The summary of a talk given at a meeting of YMCA on Nov 11, 2012.
Read a summary in Malayalam here.
How do we greet someone we know? We wish a Good morning or a Good evening or a Good night or a Good day depending on the time and situation. We wish happy married life to a couple. We wish happy new year and merry Christmas. We also wish happy birthday and happy wedding anniversary. Whatever be the situation we wish for happiness and wellbeing. We always wish for the wellbeing of someone we care for. Malayalam, my native language, seems to lack enough expressions for greeting. When we want to greet someone, we use minimal words and expressions in our culture. Although the words are minimal, we also mean the same-- a wish for wellbeing.
In Hebrew, the language of the Bible, people greet each other with shalom. We often translate this word as peace. The word peace has a narrow meaning as well as a wider meaning. Most often it is used to mean the resolution of a conflict, which is its narrow meaning. However, traditionally, this word is used with a much wider meaning, which is not only the resolution of conflicts but also all the other aspects of wellbeing, which involves joy, prosperity, justice, and health. When this word is used to greet each other, this broader meaning is used.
Salem and Salom are variations of Shalom. Thus Absalom is the father of peace, and Jerusalem is the city of peace. To say hello or goodbye, Jews still say shalom. On a sabbath day, they greet each other Shabbat shalom. In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, shalom became slomo. In the Syrian Christian traditions this word is frequently used in worship. In Arabic, shalom became salaam. They greet each other salaam aleikum (peace be to you) and responds aleikum salaam (to you as well). The Christians in Arabic speaking countries and Muslims all over the world greet each other with salaam. In Sanskrit the word for peace is shanti. From the similarity of sound, we may suspect that both shalom and shanti are from the same root. Every greeting in every language may be seen as a form of shalom, a wish for wellbeing
Often we wish for shalom for our friends and family. But occasionally we wish shalom for a community and even for the whole world. How can individuals have shalom if our our community has no shalom? Every civilization seems to have a wish for shalom for the whole world. When someone gets sick, a doctor identifies his sickness by comparing his present condition with his condition when he was well. An elevation of temperature or blood pressure will confirm that someone is sick. It is a deviation from the norm. In order to identify the sickness of a community, they often imagine a healthy state of the community. When we celebrate Onam, we remember a time of shalom for our Kerala. It was a time of wellbeing-- of prosperity, joy, and peace. Compared to that time of shalom, we find our life in the present time very much deviated from shalom. We are sick, and we identify and measure the degree of our illness using the criterion of shalom in the past. We also imagine a shalom in the future when we celebrate Onam. It is like being hopeful about someone sick. Someone is sick now. But he was well before; and he will become well once again in the future.
Mahatma Gandhi spoke about a Ramarajya. It was both a memory of a past shalom and a hope for the future shalom. Marxist ideology sees a past shalom in primitive communism, and imagines a future shalom as a classless society.
The civilization that produced the Bible remembered a past shalom as the Garden of Eden. It also imagined a future shalom as a new heaven and new earth as presented in the last pages of the Bible. In the Garden of Eden we see God walking among men, and we see human beings and other beings in perfect harmony. Human beings take care of the animals and plants and the land, and they in turn support human beings. This story tells us that our world had a shalom in the past. Although we don't have shalom now, we hope that our world will have a shalom in the future.
Jesus Christ proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God, and he asked us to pray, Let thy kingdom come. The kingdom of God is nothing but the future shalom in our world.
Based on this view, we prescribe a treatment for ourselves just like a doctor prescribes a treatment for a sick person. The world was once a place of shalom, and we want to make it a place of shalom again. So what treatment do we follow? I want to bring to your attention a treatment that almost all the traditional religions prescribe.
We are now sitting in a special building. This is a house of prayer of a religious community, specifically the Christian community. This is called the house of God by this community. This building represents a world of shalom, to be specific, the Garden of Eden. You can see plants and vines painted on the altar. You might have heard a priest saying when a baby is given the Holy Communion that it is the same fruit of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve could not taste. When a community assemble in this building bowing their heads before God, it is a representation of a world of shalom. Here is a group of people in unity and in submission to the will of God. Regardless of all those factors that distinguish and differentiate each person in the community, they stand together as one body.
This is a weekly exercise done by this community-- an exercise that keeps the world in existence. This exercise keeps the world closer to shalom. This may be said about a community of Muslims assembled in a mosque, a community of Hindus assembled in a temple, or about any other religious community assembled at their place of worship.
But this is a temporary arrangement like a medical treatment. Once a sick person regains health, he will not need to continue the treatment. Once our world becomes a world of shalom, we will not need this building here. Once the whole world becomes the house of God, why would we want this building as a house of God? No wonder St. John did not see a temple in the new Jerusalem of the new heaven and new earth. Religion is a temporary thing with a specific purpose. It does not have any lasting value. Religions exist to convert our world into a place of shalom. Religions exist for man; not man for religions.
It does not mean that we want people of other religions to get converted to our religion. We don't want any such conversion. Even if all the people in the world get converted to Christianity, our world won't become a garden of Eden. We want all people to live together as a family in spite of their differences in religion, culture, gender, color, or race. It has to be a unity in spite of their diversity. That is why Jesus called the temple of Jerusalem a house of prayer for all nations. A house of prayer that is not open to all the people in the world is a den of robbers. This is true about a house of prayer of any religion.
What we want is a world of shalom. The purpose of every religion is to facilitate the emergence of a world of shalom. No religion exists for itself; it exists for the wellbeing of the whole world. As our rishis prayed: Loka samastha sukhino Bhavanthu!
I am glad that YMCA is an organization that is well-grounded on Christian principles with its arms stretched to all humanity. It welcomes all people to its fold regardless of their religious affiliation. The YMCA of
Mukhathala can have the goal of making this a place of Shalom-- a Garden of Eden. Under the leadership of YMCA, all the Christian churches of this place can stand united and strive for the wellbeing of all the people in our place. May God help us to make this dream a reality!