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: " 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.


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.