Forget what we ought to remember, remember what we ought to forget – Wednesday, Third week in Lent – Deuteronomy 4:1,5-9/ Matthew 5:17-19

There is much debate in the Catholic Church these days. The left and the right seem to have their views on the pontificate of Pope Francis, especially when he speaks off the cuff (which sadly has often left us confused). But look carefully and not one dot or one iota of the law of the Church has changed under his Pontificate. There have been debatable pastoral outreaches to various sections of catholic society but the fact remains that natural law cannot be changed by Pope Francis or any other Pope.

Apply this to the mandate that is found in scripture in both readings today. The people of Israel had wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. Their disobedience and sin had wearied the patience of God and we are told that he was “wrathful” (Deut 1:34) and he had decided that ‘not one of this generation should see the good land that he swore to give them.’ (Deut 1:36). Even Moses had to bear a great punishment on account of his people for he too would not enter the promised land (Deut 1:37)

A new generation of Israelites, the sons of Caleb and the sons of Joshua would enter the promised land. When the rest of the Israelites feared to enter the promised land on account of the military superiority of the Canaanites, Caleb expressed confidence that the Israelite invasion would be successful. He and Joshua alone, among the first generation of the Israelites of the Exodus, were allowed by God to settle in Canaan before dying.

It is to this new generation that Moses will instruct ad nauseum from chapters 5-26 of the book of Deuteronomy. Four times in this book he says, “Hear Oh Israel” in some form or the other, harkening Israel to obey the commandments of God. Verse two of chapter four (not in our reading of today) tells us that God’s commandments ‘cannot be added to or taken away.’ This is a perfect law and should they be kept ‘diligently,’ the way God gave it to them. The practice of God’s law will show the other nations the ‘wisdom and discernment’ of God’s people and acknowledge God’s people as ‘wise and discerning.’ (Deut1:6)

So why does Christianity not flourish today as it ought to? Because we, like the older generation of Israelites, keep breaking God’s law. The consequence of our disobedience is clear; we too will not enter heaven; God’s promised land to us.

In the Gospel of today, Jesus reiterates the teaching of Deuteronomy. Perhaps many of the scribes and Pharisees saw in the pastoral actions of Jesus, a rabble-rouser who had come to change the law. Jesus is emphatic, “not one dot, not one little stroke shall disappear.” Yet one might be compelled to ask, “Did Christ not break the sabbath when he healed on that day? Was there to be no work to be done on this day?

Christ tells us in the Gospel, “I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets, I have come to fulfil it.” The commandments of God on the sabbath were clear and simple, “you shall keep it holy.” This was all God asked from us on the Sabbath. It was man, who over the years interpreted it to their understanding. By the time of Christ, this simple law on the sabbath had 39 restrictions with several interpretations attached to each one.

Don’t blame God for what man has done. Keep his law as he has asked us to. “Observe them so that you may live.” (Deut 4:1) Sadly, most people live with the belief that laws kill our joy; Deuteronomy tells us otherwise.

We want to conveniently forget the law of God and interpret it the way we think it should apply to us. This is the work of satan who makes us forget what we ought to remember and remember what we ought to forget.

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Pass it on – Tuesday, the Third Week in Lent – Daniel 3:25,34-43/ Matthew 18:21-35

The heart of today’s readings is unmistakable; it has forgiveness written all over it. Be it asking for forgiveness from God in the first reading or to consequences of not forgiving others in the Gospel.

The first reading taken from the book of Daniel presents itself in the exilic period of the Babylonian deportation which took place in the 6th century BC. The Babylonian king in the narrative is Nebuchadnezzar. However, the Book of Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC during the reign of the Greek king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

So how do we explain this complexity? Imagine yourself living under a despotic leader (there is no dearth of them in the world right now) who has curtailed your religious freedoms and dictated that you worship his faith and gods. If you were to criticize him openly you would find investigative agencies that would hold you forever in a prison under some trumped-up charges. So, to get your message across you speak of Hitler, from a bygone era, whose very actions are reflected in the despotic ruler of your age. By doing so, your readers know whom you are talking about without the consequence of being witch-hunted. That’s the book of Daniel for you in a nutshell.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (which means a manifestation of God) erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus and slaughtered a pig and all this was done in the temple of Jerusalem. The writer of the Book of Daniel ‘recalls’ a similar incident when Nebuchadnezzar installed a statue of himself and wanted the Jewish exiles in Babylon to worship it. Three young men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused. The dictator wants to make an example and so they are to be executed in a fiery furnace.

The reading of today is the prayer of one of them. It is not a prayer asking to be saved from death but a prayer of forgiveness for a people whose sins have brought them into exile. It is a prayer of admission of guilt that has brought a nation so low that they have now become the least. These three “contrite souls” stand as witnesses to the fidelity of Yahweh whom they serve (3:17) and even if God, in his wisdom, chose not to deliver them from this persecution, they would bow down to no other god (or dictator).

This prayer of forgiveness is tender and heartbreaking. Four times the young man pleads to God with the words, “Do not.” Yet he asks not for himself but for these people who deserved the exile, who deserved the covenant of God to be withdrawn, who deserved his favour to be rescinded and asks that they be treated as gently as God himself is gentle. We know from history that God forgave his people and sent them home to Jerusalem under King Cyrus.

Which brings us to the Gospel. “How often do I have to forgive my brother?” asks Peter. For Jesus that was an obvious answer, as often as God has forgiven the crazy debt of 10,000 talents that he forgave you of; or to give 10,000 talents a more modern-day equivalent, 1,50,000 years of service. Yes, you read that one right.

You can’t ever repay a forgiving God whose debt is beyond measure. So, what can you do? Well just pass it on. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But the Gospel of today also comes with a warning; woe be upon you if you don’t.

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God took his people out of Egypt but not Egypt out of them – ThirdSunday in Lent – Exodus17:1-7/ John 4:5-42

The first reading has so much meat on the bone that you won’t miss the tidbits. So let us place the text in context. The ‘children’ of Israel (to be taken affectionately but in this case literally because of their behaviour) have seen the mighty plagues that delivered them out of, when in Egypt. Having crossed the Red Sea in chapters 14 and 15 they enter the wilderness of Shur (15:22) and it is here that their complaining begins.

While Google Maps did not exist at the time of Moses, common sense did! Common sense coupled with tribal chatter should have been enlightening enough to make people entering the wilderness expect the reality of a desert. But while God took the Israelites out of Egypt, they refused to take Egypt out of themselves. We know that they hankered for the fleshpots of Egypt which in reality could have only been starvation and hard labour, all of this wrapped in slavery.

Their first encounter in the desert was the bitter water at Marah which God sweetened for them with a ‘piece of wood’ that Moses threw into the well. In another age, God would give us the ‘wood of the cross’ to sweeten the bitterness of our lives. But does God’s saving action make us grateful?

Having got sweet water, the people complain about food in the ‘wilderness of Sin.’ This time God rained down bread from heaven. But it is at Rephidim, which means rest, that the children of Israel begin their unrest again. Now at Massa and Meribah God gives them water from the rock.

I did mention earlier that there is much meat on this bone for us to enjoy, so let us begin.

1. Have you asked yourself, “can I trust God?” This is an important question when you decide to break away from your slave master (who could even be your boss at work) and step into new unchartered inhabited and hostile territory. If you want to answer that question don’t look to God but look into your past. Has God let you down in the past? It is more likely that you let him down. Our lives are a living testimony to a God who has come through for us and yet even when our throat is slightly parched, we feel compelled to bring God’s deliverance into question.

2. Moses is more than a leader he is a leader par excellence especially when you have to lead a tribe of constant grumblers whose ingratitude almost brought Moses to death (the text of today tells us they wanted to stone him). The leadership of Moses is not the result of attending a Christian leadership seminar but rather his dependency on God. When faced with a problem he went to God. “How do I deal with these people?” he asks God. You may feel the need to talk to a counsellor but a counsellor may help you to solve your issues for the day, God on the other hand helps you resolve them for a lifetime. Choose God first, choose him always!

3. For the third reflection, I want to frame this reflection in the purple of Lent. Moses was the man who led and fed his people. Yet the text of today tells us that in his appeal to God, Moses tells God that these very people wanted to stone him. Sound familiar? Christ fed 5000, raised the dead, cured the leper, and welcomed the sinner but finally, they not only wanted to kill him, but they did it. Moses had to deal with the possibility of being stone, Christ was crucified.

4. In the Gospel of today taken from John 4, Christ, knowing the sinful life of this Samaritan woman engages her in a theological discussion, offers her living water and wins her over to eternal life. Did she get it at first? No, she seems to make fun of this man offering her ‘living water’ at a well, when he has no bucket at all (no one told her he walked on water). But her openness draws her to see him as more than just a Jew (verse 9), as a respectable man, for she calls him “sir” (verses 11 and 15) as a “prophet” (verse19) and to the beginnings of accepting him as the Messiah (verse 29) and the acknowledgement of Jesus as the “saviour of the world” (verse 42)

Is this good enough for your day? If yes then take this water to someone else who is thirsty and all you have to do is send it with a click of a button.

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Kerala style chicken stew

500 grams chicken
2 tosp coconut oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 to 4 green cardamom
Two cloves
Half inch cinnamon
1 tsp fennel seeds
7-8 garlic cloves
1 inch Ginger
3 to 4 green chilies
1 onion sliced
1 cup carrots, potatoes and peas
1 cup thin coconut milk
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon black pepper powder

For the tadka or tempering
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Hand ful of curry leaves a
Handful of Pearl shallots or small onion

in a Kadai or deep bottom dish add coconut oil and temper, the whole spices, add ginger garlic, green chilies, curry leaves followed by onion Add the chicken and sauté it well. once the chicken changes colour, add the thin coconut milk. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Once the chicken is cooked, add the thick coconut milk, garam masala powder and black pepper powder.

now for the tempering or tadka. In a small pan, add coconut oil, mustard seeds a handful of curry leaves, and handful pearl shallots or onions. Let the mustard seeds crackle and then pour it over the stew and mix well.
You can also fry some cashew nuts  and add to the dish.

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Empty gestures make only noise – Third Sunday in Lent – Exodus 20:1-17/ John 2:13-25

I would like to approach this teaching with a two-pronged approach; theologically (and I will not approach it as if I am writing a doctrinal thesis) and pastorally so that we can take a thought or two home.

The cleansing of the temple by Jesus is a narrative that is found in all four gospels. Not every narrative (the wedding at Canna being a case in point) is found in every Gospel. But what is unique to John’s Gospel is that it is placed right at the beginning of the Gospel in chapter two, just after the wedding at Canna. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) have this narration towards the end of their Gospels

For the Synoptics (meaning to see together, because they are similar) the cleansing of the temple was the last straw that broke the camel’s back or in this case the tolerance levels of the Jewish establishment towards Jesus. It is this incident that drove the nail into Jesus’ coffin or more precisely, into his palms and feet. In the case of John’s Gospel, it was the raising of Lazarus.

So why does John position and present this text differently? For John, the cleansing of the temple is highlighted not so much in what he does (which is a bit different in details compared to the Synoptics) but rather in what Jesus says. “You will not make MY FATHER’s house into a marketplace.” (In the synoptics it is a den of thieves).

Here in lies the revelation of Jesus as the SON OF GOD establishing his authority at a time when every Jew from the region and the diaspora poured into the temple for the Passover. Jesus was not making some petty claim in a small town of Galilee. This was him making his bold case; he is the Messiah; he is the Son of God and this is his father’s house. This was his big-ticket announcement, his first public speech and one that would send ripples throughout the Jewish faith.

Coming to the pastoral implications. The Lord is presented as all riled up and while I would love to talk about our anger issues I would rather focus on the actions of Jesus. This is not the image of the sweetheart of Jesus that we have got used to; this is the Christ setting perspectives right. Understandably, commercial activity will surround religious expressions. But when the activity overtakes the core essentials of the faith, when faith becomes mere activity, then this can best be described as a faithless business.

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