Thought for the day
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."
- Matthew 7:7-8
Lenten Meditations from the Pastoral Concerns Dept – Day 31 “CHRIST WITH CRIMINALS: HOPE FOR THE DYING”
[The Pastoral Concerns Department of the Church of South India brings out devotions for the 40 Lenten Days in 2019 beginning from the Ash Wednesday. A group of CSI Presbyters from the five states of South India prepared these devotions and published on this official website of the CSI Synod, Official Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/csisynodcommunication/ and the official WhatsApp Broadcast from the number +91 9840577404. You can read/download the English version of the devotion here. The writer of the devotion presents the same in a video on the day. Watch here Rev. Joseph Samuel, Presbyter, CSI Madhya Kerala Diocese gives a meditation “CHRIST WITH CRIMINALS: HOPE FOR THE DYING”
Lenten Meditations- Day 31 (for 10th April 2019)
“CHRIST WITH CRIMINALS: HOPE FOR THE DYING”
Selected Texts: Luke 23: 39-43 | Isiah 7: 1-14 | Galtians 6: 15-18
....and Jesus said to him, “truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”. (Lk.23:43)
A famous dictum in the judicial scenario goes like this, ‘ a single comma can kill a person’. For instance, if we write “kill him, not let him go”, it means the end of life, however, we put the statement, “Kill him not, let him go”, it rather means the continuation of life. Such inscriptions show the in depth issues that still entangle the dominant discourse of the Indian Judicial system and the dangers of the same system when it fails to administer justice to the people equally and fairly. According to the World Prison Brief data, in 2015, there were 4.5 million prisoners in Indian prisons who were 114% over the official capacity of the prison system. Out of this prison population 70% are pre-trial detainees and remanded prisoners. Unfortunately, no such data are published during the recent years by the government. Prisons are adversely criminalised in the dominant social and political discourses and more and more victims are identified and relocated to the jails and police camps through the charges of naxalism and sedition. We may probably have to interpret the second saying of Jesus from this context. Here in the text, Jesus, in fact declares the final verdict on the criminals and offering them a new hope for life even while going through the gruesomeness of death.
Hope in Deridings
Luke the evangelist narrates the passion and the death of our Lord Jesus Christ in a particular theological style of universalised and inclusive perspective of salvation. The Nazareth Manifesto or proclamation that we encounter at the very beginning of Jesus’ public appearance constitutes the missional agenda for the life of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. Jesus’ programmatic recital of the Isiahnic liberation hymn contains the Messianic intention to set at liberty of the captives. In the process of fulfilling that vision of a just community of the Reign of God, on the penultimate plot of the salvation history in the passion of Jesus of Nazareth, as depicted in Luke, we see Jesus engages in life-affirming conversions with criminals on the cross. These two criminals might be from the zealot or social banditry movements in the first century CE who fought against religio-political nexus of the Romans and the Jewish aristocracy that exploited the common people. There were many Messianic renewal movements within Judaism especially in the Galilean region who involved in armed rebellion against Roman Empire to establish reign of Yahweh. The imperial and Jewish authorities pacified such resistance through massacres and crucifying the rebels publically. As Kosuke Koyama states, we are confronted by the “ultimate Sincerity” of God in the crucified Christ. We hear the distant railings of the oppressors and the spectators to ‘save himself from the cross ‘, now very close to the cross of Christ. The first criminal vents his anger and frustration on Jesus and even he is ready to try Jesus in his messy life situation. He is repeating the tempting and testing slogans of the bystanders and onlookers to Jesus at the feet of cross to save himself since he saved others. This is in fact a Christological challenge to question the messiahship of Jesus. The neighbourhood of the cross experience too become detrimental for Jesus and to his liberative life of the gospel. Though the first one responding to Jesus is on unbearable agony of being nailed on the cross, he too is sucked in by the railings of the people around. The other-oriented sincerity of Jesus liberated all others except him, because cross is a space and point in human history where we see God standing against all suffering that comes when one resists the suffering of others. He saved others by not saving himself and by giving up his life.
Hope in the Dying
The second criminal, being conscious of the innocence of Jesus criticises initially his friend and then the whole Roman imperial judicial system for punishing the powerless and the poor. Rome tried to win over the world with the brutality of the cross. But the passion of Jesus on the cross has made the same cross as point of questioning the justice of the world and its dominance. This man shares the mind of Jesus, as again Kosuke Koyama suggests the “crucified mind “for liberation of the entire humanity. We see and hear a discipleship faith and response from the second criminal, because he invests his life and hope in a suffering, dying and crucified God. He exemplifies the core of Christian faith and he becomes a discipleship paradigm at cross-event of Christ. The early Christianity boldly affirmed their faith in crucified Jesus and had been a challenge to Roman imperial administration and Jewish aristocracy. Jesus’ movement gained its momentum in the early Palestine territory through such vivid affirmations. He sees a glorious future in a dying Jesus.
Hope for the Dying
Jesus reacts to the pistis (faith) of the criminal, and he offers company and companionship to him, for Jesus extends his presence to him. He considers the criminal (he is not such one at least now) as a disciple, for Jesus has chosen the so called twelve to be with him. Cross is here becoming a womb of life and hope, promise and prospect. He extends the space of Reign of God to a criminal. On a contextual observation, Jesus “decriminalizes” the life and the destiny of this man on the cross with Jesus offering him a liberated identity in the future of the Jesus’ movement. This future is, in truth, the TODAY. The future and hope of the suffering and oppressed is radically affirmed TODAY, for the real HOPE matters for TODAY in the life of Jesus.
In Christ alone, our hope is found
He is our light, our strength, our song
This corner stone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love
What depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
Our comforter, our all in all
Here in the love of Christ, we stand.
Loving God, we affirm our faith in you, though we face death in our life situations. Thank you for extending to us hope for the future in today through life of the church. Help us to see your grace in the people who are labelled and doomed as criminals and wicked. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Rev. Joseph Samuel
CSI Madhya Kerala Diocese