|APRIL 2008||DEVOTIONAL MESSAGE||
GREETINGS, FAVORED ONE!
In the Malayalam translation and in it’s meaning of above salutation, the word 'favored' corresponds to 'who received the Grace of God'. Now a days we see many inappropriate and unreasonable manifestation of humility as a part of spirituality. People converse everything with a tinge of the word 'Grace'. Whether he is dealing with business prospects, whether he exposes the prosperity of the family, at all times and in all circumstances, the paraphrase, 'By the Grace of God' is articulated to all their conversations like a sprinkling on decoction. Without a proper submission that they received everything as providence from God, they misuse the word to say, 'By the Grace of God', things are moving well! This type of a usage has made the word 'Grace' emaciated in our understanding. What is the real meaning of 'Grace'? 'The one who received Grace' was the salutation of Angel Gabriel to St. Mary.
The King Ahasuerus who was the emperor of 127 provinces from India, was living happily with his Jewish wife Esther. By this time Haman had plotted to destroy the entire community of Jews. Mordecai, the stepfather of Esther, sent words to Queen Esther that if she remains silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and she and her father's house will perish. The law of the king was that anyone who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he/she will be put to death. Esther rose to the situation and ventured to stand in the inner court of the king's palace in front of the king's rooms while the king was sitting on his royal throne. When the king saw Esther standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter, which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter. The stretching of the red-rod is the expression and experience of Grace or favor. It is a mercy received in a situation. Grace is not earned but received.
We are living in an Era in which people believe that everything is attained only by their own efforts and skills. People believe that everything can be attained by money and power and even God can be bought by money. That is the curse of our land. Once King Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, the king reflected and said, ''Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ''King Nebuchadnezzar, sovereignty has been removed from you". The king began to eat grass like cattle; his hair had grown like that of eagles and his nails like claws of birds. After seven years Nebuchadnezzar raised his eyes toward heaven, praised and honored the living God. He was reestablished in his sovereignty. The King learnt that God is able to humble those who walk in pride.
In his theological analytical work `Vedaratnakaram', Dr. Babu Paul highlights the Grace as the experience of ordinariness of apprehension, reception or acclamation of undeserving welfare or prosperity. Grace is a lofty mental experience.
In the Old Testament Grace is treated as promise and hope. But in the New Testament Grace became a gift through Jesus Christ. What was looked for in Old Testament became a living experience in Jesus Christ. For the Old Testament had grace in type, the New Testament has grace in truth. All true believers receive from Grace upon Grace from the fullness of Christ. We have received grace and truth through Jesus Christ [St. John 1:16-17] In Deuteronomy 7:7 we read that Israel was not chosen because they were more in number than any of the peoples or by their efforts. It was for them to know that the land given to them was not an inheritance, but as a gift.
During the period of auspicious messages from heaven, we hear about two distinct messages of priest Zachariah and virgin girl Mary of Galilee. Both of them entered to the experience of Grace. Zachariah assented the message with suspicion. The priest was praying for a long while, but when he heard from Angel that his petition has been heard, he could not involve it to the full sense. But Mary submitted herself to the message of the Angel. 'I am handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.' Mary received the Grace with due humility and faith.
When we pray to God we need clarity in our notion. While Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, began to cry out from the roadside and said, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and asked, what do you want Me to do for you? Anybody can imagine what a blind beggar intend for. But his answer was distinct and crystal clear. Bartimaeus said to Him, "Rabooni, I want to regain my sight!" The center figure in the annunciation was neither Gabriel nor Mary, but it was the Gracious Lord. God Choose many people, at different ages, for the dispensation of His plans. It was not the personal dexterity of Mary but it was the mere Grace of God to choose her as the Mother of God.
There is saying that Mariam means Grace and Mariam means Sorrow. Also St. Mary is depicted as 'Woman of seven sorrows'. There is no woman in the world who afflicted with mental agony in their personal life more than Mary. This is witnessed by the Holy Bible and Church history. Mary might have been overwhelmed with joy when the angel who appeared to the shepherds joined with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.' But very soon Joseph is warned by an angel to take the Child and His Mother and flee into Egypt.
The joy of Mary might have overflown when the aged Simeon receives her in the Temple and, taking the Child from her arms, looks heavenward with praise to the Almighty for sparing him until he saw the salvation prepared before the faces of all peoples: a light of revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for Thy people Israel. But Simeon made it painfully clear; as he reminds her of her Son's mission and her own soul a sword shall pierce. Mary did not know what was this sword, and how it will change her life. In Greek mythology we read about a Sword of Damocles above his head. But this sword was in her own heart. She lived with Jesus for thirty-three years with the sword in her heart. At the last Mary stood below the Christ with this sword. Again she had the joy of traveling with her son from Nazareth to the Temple in Jerusalem for the great feast. But suddenly she had to bear the terror and panic of missing Him in the crowd. She witnessed all Grace and all adversities without proper interpretation. But she pondered everything in her heart.
Mary knew that her Son is to suffer. It is very significant that Mary become a witness for the dispensation of the Grace of God. When Joseph was in great distress in adverse scenarios, Mary is seen calm and without any worry. With all these troubles and adversities Mary knew that her Son would be lifted up. She knew that all would be accomplished in ripeness of time of God. This gave her the security of peace in her sorrow. With the great Grace she received, she praised God in her Song, All the generation will praise her. This confidence gave her courage to supplicate her son to help in the helpless situation in the marriage in Cana. Marriage in Cana was the commencement of His public mission for three years after which He was glorified by the crucifixion in Calvary. Mary was witness for the Grace of God; day-by-day for all the years she lived with Jesus. She was wonderstruck with the expression of Grace and she did not have any word to say about it and Mary reserved and cumulated everything in her heart, which had come out as Great Good News for the entire world.
Though the Angel Gabriel saluted Mary as women with grace, we never see any worldly prosperity in her life. This well reveals to us that worldly prosperity is not a symbol of Grace of God. But Mary could make life from Grace to Grace. Death of a son while mother is living is the greatest calamity in the life of a woman. When we see woman who went through such experiences, they react distinctly. Those who take the experiences of St. Mary to influence their life, they could make their life filled with Grace upon Grace.
When son of Kochoonj Upadeshi died he made the hymn 'Dukhathinte Panapathram' in the fullness of Grace. He sang in that; if God gives the chalice of sorrow to me, I will drink from it joyfully, since, even if He beat me, still He loves me. He considered all his hardships as a fellowship with the passion of Jesus Christ. This is an experience, which an ordinary person cannot involve in their life. It is in the grace of God, which we can perceive the calamities in life as the way of Christ and His mission and to discover it as new possibilities.
On the cross, Lord says the 22 Psalm. The experiences squandered amidst great calamity and agonies are sung in the first part of the Psalm. Songs, which starts with My Lord, My Lord, but in the end of it, it climbs up to the pinnacle of praise. We do not see Mary blabber or weep below the cross. She persuaded her son to bear the cross. This was the grace, which received by this mother. Man had always a tendency to avoid cross. When Peter was told that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to be crucified, he tried to dissuade Him. But in his epistle, when he was with Holy Spirit he said, bearing the cross is a joy in Christian life. When Holy Spirit comes to our heart we experience a difference in language. So in this age of prosperity theory, it is the mission of Church to persuade believers to bear the cross.
This is also age of victorious people. Today children are under great tension for this feeling. It is an irony that the suicide rate is more in the Pathanamhitta district, but maximum conventions are also conducted in the same district. Is there any relation between these two? Last year in my diocese a Youth training Camp was convened. The theme of the camp was 'Life sustaining faith'. There were many powerful speeches in the camp days regarding this theme. During the camp days I joined with the children for lunch. One-day a girl asked me that she would like to take lunch with Thirumeni. We sat together, talked and took food. She was studying for Plus Two. We talked many things and the camp concluded. After few weeks the Vicar of the Church she belonged to, called me and told that the girl who sat with Thirumeni for food had committed suicide. I was shocked and felt myself with a great question mark, why these thoughts for sustaining faith could not influence the children.
When there was news in Manorama that a boy of eighteen years jumped in front of a train and committed suicide, I enquired about his family. He was the only son in the family. He was forced to live a lonely life. He was allowed only to watch playing children from terrace but he was not allowed to play with the children. He was never allowed to mix with his friends.
We are not allowing our children or encouraging them to take the cross. We train them only for victory and prosperity in life. The children who get below 95% marks are condemned. They live in peaceless atmosphere in the family. This led them for more and more tensed life. But when Mary knew that his son was born to take the cross she trained and encouraged Him to take the cross and for the way of cross. Our Church is an evangelical church. But do we teach our children the Bible properly? Sometime the failure may be in family life, sometime the failure may in job, education etc. We can sustain our family only if we are trained to take the cross. We should train them to bear the failure in every aspect of life. Then only they will learn to live. Many people come to know that our parents lived only after they leave this world.
Now we are living in a world of prosperity. Everywhere everything is sumptuous. This is an age of abundance. Food, cloth, housing, modern comforts, technology developments all are in plentifulness. But we cannot live even a single day with peace. We live in hell before we go to hell. Man is put on this earth as of a spider’s web with links to all others. But man prefers to live exploiting others. The prosperity theory is neither a true way nor Christian. Hardships are the manures for a plentiful life.
Do we thank God for the hardships? There is non-Christian doctor who was my classmate in school. He became a famous skilled doctor. The next day I became a bishop; my friend doctor got paralyzed on both sides. He was not able to talk anything. He could not move his hands and legs. I went to see him. His wife introduced me their son that I am a friend of his father and told him to say the prayer that he says everyday. I saw a Bible below the picture of Sree Narayana Guru. When I astonished, she told me that they realize that Jesus is present in the nook and corner of their house; we enjoy the peace in the family. The disease of their father made them to realize the presence and consolation of Jesus. It was a moment of great experience in my life. Hardships, disease, sorrow all are the means for us to approach Jesus.
Mary teaches us the value of maternity. Today there is a trend of living together, neither marriage nor children. This is a deformed and disgusting western trend, which our society started to imitate. This s serious and abominable thought, which ruin the plan of society and God. To become a mother is an experience of enjoying the grace of God. We should teach our children to become good mothers. They should know the value of mothers. The love of mother is synonym for the love of God. Mother is symbol of sacrifice, love, wisdom and humility. They teach us the charity, first prayer and first hymn. Mother is gift of God for this world. It is the duty of mothers to teach the children the lessons of scripture.
During baptism I advise the couple that the child is now belonging to God and he/she is given to them for upbringing and they are accountable for their growth in all aspects. The story of Moses had persuaded me to say that. Mother of Moses had the fortune to bring up her son as a mother only for three months. When she was employed by the Princess of Egypt to bring up Moses, it is mentioned in the Epistle of Hebrews that his mother brought up him as a maid and she was accountable to the Princess. When Alexander Marthoma left for heavenly abode, some press reporters asked his secretary Achen, what Thirumeni used to do as soon as he gets up. Then Achen told, as soon as he gets up he will fold the sheet which he covered his body during sleep and keep his bed neatly spread. It was a training he received from his mother. If we teach children to take cross then only they will be crowned for any conciliation. Through bearing the cross, we learn reconciliation. Grace is not for us alone but it is the part of the plan of God.
St. Paul shared the Grace with God to bear the thorns in his life. 'My Grace is enough for you.' This was the great persuasion for Paul to bear everything for the sake of Jesus. When we pray to heal us, we should pray to give us endurance to bear it with grace of God as St. Paul did. Mary was a partaker of the fortunate grace of God in its full width and depth for redeeming this world through the crucifixion. Death is not an end in itself. Failure is not an end in itself. There is something greater than that for us to live. This is the mission St. Mary gives to us. We have the responsibility of this grace to share with church, society and fellow believers and for the coming generation.
[Extract from Devotional Address delivered at Maramon Convention 2007
Original in Malayalam : Translated for LOL by Editor Dr. Rajan Mathew Philadelphia, USA]
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