by Rev. Fr. John Kunjukunju
"He will be great in the sight of the Lord," Luke 1:15.
Third Sunday of Church calendar is "Sooboro d'Skario" or "Annunciation to Zacharias." This Sunday is forerunner to Christmas, even as St John the Baptist was forerunner to our Lord. Faithful knows as poet says, "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?", that Christmas is only eight weeks away. For Malankara Orthodox Church it is also "Parents' Day." Zacharias and Elizabeth are model spouses; "Both were righteous before God, walking in all commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless," v6. Model spouses only could make model parents. They are role models of parents because they brought up their child in Lord's discipline. I wrote an article on this subject, "They were both righteous." So this time I would discuss another aspect of today's reading, the angel's prediction as to who would be the offspring, verse 1:15.
Zachariah was still confused and trembling at the sudden sight of angel. Did this message comfort him? In John the Baptist these words were actualized. Jesus said; John was the greatest among those born of women, Luke 7:28. We live in a society where leaders award 'chevaliers' and 'commanders' not for good reasons but for buttering them and people obsessed with the idea of obtaining titles by hook or by crook. Is there anything greater than a good certificate from Jesus? And missing that would be terrible!
Wealth, high influence, leadership, admiration from others, etc are signs of greatness and everyone's dream. Pharisees bore a bad label on them as lovers of power, position and craving for honors from public. Jesus called them hypocrites and taught the disciples not to imitate them, Luke 14:7. But were disciples different? Even when Jesus was talking about his final ordeals on earth the disciples were preoccupied with a dispute as to who was greatest among them, Luke 9:46; who was greatest in the Kingdom of God, Mat 18:1-5. Jesus showed them a little child and said, unless converted and become like a child they will not enter in the kingdom. The disciples were drenched in worldly thought, not spiritual. Jesus showed the child because children are free from ambitions. They are teachable,humble, simple, lowly and dependant. Mother of Zebedee's sons wanted Jesus to grant her children sit at his right and left, Mat 20:21. Jesus enlightened her ignorance and told the hard way, that is, it was not He, but the Father who decides to whom it be granted. Being great is great ambition, nothing wrong, if guided by noble intentions, pursued in the right direction and stuck to righteous means; contrariwise, nothing else would be deadlier.
It is indeed a matter of great joy and comfort if one knows beforehand what his/her child would become. Unpredictability of children's future is great concern for many parents. Parents wish that their children should grow up healthy, intelligent, courteous and blameless. With this end in view they afford them the best possible living conditions, education and opportunities. Ironically, only a few come out with flying colors. Parents never get the answer why their child did not fare well despite best opportunities. There are too many instances when parents are meek and gentle but children are unruly; parents are very religious but children are irreligious or even atheists, parents are morally upright but children opt to live in immoral way of life.
Some people very actively manage church affairs for many years in various capacities, spending lion-share of their time, energy and money for the growth of church and community and yet they are helpless and unhappy that their children do not follow their foot-steps. Many 'church leaders' told me "My children go to English, Protestant denominational groups." They neither come to our church nor marry from our faith/community. Many parents live in perennial regret, generalize, pretend smile and wonder why their child went wrong. Some children brought shame on the parents.
Parents take advantage where children are obedient, fail to credit their sentiments; guided by false pride, take them to Kerala and force them into marriage and ruin the whole life. Some youth told me, they hate the church because parents are fighting in it. Some others said they lost self-esteem for their parents led shameful life; bad in-house-relationship drove them out of community. But all are too quick to blame the church instead of introspection into their own follies in the church and the household. There are too many contradictions in life; who could discern all the mysteries!
I assert by the authority of the word of God, parents' basic responsibility is to bring up children in Lord's discipline; if they fail in that they fail in all other aspects. How shall I expect my children behave great when I live in drunken revelry, addiction, infidelity and debauchery? People seldom distinguish greatness in the sight of the Lord and in the sight of the world. People posit high value to saints; they conduct pilgrimages, feasts, give offerings in the name of Saints, plead for intercession, etc. Good, all these are essential to spiritual growth. How many of them have avowed, "My child must become a saint like Parumala thirumeni," nurtured them to be so? We honor saints for their strong faith, prayer life, missionary zeal, blameless conduct and leading others in faith. Chief aim is to emulate their worthy examples (swamseekaranam). Parents ought to be role-models; good conduct, punctual in church and regular partakers of the holy mysteries, etc. Managing churches and communities are secondary, not primary duty. Home ought to be a miniature church where prayer, hymn, bible reading, virtuous conduct; compassion, charity and kindness are a routine. Many are yet to discern that things great in the eye of society; high-end job, high income, mansions, club-membership, social drinking, etc are not so great in God's sight.
What then will be great in the sight of God? To the Jews Jacob was great because he had divine revelation; ladder touching earth and heaven. Samaritan woman asked Jesus, "Are you greater than our father Jacob?" John 4:12. Constant contact with God is sign of true greatness. Righteous and blameless is great. According to rabbinical teaching, "A Jew who has no wife or a wife who has no child is outcast in God's eye." Thus Zachariah was free to divorce Elizabeth. But they were both blameless and righteous before God, Luke 1:6. St Paul gives a list of 'great' in the sight of God and the true nature of greatness. "By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt," Heb 11:24-26. "Of whom the world was not worthy," Heb 11:38. 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, describe the ordeal of a mother (Morth Smooni) and her seven children for her faith in God by the persecutors. Martyrs are great for they received imperishable crown in the Kingdom of God.
Nehemiah, a captive Jew was cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes. It was a high position in the palace. But he was unhappy because "The walls of Jerusalem were in ruins." He wept, mourned and prayed for days, Neh 1:4. The king favored him. He reached Jerusalem and built the walls of Jerusalem. Sanballat, Tobia and Geshem plotted to kill Nehemiah. But Nehemiah sent word to them, "I am doing a great work, Neh 4:19, 6:3." He who does great thing for God is great.
Jesus taught enough about who is great in heaven; one who is poor in spirit, suffering, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted for the sake of righteousness and falsely accused is great, Mat 5:3-12; teach and obey the Law properly will be great in heaven, Mat 5:19; love the enemies, do good to those who hate, bless those who curse, pray for those who are spiteful, do not retaliate to those who do evil, do not expect rewards, do not judge, do not condemn but forgive, avoid hypocrisy is great, Luke chapter 6; who humbles himself is great, Mat 18:4. Referring to self-justification Jesus said what is highly esteemed among men is abomination before God, Luke 16:15. In short, one who obeys God is great.
He who discerns great things and does them is great indeed. Jesus said not to worry about life but rather completely trust God, life is more important than food and body more important than clothing, Mat 6:25. He who admits that God is greater than all other things is great, John 10:29. But today's man obsessed in his scientific and technological expertise claims he is greater than God! He is yet to acknowledge he has no skill before Tsunami! Yuri Gagarin, first astronaut, went round space in "Sputnik," on return he said, 'I did not find God anywhere.' Such was the proud of the Communist Russia which converted "St Peter's Square" into museum and avowed 'to efface God from the face of earth'. Look at the tragic demise of Communist Russia. Religion now thrives there more than ever before. But Kerala politicians are still in denial. "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt and have done abominable iniquity," Ps 53:1. Those who lead abominable way of life or inclined to live in self-denial deny God. Unknowingly they are on the path of destruction. St Mary exulted, "My soul magnifies the Lord€ ¦’¥For He who is mighty has done great things for me," Luke 1:49. Great is the one who is thankful to God. David who was thankful reminds us, "Forget not all His benefits," Ps 103:2. Are we thankful to God?
Christianity is in crisis. As never before, Church is plagued by heresies, desertion, lack of faith, spiritual lethargy, disunity, strife, hatred, litigation, erosion of values, immorality, visionless selfish leadership, foreign yoke, etc. Should we not bitterly weep for the Mother-church? We need to pray, "Lord, we went far from you, help us return, come quickly; restore your beautiful bride to its original glory." Let this Christmas be a time of dedication. Let our spiritual fervor inflame so to rejuvenate the lost glory of the Church; it will certainly be great in the sight of God.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace," Num 6:24-26.
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