Fruitfulness
Published in

Fruitfulness

Minas

Many of my friends in the corporate circles shared how tiring it has been since the pandemic caused a switch to work from home (WFH). The blurring boundaries between home time and office time and the demands of life have been taxing. For some, managing children as well as their online classes have been tough.

Most corporate employees are not allowed to form an employees union to air their grievances. They cannot speak up for their rights. The reality in India is that the moment you give up your job (or lose it), another is waiting to take your place, even at half the salary. So pride is swallowed, and you work knowing that your bank account will be credited with a decent salary.

***

The irony is that the very same job comes with many more perks in the West. Once my friend who lived in the US was visiting his parents in India. “I.T. field, huh?Working in Nashville — it must be leaving you exhausted, I suppose?” said I with as much empathy a seminarian could muster. Instead, he corrected me. He left work at 4 pm, went to pick his children up and took them to piano class himself. No texts or emails on weekends. It was against the law.

The way the corporate employee story pans out in India is markedly different, then. Rights? What rights? Some seem to console themselves saying, “at least we get free booze once in a while.”

***

There are communities which work in far more hazardous situations during this COVID-19 pandemic and are paid peanuts (if paid at all). Suraj Yengde, the author of ‘Caste Matters’ says that all the noise about congratulating the “Front Line Workers” and being indebted to them was simply a way to dodge the fact that largest number of frontline workers including hospital cleaning staff, workers at the crematorium, etc. are Dalits.

Take the matter of those who are working overtime at the crematoria. The Quint reported that only Dalits cremate bodies in Bengaluru. A trade Union report showed that Dalit workers who cremate up to 75 bodies for 14 hours a day are not paid minimum wages. No insurance, no provident fund. The voice of the community is suppressed by the loud celebrations of the vague, co-optive category, “Front Line Workers”. In India, at the behest of our PM who cares, we expressed our gratitude by lighting candles, and at times, even more effectively, by clapping our hands in the dark as we stood in pyjamas on our balconies, oozing with gratitude to the frontline workers. Saraswathi Bhattacharya reports in Firstpost that an assessment by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) observed that most Indian Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes households were even deprived of the COVID-19 relief packages distributed by the government.

Do they have a voice? Will they ever have a voice?

***

The Gospel according to Luke chapter 19 offers us a parable of Ten Minas, a reading that usually appears on Sunday dedicated to Christian Giving and Tithes.

Luke 19:11–26 narrates the parable of a man of noble birth who goes to distant country to obtain kingship (must be a powerful country!). Before leaving he hands ten minas to ten of his servants( A Mina is about three months wages) asking them to “put it to work” for him. People didn’t like the ‘man of noble birth’ and sent a delegation to the higher powers to say “we hate him, don’t make him King.” On his return, the noble-turned-King checks accounts and rewards the ones who produced double. or at last half more of what was given. The one who did nothing due to the exacting nature of the Noble master, is punished and his one mina is taken away from him. The ones who have more, will be given more, says the parable in the end.

The moral of story doesn’t emerge with ease. If you have more, you will get more. How exploitative! Yet one can’t help notice that one has heard this logic somewhere.

However, parables are not meant to end. They are meant to change something within the listener ( or reader) and continue playing out in the lives of the listener. The challenge of reading a parable is to stop our tendecy to “domesticate Jesus’ provocative stories”, as Amy-Jill Levine, a Jew-turned Christian biblical scholar says in her ‘Short Stories of Jesus’.

In our reading, Luke 19: 14 is the pivot of the parable :

“But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t desire this man to reign over us.’

The message is reinforced in verses 20 & 21:

“Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.”

Given that Jesus Christ was living under the rule of a Tetrarch a local ruler who had been given authority under the Roman emperor, and not one selected by the people, this passage has overtones of resistance.

The first century Palestine was a vassal state of the powerful Roman Empire which was held together by ‘Pax Romana’/’Roman Peace which was a sophisticated way of saying, “fear the sword.” Resistance movements were crushed brutally. In Jesus time, the local Jewish and Gentile communities would have still had fresh memories of how the Macabbeans, the Jewish priestly rulers who had defeated Greeks, were eventually crushed by the Roman sword. John Caputo tells us that there were even professional groups that undertook crucifixion duties on contract for the government, who used it as a means of punishment for those who rebelled.

Even then, the parable envisions a community that speaks up (v.14). This is remarkable. It underscores their capacity to resist conforming to exploitative power. It amplifies the voice of the voiceless. The ruler does not heed them, but they are found, portrayed and heard expressing their clear opinion — “we hate him and we do not desire to have him rule over us”.

To Jesus’ listeners, it is the sound of resistance, wrought into the imagination of a tired community, who are reminded that they can resist and voice out. Whether they are heard or not is a different question. But they will express their opinion. And Jesus, by evoking the image of a community that is vocal and fearless, instills seeds of hope.

The parable does not end with the punishment of the one who did not conform. They know that there s no way around punishment.

A man who had not obtained power from his own people would have to go far to obtain it from a centre of higher might and power. The passage shows that he did not have the mandate of his people. This also points to the fact that he was willing to seek power at any cost. It also meant that he would retain power at any cost. We have heard, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

When you have the support of someone in power, in whatever form, you would always have an advantage. No wonder that the man who was given ten minas obtained ten or five more! He could use any means to obtain it. And most of them were willing to submit to the man of noble birth and his tactics. Clearly, they seemed to have been alright with a compromise. But one man resisted. He stood up as the voice of the people. And he would be punished. No surprise. But what happens after this verse is what enables us to make sense of this parable.

In the very next verse after the apparent end of the parable, Luke writes, “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (v.28).

He was going to be punished, to die. He would be crucified in Jerusalem. He was walking straight in to the arms of death. But he would also prove who had real authority. He would die and return to life, evidence of who held real power — power over life and death.

Thus this man from a voiceless community, carrying the voice of God’s message of salvation, justice and peace eventually reveals that he is the one in power — a power that would be marked by faith in a just and righteous God of love, that flooded the space where one is situated.

Thus the parable does not end, instead travels on with Jesus to the cross of calvary, the garden of resurrection, the Emmaus journey of disciples (Luke 24:13–35), to his ascension and through Luke into the Acts of the Apostles. By this point, the man with power in the parable is outlasted, outdone and outwitted by the Jesus Christ, who proclaimed the Gospel of another Kingdom : the Kingdom of God.

Speak up. The one who is the Lord of righteousness, justice and peace encourages us to speak up against the atrocities committed against humanity. It reminds us that the voiceless indeed have a voice. Such parables that subtly yet cleverly amplify the voice of the suppressed and crushed communities, call for us to listen carefully to the voice of those whose lives have been obscured by the gimmicks of gratitude to the front-line workers while ignoring that many Dalit communities are still suffering the brunt of ‘good intentioned gimmicks that make no difference to their plight. This is in addition to the structural violence to which they are victims. Many are made to suffer and are not allowed raise objections, or are asked to go to Pakistan.

If this parable would enable us to hearken to their still small voice, and amplify it, then we will be a step closer to the one who has real authority — the authority of love that was revealed in Jesus Christ, narrated by Luke in both his books.

Mathews George

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store