[Author: Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, published by CSS, Tiruvalla second edition, 2003.]
A Critical Appreciation


It is indeed a privilege to reflect on the concerns of the author, Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, the prophet of social justice in the Malankara Church. His grace is more than a “voice crying in the wilderness”. His compassion for God’s creation is inclusive and he pleads for a new mission paradigm for the Church as the most legitimate response to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Third Millennium.

Beyond the boundary:
I would like to pin point the basic direction of the book in a story of two prisoners which I read in an issue of the Readers Digest: “Two prisoners were making their escape over the jail house roof where one of them dislodged a tile. “Who is there”, shouted the guard. The first prisoner replied with the imitation of a Cat’s meaw.The guard went back to his rounds with the word of reassurance. But after sometime, the second prisoner dislodged another tile. The guard repeated: “Who’s there”? Truth has come out in the reply “The other Cat”.

The author is at pains to search for truth in the spirituality of religions and he believes that none can hide the fact of celebrating love in relationship as the ultimate hallmark of religion. Truth about love can never be buried as love is eternal. The author makes a plea in the context of contemporary challenges the meaning of Christ –event for the whole humanity. The need for an ecumenical vision is universal and it can not be confined to any religion. The response to the prompting of the Sprit of God is to celebrate the era of convergence in the Third Millennium. It is nothing but the Omega point in history as visualized by Theiard de Chardin.. The author underlines the words of Steve Case: “The eighties was the decade of computerization, nineties the internet and this decade will be the decade of convergence.” The period of consolidation in religion is over, but the kairos of comprehension has come. The essence of convergence is the freedom to interact with people not only electronically, but also on a personal level.

The mission of the Church in this context is to be understood as “seeking-I Thou relationship” which includes the humans and other living beings on this planet. This conviction of the author is grounded in the affirmation that the new humanity in Christ is not the gift of Christians to other people, but the gift of God to all across any religious or cultural divide. If there is a genuine urge to move from religion to the spirituality of religion, we will be able to discover Christ as the Lord of love and the way of the cross is open to all. The Christian doctrine of Trinity is the affirmation of love in relationship for the glory of One True God. This burden of the author is quite powerfully stated in various chapters of the book which deal with the implications of Agape. For the author, Agape alone will give meaning to the quest of all religious faiths. The voice of dissent expressed in the Welfare economics of Amartya Sen and all the religious and secular inititiatives for a common platform based on distributive justice is nothing but love in action. In this search, the one religion of Love becomes the fulcrum for the celebration of plurality in God’s one world.

Affirmation of the unitive presence of God:
In each culture whether Western or Eastern there are religious and cultural tenets which creatre a vision for coherence and unity for all. This vision is rooted and ground in love because it is the principle of cohesion (Col.1: 16) and is the most excellent way to eternity (1Cor.13). Life in all its fullness resides in love because it is the only symbol of kenosis, which alone will take humanity and all creation to the throne of Grace. The cultural slogans of India, Loka samastha sukino bavanthu, (let the whole world be happy and prosperous),the concept of a Vasudaiva kudumbakam(the whole world as one family), the moral principle of satyagraha(commitment to truth), the song of “Jai ho” rooted in satya meva jeyathe and the call to live by the noble ideals of satyam,svivam and sundram provide the spiritual frame work of all the religions of the world.

The vision of Isaiah in 19.23 and that of the Seer in the book of Revelation 21.19-27 are not alien concepts in our search for the glory of love. The hermeneutics for a global vision always urges us to look for new paradigms in the mission of the Church. The author writes with confidence. “Mission is the overflow of God’s love to the living and the departed, to all of humanity and the whole universe”. The offence of the Gospel, the sandal of particularity, need not be diluted, but our non-Christian brothers and sisters will be attracted when we show the love of Christ in our practical life, activities and Christian mission. Conversion is not the goal of mission, but transformation.

The author is of the opinion that the conversion is the birth right of all and it should be voluntary. The reviewer thinks that the scandal of particularity, the stumbling block of the Kingdom, compels the Church to search for the other in a spirit of love. There should be readiness in discipleship “to go to the other side”(Mk.6.35). The cross of Christ ultimately creates harmony as a divine possibility in history. It is concerned with the message of forgiveness and reconciliation as found in all living religions of the world. In our search for the affirmation of life, the thread that unites the terrestrial and the celestial is very thin. To discover it and to find its place in the web of life is the prime responsibility of all religious pursuits.

In a Christ–centered koinonia, there is always space for the celebration of love. As De Saint Exupery puts it, “love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking out in the same direction.” White searching for the hyphen that unites the people of all races, the message of the Kingdom does not demand the Church to abandon whatever is good, beautiful and true in other faith traditions. The cross is concerned with the interest of truth, which does not require us to unlearn all that we have learnt from our culture. Breaking down all forms of enmity, including religious and cultural barriers is a process of realizing the one New Humanity for all.

The author makes it very clear that the benevolence of God, the Father, does not exclude anyone in the name of religion or caste for “He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). St. Peter’s newly found vision in Acts 10.34 is worth considering.” Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to him”. The basic question is this: “How do we define the lives of others in the sight of God? A Theo-centric approach to people of other faiths and cultures is not a negation of Christo-Centric experience. The particular does not negate the universal. A new understanding of the Kingdom of God resolves the problem. As Dr. S. J. Samartha puts it succinctly: “In the past energies were spent in strengthening the fence, and guarding it rather than deepening the wells and tending the fruit tress. The syncretic wolf could be kept at bay outside the gate, but the Christian sheep within could be sadly undernourished”.

If we understand the Kingdom of God as a new consciousness, a new sense of relationship and a new set of values, the search for the other outside the Gate, become crucial. Social amity is to be created on sound theological and spiritual foundations of the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.

Recognition and Celebration of diversity:
The Bible gives us ample evidences in celebrating God’s gift of plurality as cosmic vision. Life is made up of marble and mud! There should be space for mutual attraction and appreciation. Let me illustrate it with the story of an elephant, which I composed. In an ecumenical gathering, it was resolved to write a book on an elephant. How to divide the chapters as a problem? Each of the contributors was given the freedom to propose the title of his/her chapter. The chapters in the proposed volume read like this:

The American - One the weight of an elephant
The British - Disciplining an elephant for work
The German - The prehistory of elephants
The French - The sex life of elephants
The Chinese - The ancestry of elephants
The Cambodian - The fight of elephants
The Japanese - The silence of elephants under a tree
The Russian - The elephant in chains
The African - The color of elephants
The Australian - The bath of elephants
The Indian - The religious use of elephants.

An attempt to reduce space for plurality in relationship is contratary to the divine plan. There is cultural, lingustic, ecological and ecclesial pluralism around us. As plurality is integral to Reality, there should be always appreciation for others if his/her concerns are rooted in love and truth. I am sure the author compliments the words of the Sufi Poet Jalau’ Din Rumi, when he says: “The lamps are different, but the light is the same. It comes from beyond. If you keep looking at the lamp, thou art lost. For thence arises the number and plurality. Fix your gaze upon the light.” This is the eschatological vision of Isaiah in 19.23.

“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. Syrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on earth”. In Rom.15.7, Paul writes: “Welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you”. In the parable of the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:31-46), which the author quotes, all the nations of the world have a place before God .The yardstick employed by God is in accordance with the principle of the ethics of reciprocity.

The ethics of reciprocity:
The hallmark of all religions finds a point of convergence in the ethics of reciprocity. This is a revolutionary mission paradigm and it is deeply rooted in love. The golden rule of the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 7.12 where we read, “ In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” One may find scriptural texts to establish the ethics of reciprocity in all the religions of the world such as Islam (Muhammad’s Hadith), Buddhism (The Buddha Udana - Varga 5.18), Hinduism (Mahabharatha 5.1517) Judaism (Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a), Sikhism (Guru Granth Sahib, P.1299) and Confucianism (Confucius Analects 15.23).All these religions have their own religious symbols of faith. But love has no symbol other than the symbol of the heart! Mar Osthathios writes, “In these religions, God is the God of love, Love never divides, selfless love unites. Triune God is Brahman and Allah”(P.40).

According to a statistical data published in an Encyclopedia (1982), religious population of the world is shown as below: Christians 33 % (of which 18%) Catholics; Muslims 17%, Hindus 13%, Buddhists 75, Jews 0.5%. There are also traditional religionists, Sikhs, Jainsts, Zorostrains, Bahai, Shintoists and others.

The author adds that, “man irrespective of his individual religion can emulate the love embodied in the Son of Man” (P.341).To quote the author: “God is love, whatever be his name, whether Sachidananda or compassionate Allah or the Triune God of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (P.53).The author makes it abundantly clear that there is the need for a United Religions Organization. A world Religion of love grants every believer the freedom to hold his faith. Although faiths are many, love is one. In the world religion of love, there will be unity in diversity and diversity in unity”. (P.56).The United Religious Initiative(URI) which is of a recent origin, takes up these concerns of the author when it speaks of the connecting thread in all Holy Scriptures of all the religions of the world.

To discover the diversity in the order of creation-the vision of the Kingdom -which we call wider ecumenism of today is indeed a fresh discovery of the working of the Holy Spirit .For the author the ecumenical perspective rooted in Agape is the highest manifestation of Kenosis stated in Phil. 2.5-11.When Jesus says, “I am the way” (Jn.14.6), the author comments, “It simply means that divine love is the only way. It is more than philanthropy, friendship and mercy. It is agape”. Quoting Kumaranasan, the celebrated Malayalam poet, the author calls upon all to practice the religion of love, as love is the essence of every thing on earth. The author relates his basic conviction to evaluate the economic globalization of today. For him, Tina syndrome (no other alternative) is alien to the very concept of plurality.

To be rich in a poor world is sin:
The noted Economist of the day, Dr.C.T.Kuren has rightly said, “India is an island of prosperity in the sea of poverty”. The author has no problem to give credit to Dr.Kurien when he writes about wealth and the philosophy of globalization. For the author, poverty is about human rights and relationships. It is about powerlessness, exclusion and loss of dignity. So he abhors Capitalism and Communism with the same breath.

Probably, he advocates for a middle path. The parable of the Rich Farmer in Luke 12.13-21(I would like the Bible translators to do away with the title of the parable as The Parable of the Rich Fool!) Richness does not make him fool but his attitude to wealth. Wealth is meant to be shared.

In the sphere of globalization, there is no compassion for the poor and the unskilled. Mar Osthathios also believes that “poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere” In this context the author speaks about positively on “Sen effect”.(P.71). The author writes: “ the right need of the hour for religion is to reinstate in their followers the values of pristine indigenous culture, love of God and the greatness of self-sacrifice”.(P.50).In the light of the comments of the author on wealth, it is quite right to ask, “how much is enough?”.

Mar Osthathios speaks about “wider ecumenism” which includes the unity of the Churches and the renewal of humankind. For the renewal of humankind, we need to stand by the precepts of love and distributive justice (P.99). It is precisely at this point the wider implications of economic globalization comes into play. Any talk about development must take into consideration all the implications of Ecological responsibility today. As I reflect on the response of the Churches to economic globalization, the contemporary contexts raise several compelling questions before the Church.

Needless to say that economic globalization goes hand in hand with marginalization of the poor and the voiceless. . In this context, search for alternatives makes our thinking board based. As the author does it, we need to affirm life in all its fullness by raising voices of protest and dissent against the endangering forces at work in our midst. If the economic paradigms support marginalization and discrimination, it is simply in the service of the Mammon, not God as the author thinks. As God- in -Christ was concerned with the “least”, “the last” and “the lost”(misplaced), the Church has a tremendous responsibility to express its solidarity with the poor and the voiceless. (Cf.PP. 22&23).

The people of God (Church) are called upon to minister to the peoples of God in the community at large. This vision of the faithful will help us to translate God’s reality (love) into ethical actions The markets of the world classify the nations of the world as “developed”, “developing” and “underdeveloped” in terms of the consumption of energy.

To ask the God of Grace, to give us this day our daily bread,(as we pray in the Lord’s prayer)makes it a spiritual issue. The plea to divide the bread of the world according to the number of people in the world and to give us the share, which is due to us, makes the plea social. The instruction given to St.Paul by the pillar apostles in Jerusalem is worth recalling. “Remember the poor”(Gal.2.10). It is the key to global ethics when the Market giants are exhorting us to “forget the poor”. The challenge is to ensure a globalization without marginalization, as Pope John Paul II, puts it in his message for the World Day of Peace in 1998.As co-workers with God’s children, our task today is to do our best in reversing all forms of bondage which Mammon creates in social relationship. This is the message of the latest book of the author entitled Nithyasnehakoodaram (2009).

The concerns of the author are truly Christian and theological.. The prophetic call of the author for a better tomorrow in God’s one world is truly ecumenical. The plan of Salvation (oikonomia) is to sum up all things in Christ’s love for the glory of the Triune God. Let us not, therefore, monopolize God and set limit to the love of God in Christ. The One Religion of Love is the panacea for all the ills of the world in the Third Millennium!

I congratulate the author for his bold theological exposition for a universal mission. “Affirming the centrality of the cross, the symbol of divine cosmic love, the author invites all people, religious or not, to change their selfish life-style and to practise the joy of sharing the divine love” (cf. Cover page).

[Author: Rev.Dr.M.J.Joseph is formerly professor and principal of the Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam. He is the former director of the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Bangalore and Secretary of the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore University,West.Bengal.He was also a member of the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. He is currently the Convener of the Ecological Commission of the Mar Thoma Church and the author of the book, The Eco-vision of the Earth Community, Published by BTESSC/SATHRI, Bangalore in 2008.]
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