|MARCH 2008||DEVOTIONAL MESSAGE||
MISSION ON THE RIVERSIDE
The cited scripture portion has got reference to the beginning of the second missionary journey of St. Paul. The second missionary journey of St. Paul was more significant than his first journey. During this journey he visited many important cities like Philippi, Athena, Corinth. The journey was under a divine guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit of God and as per the will of Jesus Christ; this is emphasized in this scripture portion. They totally relied on the revelation of God than any contrivance or inclination of their own. It was the Holy Spirit of God that forbade them from speaking God's message in Asia. When they came to Mysia they tried to enter Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them. So they passed by Mysia and came down to Troas where one night Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man standing and appealing to him in the words: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" Accordingly they went to Neapolis and there from to Philippi. Neapolis is an important harbor city of Philippi. Philippi was a Roman garrison-town and the chief city in Macedonia. It was a city founded by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great and named after him. As the history reveals and St. Luke emphasize, in A.D. 42 Emperor Augustine made this city of copper and Gold, Philippi, a Roman colony and military centre, governed directly from Rome.
Paul and Silas found their journey divinely directed and complied this divine direction much more cheerfully, and with more satisfaction. It may be strange to see that the Spirit of God apparently laid plans to lead Paul and Silas to this busy industrial city place. The Church, which established by St. Paul, was in this colonial city. It was an era of colonialization. The birth of Jesus Christ also took place in a period of colonialization. A converted and transformed devout business-lady named Lydia is seen here as the representative of the Church established by St. Paul. Lydia was the consumer and victim of the colonial culture. Lydia was known not by her name but by her profession and status. By the globalization and modernization the people are identified by their profession and achievements and not by their religious traditions. Lydia, a dealer in purple-dyed cloth from Thyatira, was already a believer in God, and she opened her heart to accept Paul's words.
Colonial culture does not allow any spirituality within it. Only the religious awareness, which is useful for the colony, was granted and encouraged inside the colony. There was no freedom to assemble inside the colonial wall limit for the sake of religion. We see here people going outside the city in search of spirituality. The ardency of the urban culture cast out the traditional true faith and mission and looks for neo-emotional spirituality which suit well to their modern lifestyle. Before identifying the danger of these neo-spiritual organizations many fall as victim of these new developments mushrooming abruptly.
It is worth noticing the axiom and methodology of St. Paul in dispensation of the means of grace in a particular manner at a place and with people who were involved in political, industrial, religious and colonial culture commercially motivated in a busy engaged society. How the ministry of St. Paul was planted in this busy industrial city of Philippi? St. Paul's method was not in harmony with the modern western neo-spirit. His ministry commenced outside city where women empowerment was prevailing. By this congregation on the riverside the Apostle set up a tradition of worship outside the walls of the busy colony. This is a tradition, which strengthen the spiritual experience of the people who would like to be at remote by inclining the hearts of those who really needed them. Slowly it turned out for establishment of a new church for the colonial people which is commenced outside the colony.
Now people are eager to migrate to the urban areas for more conveniences of life. The people who live in the remote villages are marginalized and poor. Also we see many people are pushed back to the undeveloped areas for lack of their opportunities. In India we can see many places with villages, which does not have any living conveniences especially in our neighboring states of Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It should be a serious thought that whether Church can reach out to these villages and extend the caring ministry to these people. Marthoma Church is an evangelically motivated Church. So the responsibility of the Church is quite evident in this respect. Government and church together have to do many things in this respect. Can we extend our missions to these remote villages? Can our big urban Parishes sponsor one of the Parishes in the remote villages?
The mission in the villages is not restricted for the propagation of the word of God alone, but it is to explore all their needs and extend helping hands for them to improve their life. They need clean drinking water. They need shelter. They need educational facility for their children. They need medical care. They need help for their agriculture. They need roads and better transportation system. Caring for all these needs become a part of the Christian mission in these villages. It is the primary duty of the government and the Church to give helping hands to these pressing needs of these marginalized village folks who are denied with the modern conveniences and luxury. Let the mission of St. Paul and his companions commenced on the river-side be an inspiration for us to extend our mission to explore how the standard of living of these tribal and village people can be improved.
In this context we should know what is happening inside the urban life. In the urban society, not only the Christian spirituality, but also all religious spiritualities are commercialized. This happens in the influence of the globalization and the commercial modern attitude. The same contemporary experience of the commercialization we can perceive in the first century church also. A slave-girl who had a spirit of clairvoyance with extrasensory perception for fortune telling used to follow Paul. She brought her owners a good deal of profit by foretelling the future. Paul got irritated with her and caste out the evil spirit from her. Inside the colony it was a commercialized spirituality and outside the colony it was a neglected and ignored spirituality. Profit motivated spirituality connives for unholy collaboration of politics, religion and commerce. St. Paul choose to go out of the colony and collaborated with people on the riverside for the establishment of a caring fellowship and establishment of the church.
In the Gospel according to St. John 12:20 onwards we read that some Greek people who came from villages for the feast in Jerusalem met Philip from Bethsaida of Galilee and told 'Master we want see Jesus'. Philip told his native man Andrew who is also from Bethsaida and both together went and told Jesus. Here also we see that Jesus became reachable to the village people by the right propagation through the right people. This was an invitation to Jesus and an expression of great enthusiasm for His words to the remote and the alien villages. We see here a holy collaboration of Andrews and Phillip with the Greek villagers together for receiving Jesus and His words to their village.
The slave-girl who followed St. Paul is a symbol of the modern commercialized urban culture of spirituality. What we see here is a political, religious and commercial lobby work behind these commercialized spiritually as its unquestionable masters. Now a day all spiritual events are turning out to be the sponsored programs with a commercial motivation to exploit the mass assemblage of people. I presume there will be many collaborators who may sponsor even Maramon convention if an opportunity is given.
Once the sponsors come to know that their profit is gone, they get provoked and go to any extend to ruin their partners. Here we see that once the Masters of the slave-girl knew that their hope of making money out of her had disappeared, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities in the market-square. The Market-Square is converted as a judiciary. Though the Romans had an established Judiciary they had overridden even ethics and normal guidelines. They accused Paul to all extend and said, "These men are Jews and are causing a great disturbance in our city. They are proclaiming customs which it is illegal for us as Roman citizens to accept or practice." The crowd attacked them, stripped and beaten with rods. They threw them into prison and hustled them into the inner dark room jail and fastened their feet securely in the stocks.
Further mission of Paul and Silas in the Jail is very significant. Paul and Silas took over their false accusations and imprisonment and it was considered as a privilege for name of Jesus. They were counted worthy to suffer shame for the glory of Jesus. No trouble, how grievous so ever, indisposed them for prayer. They sang and praised God in the late hours of night. This endurance caused for a midnight deliverance and they could win the souls of the jailer and his family. It is only by these endurances of the saints and martyrs our church is sustaining and not out of any of our efforts.
Suddenly there was a great earthquake, big enough to shake the foundations of the prison. Immediately all the doors flew open and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the doors of the prison had been opened he drew his sword and was on the point of killing himself, for he imagined that all the prisoners had escaped. But Paul called out to him at the top of his voice, "Don't hurt yourself - we are all here!" Though they had the opportunity to escape from the Jail, they did not make use for it. Life is not for self-escape but it is for the salvation of others. This is the approach of the Christian mission. Our opportunities are not for the sake of ours, but they are for others. This should be the style of transformation of the individuals and the society. This is the key-lesson of this passage.
There and then in the middle of the night he took them aside and washed their wounds and Jailer himself and all his family were baptized without delay. Then he took them into his house and offered them food, he and his whole household overjoyed at finding faith in God. This small assembly of the people on the riverside turned out to be a great congregation and caring society and a Church by the power of the word of God. This congregational experience gave way for a caring and sharing community. When Lydia and her household had been baptized, she besought Paul and Silas, saying, "If you are satisfied that I am a true-believer in the Lord, then come down to my house and stay there." And she insisted on them doing so.
This approach of mission is the model for the Churches. It was an act of sacrament happened in the Jail. The people who tortured them took them to their homes and washed their wounds. They repented by washing the blood they caused to flow by the beating. And further they got baptized. So the caring and washing of the blood was the fore-act of the repentance and baptism. Washing the wound is the Christian spiritual mission and it is the commencement of the sacrament of reconciliation. Whom we hurt, his wound should be washed. This is the experience what Christians should show to the world. It can only cause a transformation of the world. It should be the ultimate composition and diction of Christian ministry.
[Extract from Devotional Message delivered at Maramon Convention 2007
Original in Malayalam : Translated for LOL by Editor Dr. Rajan Mathew Philadelphia, USA]
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