Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Read: Mark 5: 25-34, Mathew 8: 1-4
                         Is faith and its expression purely personal or can one express faith and symbols of our faith in one's own peculiar way, in our public and work domain?. This is the issue being debated in the case of a judgment that European Court has ruled in favor of a British Airways employee Nadia Eweida. The events that led to a national and international debate happened in 2006 when Nadia Eweida was working with British Airways as a check in clerk. One day while she was working she was asked to go  home because she refused to remove a necklace that bore a Christian cross. According to British Airways, wearing of religious symbols like cross violated the airlines dress code. Eweida was asked to remove the cross or put it under her cravat, both which she blatantly refused. This forced the airlines to sack her and sent her home. This action of British Airways created a national debate in England over the issue of the expression of religion in public life.  Eweida decided to sue British Airways for religious discrimination seeking damages and compensation for lost wages. But the British courts backed British Airways and Eweida lost her case. But she appealed to the European Courts of Human Rights. Last Tuesday at Strasbourg, France, the court ruled in favour of Eweida stating that the action and the policy of British Airways amounted an interference with her right to manifest her religion.  The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights is binding on its 47 members of the Council of Europe, which is the continents human rights watch dog. But the same court ruled against another nurse Shirley Chaplin who also wanted to wear the cross, but the court stated that since Chaplin's employer banned necklace on health and safety grounds, she also could not wear any necklace with or without cross. With the court ruling in favor of Eweida, the debate and discussion that is being sparked off is what would be the repercussion of this court ruling in terms of how people of different religious faith are going to express their  religion and religious symbols especially in work place and how relevant is the expression of one's faith and religious expression in the public domain?
In the Gospel of Mark 5: 25-34, we find an encounter and healing of a unique kind. A woman has an issue of blood for more than 12 years and she seeks help of many but instead of being healed her pain and suffering only increases. It is in such a situation that she realizes the presence of Jesus in  a crowd. Quietly and silently she comes near Jesus Christ and she has this faith that if she is able to touch the cloak of Jesus Christ, she would be healed. The woman with this perspective of faith comes forward and touches the cloak of Jesus Christ and lo she is healed from her disease. When healing takes plea Jesus knew that power had gone from him and she addresses the crowd to inquire as to who touched him. Since there was a huge crowd following Jesus Christ, the disciples and others brushes aside this question of Jesus very lightly but Jesus become more authoritative and inquires as to who touched him. That is when the woman shaking with fear and also embarrassment comes forward and declares her faith and how she was healed.  Here we find Jesus deliberately asking a woman to come forward and declare the wonderful works of God. Here what is emphasized was not the healing that the Jesus did, but the emphasis on an individual to come forward and witness to a community the work of God. There is also another instance when Jesus heals a leper [ Mathew 8]. After Jesus heals the leper, he advises the leper is not to disclose this healing to anyone but only to show himself to the priest.  The action of Jesus Christ in his encounter with the woman with the issue of blood and the leper teaches us are entirely different in the way Jesus responds to their healing and thus helps us to understand  some wonderful truths that the Lord want to teach us with regards to the expression of our faith in our community or in a public domain.  When Jesus forces the woman to come forward and witness to the healing that takes place, I believe it is  a pointer that wherever we are placed if time and opportunity arises one should not shirk away from ones responsibility of affirming our faith in the Lord and also the way our Lord has brought about change and transformation in our life. But then many of us think that being a witness or expression of our faith is something that we can do irrespective of where we are and what we are doing. That is why when Jesus healed the leper he asked him to be quiet but to express his healing and faith to the priest so that they  would know that he is cleansed. Expression of faith and witness at times also requires some prudence where we may have to "silent". Here silence is not to keep quiet about our faith and witness but the Lord teaching us that we should also know how to express our faith and witness our faith in the most appropriate manner taking into consideration the context and the times.  Thus expression of faith is not just wearing of symbols or repeatedly telling others what God has done in our life, but creative expression and affirmation of our faith in our public domain in the most appropriate and prudent way so that we truly communicate the message of the gospel rather than being seen as a religious nut.