Jesus serves as a Kar Sevak – starting a feud lasting longer than at Ayodhya

The long and bitter feud at Ayodhya reached a new milestone when it caused an uproar in far-away New York City reported AsAmNews. The Ayodhya dispute has been a hundreds year-old political, historical, and socio-religious feud centred on the control of a site traditionally regarded to be the birthplace of Rama (Ram Janmabhoomi), pitted against the Babri Masjid mosque on the same site.

According to Babri Masjid’s inscriptions, it was built in 1528–29 on the orders of the first Mughal emperor Babur.  But controversy shadowed the Babri Masjid over the centuries because its location was traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Rama, and it was believed to have been built on the ruins of an earlier Temple commemorating the sacred place of Rama’s birth.  The feud had simmered over the centuries, often spilling over into violent riots and shootings.

The Babri Masjid mosque was eventually destroyed in 1992 during a rally organized by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which gathered 150 000 kar sevaks, or religious volunteers, to march against the mosque.  The destruction of the Babri Masjid triggering riots all over the Indian subcontinent, including riots in Bombay where an estimated 2000 were killed.

From then until 2019 the feud moved through the courts, swirled in the nation’s politics, and rioted through the streets.  The ready presence of the kar sevaks to start the building of the Ram Temple tilted the momentum to the VHP.

Finally in 2019, the Supreme Court announced their verdict in the final appeal case.  It ruled that the land belonged to the government based on tax records. It further ordered the land to be handed over to a trust to build the Hindu temple, and the government to give an alternate five-acre tract of land to the Sunni Central Waqf Board to build their mosque at this new location.

On 5 February 2020, the Government of India announced that the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra trust would construct a Ram temple at Ayodhya.  The August 5, 2020 ground-breaking ceremony was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  The tensions raised by starting this temple construction was what was felt in New York City. 

Kar sevak was originally a Sikh term for someone volunteering his/her services for free in religious causes.  The term is derived from the Sanskrit words kar (hand) and sevak (servant).  In the Ayodhya feud, kar sevaks were organized by the VHP, borrowing from this Sikh tradition.

Jesus as Kar Sevak

But long before this Ayodhya feud, Jesus also took the role of kar sevak, declaring a feud with an adversary that has also ricocheted in many spheres of human life, creating a rift between people that continues to this day.  This feud was also centered at an auspicious Temple, but it began in a small nearby village when Jesus, taking up the role of kar sevak, volunteered to help some friends in dire need.  This kind act triggered a chain of events that changed history and has affected your life and mine far more profoundly than how the Ayodhya feud has affected it.  Jesus’ kar sevak activities revealed his central mission.

What was the Mission of Jesus?

Jesus had taught, healed, and performed many miracles.  But the question still remained in the minds of his disciples, followers and even his enemies: Why had he come?  Many of the previous sages, including Moses had also performed powerful miracles.  Since Moses had already given dharma law, and Jesus himself said he “had not come to abolish the law”, why had he been sent?

Jesus’ friend became very sick.  His disciples expected that Jesus would heal his friend, as he healed many others.  The Gospel records how he volunteered to help his friend in a far more profound way than simply healing him.  It revealed what he was volunteering to do, his mission as kar sevak.  Here is the account.

Jesus confronts Death

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

John 11:1-44

The sisters hoped that Jesus would come quickly to heal their brother.  Jesus purposely delayed his arrival, allowing Lazarus to die, and no one could understood why.  The account says twice that Jesus was ‘deeply moved’ and that he wept.  What moved him?  He was moved – angry even – with death itself, especially as he saw its hold on his friend.

But he had delayed his coming precisely for this purpose – that he confront death itself and not just some sickness.  He waited four days so that everyone – including us reading this – would know for sure that Lazarus was dead, not just seriously ill.

Healing people of sicknesses, good as that is, only postpones their death.  Healed or not, death eventually takes all people, whether good or bad, man or woman, old or young, religious or not.  This has been true since Adam, who had become mortal because of his disobedience.  All his descendants, you and me included, are held by hostage by an enemy – death.  Against death we feel that there is no answer, no hope.  When there is only sickness hope remains, which is why the sisters of Lazarus had hope in healing.  But with death they felt no hope.  This is true for us also.  In the hospital there is some hope but at the funeral there is none.  Death is our final enemy.  This is the enemy Jesus volunteered to defeat for us and this is why he declared to the sisters that:

“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

Jesus had come to destroy death and give life to all who wanted it.  He showed his authority for this mission by publicly raising Lazarus from death.  He offers to do the same for all others who would want life instead of death.

Responses begin a feud

Though death is the final enemy of all people, many of us are caught up with smaller ‘enemies’, resulting from conflicts (political, religious, ethnic etc.) that go on with others around us all the time.  We see this in the Ayodhya conflict.  However, all people in this and other feuds, no matter if their ‘side’ is right or not, are powerless against death.  We saw this with Sati and Shiva.

This was true in Jesus’s time also.   From the responses to this miracle we can see what the main concerns of the different people living in that time were.  Here are the different reactions recorded.

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.

John11:45-57

The leaders were more concerned about the status of the Jewish Temple.  A prosperous temple ensured their prominence in society.  They were more concerned about that than the approach of death.

So the tension rose.  Jesus declared that he was ‘life’ and ‘resurrection’ and would defeat death itself.  The leaders responded by plotting to put him to death.  Many of the people believed him, but many others did not know what to believe. 

Ask yourself this. 

If you were a witness to the raising of Lazarus what would you choose to do?  Would you be like the Pharisees, focused on some conflict that will soon be forgotten in history, and lose the offer of life from death?  Or would you ‘believe’ in him and put your hope in his offer of resurrection, even if you did not understand it all?  The different responses that the Gospel records back then are the same responses to his offer that we make today.  It is the same basic controversy for us today as it was back then.

Those controversies were growing as the Passover festival approached – the very same festival that the Moses had begun 1500 years earlier as a Sign of death passing over.  The Gospel continues by showing how Jesus would accomplish his kar sevak mission of defeating death.

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