Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NO ROOM?

The first Christmas: we re-enact it almost every December. In our school plays and our church pageants. In our re-enactments, Joseph and a very pregnant Mary find no room in any inn. No one is ready and willing to welcome the couple. Eventually, they find shelter among animals, in a manger, where Jesus is born. Soon, visitors arrive: angels, shepherd, even the Little Drummer Boy in some of our plays, and then the magi bringing gifts. Incidentally, in one TV spot, one of the magi brings the Baby Jesus the newest Android Smartphone. In a painting going around in our social networks, the magi cannot visit Jesus because an apartheid wall blocks their path. Our plays usually end on a happy note because we either end it with everyone singing carols or with a rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, sang by the choir or blasted through our sound systems. And we forget that the play ended the way it began: there was no room in the inn. In rare occasions we do find people going against the script. Sometimes, someone from the audience, someone from our congregations would volunteer to welcome Joseph, Mary, and Joseph to their homes. Sometimes, we hear someone crying out: “There is a place for them in our home.” Today is one of those times when we are challenged to affirm that “there is a place in our homes.” Today, more than ever, we need to go against the script. We cannot afford to close our doors. We cannot afford to put up walls. We cannot afford to be inhospitable. We cannot afford to spend Christmas without opening our homes to the Christ who confronts us through the least among the least: the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the prisoners, the unclothed, the stranger, the orphan, the widow… the thousands left homeless and devastated in the Visayas and Mindanao by the tragedy we call Sendong; the thousands victimized by years of unabated mining, logging, and deforestation. Today, we are called to have open hearts, open homes, open doors…

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday Homily... An Invitation

An Invitation from Galilee Most of us love stories with surprises. The women in Mark 16: 1-8 were in for a few surprises themselves. They went to the tomb that early Sunday morning bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body worrying about the stone blocking the tomb. Unlike the many doors in our homes and churches and buildings—with its specific locks and, even, numeric codes—the women had no key to unlock the door. The women expected a locked tomb, they expected a dead body inside, and they expected to use the spices they brought to anoint that dead body. But, and we all know this already, when they got there the stone had already been rolled away, the tomb was empty, there was no dead body to anoint—Jesus was not where they expected him to be. Like the women at the tomb, we want Jesus in a box, with a lock, where we could do whatever we want to do with him. Moreover, like the women we expect Jesus to be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, in Mark, is supposed to be a holy place. It is where God is supposed to be. It is a monument to faith and the faithful. Do not forget this—the women went to the tomb expecting a dead Jesus. Over and over in the Markan story, especially in chapters 8, 9 and 10, Jesus told his followers that he will rise to life. Jesus’ followers did not believe him. They went to the tomb to visit a dead person. Dead people have no power over us. Sure we visit their graves once or twice a year. For many Christians, churches have become tombs—where they visit Jesus an hour or two once a week. A dead Jesus has no power over us; he cannot make demands on our lives, on our work, on our time, our talents, our treasures, our plans and commitments. A dead Jesus is a safe Jesus. But alas, Jesus is not dead and he is not where we want him to be. He is risen. And he is not in heaven nor is he in Jerusalem nor in the exclusive elitist clubs we call churches. He is back in Galilee—where we don’t want him to be, among the sick, the poor, the demon-possessed, the marginalized. He is back in Galilee along the path that ultimately led to his crucifixion, along the path that ultimately led to the offering of his life. And he is already there waiting for us. Waiting for us to walk the same path and offer the same offering. Do we have the faith and the heart to go and meet Jesus in Galilee? Do we?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The International Day of the Disappeared and the Empty Tomb

We, who call ourselves Christian, should not forget that the One we call Lord and Liberator was an Executed God. He was abducted in the dead of night, unjustly tried, beaten, tortured, and executed between two rebels. Then his body was thrown into a borrowed grave. In the Gospel of Mark, at dawn on Sunday three of his disciples, all women, visit the grave to anoint his dead body. They find the grave empty. There was no body. Jesus had disappeared.

The Gospel of Mark ends with the women described as silent and afraid. Jesus had disappeared.

Today, August 30 is the International Day of the Disappeared. We are invited to stand in solidarity with friends & families of the missing who continue to seek justice, and in remembrance of the thousands of desaparecidos in the Philippines, in many Third World countries, and around the world.

Like the women at the tomb, many of us are silent and afraid. Like the women in the tomb, we want to find The Disappeared. We want to find them alive. Or if they are dead, we want to find their bodies. We want to anoint them with fragrant oils. Maybe build a monument or set up a memorial for them. We want closure.

But the message of the young man in the empty tomb is as real today as it was thousands of years ago… Jesus is not in the tomb. He is risen. He is in Galilee… Waiting for you.

We believe in the resurrection. We believe that good will always triumph over evil; that faith is stronger than fear; that love is greater than indifference; and that life will always, always conquer death… We also believe that The Disappeared will rise again in tens, in hundreds, in thousands who fight and struggle for justice, for peace, for liberation. The Disappeared are not here. Like Jesus, they are risen. They are in Galilee where the good news is preached to the poor, where the hungry are given food, where liberation is proclaimed to the captives…

The Disappeared are waiting for us.

The Pais, Onesimus, and a Canaanite Mother

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we find a story about a rich military officer, a centurion, who came to Jesus seeking healing for his sick slave. Jesus gave him his wish. Restore things back to where they were before. A sick slave is worthless to his master. A sick slave, so sick he is paralyzed, has no use to his owner. Almost every time this story is preached Jesus or the centurion gets to be the hero. We do not hear the voice of the sick slave. We do not even know his name. We do not know why he was sick or why he was paralyzed. We only know what his owner, what his master said.

Then and now, nothing has changed. The voices we hear are those of the owners, the masters, the rich, and those in power. Nothing has changed. They tell us that their slaves are indolent; that they are weak and sickly; that they are not trustworthy; that they are thieves; that they ran away; that they have no sense of indebtedness or gratitude; and, when their slaves die, owners, masters, the rich, and the powerful tell the world that they committed suicide.

The slave, pais in Greek, in the Gospels was a child, possibly twelve years old. Many of us do not know that he was a child slave. Then and now, it is possible that the reason why he was sick, the cause of his paralysis was his master. It is possible that he was beaten, maltreated, abused, and even raped.[1] But we do not hear his voice or his cries. We do hear Jesus’ and the centurion’s.

In St. Paul’s letter to Philemon there is another slave. Onesimus. We also do not hear him speak. He was a runaway. Countless interpreters of this story tell us that Onesimus, more than a runaway, was a thief. He was useless. He had no sense of gratitude. Almost every time this story is preached Paul or Philemon gets to be the hero. No one, ever, takes Onesimus’ side.

If we read the story, and read centuries’ worth of stories about this story, Onesimus is described as a tool, a commodity, an object. According to Paul, Onesimus was once useless; now, that he had become a Christian, he was useful. Profitable. Before he was just a slave; now he was a Christian; now he was a super slave. Hyper doulon in Greek.

Millions of people worldwide treat Filipinos as super slaves; because we are Christian. As such we can bear more pain. We can endure. Because we know English we can be cursed, belittled, humiliated, and treated like dogs in a language we understand.

The education system in our country is imperial. This began over a century ago when, during the American occupation of the islands, the first General Superintendent of Education commented 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.”[2] Every day, in our schools, we prepare our children to become tools; we equip them to remain children and childlike and thus become slaves to the world.

Who benefits from all these? Who defines who are “useful” and who are “useless”? Why are the lives of the oppressed and marginalized getting worse? Why are the poor getting poorer? Every single day, over four thousand of our fellow Filipinos go abroad to look for work: work that barely pays the minimum wage. Why? Onesimus is alive. The pais is alive. Millions are like them; struggling to survive in foreign lands. And their numbers grow every day. Many of them are sick. Many are so sick they cannot walk. Many have run away to escape inhuman treatment and harrowing conditions. Many will never see the Philippines again.

President Aquino is not the answer to our cries for justice. Not his administration. Not the masters. Not the rich. Not the powerful.

In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark we find a story about a mother, a foreigner, a Canaanite who came to Jesus. Her daughter was sick. She was probably twelve years old too: like the pais, like the centurion’s slave. She begged Jesus for help. She was initially ignored. She was a foreigner. She was even treated like a dog. Yet she persevered. And she persisted. And because she persevered, because she persisted, she got what she came for: her child was healed. Even if she was humiliated, even if she was not taken seriously, even if she had to beg, even if she was treated as second-class, she got what she came for: a healing for her child. And she was the “little bitch” who she taught Jesus a lesson.

Like the mother who persisted and persevered, we are the answer to our prayers. We are the families split apart when loved ones leave for abroad. We are the families who have to bear the loneliness and the pain of separation. We are the parents whose children are buried in foreign lands. We are the children whose parents are taken away from us. We are the poor, the marginalized, those treated like dogs, those whose voices are never, ever, heard. We are the mothers who will do anything and everything for our children’s welfare. We are the fathers who will storm the gates of hell to get our children back home safe. We are the children whose outrage will break the silence of heaven. We will make sure that God hears our mourning, our anger, and our collective cries for justice.

Let us come together. Let us struggle as one: for justice, for dignity, for life, for liberation. We are the answer to our prayers.

[1] Like Rosario Baluyot.

[2] Atkinson quoted in Daniel B. Schirmer, “The Conception and Gestation of a Neocolony,” The Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol 5. No. 1, 1975, 43-44.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dancing, Women, and Prophets

The oldest Christian tradition, quite possibly formulated within the first decade from Jesus’ crucifixion, is the Christological hymn that Paul quotes in Philippians 2: 5-11. Hebrew Bible scholars agree that the oldest tradition from Ancient Israel, quite possibly already circulating a generation or two from the Exodus event, is found in the book of Exodus. Chapter 15: 20-21 to be exact. Let me read it in its entirety….
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the LORD,
for God is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
God has hurled into the sea
This passage, over three thousand years old, challenges many of our most cherished practices and traditions. First, the main characters in this oldest poem are women. Not men. Second, their faith expression is dancing, not preaching. Third, their leader is a prophet, not a priest; a woman, not a man; Miriam, not Moses.
Let me say it again: In this most ancient Old Testament account, we have women, we have dancing, and we have a prophet, Miriam. Dancing is one of the oldest forms of worship. Dance is a language of faith. Melinda Grace Aoanan once said: “To sing to to pray twice. To dance, on the other hand, is to pray three times!” To dance is to celebrate the cycles and circles of life. To dance is to offer thanksgiving for babies born and loved ones departed, for bountiful harvests and sweet-smelling rice, for dreams realized and abundant life for all. To dance, in Miriam and the women’s case, was to celebrate God’s liberating acts. DANCE IS A LANGUAGE OF FAITH.
Remember this, my friends. A people enslaved for centuries find themselves free. Yahweh had delivered them. God had heard their cries. God had come down to liberate them. God had accomplished what God had promised. And what is the first thing they do to celebrate their deliverance? THEY DANCE.
God continues to deliver people from bondage. God continues to liberate those who are imprisoned. God continues to hear the cries of the poor and of those whose only hope is God. And what are we supposed to do to celebrate God’s continuing liberating acts?
WE DANCE.