by HG Yuhanon Mor Meletius
Gospel Reading: St. John 10: 22 - 38
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.
See Also:Dedicating Our Lives
Reflections on Hoodosh Etho Sunday
by Rev. Fr. T. George
Devotional Thoughts for
Hoodosh Eetho Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril
Dedication of Body, Mind and Spirit
by Fr. John Samuel, London
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