Sybil 2007

Gospel text

John 3: 14-21

13 Indeed, no one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from it, the new Adam. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it is essential that the new Adam be lifted up, 15 so that whoever believes in him will have an endless life. 16 Indeed, God loved the world in this way: he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not die, but have an endless life. 17 For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to let the world be liberated by him. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned. But he who does not believe in him has condemned himself, for he has not put his trust in the person of the only son of God. 19 Now here is the judgment: the light came into the world and the people preferred darkness to light, because their actions were evil. 20 Indeed, he who commits evil hates the light and does not seek it, lest his actions be exposed. 21 He who wants to make the truth seeks light, to show that his actions were carried out under the inspiration of God.


Follow the life instinct

Gospel commentary - Homily

What is our next step?

This is the story of Babai Sathe. This is happening in Jawalke, a tiny village in the state of Maharashtra, in the center of India. She wears the pneumatic cuff for blood pressure, the stethoscope and a scale for weighing babies. Who is she? She is neither a doctor nor a nurse. She is an illiterate of the Untouchables caste, born in the deepest misery. She could only eat when higher casts threw food at her and it reached the edge of her sari. She went barefoot in the village, because Untouchable women cannot wear shoes. But now she was trained to be a village health worker, deliver babies, treat illnesses and save lives. What happened?

Sathe remembers standing for hours near the local well, which she was not allowed to touch, waiting for a woman of a higher caste to feel sorry for her and fill her with her bucket of water. She was so poor that she washed her hair with mud and had only one sari, so that when she washed it, she had to stay by the river while it dried. Married at 10, she never went to school.

One day a doctor, graduated from one of the most brilliant medical colleges in India, decides to devote himself and his wife to the poorest of the poor. To promote preventive medicine, he decided to set up a program in which the villagers would get involved themselves, more particularly women from the lower castes, after having received training on the spot. This is how Sathe ended up in training. And the first step was self-transformation. When asked her name, she instead gave the name of her village of origin and her caste, since she had no personal identity. It was while looking at herself in a mirror that she practiced saying her name. Little by little, she learned to live in herself, to tame her identity. After several weeks and several months of training in health care, now she is becoming an authority in the village, overseeing deliveries, providing advice to young mothers, debunking health and dispelling several myths. "I was like a soulless stone," she recalls. "When I came here, I was given a being, life. I learned courage and daring. I became a human being". Sathe was born.

Sathe's story helps us get into the Gospel of today. Jesus alludes to a strange gesture of Moses in the desert who made and erected a copper and bronze snake, in order to stop the infestation of poisonous snakes which had already killed part of the people. Why make a snake? The snake is a symbol of life, regeneration and eternal youth, because it has the capacity to moult and constantly make new skin. The Greek god Aesculapius, a Greek healing god, is represented under the figure of the serpent, so that today this serpent wrapped around a stick is associated with the tree of life and medical associations. Now Jesus takes this symbol to describe his destiny. Let us not forget that we are in the middle of the speech to Nicodemus where Jesus says: "Unless born again, no one can see the Kingdom of God". So we are talking about new births. But what does it consist of?

It is not easy to describe this new birth. Talking to Nicodemus Jesus uses the image of the wind whose existence we recognize by the sound it makes, but whose direction it cannot be predicted. Someone can establish a career plan, but he cannot establish in advance the path that will make him grow. Because growing up involves constantly making the truth, looking for the light, being inspired by an inner inspiration which comes from God: "He who wants to make the truth seeks the light, in order to show that his actions were carried out under inspiration of God". In addition, he must have the courage to abandon his old skin in the image of the serpent, as Sathe did. And he can never say: "I have reached my goal", but only: "what is the next step"?

But let's take one step further. The Gospel says: Jesus is this serpent of life erected, he is this light which opens onto an endless life. This upright serpent clearly alludes to the cross, where by following the path of love he had to abandon this skin with which he has done so much good, in order to be born into the universal being who, today, transforms us beyond time, through beings like this doctor who gave birth to a new Sathe.

In 2005, Babai Sathe, the Untouchable, was elected sarpanch, i.e. leader of the village of Jawalke. What a triumph of life! But we know that this victory is not the result of chance, that it has a face, that which God wanted to reveal to us through Jesus. Do we want this same force of rebirth to continue to transform us, for an endless life?


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, December 2008