What is special in the sweet smile of a new-born babe? Is there anything more tender, innocent, touching, and compellingly tickling to arouse sublime heavenly sentiments of joy and peace than such a sight?
Hence the beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The birth of every child is a loud proclamation that God is not tired of humans. In the case of the Babe of Bethlehem, he sneaked into time and space through the obscure hole of a cattle shed and rose to giant proportions to divide history into BC and AD.In spite of all religious wars fought to erase his name from human memory, he continues to be a live wire challenging human minds as a “sign of contradiction, for the rise and fall of many” as prophesied by Simon at the temple for the ritual of his presentation.
In a sense, Christmas is God’s way of dragging a treacherous, terror stricken, radicalized world that it is today, back to human sensibilities by putting it go through a “revolution of tenderness” which is what the birth of a child in every family is and Christmas in the world is all about. De facto this world is a mixture of both good and bad like day and night in equal measure. The daylight arrests darkness at the threshold of its Lekshman Rekha through natural law.
Revolution of Terror as well
This balance is often flouted only by the trigger happy irrational humans who explode as revolutions of terror. It happened like a big bang first at Hiroshima and Nagasaki long ago and recently at San Bernardino where a gun wielding couple killed 14 colleagues and co-workers. Have we then to understand that the epicenters of revolutions of tenderness and terror are to be found in the human family?
This is nothing new in human history. Just think of Cain slaughtering Abel his brother. And think of “Glory to God in the highest and peace to men of Good will” of the angel song at Jesus’ birth and the flocking of the poor shepherds to Jesus’ feet to hear the good news and to rejoice and thank God.
Think equally of the rich and wise men from the East who came with gold and silver, Mir and incense to give thanks to God and to spread peace and good will. Equally or more forcefully this is balanced by the plot of a power hungry ruler of the time like Herod who caused the slaughter of the innocents. Has the world grown from bad to worse or is it condemned to be a perpetual battle field between good and evil forces? This is the great mystery; the great riddle human mind is constantly challenged to find convincing answers – the problem of evil in the world that God created and found it good, the problem of the outgrowth of weeds among the wheat!
3 Ls: Labor, Lodging & Land
Yes, the main challenge is the problem of evil – the suffering of a multitude of innocents literally drowning in a sea of misery while one to ten percent of humanity control 90 percent of world’s wealth and live in islands of affluence totally unconcerned about the Villas Miserias around them. That sea around is created by the confluence of three rivers called 3 Ls since names of all three starts with L: Labor, Lodging and Land. Just think of the millions who are deprived of a job (Labor) to earn their daily bread, a roof over their head (Lodging) to rest and a minimum of at least six feet of (Land) which they can call their own.
How can anyone totally focused on the enormity of this deprivation thrust upon a vast majority of humans accept the existence of a possible Prodigal Father who is heaven to whom his children here on earth are asked to pray daily: “give us this day our daily bread” only to be left unheard or ignored for days on end? And you and I living in comfortable homes, having three square meals a day and well-cushioned to rest and sleep, sit in judgment and delight in calling them Atheists, while refusing to lift even a finger to alleviate any of their miseries?
6 Questions of Conscience
It is in situations like this we have to remind ourselves of some 6 questions of conscience: 1) the unjust servant in the gospel sending his own peon and debtor to jail for not repaying a paltry sum; 2) the Pharisee praying in the temple and making odious comparisons with the publican; 3) the priest and Levite passing by the robbed and wounded man left dying on the road; 4) the verdict at the last judgment – you have not fed me hungry, cared for me sick, housed me homeless etc. – and 5) the words of Nathan the Prophet to David the holy man of Israel: “That man is YOU,” and 6) the cry of many striking laborers in our contemporary society: “You profiteering land owners and cartels, you have made me a Communist; You Pharisaic Religious hypocrites lording it over have made me an atheist!.”
These are the very things that prompted a great cardinal of Boston to murmur in the ears of Cardinal Bergoglio at the Conclave: “Do not forget the poor” when it became certain he was going to be elected pope, and he in turn took the name of Francis of Assisi, known as the merchant of mercy and tenderness. It eventually forced him to speak of “a poor church for the poor” and live a poor life at St.Marthas and ride the streets of Rome in any cheap car to visit prisons and old-age homes. It also brought on him the adulation: “Pope of the slums”, “Miracle of humility in an era of vanity”.
Ever since the Vatican synod on the family was going on Francis shot into prominence as the champion of Mercy and tenderness together with cardinal Walter Kasper for giving coinage to statements like – “Name of our God is Mercy”, He is never tired of forgiving, it’s we who are tired of asking forgiveness,” and of late: “Jesus came to unleash a revolution of tenderness, of mercy, of compassion, of pardon.” He walks the talk to Emmaus with His doubting sinful church to revel himself in the breaking of the bread etc.
Who is this Jesus?
We are doing all this talk and discussion solely because of the person called Jesus. And what was he? Who was the historical Jesus? What is Jesus of faith today? Who is this Jesus for the over two thousand churches, each one claiming his church to be the most perfect one? Otherwise there is no point in starting a new church or leaving one to join another. And finally what is Jesus for you?
Historically Jesus was a carpenter of Nazareth. No one has ever heard of his schooling or college life. Nor has he left anything written. He went into hiding at the age of 12 and surfaced at 30 to live 3 years of tumultuous controversial public life, preaching words of wisdom and raising mindboggling questions like a rabble rouser for which he was crucified, according to some. On the third day he was reported to have risen from the dead. He then became a subject of bigger controversy which goes on even today.
He never built any church, nor did he give any brief or elaborate example of ritual of worship. He in fact forbad all such rituals. If this carpenter of Nazareth were to come back, since most of his admirers believe he has risen, is quite alive and will come back, he would be the most sought after person as supervisor or advisor to those busy building new churches or remodeling old or outdated ones. Pope Francis is busy with giving shape to an outdated Church. That may be the reason why he is not appearing anywhere in public.
A Live Wire even Today
But one thing is all too certain. He is spiritually very alive as a live wire in the minds and hearts of many, both believers and unbelievers. That is solely because of his option for the poor, his weakness to a fault to befriend outcasts and caste outs like drunkards and prostitutes, and most of all because of his insistence to relate himself to the lowly (we see it now in Francis) as an equal, as a soul friend, not as Lord and Master to lord it over as is seen and done by everyone in the Catholic hierarchical ladder. Jesus instead is a friend who rushes and kneels to wash your feet which simply disarms you.
It is this trait of Jesus that acted on me always like an adhesive to stick to him irrevocably. Listen to some of his unbelievable pronouncements: “The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. I do not call you servants any longer because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead I have called you friends because I have told you everything, I have heard from my father. You did not choose me. I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name.”Jn.15.12-17 Jesus said it at a very solemn moment during the last supper.
Befriending Jesus Means
To understand the depth of Jesus’ offer of friendship one should explore its relationship first with laying down one’s life for a friend, second with foot washing ministry. In modern parlance friendship means at best eating and drinking together, vacationing and helping in crisis times but not laying down one’s life at all. In ancient times of Jesus it meant otherwise.
For example Aristotle says: “The virtuous man’s conduct is often guided by the interests of his friends and of his country, and that he will if necessary lay down his life in their behalf“, Plato added: “Only those who love wish to die for others.” This is what Jesus said and did when he laid down his life.
Similarly Jesus makes the ultimate act of hospitality and friendship by washing the feet of his disciples because it used to be the servants, not hosts or masters, who washed the feet of guests. In the foot washing, Jesus and the disciples move from being servants and master to being friends. John 15:12-15 is the key passage for a theology of friendship. To know more I suggest readers to visit: “I Have Called You Friends, by Gail R. O’Day, Associate Dean of Faculty School of Theology Atlanta, in the internet Google search.
It is this understanding of friendship that draws me to Jesus with all the freedoms of a soul friend. It gives me the freedom to discuss with him, disagree with him, and quarrel with him as I do with a close friend. Because of this attraction, maybe I am simply caught in the jaws of this hound of heaven rather than He in my intellectual and emotional grip. If not for this I would have perhaps abandoned him long ago which is impossible as long as I am in His vice-like grip.
I do not know how many relate to him as a friend and friend only to draw inspiration, light and guidance even while so many other things attributed to him remain as impenetrable mysteries beyond all human understanding. For this underdog, if He is a soulmate, it is thanks to His being the fountain head of the revolution of mercy and childlike gentleness to me. So I am forced to listen to his call: “Come to me all that you labor and are burdened, I will give your rest.” How can I turn my face away from such a call? May that call resound in your ears and help you respond in a better way than I do during this Christmas season!
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