Never Seen Anything Like This

It is recorded in the Bible that Jesus marvelled at the faith of two different people. Many would have naturally expected both to be from Israel.  In fact, both were Gentiles.  I am sure this has or will raise your curiosity as it has for me. I will look at them both and bring my own humble thoughts at the end.

The first incident is mentioned in St. Mathew’s gospel 8:5-13.  The location is Capernaum, close to Nazareth and Gennesareth.  In fact Jesus called it his own city (Mathew 9:1).   The word got around that Jesus was there. A Roman Centurion, commanding 100 soldiers came to Jesus on behalf of his devoted and beloved slave suffering from agony and in danger of paralytic seizures.

Think of the readiness and willingness of the Lord to accompany them to the Centurion’s home.  The centurion is well aware of the command structure and insisted that his home was not worthy of Jesus’ noble visit.  He said, and this is important, “simply say the word and my servant would be miraculously healed.”  When Jesus heard this, he marvelled, and said to those who were following Him:  “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel” (verse 10).  He then honoured his faith and healed his slave. By the way, did you notice how genuinely this commander cared for his slave?  The whole incident was not faith alone but the balanced combination of both faith and genuine concern!  Is this military man a Believer or still classified as a heathen?

The second occasion is recorded in St. Mathew 15:21-28.  Jesus was at Tyre and Sidon, a border town of Israel.  Evidently his name and fame had already penetrated into neighbouring towns.  No sooner had Jesus reached this town, a woman sought Him out.   By birth she was a Syrophnoenician, simply put a Cananite, whom the Jews hated.  She was a Roman subject, by culture and language a Greek.  “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David.  My daughter is grievously vexed by the devil” she cried.

Notice how deftly and skilfully Jesus handled it.  I implore you to take time to read the full reference.  She was sharp and witty!  Jesus, uncharacteristically, did not even acknowledge or answer a single word.  Nowhere else did he ever put on an apparent cold shoulder, as He did in this encounter.  In the case of the Centurion, he was at least a friend of the Jews.  But this woman was the descendent of the accursed race.  By now she was creating such a scene that the disciples wanted her removed from Jesus’ presence.  When Jesus finally responded it sounded cold as ice:  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 24).  Really?  Was there something in the Master’s face which exuded grace despite the words?  She bowed down before him, saying “Lord help me!”  Wow!  Now for the unkindest cut of all. Perhaps Jesus simply reflected the natural religious sentiments of the time; “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (verse 26).  It almost sounded rude.  Could you believe that Jesus spoke those words?  Yes, but Jesus also knew her heart and her rare faith in him. He also knew how far he can push it with this woman.

Now for the climax, her wittiest response, one of the most charming expressions in the Bible, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”  Jesus could not hold it any longer.  He marvelled at her response and exclaimed “O woman, your faith is great: be it done for you as you wish,” and her daughter was healed at once.  She had faith in him?  There is more to it.   Jesus had faith in her, the outsider.

Please observe that these acts of mercy were granted when Jesus was far away from the actual sufferers.  To my Hindu friends, I must admit that I do get inspired and excited even while I write my post, the real essence of Jesus’ mission to the world, sans any baggage.

Such a commendation for faith from the Master would have unanimously drawn the whole community to rejoice and be exceedingly glad.  Observe Jesus did not stop there but proceeded further saying “And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven.” 

Following are my thoughts on the above encounters.  Two factors are abundantly clear and I wish to emphasize them.

First, Jesus could have delivered her daughter instantly, but was gently and deliberately introducing her, along with his own disciples, to the real good news, the love of God (pre-John 3:16) to the whole world.  Let me put it this way.  Jesus took this opportunity to eradicate the idea from their minds that his religion (indeed His Kingdom) was local or provincial.  It is worldwide.  His plan of Salvation for mankind was in place before Abraham the father of faith, the Cross and in fact before the foundation of the world. It was for whosoever, not to one tribe or nation, but universal!  Put another way, Jesus taught them all the full and greater theology of coming to know the Almighty loving God and not Just as the Son of David.  Be gone, once and for all, any traces of rude exclusivity! 

The second factor:  Jesus was no Scrooge in giving praises to others.  Sometimes we Christians may suffer from the defects of familiarity.  Mere Scriptural knowledge as against the very word of the Lord, who was from the beginning!  Think of it for a moment.  Jesus did not waste time by decrying the shortcomings of the centurion’s or the Syrophoenician woman’s Gentile religious background.  Jesus did not expound their problems.  They were well aware of their situation.  He gave them something far better and far greater!

Now to my questions.  Is Christianity still in its infancy when it comes to giving due respect to those of different faith?   Are they not also searching, just as we do, for truth?  Are they not searching for the one who said “I am the Way the Truth and the Life (St. John 14:6)?  Have the missionaries no stories to tell us of their great culture, anecdotes, chivalry, non-violence, sacrifice, and hospitality?  Is there only poverty and violence, as though we have none of those?  Are there no books of their land of the brave?

Jesus did not withdraw, but lavished praises and accolades on others.  In this, he was no respecter of persons.  In today’s post we read how Jesus praised the non-Jewish Roman Centurion and the Cananitish woman as giants of exceptional faithYes, he openly said, “I have never seen anything like this, not even in Israel.”  Indeed, the names of these two did not make it in the faith chapter of Hebrews.  Does it matter?

God bless,  Danny Paul

Stand like a mountain, Flow like a river

I was recently browsing the Goodwill book store on South Florida Avenue, Lakeland, when a book with this title caught my eye.  I do not know who the author is to congratulate and to properly acknowledge him or her in my blog post.  If any of my readers do know, please let me know.  I did not think more of it then, but as I was driving back to Newmarket, Ontario (lots of time to think), it hit me like a ton of bricks. I admired the depth of the title. It is a small line, but it portrays a plethora of thoughts. My readers will have already recognized this title jives well with my blog theme, how Jesus combined and balanced the impossibles – flawlessly.

majestic mountains

Jesus stood like a mountain of power and authority.  He was from the beginning, foretold by prophets centuries ago.  Yet, who would have believed, and to whom it was revealed, for he grew up like a tender shoot from a dry ground.  He suddenly appeared on the scene, a young carpenter, announced his mission to the world at a local synagogue, was baptized in the Jordan River, tempted and tested in the wilderness, and set his face as steel or flint to accomplish!  Wherever he went, multitudes gathered, for never a man spake like this man.  At times, I must admit, he appeared like a hard task master, an unbending mentor, or an authoritative disciplinarian.

Let me give some specifics. This incident is recorded in Luke 9:57-62.  Evidently this seeker said he wanted to follow Jesus wherever he went.  I would have expected Jesus to bend over backwards to accommodate him.  On the contrary, Jesus appeared to pour cold water on his request.  In fact, Jesus discouraged him saying “foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”.   If that was difficult, read this one.  Another enthusiast had the same urge to follow and besought Jesus to permit him to go and bury his father first.  Sounds reasonable enough.  Jesus’ response was even more severe.  He said “let the dead bury their own dead.”  Verse 61 reaches the climax.  This would-be follower simply wanted to go home and say good-bye to those at home.  Jesus replied that “no one after having put his hand on the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God”.  Yes, Jesus knew the Cost of Discipleship.  There was no cheap grace.   It cost Him everything, the pain, the shame and a criminal’s death on a cruel cross. His demands on followers were never abridged or sugar-coated.   In Him there was no wavering, nor shadow of turning, no decent to mediocrity.  He emphasized that “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Luke 16:13).  He was zealous.

On a personal note, I would like to narrate a real story.  Back in 1957, when I returned to Calcutta from my posting in Kathmandu, Nepal, I heard my dad was dying of cancer.  So I flew south to Kerala State.  At the time of saying good-bye, my mother recognized that I would not see him again this side of heaven.  She told me to kneel at my Dad’s bed and receive his blessing.  He knew of my “born again” experience in Calcutta.  So, he laid his hands on my head and blessed me and, strangely, quoted this particular verse Luke 9:62 verbatim.  It took me years to learn the weight of his blessing.

There is something majestic about mountains. I was fortunate back in 1956, to fly from Kathmandu to Bagdogra, Darjeeling, where the fine Indian Tea comes from.  It was a Dakota aircraft; state of the art and modern in those days!  Not far from the flight route is the majestic snow clad Himalayan Mountain range.  It was breath taking!  Whether Machu Picchu, of Nepal or Peru, or the Jungfrau, of the Bernese Alps or Kilimanjaro of Tanzania, they are mighty and inspiring. Yes, Jesus Stood like a Mountain.

I love the following verse:  “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

But there is another side to this theme – “Stand like a mountain, Flow like a river.”  As mighty, powerful, unchanging and earnest as he was, Jesus was also patient and tender.  He flowed gently like a River.  You see, Jesus could perfectly combine these two.  Let me go back to my older posts.  Having the unbalanced gift of strength or power, humans tend to flaunt it, and many fall but for the grace of God.  We have the “defects of virtues.”  But not Jesus.  He perfectly combined power with patience.

While the mountain depicts the might, the river portrays the patience and tenderness with its calm, murmuring flow.  Who can explain the joyful feelings of peace sitting by the side of the Ganges, or the beautiful scenery of the Jamuna as viewed from the Taj Mahal, or the Mississippi in downtown Memphis, even the great St.Lawrence River, enjoyed by citizens of both Canada and the US?  Its noble flow, the gentle breeze exudes peace and tranquility. We need majestic mountains and flowing rivers.  One alone is lopsided.  Remember, if one leg is longer, that person is lame!

Consider for a moment the forbearance or patience of Jesus.  Allow me to make reference to an incident recorded in Mathew 18:21-22.  Peter had evidently heard from the Master, the importance of forgiveness.   He was also willing to be patient in forgiving, offering to forgive not once or twice, but seven times.  Notice Jesus’ answer, not seven but seventy times seven!  You see the picture and the comparison?   As a mountain, he was scrupulously earnest and demanding, but as a river, he admonished Peter to be patient and forgive 490 times.

This reminds me one of my old favourite hymns:

“Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,

Over all victorious In its bright increase;

Perfect, yet it floweth  fuller every day,

Perfect, yet it groweth  Deeper all the way

Stayed upon Jehovah, Hearts are fully blest,

Finding as he promised, Perfect peace and rest”

How is our way of life? Do we stand like a mountain and flow like a river?

Stepping In and Out – Part II

I thought I had finished with Lucius Cincinnatus (LC), 519 BC.  After the last post, I felt I had not completely nailed down my thoughts until I authenticated my thoughts with at least one Biblical Character, as a comparison.  Well, it may not be necessary, but it is just good journalism.  You may recall from my previous post how the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, derived its name.  It is from LC, a farmer turned War Hero, then the Head of State – Rome.  After restoring the situation, he went right back to farming.  He repeated this scenario twice.  He was one of those very rare Characters who knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em (Kenny Rogers).

Kenny Rogers Gambler

LC was not one of the typical leaders holding on to power, fame and glory. Let me fast-forward from 519 BC to 60 AD (or thereabouts).  His name is Ananias.  I was surprised to find traces of similarities despite a whopping time difference of centuries between them.  To be frank, I should not be surprised, since human nature rarely changes.  Besides, I like Ananias.

Who is this Ananias?  To begin, he is from Damascus, who lived up to his name.  The name comes from the word Hananiah, meaning God is gracious.  One thing is clear. Ananias was not that well known, like the inner circle of the twelve disciples, or Saul of Tarsus (later St. Paul), whom he prayed for, or the Gospel writers, or one Like Barnabas, Timothy or Philip.  Strangely, there is only one reference in the whole Bible about him.   To be exact, there are two references, but both are repeating the same event.

The record says there was a certain disciple called Ananias.  Is it not odd there is no mention of his father’s name, following the custom of that time?  We know where he came from – Damascus – and not from Jerusalem, the epicenter.  Evidently, he was not in touch with any of the top Brass.  That might account for the scant reference in the Bible.  In other words, but for St. Luke the physician, with a flair for journalism, we would not have heard about Ananias at all.  In this respect, there is a similarity between LC, the farmer, and this “certain man” Ananias.

Furthermore, what is common between them is the sudden challenge they faced.  In the case of LC he faced an invasion, security of his country, a war and consequences to the citizens of Rome.   For Ananias, though not a war, it took a great deal of moral courage to face a brutal, yet popular man with authority conferred on him by the High Priest; a deeply spiritual but orthodox opponent, who was like a one-man-wrecking –crew against Christianity.

Of course, we know the grand finale.  Rome was delivered and restored by LC.  Saul of Tarsus, the intellectual, the student of Gamaliel, the Hellenistic Jew, the Roman citizen, the Pharisee of Pharisees received his eye-sight back, repented of his sins, and was gloriously converted – even baptized.  He later became the great and revered St. Paul.

In my opinion, the highlight of similarity went farther; their audacious decision to leave the aura of success and to silently listen and to pursue their inner voice.  LC left for farming.  As to Ananias, he fell off the radar and was never heard of again.   I like to believe he returned to whatever he was doing before.  They both did not hang around for applause and praise.    They came from nowhere, did their job, and then took off.

Now then, the similarity may have ended there.  However, our admiration for Ananias lives on.  For my Hindu friends, and for those who are not familiar with Bible, please take time to read Acts 9:1-18 and also Acts 22:12-16 for the deets (my grandkids say that stands for details.  Who knew?)

Ananias understandably did have doubts about Saul the persecutor of Christians.  He didn’t completely ignore his questions/doubts just because he was a Believer.  He inquired of the Lord.  He needed clarification.  When in doubt, ask the Lord!

This certain man, Ananias, was on call to do God’s bidding – day or night.  When God told him to arise, he replied “behold I am here Lord!”  He was ready.  He did not view Christian ministry as we often hear in Christian Circles, a so-called full-time ministry.  You see there is no part-time ministry!  He was on call, on duty – 24/7.

I am sure you have noticed how he conducted himself with Saul of Tarsus even before he prayed for him.  He called him Brother Saul and placed his hands on him.  He instantly accepted Saul, not as a persecutor of Christians, but as a Brother in the Lord!  There was no probationary period with him.  In this regard, and I may be stretching, I conclude he was far ahead of his contemporary Believers, including St. Peter himself.  Peter struggled to visit Cornelius and his family (Acts 10). Did he not have difficulty with his own words, that God is no respecter of persons, when facing the influential Judaizers (Galatians 2:11)?

While I am at it, I may suggest that Ananias did not differentiate or pick and choose between the ministry to one person or a large crowd.  We see the importance of this when we watch the essence of Christian TV or church programmes. No wonder, in St. Luke’s short reference of Ananias, he inserted the meaningful words “a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there” (Acts 22:12).

Fast-forward from BC 519 to AD 60 and then to 2013 AD.  In our own circles, do we crave to be recognized, to be listened to, to be admired?   It is natural, but do not get stuck there.  Move on.  Poet Alexander Pope wrote “Act well thy part, there all the honor lays.”   Allow me to go a bit farther than that.  Learn the joy and secret, at the end of the day, or in some cases at the end of life, when the head hits or sinks in the pillow, be able to say, in the words of a badly mistreated woman, “thou God seest me.”  There lies all the honor.

God bless,  Danny Paul

 

Getting In and Out

Every time I pass through Ohio River bridge on I-75, I wonder why the name Cincinnati for a US city?  I found it was named after one Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (we will call him LC), born on or about 519 BC.  He was a simple farmer; well not so simple.   When his country, Rome, was attacked, he stepped in, took charge, and led an army to victory.  The country honoured this hero and made him the head of state.  When things were restored and brought under control, he stepped out, leaving the charge to others and went back to farming!  When Rome got into trouble again, guess who they looked for?  Yes, they sought and brought LC back from his farm.  He did it all over again, winning the battle.  One might think that this time he would stay put as permanent head of state – like everyone else.

Now here is my speculative interpretation. He could have easily justified remaining in leadership – as many do – saying the country needed him.  Or claim he had to stay in order to train up a younger crop of leaders.  Whatever it was, no one could persuade LC.  Yes, you guessed it. He went right back to farming – again!  LC knew when to step in and when to step out; a very rare gift indeed.

For my Hindu and Indian readers, I like to quote a verse from an old poem in my mother tongue, Malayalam:  “the actor who played his part well, Should depart from the stage at once.  Do not hang around there”.  If my memory has not failed, since high school, the quote is from from Kochu Seeta by Ezuthachan.

Remember Kenny Rogers the country singer, and his popular song called the Gambling Man?  I liked his line “You got to know when to hold em, got to know when to fold em” – again a word of wisdom or a rare gift in the gambling field.  Even better advice is to heed to the words of a wise king, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

I wonder if the US Founding Fathers had a faint glimpse of old LC when they decided first, never to have a permanent, paid monarch, and second, their Presidents will only serve two terms.  Did they fear that their President might become too old or too familiar and lose his sharp and cutting edge reflexes, or maybe simply lose touch?  Or – and this is a very real possibility – that they get so used to power and fame that they succumb to less ingenuous methods, even illegal means, to hold on to power?

There could be others reasons.  I would like to hear from my US Blog readers on this.  During my working days, returning  to Canada from the annual Medical Equipment Show at the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, I had seen signs advertising the George Washington Monument.  One time, I turned around and looked for this great big architectural edifice.  I did not see any.  Only lots of farm land and a small monument put together with stones and concrete and a small ladder leading to a look-out.  We were the only lonely tourists. There was a plaque mentioning that George Washington, after leaving Presidency settled there- farming!  By George, he had the LC spirit! Is this monument still there?  Grace and I were fortunate to travel worldwide, but we never forgot this small lonely monument.  It spoke, quoting my previous blog, with a “‘deafening silence!”

george washington

One thing is clear from recent news – as well as from history – the temptation to stay in power is real and strong.  Do you recall the last frantic efforts of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, to hold on to power and his insatiable desire for his children to inherit it?  Within days, while Mubarak was still in prison, Colonel Gaddafi  was walking the same treacherous path.  The pattern is always the same.  The quest to hold on to power, and then ensure their sons inherit that power.  Predictably, both leaders ended up in disgrace.

This behaviour is not restricted to politicians.  It expands to all of us; leaders, kings, and sheikhs, lay-people, as well as ministers and Imams.  Read the Scriptures.  King Saul started humbly but lost sadly, losing both his kingdom and his son; indeed, he fell on his sword and committed suicide.  Judge Eli, a nice portly old man, had a tragic end.  His sons were vile and he did not restrain them.  Even a prophet like Samuel who saw what happened to Eli his mentor, when he was old, perfected the same mistake, appointing his sons to be judges.  The sons went after money and took bribes.  Look what Herod the great did to children in his effort to hold on to power,  just like the old Pharoah of Moses’ time. Then there was Annas a High Priest if you like,  and his son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas.  They kept the power in the family. This is the fallen nature.

Now we have a better appreciation of good old LC, and his selfless devotion to simple ethics; after the good deed is done, and the crisis is over, leave the Comfortable Pew and take up the next challenge, whatever it is – even farming!   Of course, farming is not the only thing. There are men and women like LC all over the world. I knew a busy Chartered Accountant who faithfully conducted a choir, devoting his time freely for various arrangements, practices and instrumentals.  Another, while holding a responsible job, volunteered to fill in pulpits for the United Methodist Churches, sometimes holding two-point charges on Sundays.   Another taught weekly Bible studies for more than 40 years.  A busy couple regularly visit the sick in the local hospital.  We do not see them.  Perhaps we do not look for them.

Then there was Rev. Charles Anderson from Tyler, Texas, with a different flair.  He was a missionary to India back in the sixties, and founded a Bible School south of Bombay. His passion was to grow Orchids.  As a young inexperienced Christian, I asked him why was so much precious time spent on orchids?  I was like the disciple asking “why this waste?”  He replied wisely, that a minister must have at least one or two different ventures, apart from preaching, on hand – always.

I think the genius of LC was not his leadership abilities alone, nor his down-to-earth farming capabilities.  It was his ability to combine and balance his virtues. May God help us to break the mundane.  We must find a new challenge.  Learn a new computer program, join FaceBook, write a book, or even write your own blog.  Perhaps grow a garden or take up wood carving.  If all else fails, “spoil” the grandchildren, which, by the way, is in the job description of all grandparents!  If you are a leader, or a minister, do something extraordinary – start a new trend.  Take a secular 9-5 job for a short while or a part time job to get the feel of it and stay in touch with the working class and their struggles and aspirations of life.  Narrow, if not eliminate, the widening wall between the clergy and the laity.  Take the family to the corn (grain) field and let them pluck the ears of corn, rub them in their hands and eat them.  Make sure it is done on the Sabbath day.  Your congregation will admire you for it!  One day they may even name a city after you.

God bless,  Danny Paul