Christian Witness Among Other Faiths

Matthew 5:13–16 | Sermon — 23 August 2020

During the lockdown, my neighbours in Mumbai would once a week surprise me with a special meal they made that day. So the first time they surprised me, Pooja, our neighbour prepared Roti and Channa masala. It was amazing because I hadn’t a ever tasted such tasty channa in my life. It tried my best to figure out what the special ingredient was. But she conveyed through her husband that it was just a normal channa masala curry and had nothing special. Yet I tried to figure out what made it taste like an out-of-this-world dish, only to fail again and again.

The crowds that followed Jesus crowded around him.

A Textual Background

The end of Matthew chapter 4 paints a picture of a Jesus who is sought after by large crowds from regions spread as far out as Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the region across the Jordan.

  • Verse 25
  • 25 അവൻ അവരെ സൗഖ്യമാക്കി; ഗലീല, ദെക്കപ്പൊലി, യെരൂശലേം, യെഹൂദ്യ, യോർദ്ദാന്നക്കരെ എന്നീ ഇടങ്ങളിൽ നിന്നു വളരെ പുരുഷാരം അവനെ പിന്തുടർന്നു.

There was something in Jesus that they were seeking for.

There were diseases all over — v. 24 people suffering severe pain, demon-possession, seizures, paralysis and Jesus healed them.

Verse 24

  • അവന്റെ ശ്രുതി സുറിയയിൽ ഒക്കെയും പരന്നു. നാനാവ്യാധികളാലും ബാധകളാലും വലഞ്ഞവർ, ഭൂതഗ്രസ്തർ, ചന്ദ്രരോഗികൾ, പക്ഷവാതക്കാർ ഇങ്ങനെ സകലവിധ ദീനക്കാരെയും അവന്റെ അടുക്കൽ കൊണ്ടുവന്നു.

v. 23 says he was teaching in Synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom

Matthew 4: 23

  • 23 *പിന്നെ യേശു ഗലീലയിൽ ഒക്കെയും ചുറ്റി സഞ്ചരിച്ചുകൊണ്ടു അവരുടെ പള്ളികളിൽ ഉപദേശിക്കയും രാജ്യത്തിന്റെ സുവിശേഷം പ്രസംഗിക്കയും ജനത്തിലുള്ള സകലദീനത്തെയും വ്യാധിയെയും സൗഖ്യമാക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു.

What was this something?

  1. Hope for the hopeless (Mat 5:3–12)
  2. Healing from sickness ( Mat 4:23 -25)
  3. Liberation from bondage ( Mat 4:23–25 + 5:3–12)
  4. A new imagination regarding life as persons and as communities.

This must have been a mixed crowd. Jews, Gentiles, people from a variety of different linguistic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Yet they wanted something that Jesus was offering.

What was that something?

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, says:

[Rowan Williams, Holy Living : The Christian Tradition for Today ( London/ New York : Bloomsbury, 2017, 94.]

Jesus and the world of metaphors

Jesus was an expert at breaking down complex eternal truths into simple everyday language using metaphors and imageries taken from everyday life.

Today’s passage presents two commonly used items — One from the Kitchen and the other — something that was in use in every house, before electricity became a reality. A lamp stand was a common house hold item at home as well as at the worship place.

  1. Salt
  2. Light, bushel, lampstand.

This falls into what is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew ch. 5 | It begins by giving hope. Then it turns into a series of ethical teachings. And Jesus is still teaching the same community that followed him.

Why would they be given ethical teachings while they were the victims of oppression?

Kingdom emerging — Matthew’s Gospel in that context After turning tables of power with the beatitudes, Jesus, was aware that the Kingdom will change lives and communities and impact nations. He goes out to set up a series of moral and ethical teachings as part of forming a new community. That a new community would emerge (It did!). It had to follow Christian rules, otherwise one would go to avenge the atrocities committed to them. They would turn around, play the victim and become a perpetual oppressor like the modern nation state, Israel and a Syrian church in Kerala who are avenging their perceived victimhood by becoming a perpetrator of violence.

Salt

Salt needs no introduction. It enhances the already present taste of a dish. Salt in itself is not the dish, but an enhancer. You are called to be the Taste of Place, something that’s original, unique and flavoured uniquely by having Christ in you. How to be the salt of the earth is explained Jesus in the passages from Matthew 5:17 onwards.

Light

Let us pay some more attention to this metaphor.

Light shines in the darkness.

This metaphor takes into consideration the daily cycle of darkness and light, emerging one after the other. Jesus tells us that there will be dark times. It won’t last forever. But there certainly will be times of darkness — uncertainty, hopelessness and helplessness. Yet we are called to be the ones who are to shine the light of God in the darkness.

That something in Jesus gave hope in the lives of the people who followed Jesus. That’s why they came after him by foot.

Kingdom of heaven | സ്വർഗ്ഗരാജ്യം

Jesus turns around and teaches them and forms a new community based on his teachings.

As we go through Matthew, we see references to a Kingdom of heaven.

This Kingdom of heaven, as prayed for in the Lord’s prayer, is what he is building, through each one of us. It is an act of resistance against the forces that spread lies, that oppress and demoralise us. It is a counter-shaping of a society that tries to box us into something that we are not meant to be.

The risky act of resistance | പ്രതിരോധം

This act of resistance involves a risk. Daniel and his friends take that risk as read in Daniel 1:1–21. It made a difference. Yes, he had to go through times of darkness and face a dungeon of lions. But this community is one that is ready to trust in the Lord and dreams a different society. Even when there is pressure to conform, they can’t because they have tasted something better.

Peter’s words.

It is this hope that recasts this crowd into a new people. Speaking to the dispersed Christian community, Peter tells them that there is hope. But before they are restored, they are asked remember who they are and start practising their true values.

  • 1 Peter 2:9 says
  • 9 *നിങ്ങളോ അന്ധകാരത്തിൽനിന്നു തന്റെ അത്ഭുത പ്രകാശത്തിലേക്കു നിങ്ങളെ വിളിച്ചവന്റെ സൽഗുണങ്ങളെ ഘോഷിപ്പാന്തക്കവണ്ണം തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെട്ട ഒരു ജാതിയും രാജകീയപുരോഹിതവർഗ്ഗവും വിശുദ്ധവംശവും സ്വന്തജനവും ആകുന്നു. 10 *മുമ്പെ നിങ്ങൾ ജനമല്ലാത്തവർ; ഇപ്പോഴോ ദൈവത്തിന്റെ ജനം; കരുണ ലഭിക്കാത്തവർ; ഇപ്പോഴോ കരുണ ലഭിച്ചവർ തന്നേ. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Christians are a community that reimagines the society on these lines and live out that Kingdom. It is in you. This Kingdom is in the here and now. We are already citizens of it. We have begun living in that Kingdom, already. The future is here. We are not waiting for the Kingdom of God and the eternal life in it, but we are already living it. We break open moments and glimpses of that Kingdom among us through our lives. That is our mission. We are in the business of becoming a new community. It’s not about conversion. When animals feel thirsty, they move towards water. When insects see light, they race toward it. When people hear of hope, they move towards it. When a person feels empty, s/he needs to be filled. In the same way, when the hearts that seek meaning find the presence of God, they will be drawn towards it. We need to be channels of the living waters (John 7) and allow it to flow through us so that we may point them to the source.

People are running around searching for that something that is within us.

But they are searching it in the wrong places!

Rowan Williams, says in a pointed manner :

[Rowan Williams, Holy Living : The Christian Tradition for Today ( London/ New York : Bloomsbury, 2017, 94.]

Can we show the way, now that we know the Way?

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. അങ്ങനെ തന്നേ മനുഷ്യർ നിങ്ങളുടെ നല്ല പ്രവൃത്തികളെ കണ്ടു, സ്വർഗ്ഗസ്ഥനായ നിങ്ങളുടെ പിതാവിനെ മഹത്വപ്പെടുത്തേണ്ടതിന്നു നിങ്ങളുടെ വെളിച്ചം അവരുടെ മുമ്പിൽ പ്രകാശിക്കട്ടെ.

May he shine through you.

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