed on the basic form, the basic structure of the family.

For example:

1. God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother's authority he confirms over her sons. (Sirach 3:2).

2. May your wife be like a fruitful vine, in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants, around your table (Psalm 128:3).

3. Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so that they may not become discouraged. (Colossians 3:20–21).

4. Each year, Jesus parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover… Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety… (Luke 2:45, 51,).

5. And he was obedient to them;… And Jesus advanced in age and wisdom and favor before God and man (Luke 2:51–52).

And thus we see the basic structure of family:

1. A father in honor over his children

2. A wife and mother, supportive of her husband and his authority.

3. A mother, having authority over her children, supported loved and encouraged by her husband, and obeyed by her children.

4. Children who both honor and obey their parents.

5. Fathers, and by extension mothers, who instruct and admonish their children, but not in the way that badgers and discourages them, but in a way that encourages and builds them up.

6. A family structure that helps children to advance in wisdom, and age, and favor before God and man.

Here then, is God's basic teaching on family and marriage. Here is the basic structure for the family, as God sets it forth: a man who loves his wife, a woman, who loves her husband. And in this stable, lasting, and faithful union of mutual support and love, they conceive and raise their children in the holy fear of the Lord.

Add to this, the principal description of the book of Genesis, which describes how God says forth marriage: "A man shall leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh. " (Genesis 2:24). And to this first couple, God gives the mandate, "Be fruitful and multiply. " (Genesis 1:22).

And thus we have set forth biblically the basic structure for the family: a father, a mother, and children, all reverential, and supportive of one another, in their various roles and duties.

Note how the structure of the family, take its basic form in terms of its essential fruit: the procreation and rearing of children. Why should marriage be a stable and lasting union? Why is Adam told to cling to his wife, to form a stable and lasting union with her? Why?

Because, this is what is best for, and just for children! Children both need and deserve a stable and lasting union, of a father and a mother, of a complementary influence of the different sexes. Here is what is best for children to be raised and formed. Hence, the family structure of a father and a mother, a male and female parent, flows from what is best, and just for children. The structure of the family, as set forth by God, is rooted in what is best, and just for children. Here is what is sensible and best, sociologically, and psychologically, in terms of the proper development of Children.

Even before we open the Bible, it makes sense that a child should have a father and a mother, a male and female influence, and teaching. There are things that a male, and a father, can teach a child, that a mother, and a female, cannot best teach. Further, the mother, and a female, can teach, and model for children what only a mother, and a female best teaches.

This much is clear before we even open the Bible. Male and female influence are essential for the proper psychological and sociological development of the child. Clearly then, God's biblical mandates that marriage should include a father and a mother, is not without basis in simple human reason, and common sense.

To intentionally deprive a child of this context is both unjust to the child, and unwise. Hence, we see that the basic structure for marriage takes its shape from what is best, and what is just for children. Both God, and nature, provide for a father and a mother, a male and a female, to conceive and raise a child.

It also makes sense based on simple human reasoning that that relationship should be stable, something the child can depend on from day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year, through all the formative years.

Here then is the proper structure for marriage. It is set forth both by God, and by human reason.

II. Struggles–And yet, what should be obvious to us as a culture seems to be strangely absent in the minds of many.

Let us be clear, sin clouds our judgment, and makes many think that what is sinful and improper is in fact okay and good. It is not. In our current modern culture we gravely sin against God and against our children by consistent misconduct, and by the refusal to accept what is obviously true. The words of St. Paul are fulfilled in our modern times: their senseless minds were darkened, and they became vain and foolish in their reasoning. (Rom 1:21).

It is clear today that the family is in grave crisis. And it is also clear, that it is the children who suffer the most. Our modern age, in the Western world shows forth the mentality that is both deeply flawed, and gravely harmful to children.

Marriage and family are in great crisis do the willful and sinful habits of the vast majority of adults in our culture regarding sexuality, marriage, and family life. The rebellion of adults against the plan and order of God have caused endless grief and hardship, and set forth a culture that is poisonous to the proper raising and blessing of children.

Last week, we commented on this on the blog. Without repeating that whole blog post that the following excerpt stands forth:

Children have much to suffer in this world of our collective making. And while not all of us are equally guilty of contributing to the suffering of children, none of us are wholly innocent either, if for no other reason than our silence.

Consider that most children born today are no longer born into the stable and lasting family units they justly deserve with a father and mother committed to one another till death do them part.

The problems begin with fornication, which is rampant in our culture. And while most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. It is so because of what it does primarily to children.

The fact is many children are conceived of fornication. Tragically most of these children who are thus conceived are outright murdered by abortion. 85% of abortions are performed on unmarried women. And for all the vaunted declarations of how contraception makes every baby a wanted baby, nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed with the availability of contraception. This is because the problem is not fertility, it is lust, promiscuity, fornication and adultery. And contraception fuels these problems by further enabling them. The promises associated with contraception are lies, it does the opposite of what it promises.

Thus fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with death, in huge numbers. And the children, conceived of fornication who do (thankfully) survive are, nevertheless subjected to the injustice of usually being born into irregular situations. There are single mothers, some single fathers, and many other irregularities.

Add to this picture the large number of divorced families. And make no mistake, these shredded families cause great hardships and pain for children that include: children be shuttled back and forth between different household each week, having to meet "daddy's new girlfriend" or mommy's new "live-in boy-friend" and all sorts of other family chaos. Blended families also dramatically increase the likelihood of sexual and emotional abuse, since legal relationships seldom have the built-in protections of natural relationships.

All of this misbehavior, individual and cultural, harms children. Not being raised in a traditional marriage dramatically increases a child's likelihood of suffering many other social ills, starting with poverty.

  • The chief cause of poverty in this country, is the single motherhood, absent fatherhood.
  • 71% of poor families are not married.
  • Children of single parent homes are 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
  • 2 times more likely be treated for emotional and behavioral problems,
  • Twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school,
  • 33% more likely to drop out of school,
  • 3 times more likely to end up in jail by age 30.
  • 50% more likely to live in poverty as adults,
  • And twice as likely to have a child outside of marriage themselves. [*]

Add to the burdens children must experience, the new trend of same sex adoption. Never mind that it is best for the psychological development of a child to have a father and mother, a male and female influence. No, what is best and just children must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Same sex couples must now be given equal consideration under law (in many states) to heterosexual couples. It's the adults and their rights that seem to matter most here, what is best for children is quite secondary.

Here then are our struggles. Our families are in grave crisis and MOST children in our culture are not raised in the stable and committed homes they deserve. And let us be even more clear, to intentionally deprive children of this sort of home by raising them outside of marriage, or in same sex unions etc. , is sinful, wrong and an injustice.

Let us also be clear that it is not possible to personally judge every case of a broken family. The modern world has experienced as cultural tsunami and many have been influenced by lies and other false promises. It may be true that, if you are divorced you tried to save your marriage, but your spouse was unwilling. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, perhaps before your your conversion to Christ, you fell and bore children outside of marriage, but have done your best to raise them well.

But in the end we must say that children have had much to suffer on account of adult misbehavior in our culture. It is a true and sad fact, and we need to repent, and beg God's grace and mercy to undue our grave sins of commission, omission and silence. We have set forth a bitter world for our children to inherit.

III. Strategy - What are we to do?

In phrase, "Preach the Word. " What ever the sins of us, in this present generation (and there are many), we must be prepared to unambiguously re-propose the wisdom of God's Word to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even if many of us in the current generation have fallen short, we cannot hesitate to announce God's plan for sexuality, marriage, and family.

Our strategic proclamation must include these key elements:

1. No sex before marriage, ever, or under any circumstances. Sexual intercourse is rooted in the procreation of children and there no legitimate use of it outside of marriage, ever; no exceptions to this.

2. Children deserve and have the right to expect two parents, a father and mother, committed to each other till death do them part. Anything short of this is a grave injustice to children and a mortal sin before God.

3. Gay unions, or single mothers and fathers, are NOT an acceptable alternative to biblical marriage, and to intentionally subject children to this for the sake of "political correctness" is a grave injustice to them.

4. Marriage is about what is best for children, not adults.

5. Married couples must learn to work out their differences (as was done in the past) and not rush to divorce courts, which offends God (cf Malachi 2:16).

6. The needs of children far outweigh the preferences and needs of adults.

Whatever the personal failings of any of us in this present evil age (cf Gal 1:4), our strategy must be to preach the undiluted plan of God for sexuality, marriage and family to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In a phrase or two: "Back to the Bible! Back to the plan of God! Away with modern experiments and unbiblical schemes. " God has given us a plan. And we, thinking we had better notions, have caused great sorrow and hardship for our descendants. We have acted unjustly, murdered or children through abortion, and, sowing in the wind, have caused those who have survived our misbehavior, to inherit the whirlwind. It is time to repent and help our heirs to rejoice in chastity, marriage and biblical family. Otherwise we are doomed to perish.

God has a plan and it must be our strategy out of our struggles and back to God's structure for our families.

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

Malankara World Journal Special on Women

On January 21, 2013, Malankara World, God willing, is planning to publish a special edition of the MW Journal (Issue No: 121) dedicated to Women. It will be released by Very Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Kunnath MD Corepiscopa, Malankara World Board Member, after the Qurbana at Baselios Church, Ohio on Sunday, January 20. This will become a cherished keepsake.

Women's role in our church is very mush misunderstood. They play a key role; but often do not get the recognition they deserve. Our Kochammas/ammayees (spouse of married clergy) work very hard behind the shadow of their husbands without much notice.

Women also play a key role in shaping the children - the future of our church. Pentecostal churches often target women because they know that they can capture the whole family by targeting the women.

Although, we were planning for this publication for nearly two months, the recent awareness of the women's plight in India following the rape-murder of a 23 year old medical student in New Delhi makes this issue quite timely.

We invite articles from our readers. Due to the time constraints, please send your article no later than January 15 to make it to the press. You can submit your article electronically to mail@malankaraworld.com

Health: Researchers Say Declining Circumcision Rates Will Raise Health-care Costs by Billions
By Eryn Brown

A team of economists and epidemiologists estimates that every circumcision not performed leads to significant increases in lifetime medical expenses to treat sexually transmitted diseases and related cancers

Declining rates of circumcision among infants will translate into billions of dollars' worth of unnecessary medical costs in the United States as the boys grow up and become sexually active men, researchers at Johns Hopkins University said.

In a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a team of economists and epidemiologists estimated that every circumcision not performed would lead to significant increases in lifetime medical expenses to treat sexually transmitted diseases and related cancers - increases that far surpass the costs associated with the procedure.

Circumcision is a hotly debated and emotional issue in the U.S., where rates have been falling for decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, about 80 percent of baby boys were routinely circumcised in hospitals or during religious ceremonies; by 2010, that figure had dropped below 55 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of that decline is due to shifting attitudes among parents, but at least part of it can be traced to the decision by many states to eliminate Medicaid coverage for the procedure. Today 18 states, including California, do not provide Medicaid coverage for the procedure, which is considered cosmetic by many physicians.

But in the past decade, studies have increasingly shown that removing the foreskin of the penis has significant health benefits, said Dr. Aaron Tobian, senior author of the new study.

Three randomized trials in Africa have demonstrated that circumcision was associated with a reduced risk of contracting HIV, human papillomavirus and herpes simplex in men. One of those studies documented a reduced risk of HPV, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis in the female partners of men who were circumcised.

Circumcision is believed to prevent STDs by depriving pathogens of a moist environment where they can thrive. The inner foreskin has been shown to be highly susceptible to HIV in particular because it contains large numbers of Langerhans cells, a target for the virus.

Tobian and his colleagues developed a computer-based simulation to estimate whether declining circumcision rates would lead to more STDs and thus higher medical costs.

If circumcision rates remain around 50 percentinstead of the higher rates of years past, the lifetime health-care costs for all of the babies born in a single year will likely rise by $211 million, the team calculated.

If circumcision rates were to fall to 10 percent - which is typical in countries where insurance does not cover the procedure - lifetime health-care costs for all the babies born in a year would go up by $505 million. That works out to $313 in added costs for every circumcision that doesn't happen, according to the report.

In this scenario, nearly 80 percent of the additional projected costs were due to medical care associated with HIV infection in men, the team wrote.

The model includes only direct medical costs such as treatment for penile and cervical cancer, which are associated with HPV infection. It doesn't consider nonmedical or indirect costs, such as transportation to doctors' appointments or lost income.

To Tobian, the message is clear: Government efforts to save money by denying coverage for circumcision are penny-wise but pound-foolish.

"The federal Medicaid program should reclassify circumcision from an optional service to one all states should cover," he said.

That sentiment was echoed in an editorial accompanying the study. UCLA health economist Arleen Leibowitz wrote that by failing to require states to cover circumcision in Medicaid plans, the U.S. reinforces health-care disparities.

"If we don't give poor parents the opportunity to make this choice, we're discriminating against their health in the future," she said in an interview. "If something is better for health and saves money, why shouldn't we do it? Or at least, why shouldn't we allow parents the option to choose it?"

Ellen Meara, a researcher at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice who was not involved with the study, praised the researchers for conducting a careful analysis. But she questioned whether data from HIV studies in Africa were applicable to the U.S. Medicaid population.

Still, it's "the best information we have," she said. "There's nothing better to plug in."

The analysis comes a week before the American Academy of Pediatrics is scheduled to release a new policy on circumcision. Since 1999, the doctors group has taken a neutral stance on the procedure, saying that "the scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits" but that it's not strong enough to say that circumcision should be routine.

Joel Hay, a health economist at the University of Southern California, said the new study is inherently flawed because ethical concerns about the procedure trump any economic analysis of its potential benefits.

"You're taking an asymptomatic individual and forcing a procedure on him," he said.

Hay also argued that Americans don't need circumcision to prevent HIV infection because they have other options, such as using condoms. He said that just last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a once-a-day pill called Truvada to reduce the risk of HIV transmission in high-risk groups.

"There's no reason why people have to engage in this irreversible procedure," he said.

Source: JewishWorldReview.com (MCT)

Recipe: Pumpkin Cheesecake
Ingredients:

Crumb Crust:

• 1 cup(s) graham-cracker crumbs
• 3 tablespoon(s) margarin or butter, melted
• 2tablespoon(s) sugar

Pumpkin Filling:

• 2 package(s) (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
• 1 1/4 cup(s) sugar
• 1 can(s) (15-ounce) pure pumpkin (not pumpkin-pie mix)
• 3/4 cup(s) sour cream
• 2 tablespoon(s) bourbon or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon(s) ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
• 4 large eggs

Sour-Cream Topping:

• 1 cup(s) sour cream
• 3 tablespoon(s) sugar
• 1 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
• Crystallized ginger strips, for garnish

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In 9” by 3” springform pan, with fork, stir graham-cracker crumbs, melted margarine or butter, and sugar until moistened. With hand, press mixture onto bottom of pan. Tightly wrap outside of pan with heavy-duty foil to prevent leakage when baking in water bath later. Bake crust 10 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

2. Prepare Pumpkin Filling: In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese until smooth; slowly beat in sugar until blended, about 1 minute, scraping bowl often with rubber spatula. With mixer at low speed, beat in pumpkin, sour cream, bourbon or vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

3. Pour pumpkin mixture into crust and place in large roasting pan. Place pan on oven rack. Carefully pour enough boiling water into pan to come 1 inch up side of springform pan. Bake cheesecake 1 hour 10 minutes or until center barely jiggles.

4. Meanwhile, prepare Sour-Cream Topping: In small bowl, with wire whisk, beat sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until blended. Remove cheesecake from water bath, leaving water bath in oven, and spread sour-cream mixture evenly over top. Return cake to water bath and bake 5 minutes longer.

5. Remove cheesecake from water bath to wire rack; discard foil. With small knife, loosen cheesecake from side of pan to help prevent cracking during cooling. Cool cheesecake completely. Cover and refrigerate cheesecake at least 6 hours or overnight, until well chilled. Remove side of pan to serve. Garnish with crystallized ginger.

Source: Good Housekeeping

Going the Extra Mile Pays

by Judy Williamson, Napoleon Hill Foundation

Today many people are talking about what they get for nothing. From coupons to rebates to gifts with purchase to finders’ fees to rewards for information to coins found on the street to extra change from the cashier --- and the list goes on and on. With the total emphasis on getting, there is little emphasis on giving. Let’s reverse the order and ask ourselves what we give instead of what we get!

Today, did you give a smile to someone without one? Did you lift up a person in the dumps? Did you respond to a phone call, email, letter, or acquaintance with a "yes" instead of a "no"? Did you offer encouragement to someone discouraged? Did you connect someone to another as a favor rather than a bounty hunter performing a service? Did you disregard the "what’s in it for me?" pop-up, and give without the expectation of receiving?

True giving from a Christian perspective parallels the corporal acts of mercy as listed below:

1. To feed the hungry: "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat." Mt. 25:35

2. To give drink to the thirsty: "...I was thirsty and you gave me to drink..." Mt. 25:35

3. To clothe the naked: "I was...naked and you clothed me..." Mt. 25:36

4. To visit the imprisoned: "I was in prison and you came to me." Mt. 25:36

5. To shelter the homeless: "...I was a stranger and you took me in..." Mt. 25:35

6. To visit the sick: "...I was sick and you cared for me..." Mt. 25:36

7. To bury the dead: "Amen, I say to you, insofar as you did it for one of these least of my brothers, you did it for me." Mt. 25:40

Perhaps setting a few goals with these directives in mind would be a good lesson from the giving and not the receiving end. And, one more lesson. Change always begins with you!

Humor: When Insults Had Class
From an era before the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words.

· "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play;
Bring a friend, if you have one."
George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill.

· "Cannot possibly attend first night,
I will attend second...If there is one."
Winston Churchill, in response.

· GLADSTONE to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows, or of some unspeakable disease."
· "That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

· "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
- Moses Hadas

·"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
- Winston Churchill

· "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."
- Clarence Darrow

· "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.."
- Oscar Wilde

· "I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."
- Stephen Bishop

· "He is a self-made man and worships his creator."
- John Bright

· "Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"
- Mark Twain

· "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
- Oscar Wilde

· "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."
- Groucho Marx.

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