Monday, October 20, 2008

Para kay Jenifer, kay Onesimus, at ang Marami Pang Katulad Nila

19 October 2008, Misang Alay ng Migrante International

Tumayo po tayo ng sandali at mag-alay ng panalangin para kay Jenifer Beduya. Mag-alay din tayo ng panalangin para kay Eugenia Baja, Jeffrey So, Myrna Vailoces, at Evelyn Milo. At para kina Eduardo at Edison Gonzales, Eduardo Arcilla, Don Don Lanuza, at Cecilia Armia Alcaraz. Ipanalangin rin natin ang kanilang mga ina, mga ama, mga anak at kapatid, mga kabyak, at mga pamilya. Basagin natin ang katahimikan ng langit. Iparinig natin sa Dios ang ating hinagpis, ang ating galit, ang ating sigaw para sa katarungan.

Sa mga Ebanghelyo ni Mateo at ni Lukas ay may kuwento ng isang mayamang sundalo, centurion, na lumapit kay Jesus dahil may sakit ang kanyang alipin. Agad agad na tinupad ni Jesus ang hiling ng sundalo. Ibalik sa dati ang sitwasyon. Ang aliping may sakit ay walang silbi sa may-ari. Ang aliping hindi makalakad ay walang silbi sa amo. Tuwing binabasa ang kuwentong ito lagi na lang bida si Jesus at ang mayamang sundalo. Hindi natin naririnig ang boses ng alipin. Ni hindi natin alam ang kanyang pangalan. Ni hindi natin alam kung bakit siya maysakit, bakit siya hindi makalakad. Ang alam lang natin yung sinabi ng sundalo.

Noon at ngayon, nagpapatuloy ito. Yung sinasabi lang ng mga may-ari, ng mga amo, ng mga mayaman, ng mga nasa poder ang naririnig natin. Tamad daw ang alipin, sakitin ang alipin, nagpatiwakal ang alipin, tumakas ang alipin, magnanakaw ang alipin, walang utang na loob ang alipin.

Ang alipin sa Mateo at Lukas ay bata, malamang dose anyos. Hindi natin alam yun. Malamang ang sakit niya, yung halos hindi na siya makalakad sa hirap, ang dahilan yung may-ari sa kanya. Malamang ginugulpe siya ng amo niya. Malamang pinagsasamantalahan. Malamang inaabuso. Subalit hindi natin siya naririnig—tanging boses lang ni Jesus at ng amo ang maririnig sa kuwento.

Sa Sulat ni San Pablo kay Pilemon mayroon ding isang alipin. Si Onesimus. Hindi rin natin siya naririnig. Tumakas siya sa kanyang amo. Sabi ng napakaraming interpretasyon ng kuwentong ito—tumakas daw si Onesimus at walang utang na loob. Hindi lang daw siya tumakas, nagnakaw pa. Muli, tuwing binabasa ang kuwentong ito, ang bida si Pablo o si Pilemon. Walang kumakampi kay Onesimus.

Kung babasahin natin ang kuwento, ang paglarawan kay Onesimus—gamit, commodity, hindi tao. Sabi ni Pablo, si Onesimus, dati walang silbi, nung naging Kristiyano, nagkaroon ng silbi. Dati, alipin; nung naging Kristiyano, naging super alipin. “Before he was useless; now he is useful. Before he was just a slave, now he is a Christian; now he is a super slave.” Hyper doulon sa Greek.

Marami sa mundo, ang trato sa ating mga Pilipino super slave. Dahil Kristiyano tayo, kaya nating magtiis. Dahil marunong tayong mag-ingles, kaya tayong murahin, dustain, utus-utosan at itratong parang hayop sa wikang naiintindihan natin.

Ang sistema ng edukasyon dito sa Pilipinas ay imperialista. Nagsimula ito nang sabihin ng unang Amerikanong General Superintendent of Education in the Philippines, na, "The Filipino people, taken as a body, are children and childlike, do not know what is best for them ... by the very fact of our superiority of civilization and our greater capacity for industrial activity we are bound to exercise over them a profound social influence." SA araw-araw na ginawa ng Dios, tinuruan ng ating mga paaralan ang ating mga anak na maging alipin ng mundo.

Linggo-linggo tinuruan ang marami sa ating mga simbahan na magtiis, ialay hindi lang ang kanang pisngi kapag sinampal ka sa kaliwa, at tanggapin ang kahirapan dahil kalooban daw ito ng Dios at pupunta naman tayong lahat sa langit.

Sino ba ang makikinabang sa lahat ng mga katuruang ito? Bakit ang api lalong naaapi? Bakit ang mahirap lalong humihirap? Bakit tatlong libo sa ating mga kababayan ang nangingibang-bayan kada araw? Bakit may mga Jenifer, Eugenia, Jeffrey, Evelyn, at Myrna? Bakit hindi nababawasan ang mga Onesimus ng mundo at milyon-milyon sa kanila ay Pilipino?

Hindi si Gloria Arroyo ang sagot sa ating mga hinaing. Hindi rin ang mga amo. Hindi rin ang naghaharing-uri.

Tayo ang sagot sa ating mga panalangin. We are the answer to our prayers. Tayo ang mga pamilyang naghihirap at nahahati dahil sa paglisan ng ating mga mahal sa buhay. Tayo ang mga pamilyang nangungulila. Tayo ang mga inaapi, dinudusta, at hindi pinapakinggan. Magsama-sama tayo. Magkapit-bisig tayo. Makibaka tayo.

Tayo ang sagot sa ating mga panalangin.

Mga datos na galing sa Migrante International:
1. OFW Jenifer Beduya, 23 years old, Sibugay, Zamboanga. Executed on October 14, 2008 ng Jeddah KSA. Tinangka siyang gahasain ng kaibigan na Arabo at mga kasama nito kung kaya napatay niya ito at nasentensiyahan ng kamatayan noong 2006. Nagulat ang pamilya ng mabalitaan na pinugutan na ng ulo si Jenifer. Walang alam ang pamilya sa mangyayari dito dahil pinangakuan naman sila ng DFA na makapag-apela sa korte ng Saudi Arabia. Lumalabas na walang kasamang abogado si Jenifer sa kanyang mga hearing.
2. OFWs Eduardo at Edison Gonzalez, Eduardo Arcilla, Don Don Lanuza. nasentensiyahan ng kamatayan sa Saudi Arabia. Nakahanay na pupugutan ng ulo sa Saudi Arabia.
3. Cecilia Armia Alcaraz, nasentensiyahan ng kamatayan o firing squad sa Taiwan, naghihintay ng apela mula sa gobyerno.
Mga namataya na OFWs sa labas ng bansa na kaduda-duda ang pagmatay ayon sa pamilya at batay na rin sa mga report. Eugenia Baja, DH, Saudi Arabia, namatay noong Feb. 24, 2008 dahil sa hindi pinapakain sa loob ng 35 days, minamaltrato ng employer na naging sanhi ng kamatayan nito. Jefrey So, 11 days lang sa UAE nabalitaan ng pamilya na nagpakamatay daw ito. Myrna Vailoces, August 2008, nagpamatay daw ayon sa police report sa UAE. Evelyn Milo, ayon sa pamilya ay nagpakamatay daw ito. Pero hindi makapaniwala ang pamilya dahil marami itong pangarap sa buhay.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

MOVEMENT, EXECUTION, CONTINUATION

Biblico-Theological Reflection
Forum on the Economic Meltdown in the Empire and its Impact to the Filipino People
Bantayog ng mga Bayani, Quezon City, 27 September 2008

THE EXECUTED GOD

We do not need the Bible to prove that Jesus lived, that he was murdered by the empire, and that his followers confess that he is alive.

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man… For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks… When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him… And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.63, written about 90 C.E.)

Therefore to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition was checked for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. (Cornelius Tacitus, Annals 15.44, written about 120 C.E.)

Both accounts, one Jewish, the other Roman, agree on three things. First, there was a movement connected with Jesus. Second, he was executed by Rome to stop the movement. Third, instead of being stopped, the movement continued to spread. THERE REMAIN, THEREFORE, THESE THREE: MOVEMENT, EXECUTION, CONTINUATION. AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS CONTINUATION… 1

Yes, the greatest is continuation but what has happened since then? Is our Christianity, a continuation of the Jesus movement or an abomination? The early Christians worshipped an executed God. We confess that we do, but do we really?

Laura Donaldson, a Cherokee, reminds us: “What civilization invented the most brutal system of conquest and exploitation the world has ever known? Christian. Who made slavery the basis for capitalist expansion? Christians. What religion has been the most responsible for the genocide of aboriginal peoples? Christianity. In my view, the Christian church has a much more substantial record of pure evil than any final good.”

The first one thousand years of Christianity was one millennium of war and destruction in the name of Jesus Christ. And those “civilizing missions” have not stopped. Even today, the most oppressive and dehumanizing societies are led by “Christian” centurions who have no qualms maiming and destroying those who are not “one of them.” And two of these are in the White House and in Malacanang, George W. Bush and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, respectively.

The Manila Declaration of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches says, “Western Christianity has been closely related to empire since Roman days. Since then it has spread throughout the world, and now it is being used to provide ideological legitimization for today’s empire. Globalized Christendom and the ‘crusades’ it embarks upon today are symbiotically intertwined with global capital and the power of the global empire. In its triumphalistic pursuits, it discounts if not condemns all other religious faiths and cultures. The indigenous religions of many communities are destroyed and Islam is vilified.

The convergence of Christian religion with Western modernity has destroyed the religious and cultural life of peoples and their communities throughout the world. The powers and principalities of the global market and empire are being baptized by these theological distortions of ‘Christianity’, which promote religious conflicts and bigotry globally.

The Christian religion of empire treats others as ‘gentiles’ to be conquered, as the ‘evil empire’ to be destroyed, or as the ‘axis of evil’ to be eradicated from the earth. The empire claims that the ‘goodness’ of the empire must overcome these ‘evils’. Its false messianic spirit is imbued with the demonic.

These false claims destroy the integrity of faiths, and radically erode the identity of Christian faith in Jesus Christ. As the spirit of empire penetrates souls, the power of global empire possesses the bodies of all living beings. Lord of its domain, it builds temples for the global market to serve Profit (Mammon).

The empire uses ‘democracy’ as an umbrella term for the kind of political regime that it would like to see installed all over the world. Bringing democracy to countries that do not yet have it is claimed as the defining purpose of US foreign policy. For the US, democracies abroad are regimes that support or follow its dictates.”

Today, as the world feels the impact of the empire’s meltdown, two things are clear. First, the empire will strike back, as it always does, to save and protect itself, and the poor will feel its wrath, as they always do. Second, as people who take pride in calling ourselves Christians, we need to repent and turn back from our wicked ways, because most of us have been following the wrong Jesus and many among us have been preaching the wrong sermons.


JESUS IS LORD

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine Jesus, the one many of us call our Personal Lord and Savior. If the Jesus we imagine looks like an American or European movie star, white, blond, and with blue eyes, then we’re following the wrong Jesus. If the Jesus we imagine is the same Jesus who told McKinley to take possession of the Philippines, and told Bush to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq, then we’re following the wrong Jesus. If we imagine the same Jesus that Gloria Arroyo prays to before she gives the orders to abduct and harass our pastors and church workers, like Berlin Guerrero and Melchor Abesamis, then we’re following the wrong Jesus. If the Jesus we imagine tells us to build huge buildings and air-conditioned chapels in his honor instead of reaching out to the poor and the marginalized among us, then we are following the wrong Jesus. If the Jesus we imagine has prepared a mansion in heaven for us, and wants us to spend eternity with him in an other-worldly place, and has no problems when his followers kill people and cultures in his name, then, definitely, we are following the wrong Jesus.

We are so used to that word "Gospel," that it has lost its original meaning. But in antiquity, when the Roman empire went off and conquered another land in the name of their god Caesar, and killed all the men, raped all the women, and destroyed all the homes, the soldiers would come back parading throughout the land announcing "the Gospel according to Caesar," the Good News of the latest victory of Caesar, that another land has been conquered for their god Caesar, and that Caesar's enemies have been killed.2

When the Gospel of Mark announces the “beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he actually announces the most radical, subversive proclamation during that time—Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar; God’s reign has come, and Rome’s has come to an end. Put in another way, in Greek the empire was called basileia; the emperor, basileus. For almost everyone in the empire, Rome was basileia; Caesar was basileus. I said, almost, because for Christians, God’s reign was basileia; Jesus was basileus.

In Jesus’ alternative or counter-empire, there was only one commandment: love for neighbor, especially the least. In Luke 10:28, Jesus tells a lawyer that love for God and love for neighbor is one commandment. He tells the parable of the Samaritan to make his point. Matthew 25:31-46 is a “surprising” parable because both the blessed and cursed were surprised. They were judged based on what they did, as far as the sheep were concerned, and what they did not do, as far as the goats were concerned, for others, for people in need. (They were not judged on what they did or what they did not do for God.)

Paul summarizes all the commandments in Romans 13:9 as love for neighbor. James is more explicit in 2:15-17 when he wrote, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace… and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” The message of the Johannine letters is straight-forward: if you say you love God, whom you do not see, but not your brothers and sisters, whom you see, then you are a liar. In Mark 17: 21, Jesus tells a rich young man, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor… then come follow me.”

THE STORIES JESUS TOLD

Jesus was executed by the empire because of the life he lived and the stories he told. Parables are subversive speech. They are the opposite of myths. Parables are not earthly stories about heavenly things, but earthy stories about heavy things.

I grew up hearing sermons on stewardship based on Luke 21: 1-4, the widow’s offering: “…for others have contributed out of their abundance but she, out of her poverty has put in all that she had to live on.” I grew up disgusted with any system, religious or otherwise, that robbed people of even the barest that they had. More than praising the widow, I believe Jesus was actually denouncing the temple’s system of dispossessing the already dispossessed. I think the incident at the temple was his way of declaring, “Enough!” Yet, our churches and our programs live-off the backs of the poor.

The Laborers in the Vineyard3 offer us a portrait of an oikodespotes, a despot, an elitist oppressor who, in order to possess, to ensure a timely harvest, offers a denarius--subsistence level pay--to workers; workers who'll take anything just to get by today. Jesus told this parable to unmask the divide-and-conquer rule of the landed, yet we love to preach this parable by celebrating the despot and demonizing the lowly workers.

The Tenants in the Vineyard4 initially possess the land after claiming it violently from its absentee landlord. But "...what then will the owner of the vineyard do?" What do we do with this text? We celebrate the landlord and justify his use of violence to get his property back. We never preach from the perspective of the tenants.

In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus5, Jesus uses Abraham as paradigm of the blessed rich to shock his listeners: Father Abraham should have received the rich man into his bosom but he does not; he receives Lazarus—poor Lazarus who dies and doesn't even get to be buried. The elite, possessed by possessions, have for so long used Abraham as justification for their oppression. We seldom preach on this text because its message is clear. God is on the side of the poor.

"How do we get ourselves out of debt?" people ask. A good King might do it or even a Christian president or a Christian senate. The parable of the Unmerciful Servant6 reminds us of the hopelessness of looking for deliverance in kings (or presidents). Rulers are part of the system that created them. The parable proposes that neither messianic hope nor popular kingship can resolve the people's dilemma. To reshape their world, to assert their claim as God's heirs, the people must look elsewhere.

The Talents7 offer a portrait of the whistle blower; the one who, sickened by the system, cries, "Enough!" It offers us a glimpse of the dispossessed who live in the outer darkness, far from the centers of power and light, struggling to survive from day to day, "weeping and gnashing teeth." Yet, when we preach on this text, we take the side of the two who were “faithful” to the oppressive system of their master, instead of the third who said, “No.”

The Friend at Midnight8 paints a different kind of portrait. Village peasants offer hospitality to visitors and sojourners and are engaged in little acts that challenge the efforts of their oppressors to dehumanize them. Rather than cave in to the desire to hoard and accumulate, as the rich then and now do, peasants, then and now, continue to cooperate and to provide hospitality. Their shameless social order of small redistribution of food and resources foreshadows a different order of human relations.9 This is one of Jesus’ most powerful parables but we almost never preach on this.

We have much to repent for. I echo the Manila Declaration’s call: We ask all churches whose missions and peoples have historically been involved in empire building to seriously scrutinize—in partnership with the victims of their imperial past—their structure, teaching, hermeneutics, liturgy, music, funding agencies and policies as well as their political allegiances, in order to repent and reshape their life in all aspects in the spirit of the anti-imperial biblical heritage.

Whether we read the Bible or Josephus or Tacitus, one thing is crystal clear: Jesus lived and preached an alternative empire—a life of open healing and shared eating, of radical itinerancy, of empowered egalitarianism, of human contact without discrimination and without hierarchies, and of preferential option for the poor. And Jesus was executed by the Roman Empire because of this. A life totally dedicated to the liberation of the poor and the powerless is a very dangerous life. Those of us who follow Jesus actually worship an executed God.

THERE REMAIN, THEREFORE, THESE THREE: MOVEMENT, EXECUTION, CONTINUATION. AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS CONTINUATION.

ARE WE READY TO CONTINUE?



NOTES
1 John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus. Many arguments in this BTR are based on the works of Crossan and members of the Jesus Seminar, Ched Myers, William Herzog, and Carlos Abesamis.
2 http://www.fatherjohndear.org/sermons_homilies/repent_believe.html)
3 This section draws heavily from the work of Herzog. Matthew 20:1-16
4 Mark 12:1-12
5 Luke 16:19-31
6 Matthew 18:23-35
7 Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27
8 Luke 11:5-8
9 Paul in Ephesians 3:28 advice the church in Ephesus to work hard not to save for themselves but “...so as to have something to share...”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

God's Fart, Our Farts

Imperialism exists when a single truth is forced on a plural world. This is why, despite the fact the women hold up half of the sky, majority of men and women believe that men are stronger, more intelligent, more gifted, and closer to God. This is why, to this day, many churches only ordain men as priests. This is also why Christianity has, in the past two thousand years, killed more people in the name of Jesus than all the victims of wars, ethic cleansings, and religious genocide combined.

Those of us who read our Bibles and pray everyday, know that God is a God of surprises. Each person, each plant, each snowflake, each butterfly, each pebble is different from the rest. Our Bible has 66 books that offer us 66 different ways of articulating faith and faith experiences.

Our Bible offers us four portraits of a man, whom his followers confess is God-in-the-flesh, who lived, and loved, and labored with the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, those whose only hope was God. His enemies, those who protected the status quo and maintained the ideologies of empire, tortured and executed him. He was dead. His message of liberation has been silenced. His enemies have won. So they thought.

But God has the last laugh. God always has the last laugh. God raised Jesus up from the grave. And he is loose. Laughing because death has no hold on him. Not anymore.

Filipinos, according to research, are among the happiest people in Asia. Despite our problems, despite our miseries, despite the seeming hopelessness of our situation, we laugh. We laugh at our leaders and their broken promises. We laugh at our churches and the superstitions we confess. We laugh at ourselves, all the time. And this is why, I believe, we have survived all these years.

Filipinos have the last laugh. Maybe it’s a gift from God. The Spaniards taught us the pasyon to domesticate our broken spirits, but we used the pasyon to ignite revolution. The Spaniards used bamboo poles to punish and to drive Indios to and from the fields, but we used bamboo poles to create a dance of celebration, and called it tinikling. The Americans banned the singing of the Philippine National Anthem and the unfurling of the Philippine Flag and sentenced those who disobeyed to prison; we used the American’s principle of separation of State and Church to bring both the anthem and the flag into our worship life. The American’s built the jeep as a weapon of mass destruction. We turned it into a vehicle of Filipino culture—and called it jeepney. We always have the last laugh.

For over 100 years, we have been forced to speak, to think, to believe, to worship, to sing, to make love, to pray, to be… in English. Constantino, in his “The Mis-Education of the Filipinos,” said, “For a sprinkling of English, we sold our souls.” Frantz Fanon and Paulo Freire said that the worst kind of colonialism is when the colonizer has possessed the colonized’s soul.

We need an exorcism and, as I have been arguing for a few minutes now, laughter plays a critical role in our collective decolonization.

English is the imperial language. It is the language of our theologies, our liturgies, our books of discipline, our confessions. English is the master’s tool. We all know this. We also know that one of the best ways to dismantle the master’s house is to use the master’s tools. Any student of peasant revolt theory and the different schools of tradition on resistance, from passive to active non-violence, to armed revolt, know that the colonized has over four centuries of tradition to draw from. I will offer one simple model. In postcolonial studies, this is called THE SCRIPT AND THE SUB-SCRIPT, more specifically, mis-pronunciation as deconstruction.

In the Pentateuch, Moses requested to see God’s face, but God said, those who see God’s face will die, so God allowed Moses to experience God’s back FART. When the Israelites were fleeing from Pharaoh and was trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, God FARTED the waters and God’s chosen were able to escape towards the Promised Land.

In the letters of Paul, we are challenged to celebrate the church as the body of Christ. The body is composed of many FARTS and each FART is as important as the other. No FART can say to another FART that it is more needed or more important. Each one of us therefore, has a FART to claim, to share, to be proud of.

As a laughing people, we worship a God who laughs. Let us go continue doing so…. Let us always affirm what God has done and what God is doing, and commit to what we can do, as communities and as individuals, celebrate God’s FART and the unity of our FARTS.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Onward, Christian Soldiers...

Episode One

"In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian cohort, as it was called...." Acts 10:1

“This war is the kingdom of God coming… the sunrise of a better day for the Philippines. With Christ in his heart, the New Testament in his pocket, ‘Look up and lift up’ (Badge of Methodist Youth League) on his shirt, and forty rounds of ammunition in his belt, we have sent our first missionary in the family” (Moorehead:155).


INTRODUCTION

I agree with Jane Schaberg who cautions us that Luke is a dangerous piece of literature (275). Together with Acts, these two volumes, I would argue, helps create, rationalize, legitimize, and perpetuate the ideology of Imperial Soldier as model of Christianity. His presentation of the five centurions in Luke-Acts, especially Cornelius, was aimed at convincing his readers that, despite the fact that the Empire executed Jesus, Imperial Officers made the best Christians. Having these officers converted was the first big step toward having a Christian Empire.

Presupposing that imperialism—aside from its many tentacles—is primarily a textual project, I will selectively engage the Lukan narratives with questions I have adopted from Musa Dube (129): (1) Does the text have an explicit stance for or against the political imperialism of its time?; (2) Does the text encourage travel to distant and inhabited lands and how does it justify itself?; (3) How does the text construct difference: Is there dialogue and liberating interdependence, or is there condemnation and replacement of all that is foreign? Is the celebration of difference authentic or mere tokenism?; and (4) Does the text employ representations (gender, divine, etc.) to construct relationships of subordination and domination?

(to be continued)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

That's why we call it "Peace Time"?

"Thirty thousand Americans killed a million Filipinos. We have pacified the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields, burned their villages; furnished heartbreak by exile to scores of disagreeable patriots; subjugated the remaining 10 million by benevolent assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket....And so, by these providences of God--and the phrase is the government's not mine--we are a world power. And this is supposedly the mission of our race, trustee under God, of the civilization of the world." - (Mark Twain)


Thursday, July 17, 2008

We Worship an Executed God

I have found it disconcerting to celebrate Easter Sunday apart from the horrors of the crucifixion. But many people find nothing problematic about this. The crucifix has become a fashion accessory for a lot of folks. They can do their Easter egg hunts, enjoy their Easter sunrise services, and preach a risen, triumphant Lord without any thought that the God we proclaim as risen was actually murdered on Calvary. Jesus did not die. The empire killed Jesus. He was executed. He was a victim of state-sanctioned terrorism. We who call ourselves Christian actually worship an executed God.

Everyday in our beloved country, in Asia, in Latin America, in Africa, and in many parts of the world, people are being crucified, victims of institutionalized oppression—cultural genocide, poverty, racism, gender injustice, capital punishment, global capitalism, militarization, and marginalization. What does it mean to proclaim a resurrection faith in the midst of all these?

What does it mean then for us, who are among these crucified people, to proclaim Jesus as risen from the dead?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Parable of Juan and Maria's One-Peso Loan


Juan and Maria deposit their hard-earned peso in a bank. Government propaganda have convinced them how helpful banks are and being poor farm-folk, they have identified with bank commercials that go, "Ayokong maging dukha!" (I do not want to be poor!). The bank pays them 5% a year. That's 5 centavos less final tax of 20% so they net 4 centavos. The economy being what it is drives the couple to ask a one peso loan from the same bank. Again, government sponsored info commercials that went, "Isip entreprenyur!" (Think entrepreneur!) helped. Their peso deposit serves as collateral. The bank charges them 30% on the loan. In effect, on the peso they deposited and actually loaned, the bank earned 25 centavos. From another perspective, Juan and Maria paid the bank 25 centavos for allowing them to use their own money!

It's no wonder banks and lending institutions are among the most profitable businesses in the country today. (Don’t get me going on the oil cartels that bleed our economy dry.). But let's go back to that one-peso loan of Maria and Juan.

The couple earns a peso so they go back to the bank to pay their loan. 30 centavos is used to pay for the interest. 70 is left for the principal. They still owe the bank 30 so they get another peso loan. 30 centavos of that is used to pay for the balance of the first loan. They leave the bank with 70. If this cycle continues, Juan and Maria will be perpetually making new loans just to pay their maturing loans. But what if tragedy strikes, in the form of pestilence, typhoons, sickness, or worse, death? They cannot pay their loan and the bank forfeits their collateral. Without collateral, loans require higher interests. The cycle continues at a much painful level: Maria and Juan take new loans just to meet the interest on their maturing loans. This happens every day: at the level of the 5/6 operators, at the local banks, in the IMF and the World Bank. Most people do not know that private banks actually run the economies of many countries. Think Hong Kong.

Leviticus 25 is probably one of the best pieces of Israelite legislation ever written. Most scholars believe that it was never actually implemented. Nevertheless, the celebration of the Sabbatical year, and more importantly, the Jubilee meant restoration when all slaves were set free, all lands returned to their rightful stewards (God being owner of the land), all debts canceled.1

The issue of Jesus' parable of the estate manager in Luke 16:1-9 is the cancellation or at least the reduction of debt. The machinations of the steward led to a lowering of debt. It was a temporary respite for the debtors but still a foretaste of a time when all debts will be canceled.

When someone is up to one's neck in debt; someone else is wallowing in surplus. When someone is up to one's neck in debt, getting through today is the most important thing; to that someone who is wallowing in surplus, today does not matter, tomorrow's gains do.

The past is very important to those whose only hope is God. It is something we can look back to. It is the past where most of us draw strength for today. If we survived yesterday, we, hopefully, can survive today. Tomorrow is in God's hands. It is therefore fascinating to note that Filipinos call God "Bathala" which, some have argued, literally translates "God WILL take care."

James 4:15 echoes the same faith: "...you ought to say, 'If the Lord WILLS, we shall live and we shall do this and that.'" Tomorrow is in God's hands.The rich though, like the foolish one in Luke 12: 16-21, live for the future as if the future is in their hands. It was not then. It still is not. James 5:1-6 compared to the Lukan parable, I think, is a more powerful tirade against the rich:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the innocent; they cannot resist you.

“Scattered across the countryside one may observe certain wild animals, male and female, dark, livid and burnt by the sun, attached to the earth which they dig and turn over with invincible stubbornness. However, they have something like an articulated voice and when they stand up they reveal a human face. Indeed, they are human beings...Thanks to them the other human beings need not sow, labour and harvest in order to live. That is why they ought not to lack the bread which they have sown.”2

They ought not to lack the bread which they have sown, but in the Philippines, and in many parts of the world, they, unfortunately, do and it’s worse.

Notes

1 John Dominic Crossan in his lecture on method (as part of the Jesus Seminar Workshop held at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, New Orleans, 23 November 1996) believes that Jesus' message of God's reign has for its context the Israelite peasantry's thirst for justice; justice as demanded by God in the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee.

2 Jean la Bruyere, French moralist of the late seventeenth century (cited in J.D. Crossan's The Essential Jesus (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), v.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Tabernacles and Jeepneys

Biblical interpretation has privileged the centers of power within, behind, and in front of the text. Biblical studies in the Philippines have been a stronghold of colonial scholarship for over a century, especially among Protestant churches. Indigenous denominations refuse to become autonomous and continue to depend on their mother institutions in the United States or elsewhere in the First World. Church buildings and institutions are named after benevolent foreign church leaders and missionaries. Seminaries continue to have more foreign teachers (who are paid in dollars by foreign boards) than Filipinos (who are paid in pesos and, usually, significantly below the living wage). Libraries are filled with books written by European and American scholars and continue to receive donations of old books from the First World. Traditional historical-critical methods remain the key reading paradigm. Establishing what the Bible meant in the past is the first step towards discerning what it means today. Ways of interpreting the Bible that do not follow this so-called fundamental paradigm are labeled eisegesis (reading into the text) or reader-response. Filipino Protestants know more about Bible history and American history than their own history; and they read the Bible the way their colonial masters did and still do, because they have been socialized for generations that this is the correct way. Filipino social scientists call this collective condition of the Filipino psyche a colonial mentality. Historian Renato Constantino traces it to the systematic mis-education of Filipinos. Theologian Eleazar Fernandez argues that the Philippines can still be called a “mental colony” of the United States of America. Biblical studies in the Philippines today exemplify his claim.

But side by side with this “reading-the-Bible-the-way-our-masters-do” is a wealth of Filipino literature, practices, and reading strategies that engage the Bible in unexpected ways. Two quick examples. Take a regular Bible Study session among women. Let them role-play a passage in the Bible. Let’s say, Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visits Martha and Mary. In my experience, most women WILL NOT follow the Biblical script. They will change the story.

Take a nursery Sunday School class. Tell the story of Jonah. Most adults will identify with the plight of Jonah, including the nursery teacher. But children have no problem reading the text from the perspective of the fish, the vine, and the worm—who, by the way, obey God.

I call these interpretations models of jeepney hermeneutics, reading that go against “authorial intent.” The jeepney is the most popular mode of public transportation in the Philippines. It is an excellent example of the Filipinization of an American icon, the military jeep. It is also, as I will argue, one very powerful metaphor for Filipinos’ engagement with another icon, the Bible, offering a range of strategies to decolonize biblical studies.

The U.S. Army, back in 1940, required an all-terrain reconnaissance, go-anywhere, vehicle that seated three and had a mount for a 30-caliber machine gun. Filipinos have turned this military vehicle into a sort of mini-bus that can accommodate about twenty people. There are those who look at a jeepney and call it Frankenstein’s monster. There are others who see it as a “Filipino home on wheels,” complete with an altar. The military jeep was, and still is, a sort of imperializing text. A jeepney resists this text. The inventors of the jeep never imagined that this weapon of mass destruction can be transformed into a public transport vehicle. The jeepney is an “unexpected reading” of a jeep.

Interpretation, by definition, is always perspectival and particular. In other words, everything—including the supposedly objective historical-critical method—is reader-response. This interpretation of biblical passages as imperializing texts presupposes the reality of an empire as a backdrop to the construction of the narrative. Many Filipinos employ a similar assumption when engaging Filipino resistance literature: for example, Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Francisco Baltazar’s Florante at Laura, and Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart. This interpretation does not equate the biblical narratives with historical facts. What it does is argue that the narrative is constructed and framed by a particular historical setting.1 Anticolonialist Frantz Fanon and educator Paolo Freire show that dynamics leading to literary production exist not only between the colonizer and the colonized, but also between various interest groups of the colonized, some of which try to gain power to define national cultural identity, as well as to compete for the attention of their collective oppressor. The interpretation below argues that Matthew is not rejecting Roman imperialism, but seeking its favor, or at least condoning it.

This interpretation also presupposes resistance, as reflected in what activist Salud Algabre and historian Reynaldo Ileto call “little traditions.” Algabre and Ileto memorialize all those resistance fighters who have been victimized by the violence of institutionalized forgetting, a fate most of the unnamed children in Matthew share.

New Testament scholar Musa Dube posits the following questions in order to measure whether Matthew is an imperializing text: Does the text offer an explicit stance for or against Roman imperialism? Does the narrative encourage travel to distant and inhabited lands, and how does it justify such travel? How does the narrative present those who are different from the main characters? Is there dialogue and liberating interdependence between the main characters and “others”? Or is there condemnation and replacement of all that is foreign and other? Is the celebration of difference authentic or mere tokenism? Does the text present relationships of subordination and domination? How does it represent them?

Using these questions to analyze Matthew and its effects upon its readers, Dube concludes that the author’s stance toward the imperial powers presents imperial rule and its agents as holy and acceptable. Matthew’s Jesus is politically un-subversive and encourages travel to distant and inhabited lands. Matthew’s positive presentation of the Empire and the decision to take the word to the nations (Matt. 28:16-20) is born within and as a result of stiff competition for power over the crowds (Israel) and the favor of the Empire. Matthew’s mission to the nations embodies imperialistic values and strategies. Matthew does not seek relationships of liberating interdependence among nations, cultures, and genders. Rather, this Gospel upholds the superiority of some races and relegates other races to inferiority. Matthew represents gender relationships as relationships of subordination and domination by featuring the Canaanite woman (15:21-28) and the centurion (8:5-13) in contrasting stories, which foreshadows the mission to the nations. Matthew’s presentation of Pilate, his wife, and the Roman soldiers at the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus shows a clear-cut pro-empire position (27:1–28:15).

The Tabernacle motif, though implicit, plays a critical role in the Matthean narrative. The Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle symbolized, literally, God’s presence among God’s people (Exodus 35-40). In the 40-year sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, God was always with them via the Tabernacle, a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. In other words, where the Tabernacle was, there was God. Matthew begins and ends with Immanuel, God-with-us (1.23, 28:20). Thus, the Gospel effectively sets the boundaries of its own “tabernacle.” Matthew creates a world of insiders and outsiders relative to this “tabernacle.”

And right at the middle of this “tent” is the greatest symbol of faith in the gospel—the centurion.

The encounter between the centurion and Jesus, according to Dube, particularly highlights Matthew’s stance toward the Empire. Both men are presented as having authority to effect things simply by the power of their words (Matt. 8:8-9). The comparison of Jesus’ authority with that of the centurion’s has the effect of sanctifying the imperial power. Jesus pronounces the centurion’s faith greater than the faith of everyone in Israel (Matt. 8:10), a statement that contrasts the imperial agent with the colonized and exalts his righteousness above theirs. The passage casts imperial officials as holier and predicts that they, and other groups, will have more power (in the kingdom of God). Such characterization not only disguises what imperial agents represent—institutions of exploitation and oppression—but also pronounces imperialism holy and acceptable. A quick survey of the history of the interpretation of Matthew and centuries of Western colonization—euphemistically called “civilizing missions”—in Asia, Africa, and Latin America shows that most interpreters followed the Gospel’s imperial rhetoric.

In Matthew’s “tabernacle,” God’s presence is most evident in a military officer, in an imperial agent. The first one thousand years of Christianity was one millennium of war and destruction in the name of Jesus Christ. And those “civilizing missions” have not stopped. Even today, the most oppressive and dehumanizing societies are led by “Christian” centurions who have no qualms maiming and destroying those who are not “one of them.” And two of these are in the White House and in Malacanang, George W. Bush and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, respectively.

The centurion is to Matthew as the 30-caliber machine gun mount is to the military jeep. To read Matthew inside a jeepney is to celebrate the fact that the first thing Filipinos did in their transformation of the military jeep was to rid it of that machine gun mount. To read Matthew inside a jeepney is to remove our gaze from the centurion—and, yes, even Jesus, who mimics the centurion—and focus it on someone else. I suggest focusing our attention on the servant (pais in Greek) of 8:5-13.
The pais, whether translated son, daughter, girl, boy, servant, slave, or sex slave, is a child. He or she serves to remind flesh and blood readers that the reality of empire—in varying forms and degrees—is experienced by children and by those who are treated as children. Political sociologist Ashis Nandy draws attention to the way the colonized are viewed as children by the colonizers.2

Fred Atkinson, the first American General Superintendent of Education in the Philippines, inaugurated more than a century of racist public education in the islands when he remarked that “the Filipino people, taken as a body, are children and childlike, do not know what is best for them. . . . By the very fact of our superiority of civilization and our greater capacity for industrial activity we are bound to exercise over them a profound social influence.”3

The pais reminds flesh and blood readers that children’s oppression—of varying forms and degrees—is written in the text because, despite the rhetoric that God’s reign is for children (Matt. 19:14), no child is ever named—except Jesus—or is given a voice in the gospel—except Herodias’s daughter, who says what her mother tells her to say. Like the Canaanite woman’s daughter (15:21-28) and the pais, Herodias’s daughter serves only as a medium through which competing discourses present their claims. The girl falls prey to manipulation by her mother and by Herod. We don’t even get to hear the cries of the children who are massacred in 2:18, only their mothers’ cries. Children are the primary victims of Matthew’s “culture of silence.”

Look at how the pais is described in Greek: ho pais mou, “the servant who is mine.” That child’s body is under somebody else’s control—whether it’s his father, his owner, or, as I have argued elsewhere, his pedophile. The centurion’s act on the pais’s behalf emphasizes the latter’s marginalization. As far as Matthew is concerned, the pais cannot speak or seek his own healing. Yet, because that child is “paralyzed,” albeit momentarily, he also paralyzes his owner, who must seek help from Jesus. The child also interrupts the goings and the comings of the centurion’s soldiers, since the centurion is not with them to give them orders (Matt. 8:9). Thus, with his paralysis, the child also interrupts the imperial expansion.

Throughout the Gospel, characters come and go, borders are crossed: magi from the East come seeking the king of the Jews (2:1-12); Joseph and his family flee into Egypt (2:13-15); Herod sends his death squads to Bethlehem to murder children (2:16-18); Joseph and his family go to Nazareth, from Egypt (2:19-23); Jesus goes to John the baptizer and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness (3:1–4:11); Jesus leaves Nazareth and makes his home in Capernaum (4:12); the centurion comes to Jesus and the latter is convinced of the imperial authority that effects goings and comings, travel to distant lands, and control at a distance (8:5-13). The disciples are systematically prepared for their commissioning (10:1-42); the Canaanite woman comes to Jesus (15:21-28); the heavy-laden come to Jesus (11:28). Jesus eventually sends out his disciples (28:16-20). Everyone in the story moves, except the pais in Matthew 8:5-13. Yes, even for a brief moment, the pais revels in the space her paralysis brings. For about eight short verses in the very long 28 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the pais is free of the centurion.

The colonized is free of her colonizer.

The majority of Filipinos remain colonized subjects, a part of a mental colony. Migrant Filipina domestic workers, numbering over 7 million, are the global servants of late capitalism. Tens of millions find themselves squatters in their own homeland. Those who have opted for “the Promise Land”—the United States—find themselves treated as second-class citizens. Yet, despite all this colonization, they have always resisted. The jeepney is the best-known symbol of resistance and decolonization for Filipinos. Now, because of the Gospel, they have another symbol, the pais—paralyzed outside the “tabernacle”—who disrupts imperial progress, even if only briefly, in the Gospel of Matthew.

Notes:
1. The Gospel of Matthew is a narrative discourse constructed against the backdrop of Roman imperial occupation. In other words, it is a story of people in this imperialistic situation.
2. See Leela Gandhi, Postcolonial Theory (New York: 1998), 32.
3. Quoted in Daniel B. Schirmer and Stephen Rosskamm Philippines Reader: A History of Colonialism, Neocolonialism, Resistance (Boston: South End Press, 1987), 12.


Works consulted:
Abesamis, Carlos. A Third Look at Jesus. Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1999.
Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins. New York: Orbis, 2000.
Constantino, Renato. Neocolonial Identity and Counter-consciousness : Essays on Cultural Decolonization (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1978).
De La Torre, Edicio. "The Philippines: A Situationer." Those Who Would Give Light Must Endure Burning. Bautista and Amirtham, eds. Quezon City: NCCP, 1987.
Dube, Musa. Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2000.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: 1968.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Myra Bergman Ramos, trans. New York: Herder and Herder, 1972.
Fernandez, Eleazar. Toward a Theology of Struggle. New York: Orbis, 1994.
Leela Gandhi, Postcolonial Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 32.
Levine, Amy-Jill. The Social and Ethnic Dimensions of Matthean Social History (Lewiston: Mellen, 1988).
Ileto, Reynaldo. Pasyon and Revolution. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University, 1979.
Patte, Daniel. The Gospel According to Matthew. Philadelphia:Fortress, 1987.
Powell, Mark Allan Powell. Chasing the Eastern Star. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
Schirmer, Daniel."The Conception and Gestation of a Neocolony." The Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol 5. No. 1, 1975, 43-44.
Velunta, Revelation. "The Ho Pais Mou of Matthew 8:5-13: Contesting the Interpretations in the Name of Present-Day Paides." Bulletin for Contextual Theology, School of Theology, University of Natal. Vol 7.2. June 2000, pp.25-32.

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From TUGON (re-launch edition, copyright 2008, NCCP)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Texts of Terror

If crying is the first prophetic utterance (as lifted up by Chung Hyun Kyung's statement during her controversial opening address, and spirit-invoking dance, at the 7th Assembly of the WCC), then TEXTS OF TERROR's poignant, gut-wrenching portraits of women as victims offer us a hearing of those "cries."

In Texts of Terror1, Phyllis Trible sets out to tell sad stories as she "hears" them. Indeed, she offers us tales of terror. She comments: "Belonging to the sacred scriptures of synagogue and church, these narratives yield four portraits of suffering in ancient Israel: Hagar, the slave used, abused, and rejected; Tamar, the princess raped, murdered, and dismembered; and the daughter of Jephthah, a virgin slain and sacrificed. Choice and chance inspire my telling these particular tales: hearing a black woman describe herself as a daughter of Hagar outside the covenant; seeing an abused woman on the streets of New York with a sign, 'My name is Tamar'; reading news reports of the dismembered body of a woman found in a trash can; attending worship services in memory of nameless women; and wrestling with the silence, absence, and opposition of God. All these experiences and others have led me to a land of terror from whose bourn no traveler returns unscarred" (p.1,2)

We are invited to a journey that is solitary, painful and intense. In joining this venture, we, the readers, assume its risks; we are challenged to hear not just the cries within the text but also those in front of it.

Hagar's story conjures images of oppression in three very familiar forms: race, class, and sex. As symbol of the oppressed woman of color, Hagar becomes many things to many people. "She is the faithful domestic helper exploited, the black woman used by the white male and abused by the white female of the ruling class, the migrant worker without legal recourse, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced woman with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others( (pp.27,28).2

The tragic story of Tamar occurs within the circle of male power of a supposedly God-ordained monarchy, David's, a system that was supposed to protect her (a time that was supposed to be better than when "leaders were lacking in Israel"). Sibblings Absalom and Tamar were a handsome pair in the land but now the sister dwells desolate. The narrator has more to say on the subject though, switching from Absalom to his offspring. "There were born to Absalom three sons and one daughter; her name was Tamar." Strikingly, the anonymity of all the sons highlights the name of the lone female child. In her Absalom has created a living memorial for his sister. A further note enhances the poignancy of his act. Tamar, the daughter of Absalom, "became a woman beautiful to behold." From aunt to niece have passed name and beauty so that rape and desolation have not the final words in the story of Tamar (p.55).3

The story of the unnamed woman in Judges 19 reminds us that violence and vengeance are not just characteristics of a distant, pre-Christian past; they infect the community of the so called elect to this day. Woman as object is still captured, betrayed, raped, tortured, murdered, dismembered, and scattered. To take to heart this ancient story, to listen to the cries of the unnamed woman, then, is to confess its present reality, to admit that today the only form of resistance left countless of unnamed women is their cry. Do we hear them? Usually it is the one who has ears who takes forever to hear.

Trible adds that the story is alive and all is not well: " Beyond confession we must take counsel to say, 'Never again.' Yet this counsel is itself ineffectual unless we direct our hearts to that most uncompromising of all biblical commands, speaking the words not to others but to ourselves: Repent. Repent"(p.87).

The fourth tale is equally disturbing: Jephthah is praised; his daughter forgotten. Unfaith becomes faith. Thus has scripture and tradition violated the ancient story (108). So to this day, heroes of faith are male; wives and children live under the shadows of husbands and fathers; and the world on the whole finds identity in its connection to male power. And yet that story endures to this day for us to recover and appropriate; the story endures, like the other three tragic stories, because of women's cries.

The postscipt reports an extraordinary development. Whereas the female who has never known a man is typically numbered among the unremembered, in the case of the daughter of Jephthah the usual does not happen. "Although he had not known a man, nevertheless she became a tradition in Israel." In a dramatic way this sentence alters, though it does not eliminate, the finality of Jepthah's faithless vow. The alteration comes through the faithfulness of the women of Israel, as the next line explains. "From year to year the daughters of Israel went to mourn for the daughter of Jepthah the Gileadite, four days in the year." The unnamed virgin child becomes a tradition in Israel because the women with whom she chose to spend her last days have not let her pass into oblivion. They have established a testimony: activities of mourning reiterated yearly in a special place. This they have done in remembrance of her. The narrative postcript then shifts the focus of the story from vow to victim, from death to life, from oblivion to remembrance. Remarkably, this saga of faithlessness and sacrifice mitigates, though it does not dispel, its own tragedy through the mourning of women (p.106-107).

Four stories. Four tragic tales from the ancient past. Yet four stories that ring true to this day. If these stories and the images they conjure fail to drive us to tears, to righteous indignation, and then to collective action, then there is very little hope left.

1 Texts of Terror:Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia:Fortress Press, 1984), 128pp.

2 These images remind me of the over seven million Filipino migrant workers, most of whom are women. Only two million of them are recognized by the government as legal, the rest are illegal. Most of them are stripped of their passports the moment they get to their destinations. Many of them are forced into prostitution. Many bear the pain of leaving families behind to seek greener pastures, only to find a worse situation abroad. Flor Contemplacion and Sarah Balabagan are just two of these women. I am also reminded of our ancestors who were called "injuns,""niggers," and "brainless brown monkeys" by the white colonizers. In the beginning, only the white folk were called Filipinos. Then there was my mother, the most selfless woman I've known. From childhood, being the eldest in a brood of ten, to adulthood she served and served and served family and church, church and family. She didn’t even get the chance to experience the respite her children’s graduation promised. She died at 49.

3 This narrative strikes a sensitive chord for me. I know of so many mothers whose lives of hardship, of sacrifice is empowered by the dream that their daughters and sons, one day, would experience something better. And, again, I remember my mother. My parents dreamt of having four children, two girls and two boys, Alpha, Omega, Genesis and Revelation. My parents were very poor but very bright. It was actually stupid to dream of becoming pastors then. They did. God gave them Genesis, Revelation and then Alpha. Alpha's birth was very difficult. It triggered my mother's congenital heart condition. There were also complications. Having to leave the hospital early (due to financial difficulties) aggravated her condition. Omega was to remain a dream, the sister, my partner, who never was. Nanay never got to meet Omega, Genesis' daughter--so named in memory of a sister, a mother's dream for her children.


Friday, March 28, 2008

A Spirituality of Struggle

A SPIRITUALITY OF STRUGGLE*

Most leave their families and their work behind. With the barest of essentials they struggle to survive in the mountains. Up there they learn to live with lots of mosquitoes, lots of rain and mud. Up there one does not have porcelain toilet seats, nor decent bathrooms, nor even a regular bottle of Coca-Cola. In the dense jungles of the Sierra Madre mountains, they sleep with rusty World War II Garand rifles or, if they are lucky, old, Russian-made AK-47s or surplus Vietnam-era Armalite rifles. There they sleep half awake, half expecting that at any moment a military patrol will attack their camp or, worse, US-supplied helicopter gun-ships will blow away all of them--men, women, children, even the few pigs and the chickens they have--to kingdom come.

Some of them have been there since the late 60s. It has been a protracted war. Most of them are tired. Yet they continue fighting for the hope that has kept the movement going for close to 40 years now.1

In Mindanao, Lumad2 communities organize to demand their rights to their ancestral lands. Many of them have been killed, shot by "mistake" by soldiers or civilian CAFGUs3, the very same people who swore to defend and protect them.4 They ask the government for help, they ask their "elected" congress people for representation, they ask the churches for assistance in airing their side, they put streamers and banners around Mount Apo declaring it as holy ground, they go through peaceful channels. And they wait patiently. They wait hoping. While they wait, trans-nationals rape their land. Oil cartels desecrate Mount Apo in the name of development and for the sake of the majority. And Lake Lanao, the Maranaos’5 sacred waters, is re-channeled for progress' sake. Still the Lumads struggle and hope. And so do the Moslems and the Cordillera communities for genuine autonomy.6

In the CALABARZON7 area, prime agricultural land under CARP8 are converted into industrial estates overnight depriving farmers, the rightful heirs, ownership of the land they have lived and worked on for generations. Over 35,000 farmer families have been dislocated by this foreign-funded "development" project in Cavite alone. Although without the land that should be theirs, the farmers still have their voice. Together they have raised their voices in a collective effort to cry stop to the massive conversion. Community leaders have been salvaged9 while others have been threatened. Still with voices now hoarse, the peasants continue.

There are countless others like these people who actively hope and dream of a future where peace and justice and equality would reign, where children would live to be one hundred, where everyone gets to live in her/his own home, and eat and share the fruits of her/his labor. They actively dream and hope in spite of the seeming hopelessness of the situation, they continue struggling in spite of the deaths, in spite of the pain and the suffering they face.

What keeps them going? Most of them have spent almost all their lives struggling for just wages, for a place to sleep, for 3 square meals a day. Many have given up on the struggle. But much more have continued. What is this empowering spirit? It is the power that arouses people to respond most creatively and appropriately to the particular challenges of their situations. The challenge may have to do with land for the landless, equal rights for women and children, cultural identity. But at the very heart of all these challenges is the single hope for the coming of a new humanity, a new creation, whose every member enjoys the blessings of peace and of justice.10

This is the spirituality of Macli-ing Dulag11; a spirituality willing to be broken up in order to bring wholeness. This spirit, this breath, is LIFE itself.

The struggle for wholeness, for community, for justice allows one to be fully human, and being fully human allows one to struggle. When a person is immersed into the stream of the struggle, is one made whole or is one broken? Or both?

The feeling of being burned out, of running out of steam has been described as akin to battle fatigue, the feeling of being drained, the feeling of being spent.12 Here arose the need for an integrating and rejuvenating spirit, the same breath of life coming, blowing as a second--or third--wind. Those in the struggle need support systems and mechanisms for re-charging, for re-animating. Those in the struggle need to be re-assured that they are not alone. They have to be able to draw strength from the collective reality that--despite being separated by time and space--they have sisters and brothers who have walked, are walking and will walk the same hard road they have chosen to follow.13

A few get the opportunity to go on sabbaticals and retreats. Jesus is reported to have gone on retreats when he prayed alone. The transfiguration in Mark, when he went with Peter, James and John up a mountain, has been interpreted as Jesus' way of seeking his "second wind" in the light of what lay before him at Jerusalem. Sr. Rosario Battung and her group of nuns did not go to Palanan in 1977 for a retreat but I really believe that what they experienced there with the Dumagats, in their mutual affirmation of personhood, was a totally unexpected new "surge" of the spirit, a "rushing" of Life's wind.

How about the majority of people who have to face the nitty-gritty14 details of struggling through today? How about those who will never, ever, get the luxury of a sabbatical leave or even a weekend free? How about the people who have to confront the violence of poverty as a daily experience of life? Where do they get their first, or second, or third wind?

The religious leaders in Jesus' time accused him of being a "drunkard and a glutton" no doubt because he loved to host fellowship meals in the home he stayed in. He loved attending weddings and other community gatherings. Most of his parables centered on these gatherings. It is within the struggling communities' celebrations, not outside, that we receive this "rush" of life.15

Tired and weary, laborers on strike at EMI16 sit down together to have a round of drinks. It is here where people share their frustrations, their dreams, their hopes--amidst the bubbles of beer and the cigarette smoke--that the spirit blows. Soon they are back in the picketlines.17 Empowered by the brew? I do not think so.

High school students attending Lean Alejandro's18 funeral march stop for a little rest. A few are ready to quit because of the heat. Some are ready to quit because of the long 20-kilometer march. A lot more are ready to quit because of the presence of truncheon-wielding police. They share a loaf of bread. It is not much but everyone gets to have a bite. And they continue. Strengthened by the dough? I do not think so.

An NPA19 guerilla comes home in the cover of darkness to visit his family. His wife has taken care of their children alone for years. She is afraid for her husband, afraid for their children. He too is afraid. In the stillness of the night, they make love. And for one single moment the fear disappears. He leaves. She stays. The fears come back but now they are a little bit stronger to face them.

The wind blows where it wills and on that particular night it blew upon that couple.

To believe in spirit20 is to believe that faith is greater than fear, that love is stronger than indifference, that hope overcomes despair, that goodness triumphs over evil, and that life can and will conquer death. Despite the magnitude, complexity and apparent insolubility of our problems, humanity and creation can be and, in the end, will be liberated. Every form of evil--sickness, suffering, oppression, injustice, death--can be overcome21 and the only power that can achieve this is the power of people's faith in life, in the future and in one another.22

Notes:

* I’m borrowing the title of this brief essay from the book of my father-in-law, Rev. Melanio Aoanan, Th.D. He has written extensively on articulating the Filipino Theology of Struggle (coined by former SVD priest, Edicio dela Torre during the early ‘70s as expressive of the Filipinos’ celebration of victories, small or great, along the hard road to liberation). Detailed commentary and explanations of unfamiliar terms will be found in this section of the paper.

1 "Actually, one does not need theology to be committed to justice. One does not even have to believe in God. Any decent human being could decide in the midst of oppression and exploitation to work for justice for the sake of the oppressed and exploited people." (Mary John Mananzan, "Response from the Philippines: Commitment," Spirituality of the Third World, Abraham and Mbuy-Beya, eds. New York: Orbis, 1994, 182).

2 Lumad is the collective term used for the indigenous communities in Mindanao. A similar collective term is used for the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras, Igorots.

3 Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units were organized under the Aquino administration to “assist” the military in combating terrorism in the countryside.

4 There are massacres that we get to read in the newspapers. And there are massacres we never hear or read about. Bombings by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, using MG520 assault helicopters, OV-10 warplanes and 105mm howitzers have been used to flush out Lumads in Mindanao to allow “fast-track” (a term coined by President Ramos) development to happen in the island. The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines reports that hundreds of Manobo and Mamanwa Lumads have been displaced from Surigao del Sur. “War exercises” where 60 bombs were dropped in Agusan have left children dead, their bodies mangled, dismembered and strewn all over the place in Sitios Labuo and San Juan. Of course, government reports say that the children were killed after toying with a gun. When human rights groups raised a howl, the AFP admitted the killing with the reason that the children were used as shields by NPA guerillas (Massacre in the Highlands available at http://bioc09.uthscsa.edu/natnet/archive/nl/9601/0006.html).

5 People of the Lake.

6 Although ancestral lands were recognized in the Philippine 1987 constitution, subsequent laws like the Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991 has forced the Igorots out of their land. About 15% of the Philippine population are tribal peoples, the Igorots number about 1 million. But of course, without giving foreign companies from the former 40% to the present 100% ownership of the Cordilleras’ rich mining deposits, Philippines 2000 cannot be realized. These companies, with government support, now have the legal right to displace and resettle people within their concessionary areas (Urgent Action: Igorots of the Philippines available at http://bioc02.uthscsa.edu/natnet/archive/nl/9509/0203.html).

7 The foreign-funded CALABARZON project that covers the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon, hence the acronymn, is one of the centerpieces of the Ramos’ administration. This area is advertised to foreign investors as offering cheap labor, about $5/day, and as strike-free.

8 The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program passed under the Aquino administration earmarked hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land held by the landed few as subject to distribution to tenant farmers. Of course, the landed lawmakers wrote two provisions that will exempt their land: land deemed unfit for agriculture cannot be placed under land reform (overnight, irrigated lands were bulldozed to fit the “unfit for agriculture” category); tenants who do not want to own land but would want to continue serving the benevolent masters of their foreparents can choose to do so (so Aquino-Cojuanco Hacienda Luisita, 6,000+ hectares all, remain in the hands of the former president’s family after the tenants were convinced that they were not ready for ownership).

9 Salvage has acquired another meaning in the islands. To be salvaged is to be liquidated.

10 “Archetypes of a Spiritual Person,” Religion and Society. Manila:FIDES, 1988,245.

11 Macli-ing Dulag, Igorot chieftain, was killed by government forces in April 1980. He and his people were forced off their ancestral lands so that the the government can put up the Ambuclao and Biga Dams in the Cordilleras. Development was more important than any minority group’s burial sites. He is famous for his belief that, “We do not own the land, the land owns us.”

12 “On the Spirituality of Struggle,” Witness and Hope amid Struggle. Manila:FIDES, 1991, 91.

13 Anthony Pinn writes, "I believe that human liberation is more important than the maintenance of any religious symbol, sign, canon, or icon. It must be accomplished....despite the damage done to cherished religious principles and traditions. Holding to this belief, I will stand and fall." (Why, Lord? New York: Continuum, 1995, 11). I agree. In the movie "Romero," Father Grande (played by Richard Jordan) tells Bishop Romero (played by Raul Julia), "How can I love God whom I cannot see if I cannot love my brothers and sisters whom I see?" Matthew 25: 31-46 is one of my favorite texts in the Bible, I've often called it the parable of the Great Surprise. Both groups were either blessed or cursed because of what they did or did not do for people, not because of what they did or did not do for God. The parable also reminds us that working for human liberation takes seriously the needs of the the whole person.

14 Term used by Pinn to describe the hard, concrete, raw realities of life (see Pinn, 116-117).

15 It is in the most ordinary that we encounter the transcendent. It is in the secular that we meet the sacred. Jesus’ abiding presence is most real in a community’s sharing of food and drink.

16 EMI or Eds Manufacturing, Incorporated is one of the biggest transnational, industrial complexes in Cavite. Workers there are hired on temporary, 6-month contracts. Those who perform well during those six months will be hired for another six months. Security of tenure does not exist in this company’s vocabulary. Unions are illegal. Still the workers organize. They join the KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, or Labor Day Movement), the umbrella organization of supposedly “lelftist” labor unions in the Philippines. A hundred ants cannot face an elephant on their own but a hundred thousand ants probably can.

17 Sr. Mary John Mananzan writes: "I joined a group called 'Interfaith Theological Circle,' which aimed at evolving a 'Filipino Theology' in the air-conditioned library of the university. Needless to say, we came under critique for undertaking 'intellectual gymnastics.' After a period of defensiveness, we realized that it was indeed futile to evolve such theology without being involved in the struggle of the people. That was what made me respond to the invitation of the workers of a wine factory "La Tondena" to accompany them when the military threatened to arrest them....During this first encounter with military brutality, I felt helpless when the military came, beat the workers, and herded the bloody mass of humanity like animals into waiting buses. That was my starting point." ("Response from the Philippines: Commitment," 183).

18 Lean Alejandro, secretary-general of BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan), was gunned down at 27 in 1987. His murder sent a message to militant organizations, among them the League of Filipino Students (LFS), the Student Christian Movement (SCM) and the University of the Philippines Christian Youth Movement (UPCYM), to stop all politically-charged mass actions. The students stopped alright, they stopped being harrassed and staged one of the biggest funeral marches ever held. The march began at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and ended about 20 kilometers later in Navotas, Malabon.

19 The communist New People’s Army was born on August 1967. Founder Bernabe Buscayno (alias Commander Dante), a peasant farmer from Tarlac, was captured under Marcos’ rule and then later released by the Aquino administration. He now heads the 3,000 plus strong farmers’ cooperative in his home province. Reports vary on the strength of the army at the present, estimates run from 10,0000-30,000.

20 This spirit, this breath of life which binds everything together can also be called God. It is interesting that John Taylor in his Go-Between God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973) believes that God is the “and” in You and Me. God is the power that creates relationships of mutuality. God is the go-between. Also, if God is God, then I think it’s not very important for God to receive worship and adoration. If God is the parent of us all, then like any human parent, God’s greatest joy would be to see God’s children sharing with and caring for one another.

21 Adopted from Albert Nolan's Jesus Before Christianity. New York: Orbis, 1978, 140-141.

22 "Humanity," Pinn argues at the end of his book (158), "is far better of fighting with the tools it has--a desire for transformation, human creativity, physical strength, and untapped collective potential."

Again, I quote scripture to offer my agreement with Pinn’s point. William Herzog’s Parables as Subversive Speech (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994) served as major resource for this reaction.

Again, I quote “parables about people’s struggles” to support my point. The Laborers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) offer us a portrait of an oikodespotes, a despot, an elitist oppressor who, in order to possess, to ensure a timely harvest, offers a denarius--subsistence level pay--to workers; workers who'll take anything just to get by today. Is this what God's reign is--as the church has proclaimed the parable to be--going to be like? More of the same oppression and exploitation?

The Tenants in the Vineyard (Mk 12:1-12) initially possess the land after claiming it violently from its absentee landlord. But "...what then will the owner of the vineyard do?" How can we reclaim our status as rightful heirs of the land if violence always ends in violence? Are there other ways to assert our claims?

In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) Jesus uses Abraham as paradigm of the blessed rich to shock his listeners: Father Abraham should have received the rich man into his bosom but he does not; he receives Lazarus--poor Lazarus who dies and doesn't even get to be buried. The elite, possessed by possessions, have for so long used Abraham as justification for their oppression.

"How do we get ourselves out of debt?," people ask. A good King might do it or even a Christian president or a Christian senate. The parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt 18:23-35) reminds us of the hopelessness of looking for deliverance in a king (or president). Rulers are part of the system that created them. The parable proposes that neither messianic hope nor popular kingship can resolve the people's dilemma. To reshape their world, to assert their claim as God's heirs, the people must look elsewhere.

The Talents (Mt 25:14-30;Lk 19:11-27) offer a portrait of the whistle blower; the one who, sickened by the system, cries, "Enough!" It offers us a glimpse of the dispossessed who live in the outer darkness, far from the centers of power and light, struggling to survive from day to day, "weeping and gnashing teeth," Pinn’s nitty-gritty experience.

The Friend at Midnight (Lk 11:5-8) paints a different kind of portrait. Village peasants offer hospitality to visitors and sojourners and are engaged in little acts that challenge the efforts of their oppressors to dehumanize them. Rather than cave in to the desire to hoard and accumulate, as the rich then and now do, peasants, then and now, continue to cooperate and to provide hospitality. Their shameless social order of small redistribution of food and resources foreshadows a different order of human relations.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last Words...

LAST WORDS

(Binan UCCP, 21 March 2008)

Last words are important to many of us. Famous last words include
Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” and Antonio Luna’s “P___ -Ina!” Those of us who watched the coverage of FPJ's wake and burial four years ago will remember the variety of remembrances of people who talked about his last words to them. My late mother's last words to me--when we were in the air-conditioned ER of the Philippine Heart Center--were: "Anak mainit, paypayan mo ako." And, of course, the most famous last words ever
recorded would be Jesus’ Seven as found in the gospels: Mark and Matthew have one; Luke has three; and John has three.


Many Christians do not read the Bible. We read books about the Bible and parts of the Bible. If the Gospels were movies, the way most of us “read” is akin to watching only parts of a movie, not the whole show.

Now, who among us only watch parts of a movie--5 minutes of Spider-Man 3 or 10 minutes of Marimar? The Gospels are complete narratives.I propose studying Jesus’s Last Words based on that fundamental assumption.In other words, if Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were movies or tele-dramas, then Jesus’s dying words play important roles in how the stories play out.

Last Words-- Matthew

If one reads Mark and Matthew from beginning to end, one will discover that both narratives privilege Galilee as locus of God’s activity. Most of Jesus’s healing, teaching, and preaching ministry happen in Galilee. In the Matthean and Markan narrative Jerusalem is bad news. Jesus is betrayed in Jerusalem. Jesus is arrested, tortured, and executed in the Holy City. Jesus dies in Jerusalem. One can even argue that God forsakes Jesus in Jerusalem, thus at the point of death he cries, “Eli, Eli lama sabacthani?” or “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Many of us who grew up in church and in
Sunday school remember the countless number of Bible verses we memorized. Many of us hated the ritual. I know I did when I was growing up. We thought those verses were useless until something happened in our
lives and then the verses suddenly took on a life all their own.


The Jesus of Matthew was rooted in the Hebrew Scripture. At the lowest point in his life, near death, Jesus was not blaming God. He was quoting Scripture. Psalm 22 to be exact. I have witnessed people pass from this life to the life beyond and quite a few were quoting scripture. Remember that Matthew does not end with Jesus dying on the cross. The gospel ends with God raising Jesus from the dead. Psalm 22 begins with despair but ends with triumph and an affirmation of faith in a God who saves. Go and read it.
Jesus’ last words in Matthew celebrate the promise of Immanuel. In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. God is with us. Always.

Last Words—Mark

In Mark, Jesus cries, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani” and dies. Unlike Matthew, the risen Jesus does not appear in the ending. Check your Bibles. The gospel ends in 16:8, where we find women silent and afraid. What we have in the story is a young man who tells the women that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee and will be waiting for them there. Jesus is not in the tomb. He is not in Jerusalem. He is not where we want him to be. He is back in Galilee where his ministry began and he is waiting for us there. And we are afraid. Why? Because we know that this path will eventually lead to the cross. We know that following Jesus will lead to suffering and, yes, death.

Unlike Matthew, Luke, and John where we find beautiful stories of the resurrection—Jesus appears to Magdalene, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, by the beach and eats breakfast with his followers, Mark offers a young man with a confirmation of a promise – Jesus is risen just as he told you. We do not see Jesus. We are told to believe he is risen. And it is only in going back to Galilee, in places we do not want to go, in ministering among the poorest and the most oppressed, that we will eventually find him.

The last words of Jesus in Mark are dying words. The gospel does not end with Jesus’ triumphant words as a risen Lord but with a young man’s affirmation of God’s resurrection power: that hope is stronger than despair, that faith is greater than fear, that love is more powerful than indifference, and that life will always, always conquer death.

Last Words—Luke

Many Filipinos love the Gospel according to Luke. I read somewhere that our favorite parables are The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan. Both come from Luke. A lot of the scriptural support for the Roman Catholic Church’s theology of preferential option for the poor is based on Luke.

God is definitely pro-poor in Luke. Jesus’s birth is announced to poor shepherds. Jesus's first sermon--which almost gets him killed--is a proclamation of good news to the poor. And this God who loves the poor so much is most often described as a loving parent. From Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the Father of the Prodigal Son who waited patiently for his son’s return, to Father Abraham who takes poor Lazarus into his bossom… the Gospel of Luke reminds us, offers us metaphors of God’s unconditional love as parent. At the cross, two of Jesus’s last three words in Luke are addressed to his father. Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” If God is our parent and we are all God’s children, then we should ACT as brothers and sisters. This means not behaving like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or like the Rich Man in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This means acting like the Good Samaritan who did not consider the wounded Jew as an enemy but as a brother. Jesus in Luke challenges his followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who hate them. Jesus set the example. We call ourselves Jesus followers but do we really follow? If Jesus is our "Kuya" then our words and our deeds should remind others of our "kuya."

Bombing Afghanistan, invading Iraq, trampling on Philippine sovereignty in the guise of "visiting rights"-- are Jesus's brothers and sisters supposed to do these things? Jesus says to one of the criminals crucified with him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Filipinos are social creatures. The worst punishment for Filipinos is solitary confinement. Many Filipinos turn on radios and televisions when they are alone, not to listen or watch, but simply to create a semblance of community. God’s salvation is a community project. No one can be a Christian alone. When God saves, God saves communities and peoples. To celebrate the incarnation is to celebrate that God has left heaven to be with us. So no one lives and dies alone. God is with us. In the midst of death on the cross, Jesus reminds his fellow victim that he is not alone. Hindi siya nag-iisa.

Then Jesus says, “Father, into they hands I commit my spirit.” Luke follows Mark and Matthew’s lead here. Jesus also quotes an Old Testament Psalm. In this case Psalm 31. It is also like Psalm 22, a Psalm of deliverance. Jesus believed in a God who will never forsake. And God does not forsake Jesus. Many of us pray Jesus's prayer before we sleep at night. We commit everything to God, yet we stay up all night thinking of so many things only God has control over. Let us follow Jesus. Even in death, he knew that he was safe in God’s hands. We are never alone.

We will never be alone.


Last Words—John

If one reads the Gospel of John from start to finish one will discover that the story celebrates the discipleship of the unnamed. In other words, the most effective followers of Jesus in the story have no names. The Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well, who runs to her people to share her experience with Jesus, is unnamed. The young boy who offers the five loaves and two fish so that Jesus can feed over five thousand people is also unnamed. The beloved disciple who plays a role bigger than Peter’s in the story is also unnamed. But most important of all, the only disciple who we find at the beginning and at the end of Jesus’s life is also unnamed: Jesus’s mother. We find the two—Jesus’s mother and the beloved disciple—at the foot of the cross. Jesus says to them, “Woman behold your son; behold your mother.” Jesus asks that his two faithful disciples take care of each other. Love is the key theme of the Gospel of John. God became human because of love. The world is supposed to be blessed by our love for each other. Jesus in John leaves his followers only one commandment—for us to love one another as Jesus loved us. Mothers behold your sons; sons behold your mothers; parents behold your children; children behold your parents. We are members of the family of God and our primary task is to live in love for each other, like a family: each one willing to offer one’s life for the other.


Then Jesus says, “I thirst.” Again, in the Johannine story, particularly in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus is the Living Water. Thus, many people find it puzzling that the one who says he is Living Water is suddenly thirsty. And he is given vinegar by his executioners.
Like Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s quotations, John’s “I thirst” represents a quote from the Old Testament--Psalm 69. Faith draws strength from the past. Like Daniel’s three friends who faced death, yet believed in a God who will deliver them as God has delivered in the past, Jesus affirms the same unwavering faith in a deliverer God. And God did deliver Daniel’s three friends. And God delivered David (who wrote the Psalm). And Jesus believed God will deliver him, as well.

Then Jesus says, “It is finished.” The End. Jesus is dead. Remember the only commandment Jesus left his followers in the Gospel of John—greater
love hath no one than this, that one offers one’s life for another? Jesus does
exactly that. His life was an offering. And we are challenged to do the same. At the beach Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Jesus… We are asked the same thing. Can we love as Jesus loved? Jesus was not alone when he faced the cross. And his last words on the cross affirmed his faith in God, in people, in the transforming power of love and life, and empowered him to face death. Psalm 22 which Jesus quotes in Matthew and Mark, Psalm 69 which he quotes in John, and Psalm 31 which he quotes in Luke celebrate a God who delivers, a God who liberates, a God who will always take the side of the poor and the oppressed, a God who will not forsake us. And God did not forsake Jesus.


And God will never forsake us.

[Preached at the Binan UCCP, Good Friday, 2008]