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Last week we have meditated and reflected on the ‘Sign’ – Wedding at Cana. For this week we shall begin with the miracle found in Mark 1:40-45 for today where Jesus healed the person with leprosy. We shall then move on to a few questions from the Bible related to our journey in Lent. We shall begin with the Book of Genesis and explore the following six questions this week:
Did God really say? Gen 3:1
Where are you? Gen 3:9
Where is your brother? Gen 4:9
Am I my brother’s keeper? Gen 4:9
Where have you come from and where are you going? Gen 16:7
Have I really seen God and lived to tell about it? Gen 16:13
I Leprosy and Discrimination in Old Testament times
Leviticus 13:45-46 clearly spells out what a person should do once he is declared unclean due to dreaded skin diseases one of which was Leprosy as, “A person who has a dreaded skin disease must wear torn clothes, leave his hair uncombed, cover the lower part of his face, and call out, ‘unclean, unclean’. He remains unclean as long as he has the disease, and he must live outside the camp, away from the others.” This description puts our discussion in perspective. This was the law given to Moses by God and the priest has a key role to play role. Priest is the person who declared a person unclean and the priest had to declare the same person to be clean as well. Jesus fulfils this law. He makes the person clean and the person and others know he is clean or healed – it is visible but needs certification. Naturally, not all people with leprosy were healed but we have instances where Moses, Miriam and Naman are mentioned to be healed and Miriam returns to the Camp, while Moses did it as a part of a sign form God and Naman was a Syrian. Majority of the people with leprosy died outside the camp. How is leprosy dealt with today?
Few facts and figures about Leprosy today:
1. 1 in 6 do not have access to clean drinking water
2. Leprosy is closely linked with poverty
3. Every 2 minutes someone is diagnosed with leprosy.
4. Leprosy is the seventh most common cause of blindness
5. Many with leprosy suffer from discrimination and prejudice and are still regarded as outcasts.
II Jesus’ attitude towards people with Leprosy: A new mission imperative
Jesus has a deep compassion for people at the margins and especially towards those suffering from Leprosy. Jesus is seen in this event to both break the Mosaic law and also fulfil it. What adds meaning to this story is this act of breaking the law and once again bringing a new norm for people to follow – not that people become clean and then they are eligible to be touched but ‘be touched first, be healed and then be declared clean’. This is where we see the model of Jesus’ mission which is doing and reflecting which form the two steps in doing theology too!
Leprosy is a disease that hits the poor or makes the ones with this disease poor as they are cast out of the camp or community. If a leprosy patient can be well cared for where they are not allowed to hurt their skin and bone, they will never be disfigured or lose part of their limbs. This happens as they lose their sensitivity to heat and cold, to pain and pressure. My question always in this issue is ‘Who has lost the sensitivity – they or us?’ If we can become sensitive enough to care for them, they will not end up in the situations that they are forced to – as beggars in groups living on the margins of the society at least in India to be precise. This is again an issue of poverty. Unless and until we see Poverty as an issue of injustice and deal with it, we will have to see these people going through awful situations. Are we ready to act in this direction? How easy will this journey be?
Jesus is again seen outside the camp for this person with leprosy to approach. Jesus hears the cry of this person just to be healed. He touches going against the Mosaic law and brings about HEALING and CLEANING. So there are different touches in the life of a person and both touching as well as being touched brings about healing. Some can be bad touches as in the case of child abuse, molesting, raping, violence etc. Touching also brings healing and the touch extended through love, care, dignity be it social or medical.
III Touchable and untouchable in today’s context
The caste ridden Indian Society imposes this evil practise of caste system where the hierarchically divided society discriminates one group of its population as ‘Untouchable’. They are a big chunk of about 17% of the more than two billion people there. History shows that these Dalits, ‘untouchables’ as they were formerly referred to along with many other names were treated similarly to what the Leviticus 13:45-46 says and facts show that Dalits faced a worse situation. A P Nirmal, a pioneer Dalit Theologian describes this as follows: “My Dalit ancestors did not enjoy the nomadic freedom of the wandering Aramean. As an outcaste, he was also cast out of his/her village. The Dalit basitis (localities), were always and are always on the outskirts of the Indian village. When the Dalit ancester walked the dusty roads of his village, the Sa Varnas tied a tree-branch around his waist so that he would not leave any unclean foot-prints and pollute the roads. The Sa Varnas also tied an earthen pot around my Dalit ancestor’s neck to serve as a spittle. If ever my Dalit ancestor tried to learn Sanskrit or some other sophisticated language, the oppressors gagged him permanently by pouring molten lead down his throat. My Dalit mother and sisters were forbidden to wear any blouses and the Sa Varnas feasted their eyes on their bare bosoms. The Sa Varnas denied my Dalit ancestor any access to public wells and reservoirs. They denied him entry to their temples and places of worship.”
What is our responsibility in addressing this issue where many people on the margins of caste face today both in India and around the world where communities that practise it take it along with them? A person comments on this here in UK saying, “We Indians carry two things with us when we leave India – one is our pickles and the other Caste system”! How far is it true in our case even if it is to a limited extent outside India or when we apply it promptly as soon as we enter the church or Indian soil back at home? What do we need to do consciously to get this out of our system? I am sure children who grow up outside do not bother about these. However, when it comes to their marriage how do communities respond? Where do we need to change to bring about transformation?
IV Jesus as a model to address untouchability
Jesus is our Model be it related to how women, children are to be treated or many of the socio-cultural and political issues that he addressed which still exists in our world today in varied forms. Whether is the issue of untouchability in the Caste system or due to particular diseases such as leprosy or HIV and Aids, we need to apply Jesus’ mission model. He does not think twice as to how he should perform this miracle. Last week we saw that Jesus acts in such an invisible manner. He does not touch the pots or the water or do anything other than asking them to ‘Fill’ and ‘Draw out’ and take it to the steward. This case is different and Jesus knows the approach also needs to be different. Last week Jesus just reverses the order of priority from ‘Best First to Best Last’, here what he wants to show is ‘Break the law/norm first and then fulfil the law’ if you want to fulfil it totally. Jesus came to fill in the gaps in the law and to give a new commandment ‘Love one another’ and make a new covenant with his body and blood. We need to affirm this through our actions. We are called to address this issue of caste discrimination within the Church and the Society. Are we ready to log in this into our Lent metaphor GPS as one of the locations from where we need to begin to reach our common goal of ‘Theosis’?
This story of the person with leprosy being healed or made clean brings in the need for us to deal at least with two issues – address the issues of poverty and caste discrimination as issues of injustice. It gives us a new approach for a mission model, ‘Break the oppressive laws and then fulfil the true laws’, Jesus the new wine cannot be contained in the old bottles or containers. We need to break away from the oppressive norms that do not allow us to contain Jesus and fulfil his commands. Jesus’ approach is sending back the Healed or people made CLEAN to the Church, to the Priest so that the same person who declared a person unclean should also end with declaring him/her clean. Jesus calls us as individuals, families, church and communities to respond to the model that he has showed us. The movement from the periphery to the centre and from outside to the inside becomes essential in mission model to make it effective.
“The Cost of Discipleship”, The Leprosy mission: England and Wales http://www.leprosymission.org.uk/documents/studynotes/BibleStudynotes-Speakingupforthose%20without%20a%20voice.pdf.
Nirmal, Arvind P. and V. Devasahayam. A Reader in Dalit Theology. Madras, India: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College & Research Institute 1991?
 “The Cost of Discipleship”, The Leprosy mission: England and Wales http://www.leprosymission.org.uk/documents/studynotes/BibleStudynotes-Speakingupforthose%20without%20a%20voice.pdf.
 Arvind P. Nirmal and V. Devasahayam, A Reader in Dalit Theology (Madras, India: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College & Research Institute 1991?). P 61
We have come to the final reflection on the sign that Jesus did during the ‘Wedding at Cana’. This concluding reflection draws on the reflections made earlier through this week and then builds on before the final conclusion. We see how Jesus reveals himself through the wine that finally becomes one of the powerful symbols that is both a sign and the signified. Jesus seems to lay out a mission strategy here using this sign. We will explore Jesus’ Mission strategy with the present day’s knowledge.
Five approaches to change strategy
Thurley and Wirdenius identified five approaches to bring about CHANGE in 1973 which was summarised by Lockitt in 2004. It identifies five approaches. Let us see if the first sign of Jesus uses these approaches as listed below way back before 2000 years and what does it mean for us today?
In this strategy, the managers take the lead and use their authority to bring about change with no involvement of other members. This strategy becomes useful sometimes if the change required is expected quickly. However, in this sign of Jesus we do not see Jesus adopting this strategy. The one to initiate the process for Change in the prevailing situation at the wedding was Mary the mother of Jesus the son of God, who is the second person in the Trinity. So Mary, the Theotokos initiates by letting Jesus know what was lacking there in the wedding which was an alarming situation. Although Jesus says that his time has not come, he in no way despises his mother. Jesus does not opt for this model.
2. Expert Strategies
In this strategy, experts are used. It is described as follows, “management of change as a problem solving process that needs to be resolved by an ‘expert’. This approach is mainly applied to more technical problems, such as the introduction of a new learner management system, and will normally be led by a specialist project team or senior manager. There is likely to be little involvement with those affected by the change.” Now did Jesus use this approach? In yesterday’s reflection we saw that Jesus wanted the servants to draw out some from there and take it to the steward. HE is responsible for the distribution and quality control which seen by the way he questions the Bridegroom. Eve when Jesus healed the 10 people with leprosy, he asks them to go and show it to the priests who would declare them healed and eligible to go back home and live. SO here, Jesus uses this model.
This approach recognises the need from the senior management to negotiate with the rest of the group who will be affected by the change. In this sign – Wedding at Cana, we see that Jesus does negotiate the time and power too. When it comes to doing this sign, he says, ‘My hour has not come’ what did he mean by that?
To understand this, I can only think of the weddings back in India. Many a times at least in the past, if not now when people have the receptions in grand Hotels, there used to be two groups of people at the reception. One was the invited group and the other was the uninvited group consisting of very poor people, beggars, disabled etc. One group will be inside and the other waiting outside. After all the invited guests go, these people would enter and have food – what is left out or remaining. I have even seen people grabbing the remains from the guest’s at the place they are put for washing. Recently I heard from Achen (my husband) that there was a time during his childhood when for every marriage, the number would be decided by the people in charge according to the number of invited guests from both sides and a number of people that they expected from the vicinity (poor people and uninvited) but here they will be allowed to enter as the last batch and made to sit and served everything that others also had. Some would even come with their own vessels for take away. So, this is the backdrop against which I would like to explain Jesus’ time.
Jesus’ time or hour was totally different from how the people of those days, context or culture understood. We have seen from yesterday’s reflection that it becomes very obvious with the question that the Steward raised which, spoke about their cultural imperialism. So, Jesus’ Mission model reverses the normal pattern and practise. His hour is the hour or time of the poor people, those at the margins and those despised or discriminated just the opposite to what this culture believed – serving the best first for the prime guests and other.
In Jesus’ mission model, the best is reserved for the LOST, LAST and the LEAST. Whether it is the parable of the workers at the vineyard where the last and first were paid equally. It was not their fault that they remained unemployed for most part of the day. They were ready to work and waited. They deserved it as they needed it for their survival. Today we have seen that the Greece is facing a very hard time as they are pleading for a security bailout on Euro loan extension. The situation is heartrending to see its population suffering. They are on the edges of the Eurozone. How can they be rescued from further intense problems? They have run out on financial terms but if the richer countries run out of their humanitarian considerations, Greece will remain to be at the edge. Negotiating strategies for change is needed be it our socio-economic, political, cultural or religious Jar. We are all clearly running out of our human values. We need the ‘filling in’ and the ‘drawing out’ metaphors.
This strategy is explained as an approach that involves “changing people’s values and beliefs, ‘winning hearts and minds’, in order for them to fully support the changes being made and move toward the development of a shared set of organisational values that individuals are willing, and able to support.” I am sure we will all agree that Jesus uses this approach too. He uses the ones at the margins, he uses the steward to proclaim the best quality of the wine and also uses the same person to log into the GPS as to where they have been all this while and but is not sure where this journey will lead to! Jesus uses this steward to share the invisible Jesus Christ through the wine, and also give us a peek into Jesus’ new mission model of reversing many things. Here once again GPS comes into use. There are times when we go in the wrong route, but GPS takes care of that, it reroutes the Journey to bring us back to the point where we lost our way or took deviation or went wrong. This is what the transformed wine did and that is what the sacrament of the Eucharist continues to do!
5. Participating strategies
This strategy stresses and aims at “the full involvement of all of those involved, and affected by, the anticipated changes. Although driven by senior managers the process will be less management dominated and driven more by groups or individuals within the organisation.” This brings it to the climax of our reflections where we see that Jesus makes it known – the purpose of his mission and the method he wants to follow. He is invisible, yet present there. He steers the people through, to recognise where they are and make a journey forward with renewed values, faith and determination. Participating strategies brings into the picture right from Mary the theotokos who initiates and sets the background for this sign, to the servants who are referred to as Deacons, to the steward who plays a key role in proclaiming that something very different in their culture has happened. Since the story stops here, it is left now to our imagination. Yes, the disciples were there already and probably that was their orientation time which culminates at the last supper where they participate in the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, a sacrament that binds us as a Christian community. We are called to this table, to this banquet to come together and participate in the divine Eucharist where we share the body and the blood of Christ to renew us in our fellowship with God with forgiveness of sins and life eternal. This strategy envisions that we extend the reign of God which Jesus ushered in. This extension is possible only if we are able to recognise our weakness, correct them and move forward to accept the others in this fellowship. Conversion is not the aim but instilling conviction in a new life that abides in what Jesus taught us needs to be upheld. The aim of our mission should be to make ourselves better Christains and others as according to their faiths – better Hindus or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists etc.
We have seen how the ‘filling’ and ‘drawing out’ play a key role in mission not just as a mission model but also in education, training and our spiritual journey. When we are in God’s mission, we are called to contribute to mission from the margins, be ready to be invisible and work with people of different skills.
We are called to respect differences in our skills and abilities but people as such need to be treated with equal dignity and respect. The strategy for a good Mission Model is an inclusive one that believes in negotiating, educating, participating and respecting people for their skills like the steward who can taste and certify. Directive strategy comes when Jesus introduces the new method of keeping the best for the least, the lost and the last.
This lent calls us to introspect ourselves, recognise where we are and move forward in our spiritual journey using the GPS as a metaphor where God awaits to reroute us and take us back to the point where we lost our way and then proceed. Jesus makes himself and his mission known and visible through the wine that was transformed. This once again points to the role that the Holy Eucharist plays as a sacrament in our lives where together as a community we try to bring a change and move forward. May God bless us in our journey as we continue to ‘fill’ and ‘draw out’ in others just as we are filled in and draw out of ourselves all that God expects from us through our lives.
Elizabeth Joy 21/02/2015
Figure 1 Jesus’ Mission Model
“Change Strategy and Approaches”, Jisc infonet http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/change-management/strategy-approaches/.
We have seen the importance that the ordinary stone jars played in the first sign of Jesus at Cana. When ‘contents’ of the jars were transformed, they are transported from periphery to the centre. It is not that the water in the jars was not important but the water in the jars was only used for ritual cleaning and not for enhancing Life in all its fullness’. Many a times, water resources become the point for conflicts especially in the villages of India where caste plays an awkward role. Transformation brings about a key change not just in the role but even in the ethical life and practise as we see in this steward.
1. The steward and his response
The steward ‘tastes the wine’ as soon as he receives it. He is surprised that this best quality wine was kept until the last. He calls the bridegroom and asks how come he kept this best quality wine until the very end against the usual trend in their culture to which both the steward and the bridegroom belonged to! This was against their general practise and that puts made him surprised, uncomfortable, concerned and confused as it was against the norm! The narration ends by saying that Jesus revealed himself through this sign (will be reflected upon tomorrow).
2. The steward and the cultural imperialism
Here the steward expresses his shock and surprise through which he expresses the cultural imperialism which according to Iris Marion Young means “to experience how the dominant meanings of a society render the particular perspective of one’s own group invisible at the same time as they stereotype one’s group and mark it as the Other.” She also rightly maintains that “Cultural imperialism establishes the dominant group’s experience and culture as the norm, defining other groups as deviant and/or inferior… Cultural imperialism involves a paradoxical form of oppression: one experiences oneself as marked out as different and as invisible. This, then, is the injustice of cultural imperialism: that the oppressed group’s own experience and interpretation of social life finds little expression that touches the dominant culture, while that same culture imposes on the oppressed group its experience and interpretation of social life.” Here we see that the path that Jesus shows and signifies is seen and mocked at as ‘against their norm’.
Jesus is invisible here, his act or sign points to him. Thus here wine as points to the sign and the signified – Jesus Christ’ just as the wine in the Eucharist becomes the blood of Christ (Mystery for the Orthodox Christians, Trans-substantiation for Catholics and Consubstantiation for Protestants) and points to the sign and the signified.
The steward plays a key role in revealing Jesus and his entirely different method of action at the start of his mission and ministry.
3. Metaphor GPS and cultural Imperialism
The Steward plays a key role in opening up the real situation in which this community and the world communities were and are ever more increasingly in today’s context. Once again we bring the metaphor GPS here. The very fact that the steward raises this question that is implicit, how can we dare to do this – supply the wine to the Guests in a reverse order? How can we serve the less quality wine to those who are prime guests and keep the best till the last?
Here begins our journey again. Until and unless we realise that many of our actions and norms have to be reversed and will be reversed when we recognise where we are and consciously strive to reach our goal (towards Christ) in our spiritual journey especially during this lent. Only when we log in the correct address in our GPS as to where we are at present as the Steward did, (we don’t know if he came to know Christ), we will to reach our destination.
It is the steward’s question that unlocks many secrets hidden in this sign. Why did you keep this wine back till now? Why are you behaving outside our normal frame-work? Jesus mission and ministry explain this. We will see this in tomorrow’s reflection.
The steward’s response willing to serve this at the end but just astonished at what he will be doing against his routine pattern is worth noting. He could have on his own reduced the quality of the wine by diluting it but he expresses his shock at what was happening against the norm. He was indeed surprised at the quality of the wine that was kept to the very end. This definitely points to the need of change within structures to address structural injustice at every level.
It is important that we assess ourselves from time to time as to what we are doing and what do our actions signify – the majority’s dominant and evil ways or Christ’s new model that requires a complete reversal of our values, perspectives and decision? We need to ask ourselves, ‘How do I reflect the ‘Cultural Imperialism’ in my behaviour in relation to people that I relate to on a daily basis? How can I change my behaviour to be back on the track that Jesus shows? We are called to be transformed. We are called to follow Jesus Christ. How can we embody this?
Young, Iris Marion, “The Five Faces of Oppression” http://diversifyingsyllabi.weebly.com/uploads/3/8/1/8/38180217/5_faces_of_oppression_handout.pdf.
 Iris Marion Young, “The Five Faces of Oppression” http://diversifyingsyllabi.weebly.com/uploads/3/8/1/8/38180217/5_faces_of_oppression_handout.pdf.