Messenger Of The Good News
Br.Joseph Thamby, aware of his commitment to Jesus, frequently meditated on the obligation to preach the Gospel. Jesus said to them, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation; whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands and be unharmed should they drink, deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover” (Mark 16:15-18). These words of the Lord urged Thamby to make the proclamation of the Good News not merely an option, but a grave obligation.
The Crusades infuriated the Muslims and there was bitter rivalry between them and the Christians, and in this context the courage of St. Francis to go to the Saracens with the message of love challenged Thamby. He used to be thrilled often reading that incident. “The Saint took Brother Illuminato with him and set out towards the evening times singing, ‘Though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me’ (Psalm 22:4). To comfort his less reassured companion, Francis showed him two ewes peacefully grazing in this perilous spot. ‘Courage, Brother!’ Be cried joyously. “Put your trust in Him who sends us forth like sheep in the midst of wolves.”
However, the Saracens appeared, jumped on the two friars, and began to beat them. “Soldan! Soldan!” shouted Francis as loudly as he could: The soldiers thought that they were dealing with envoys and brought them in chains to their campo Francis explained in French that he desired to see the Sultan and convert him to the Gospel. Had he said this anywhere else, it would have meant instant death; but the court of AlMalik al Kamil included skeptics who liked to" discuss the respective merits of the Koran and the Gospel, and who likewise were chivalrous in their deportment.
The Sultan also saw in the arrival of the Friars Minor an opportunity for diversion and ordered the ‘evangelizers’ to be shown in. It is said that in order to cause them embarrassment, he had a carpet strewn with crosses laid down in the room. “If they walk on it," he said, “I will accuse them of insulting their God. If they refuse, I will reproach them with unwillingness to approach me and thus insulting me”.
Francis walked unhesitatingly over the carpet, and at the remark of the prince that he was trampling the Christian cross underfoot, the Saint replied: "You must know that there were several crosses on Calvary, the cross of Christ and those of the two thieves. The first is ours, which we adore. As for the others, we gladly leave them to you, and have no scruples about treading on them, whenever it pleases you to strew them on the ground.”
AI-Malik al Kamil soon developed a warm friendship for the Poverello and invited him to stay with him. “I would do so gladly”, replied the Saint, “if you would consent to become converted to Christ together with your people.” And he even offered, writes St. Bonaventure, to undergo the ordeal by fire IO his presence. “Let a great furnace be lit,” said he, “Your priests and I will enter it; and you shall judge by what you see which of our religions is the holiest and truest.” “I greatly fear that my priests will refuse to accompany you into the furnace,” observed the Sultan.
And indeed, at the simple announcement of this proposal, the venerable dean of that priestly group hastily disappeared. “Since that is the way things are,” said Francis, “I will enter the fire alone. “If I perish, you must lay it to my sins. But if God’s power protects me, do you promise to acknowledge Christ as the true God and Saviour?” The Sultan expressed his inability to change his religion without alienating his people. But as his desire to keep this charming messenger at his court was as strong as ever, he suffered him rich presents. These were, as we may well imagine, refused. “Take them at least to give them to the poor”, he urged. But Francis accepted, it appears, only a him, which later 0n he used to summon people when he was about to preach.
Francis departed very sad as soon as he perceived the uselessness of his efforts. The Sultan had him conducted in state back to the Christian campo “Remember me in your prayers”, he begged as Francis left, and may God, by your intercession, reveal to me which belief is more pleasing to Him.”Thamby was an ardent preacher of the good news, and whenever and wherever an opportunity cropped up he fulfilled this mission with commitment and determination. The limit of his education and the lack of proficiency in Telugu could not stand on "the way of his missionary zeal. The Spirit prompted him to preach in season and out of season. When one is taken over by the Spirit, his/her ways and methods might appear uncanny.
A journalist Once asked Mother Theresa, “Who inspired you to take up this work?” He expected to hear the name of a great philosopher, thinker or writer. But, pat carne the reply. “Jesus Christ”. “What words of Jesus inspired you?,” he asked. Instant was the reply: “Let your light so shine before men that they may look upon your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”. These words of Jesus inspire and motivate a missionary or a philanthropist to leave his/her country, cross the seas and come to serve those whose ways or customs are hardly familiar to them. Some of them go to remote places, where people live in utter poverty, illiteracy and whom society has discarded.
These people quite often take up the task of medical assistance by supplying the people with ordinary medicines and nursing care. Some of them meet the villagers or tribals and understand their plight in cultivating the crops for themselves. A few others among them, especially the women, get acquainted with the poor tribal women’s problems and illnesses. They train the women to look after themselves and their children, and how to detect and treat the ailments. The children assemble under a tree and a classroom is born, where they start to learn. The adults too feel the necessity to learn, and thus adult education commences. We should bear in mind that this teaching involves no religious instruction and there is no intention to convert. Only the light of Jesus shines on them and it shines in the hearts of the tribals too, to make them grateful to God for Sending such people into their midst. The desire to emulate them dawns on their own minds.
Again, in many parts of the world, qualified doctors and technicians are enlisted, who volunteer to go to the villages in under-developed countries. They set up dispensaries with the necessary equipment, and free medical care is rendered with love, and even surgeries done in these circumstances with tender care and kindness. The people who have never experienced such kindness or care from their own leaders are overwhelmed by the affection shown by these strangers.
People being educated want to help themselves and their own fellowmen.Many missionaries from far-flung areas work among those afflicted with leprosy and other serious ailments. With their limited resources they start a small asylum. Here with no reluctance or revulsion, they wash the sores, clean them and dress them…When Edward Kennedy visited Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta, he noticed, at a distance, a nurse washing clothes. He asked her, “What are you doing?” “I am washing the clothes of our leprosy patients”, replied the nurse. Edward said, “I would like to shake hands to say goodbye.” “My hands are dirty, let me wash them”, said the nurse and Kennedy answered, “My hands will be more honored to touch them as they are.” The nurse’s only sentiment was love for the poor victims.
Because she had faith in the words of Jesus who said, , Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me…” Young Bengali men approached the then Chief Minister, Mr. Jyoti Basu, saying, 2Why should we have this foreigner (Mother Teresa) here? Send her away” Mr. Basu replied, “If your mothers or sisters or you can come and touch those afflicted with leprosy, wash and clean their sores, I will send her away tomorrow.” The young men had no answer and left the place quietly. The beneficiaries thank God for creating such loving selfless hands, and say to themselves, “Why not I too join them to help others when I am healed?”
When Thamby was engaged in missionary work, there was no objection to conversion of people to Christian faith as we find today. Those who oppose conversions are worried not so much about the religion practiced by the poor tribals but about losing free labourers to till the lands of the rich and remain their unprotected slaves.
When Thamby successfully evangelized several villages of Vijayawada around the year 1940, since the administration was in British hands, the set-up was favorable for the conversion of the scheduled communities. As the situation was conducive and the Constitution of India granted the freedom of religion to every individual to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion the mission work had not to suffer much from communal opposition. Since the propagation of faith is a fundamental right, citizens should not be prevented from exercising this right, but it has to be done in an effective manner, always respecting and appreciating other religions. Thamby won the hearts of those whom he evangelized by carefully abstaining from making a dichotomy of soul and body, material and spiritual; and he was keen on the social and economic uplift of these poor, unlettered and oppressed people. Several times, he took pains to go to Kerala to beg alms for the poor people of Vijayawada during the worldwide depression of the early forties. One who is starving primarily needs food before he is given the discourse about the kingdom of God. His words touched the hearts of his listeners.