Friday, October 23, 2020

When tricked by Law, treat with Love - Reflecting on Matthew 22: 34-40

 On Halloween last year, few children on our street went around the houses asking “Trick or Treat?” and they really looked forward to a treat of chocolates, which they enjoyed doing. Tricking people with difficult questions is in a way trying to confuse people in agreeing to one’s requests. Way back in Jesus time, particularly as recorded in Matthew chapter 22, we see Jesus being tricked by the Pharisees and Sadducees with certain difficult questions. In this chapter we notice three trick or treat questions that Jesus had to encounter from the religious leaders. The first of those was a political question, 22:15-22, where they ask about paying taxes to the emperor. The second was a doctrinal question in 22: 23-33, where they ask about levirate marriage, husband and resurrection. The third set of tricks or treat questions to Jesus is from the passage from this week’s lectionary reading 22:34-40, which is an ethical/legal question about the greatest of the laws in the Torah.  

 

In verse 36, we read that in the presence of the religious leaders of the temple and law, a certain lawyer was asking Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” By asking such a question about the greatest commandment, this certain lawyers and the religious leaders’ lust for power and privilege is only exposed. Since the lives of these religious people in the temple are always conditioned and led by power, principalities, privilege and prestige, they try to look for the greatest in everything including the commandments. This question is also like a legal expert asking today among all the Acts of the Parliament (as the UK doesn’t have one codified written Constitution like in other modern States), which Act is the greatest? It is surely a difficult question to pin down to one particular law or Act, and name that as greatest. As each and every law or Act that was made has a history, context and situation, certain discussion on it, by which they had to come into effect. For example, in the UK, the Equality Act 2010, is an Act of the Parliament that legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in the wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. By bringing this example, the point I am trying to make is that each Act or a law has a background that needs to be taken into consideration, and one cannot put against another Act or law as the greatest. The expert in Law, a certain lawyer when asked Jesus, “which commandment in the Law is the greatest?”, they were really trying to trick Jesus, fix Jesus with Law which the religious community held very sacred and dear to them.

 

There were 613 laws in the Torah, and to pick one law as the greatest law was not only a herculean task for Jesus, but also was an awkward task of pulling one among all important laws. Jesus as always rose up to the occasion and replied to this lawyer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (37-40v) For Jesus, when the lawyers, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and other religious leaders of the temple tried to trick with the Law, Jesus always treated them with love, which is love for God and love for neighbour, for he emphasised that these two commandments are like two pillars on which the entire laws and prophets hang.

 

These two pillars, therefore, become the core pillars where Christian discipleship finds its basis. There are five important directives for our discipleship in understanding these two pillars. Firstly, without any of these two pillars, the entire Law and the prophet’s messages will simply fall and cannot withstand. For me both these pillars are in perfect equilibrium, by which I want to say that neither of these pillars are taller than the other, for both the pillar of loving God and the pillar of loving neighbour are of equal height, equal width, equal length and equal in every measurement. Secondly, both these pillars co-exist, for neither of them can exist on its own. Loving God is directly proportional to loving neighbour, and loving neighbour is a reflection of loving God. Neither the Law nor the prophets can hang on just one pillar. Thirdly, it is important to recognise that it is love that is the common material on both these pillars, love for God and love for neighbour, for the message of law and the prophets have all been entwined on this core foundation of love. Fourthly, with both these pillars of loving God and loving neighbour, it is love which becomes the hermeneutic in interpreting the law and the prophets. Fifthly, with love being the core and common for both these two pillars, love becomes the commandment of life, of Cross and of the Kingdom of God.  

 

In drawing a relevance of this text, today we recognise there are many tricks that are being played against our Christian living and discipleship. In whatever situations and with any kind of tricks, the gospel of Jesus Christ is to treat with love, and only with love. The first learning for us as a church in the 21st century is, love should be the hermeneutic of interpreting our scriptures. Today, there are many people who try to trick people and situations quoting scriptures out of their contexts. Love should be the interpreting principle in every situation and to every person. Love for God is not expressed by hatred towards neighbours based on any text, in any given situation. Scriptures need to be understood as love letters of God to a faith community in a given context with a relevance to the readers in demonstrating love for God and for neighbours. Anything that discounts love, cannot stand the test of understanding scriptures. The second learning for us as a church is today when we are tricked by forces of market in accumulating more and more material goods, when we are tricked by forces of racism to enjoy privilege and power, when we are tricked by forces of greed to overpower the creation, we as followers of Jesus Christ are called to treat with love, again by demonstrating love for God by loving our neighbours as ourselves. Love for God and love for neighbour is in affirming equality, justice and peace for all in the creation. Love is always about selflessness and self is all about lovelessness. The third learning for us as a church today is, when we are tricked by the forces of secularism, downplaying the role and relevance of faith in the public sphere, we are called to treat with love, and demonstrate love in action. The test for our love for God is only visible in our love for neighbours. In my love for God, I will never lose my love for neighbour, and in my love for neighbour I can ever lose my love for God. For both these two pillars are so intrinsic and important in my understanding of faith in Jesus Christ.

 

In the context of growing child hunger, particularly when the government in the UK has voted against providing food to children during holidays, we as a church are called to treat it with love. For child hunger is a reality today, and it needs justice and compassion as expressions of love. When we as a church collected food and opened a food pantry at a local school today, it was our expression of love for God by showing our love for our neighbour. We as a church should not compromise in showing our love in action, for the call for us as a church is only to love God and love our neighbour. A church that is self-seeking about its own survival and which is not demonstrating the love of God to all neighbours, loses its relevance and significance in a community, for it is only love for God and love for neighbour that matters for the being and becoming of church led by the Spirit of God.

 

I want to conclude this reflection with the cartoon from Rev. David Hayward from Canada who draws his cartoons in the name of @nakedpastor, where he explains love in the context of texts. When people try to trick us with laws, we are called to treat with love.

 


 

 

May the God of love who is embodied in Jesus Christ fill our lives with love for God and love for neighbour, so that we are indefatigable in demonstrating that love towards all of God’s creation. May the world know us as Christians by our love, yes, they will know that we are Christians by our love.

 

Rev. Dr. Raj Bharat Patta,

23rd October 2020

 


Friday, October 16, 2020

Pledge to build peace bridges with those on the edge: Harvest in a world of hunger - Reflecting on Leviticus 23:22

The recent announcement of the 2020 Nobel Peace prize to the World Food Programme (WFP), one of the largest global humanitarian organisations, that has been addressing hunger and promoting food security is a wakeup call to the world to recognise the grave reality of the global food crisis today, where millions of people today suffer from or face the threat of hunger. The Norwegian Nobel Committee (NNC) announced that the WFP was given this peace prize, “for its push for international solidarity and for multilateral cooperation, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. Especially in the face of the global pandemic this year, the WFP has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts to address hunger, starvation, violence and conflict. WFP has stated, “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.” In awarding this peace prize to WFP, the NNC has also exposed the intrinsic link between hunger and armed conflict and explained this link as “a vicious circle.” It further said, “war and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence. We will never achieve the goal of zero hunger unless we also put an end to war and armed conflict.”

 

When the world this year is taken over by the Covid global pandemic, among 318 nominations for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, WFP receiving this award under the category of peace has some theological significance that needs to be discussed. Before we do that, we need to set this conversation into perspective, and therefore firstly, we need to recognise that hunger is the deeper translation of conflict, and WFP, as an organisation striving to address such a conflict receives a global peace award, testifies to it. Secondly, it is time to acknowledge that ‘hunger triggers violence, and violence leads to hunger.’ Thirdly, it is food that has the strength to fight against the present chaos.

 

So, when we have now recognised hunger as the deeper translation of conflict, we now need to unpack hunger in numbers in our given context today. It is reported by the UN that 690 million people in the world are undernourished, which is about 8.9% of the world population in 2019. In the UK it is reported that 8.4 million people are struggling to afford to eat. 4.7 million of these people live in severely food insecure homes. This means that their food intake is greatly reduced and children regularly experience physical sensations of hunger, explains Fairshare, an organisation in UK fighting hunger and tackling food waste. Children from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic group communities in the UK are more likely to be in poverty, which is about 46% compared to 26% of the rest of the communities. India is one of the world’s largest food producers, yet ironically, the country is also home to the largest population of hungry people and one-third of the world’s malnourished children. At another level, it is also reported that hunger could kill more people than the COVID pandemic in 2020, pushing another 132 million people into hunger than projected for 2020. Not to forget the number of children going hungry during holidays in the UK has been on a phenomenal rise. Covid also has exposed that today we live in a world filled with inequalities, including who gets food and who are not able to get food.



What does all these numbers explain to us? It explains that hunger is a reality in our localities, and it raises an alarm to know that there are many people who are going hungry every day in our known vicinity. This is only a bird's eye view of the world of hunger every day in 2020.

 

As I am preparing for a harvest Sunday service, I have been thinking what is the significance of such a Sunday when there is so much hunger for food in the world today? Are we celebrating harvest, just because we have always celebrated it in the month of October in the UK, and in February in India, since it is part of a Christian calendar? What is the message of harvest for my children living in an urban context? Amidst these questions, I read this verse as a message for us this harvest.

 

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigners residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 23:22

 

This Levitical law reminds the community of this text to know that God is a God who provides food for all, with a special provision to those people who are poor, migrants, foreigners living in your locality. At the heart of God all people are equal and all people deserve equal food. It is we the people, the society that have created divisions among people, and with our practices dividing the gap between the haves and the have-nots. In a way one of the questions we need to keep asking is can we address these structural divides, the root causes of poverty, and try to address them, which for me is a faith calling.

 

I want to bring into your attention three things from this given verse. Firstly, this verse emphasises a preference to the people on the edges – the poor and the foreigner residing among you. Reading it in our context, it is those people who are on the margins of our society today, people who are as asylum seekers, people who are as refugees, people who are as migrants, people who are on food vouchers, people who have lost the jobs, people who cannot afford to eat a proper meal a day, that needs to be given a preferential option. For among such people and communities, God comes alive, for God is working with them in addressing hunger.

 

Secondly, this verse is a call to build peace bridges with a definite provision. Harvest is a call not to accumulate food all for one-self, or reap the entire fruits of the field for one-self. The law reminds them not to do certain things, which is not to reap to the very edges of a given field or gather the gleanings of the entire harvest. The law is to leave certain parts and portions of the harvest for the people on the edges, which is an act of building bridges of peace. If hunger is a deep translation of conflict, the poor, the stranger, the migrant, the refugee when they don’t own a land, harvest should remind us that we are called to build bridges by sharing our fruits, harvest, gifts and care with those on the edges and address this conflict called hunger. These people on the edges are more likely to go on hunger as they can’t afford a harvest, but as a faith community, we need to ensure a local food programme providing food for them. Building bridges of peace is God in Jesus’ activity, and the divine invites us to join with Jesus in building peace bridges with those on the edges.

 

Thirdly, this verse is a call seeking a pledge to practice just compassion towards the poor and the hungry and proclaim food as a faith issue. This verse is a Levitical law that demanded a pledge, a commitment from that wandering community, to see to it that this law is put into practice in its fullest sense. Harvest demands a preference, a provision and a practice of sharing food with the poor and hungry. The pledge is not limited to one crop or a certain crop in the year, but to every harvest of every fruit in the field. Harvest calls for a just compassion. The one who works hard on the field can ask, since I have been working hard, I need to enjoy all the fruit of the harvest. But this verse counters such arrogance of selfishness and calls for a compassion based on justice, with a preferential option to the least and the last in the society. Harvest should challenge us to ensure that there should be food for all. Food serves as an important factor in community building, and harvest demands an unequivocal pledge and commitment in addressing hunger and food insecurity.

 

For us as churches harvest today is about sharing food, providing food and striving towards tackling hunger and inequalities in our society. In the context of climate change, this harvest invites us as a church to pledge to care for our planet overcoming all those ‘dominion’ narratives against the creation. As churches we are called to be with our local communities in challenging poverty and in demanding our governments to accountability to ensure welfare of all people and not just the few. With nearly 6 million people in UK struggling to pay their household bills during this period, the call for #resetthedebt is a campaign we can as a church join work for today. In my reimagining church today, I envision churches to be hubs of serving food for all, addressing poverty, tackling hunger, sharing our resources. So, as a person of faith living in an urban context, harvest is a time to reflect on the creation, is a time for sharing and caring those that are poor and hungry and is a time to pledge to work towards addressing climate change in saving our planet.

 

This year’s #Worldfoodday on the 16th of October 2020 theme: “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future” is an invitation for our churches to engage in actions for food security addressing hunger.

 

Allow me to conclude this reflection by sharing the “Ten Commandments of Food” produced by the World Council of Churches, for us as a food for thought and action this harvest time:

  1. You shall give thanks for the food you eat.

  2. You shall provide food for those who have no food.

  3. You shall eat mindfully and in moderation.

  4. You shall be grateful to those who grow and prepare food for your table.

  5. You shall not waste food.

  6. You shall reduce the ecological footprint of food production and supply.

  7. You shall protect the biodiversity of the sources of food.

  8. You shall support fair wages for farmers' efforts.

  9. You shall strive for all people to have access to affordable and nutritious food.

  10. You shall rejoice and share the sacred gift of food with all.


May the God of harvest, who is always generous in compassion be with us in our pledge to build peace bridges with people on the edges and work with us in our efforts to tackle hunger and address poverty in our times today.

 

Rev. Dr. Raj Bharat Patta

15th October 2020

 


Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Letter of Euodia and Syntyche to the Philippians: Reflecting on Philippian 4: 2-9

 Dear Church@ Philippi,

 

Euodia and Syntyche, sisters in Jesus Christ write this letter

To all the people in Philippi,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

As many of you will remember both of us were among those women along with Lydia who on a Sabbath day gathered by the river outside the gate at a place of prayer and listened to Paul and his teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:11-15). From then on, when we as women began sharing our testimonies and experiences of prayer, by the grace of God the Church at Philippi began to grow. We are grateful to Paul for his ministry and his missionary journeys, especially for God in Jesus’ calling Paul to mission both to the Jews and the non-Jews equally, we praise God. We also thank Paul for recognising us, though women, as those who have struggled beside him in the work of the gospel (Phil 4: 3), and for also preaching and practicing that there is no longer, Jew, non-Jew, male, female for we are all one in Christ. We also thank Paul for taking time in writing a letter to our church from his imprisonment. We send our prayers, peace and thoughts to Paul at a time like this.

 

As we received this letter from Paul, we were saddened to note not only that both our names were called out in the public, but were also disheartened to realise how we were portrayed as quarrelsome women in the church. Paul would have written with a good intention of asking both of us ‘to be of the same mind in the Lord,’ (4:2) but ever since this letter from Paul came out everyone has started to enquire about the quarrel we had, and the reasons for such a quarrel. We as women get very little attention in the literature of ancient Christianity, and when we are mentioned for wrong reasons, in this context over a quarrel between us, you can imagine the kind of ostracization we women have been facing.




 

Ever since we have called out in the letter, we have been branded as ‘two quarrelling women’ and have been stereotyped as women are the ones who always quarrel, and unfortunately some even went on to say ‘wherever there is a quarrel there is a woman.’ We do recognise that we live in a patriarchal world, and women have always been subjected under men, and this calling out our names in the public sphere by Paul is unwarranted and unexpected. So, our call to the church at the Philippi and to all the readers across time and space is to not yield to patriarchy, subjecting women under male dominance and to stereotype women as those with whom quarrel is associated. There isn’t anything funny about this matter. We as followers of Jesus Christ believe that people with all genders are created in the equal image of God, and any practice of patriarchy in the church and outside the church is a sin. We urge Paul, and the rest of the Christians to repent for practicing patriarchy, which is male dominance and arrogance, consciously and unconsciously, and strive towards building a just society by affirming in the equality of all genders.

 

We urge the church not to be too inquisitive to know the reasons for why Paul has written about us ‘to have the same mind in the Lord.’ This is not about any conflicts or quarrels that we have, but it is an exhortation that Paul is making to the entire church through us to strive towards having a same mind in the Lord. Sameness is not about uniformity, but is about unity in diversity in the Lord.

 

We are thankful to Paul for not taking sides with any of us, and for not provoking each of us to fight between us. All that he calls us is ‘to be of the same mind in the Lord.’ He did not urge us ‘to be of the same mind with one another,’ for then we would have struggled to know which same mind. Paul has given us the clue to have the same mind in the Lord, which is to have the mind of Christ, which is to be inclusive, open, humble, accepting one another, receiving one another, serving one another and loving one another with out any conditions.

 

We call on the church to recognise partnership as a key feature in Christian discipleship. Paul did mention about Clement, about Timothy, about us as deacons, as co-workers with him, for partnerships of working together is a way forward for us as churches. Partnerships recognises the diversity of gifts among us, and when we work together offering our own gifts for the Kingdom of God, we can together make a difference. The plural of disciples is church, and partnerships of men and women, young and old, Jews and non-Jews, Greeks and Romans, when all of us work together, we can work with Jesus in bringing a change in our locality. So, keep working in partnerships for it provides a collective and communitarian witness to the gospel of Jesus relevant for our times.

 

When we are in partnerships, in unity with one another we can rejoice in the Lord, for to rejoice in the Lord is to celebrate partnerships, where others priorities become our priorities and where we can serve God by serving one another. Let our gentleness be known to everyone, for we as church will be known by our partnerships, by our being in the same mind in the Lord and in rejoicing in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord is not rejoicing in Ceasar. Again, we join with Paul in saying this, rejoice in the Lord always.

 

Make prayer a priority, for prayer is listening to God, waiting on God, retreating from all busyness of life and hearing to God speaking to us, for God is a speaking God, collaborating God willing to work with us.

 

And the peace of God which passes all understanding, for we cannot predict the ways and works of God, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the hope of this world today and forever. Do not allow our lives to be guarded by any other securities other than the peace of God and strive to share that peace with everyone we meet.

 

Finally, as you will know the meaning of our names Euodia which means “Good journey” or “fragrance” and Syntyche means “Good luck” or “fortunate” reflect that in Christ our lives have been on a ‘good journey’ of fragrance, faith and fortune. May goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life.

 

(This is a reflection imagining if Euodia and Syntyche write a reply letter in response to Philippians 4:2-9 to the same church)

 

Rev. Dr. Raj Bharat Patta

11th October 2020


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Prayers of Intercession: Black History Month


“I have a dream that our children will one day live in a nation

where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin

but by the content of their character”

cried out O God of justice, Martin Luther King Jr. several years ago,

and dear God that dream still remains unfulfilled,

and here we gather together in one voice, one heart and one mind

seeking your grace for justice to flown into our nations,

so that we can respect one another, treat each other in dignity and

uphold the truth that you have created each of us in your equal image.

 

God of justice, help us to recognise that this Black History Month

Is an opportunity to commit ourselves to strive for a just world,

Where you are calling us to give up our privilege, prejudice and supremacy.

 

We remember in prayer all the contributions of BAME communities for the society, specially we remember the Windrush generation, to whom justice has been denied and who were unjustly treated, we ask O God for your healing.

 

Specially during this global pandemic of COVID,

We have noted that this is not a great equaliser,

because people from Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic communities are two to three times more likely to die with Coronavirus than the general population in the UK. We pray for your healing O God.

 

We remember in prayer people from Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic communities, who are at greater risk of financial hardships, and could suffer a ‘double whammy’ of higher financial impact on top of disproportionate health effects. Help us as churches to look to the interests of these people O God in compassion and justice.

 

We remember in prayer that one in nine people have been unable to keep up with house bills during this COVID, which is six million people across UK are in debts, particularly affecting the poor people. God as we demand the chancellor to reset the debt and proclaim a debt jubilee, hear our prayers and help our governments to act wisely for the benefit of people who are vulnerable. 

 

We remember in our prayers all people’s movements for justice across the world who are raising the voice against the unjust systems of racism, capitalism, patriarchy, casteism, colonialism etc. Help us as churches to partner with these movements for justice and be your channels in bringing a difference to the world in which we live.

 

We uphold each of us joining at this special worship, as we leave this zoom, help us to keep reflecting and help us to act as your instruments in striving towards transforming our society, dismantling the walls of injustice and discrimination and to build bridges of love and peace. Help us to be your channels for racial justice, for gender justice, for economic justice and for ecological justice. Hear our prayers O God.

 

Sent us out into our localities to be agents of your kingdom, for we ask all these things in the name of our Lord and Liberator Jesus Christ. Amen

 

@rajpatta

circuit service 04.10.2020


When tricked by Law, treat with Love - Reflecting on Matthew 22: 34-40

  On Halloween last year, few children on our street went around the houses asking “Trick or Treat?” and they really looked forward to a tre...