Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Prayer for (Hacienda Luisita) Farmers

O God of life and love,
You created the earth, its seas and lands.
You let the land produce vegetation to be food
for all peoples and the beasts of the earth.
From humus You formed humankind
to till the ground and take care of the earth.
You fill parched lands with water,
and bring in those who are hungry
to settle there and cultivate the soil.
You have wanted farmers to plant
and to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Yet a voice is heard in the countryside
mourning and great weeping,
raging and deep despair.
Farmers rage and wail for their children,
for their future seems so bleak and dreary.
You have heard their groans and moans.
You are the God of all families on these islands.
All of us are your people; all of us your sons and daughters:
the poor and the rich, the landless and the landed,
the hungry and the healthy, the simple and the smart,
living in huts and haciendas, in dumpsites and mansions.
Bring us all closer together in our shared humanity
and our shared faith in You
as a God of justice, peace and freedom.

May we feel your Spirit of compassion and wisdom within us.
Touch our hearts, and enlighten us on how best we can empower
poor farmers to raise themselves from their affliction.
Set them free from their bondage to hunger and misery.

May those who have oppressed them for so long
repent and repair what they have ruined.
We ask this with trust in your justice and mercy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Atoning Sacrifice

Christians believe that the story of Christ expands the meaning of Hebrew Scripture. For example, the First Letter of John (2:2) says that Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
We understand better how Christ is the atoning sacrifice by turning to the Book of Leviticus which in Scripture has the biggest collection of ritual & sacrificial teachings especially for the priests of the tribe of Levi.

One reads: “When any human comes near to sacrifice to Yhwh...” (Lev 1:2). Yakriv (Heb: come near) has the same root (k-r-v) as korban (Heb: sacrifice). Thus, “a the means by which we draw near to God & God draws near & is drawn near to us” (Shoshana Gelfand).

The offerer laid his hand on the animal’s head, as an act of identification, & slaughtered it himself (1:4-5). Then “the priests shall bring the blood & sprinkle it against the altar.”
“Since the layman has identified himself with the animal, & since the altar represents God, the sprinkling of the blood around the altar is symbolic of the union of the offerer & God; one life (blood) flows between God & the offerer” (Marcel Gervais).
Thus, for a believer, to drink Christ’s blood especially in the Eucharist is to be united with his life & mission of sacrifice.

In Leviticus (1:7-9), the priests burn the victim’s remains on the altar as “an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.”
“The (burnt offering) represents the kind of flaming passion in which the individual is totally consumed by the relationship with the other” (Gelfand). At least one can say that, if you want to respond to God’s call to come near (the fire of divine love), you sacrifice (& get ready to have burns).
Unfortunately, many Christians want to enjoy the benefits of divine love without undergoing the requisite sacrifice. As one Hiligaynon proverb puts it:
Kon diin ang luto, didto ang sunggo;
Kon diin ang hilaw, didto ang likaw.
(Once cooked, all gather,
but for the cooking, all evade.)

In Leviticus (1:9), the burnt offering is turned into smoke that rises as “an aroma pleasing to Yhwh.”
“The pleasant odor that rises from the burning victim represents the offerer himself rising to God & being accepted by God as pleasing. The goal of the sacrifice is atonement, i.e. at-one-ment, union of the offerer & God.” (Gervais)
Leviticus helps us understand better this Christian proclamation: “Christ loved us & gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering & sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2).

Christ is the Atoning Sacrifice because he kept faith in the nearness of the loving Father despite the hellish foulness of Golgotha, where he was unjustly executed, demonized by his enemies, forsaken by his friends & besieged by the sheer silence & seeming absence of the Father.

Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins because his cry on the cross & last breath, or the complete Spirit he yielded, enable sinners, even the foulest kind, to discover the mysterious nearness of God in the depths of themselves, within their individual & collective bodies, and to return or go deeper into this fragrant mystery.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Gifts

While his male disciples abandoned him, Christ’s female followers witnessed his crucifixion & his burial “from a [safe] distance” (Mark 15:40-41,47).
While after his execution the disciples of John the Baptist came to take his remains for burial (6:29), the disciples of the crucified Jesus were too afraid or ashamed to come forward to do the same.

“The fearlessness of Joseph of Arimathea in requesting the body of Jesus is noted in contrast to the cowardly dispersal of the disciples. Joseph does what the disciples of Jesus should have done. He courageously associates himself with the crucified Jesus & gives him a proper burial.” (Stephen Binz)
“Within Judaism the anointing of a body for burial was the highest corporal work of mercy because it made those who performed it unclean themselves.
“To anoint the body of a condemned criminal, especially one who was crucified, was seen beyond the limit of service, for many Jews believed that such a one was abandoned even by God.” (Megan McKenna)
Joseph supplied what was lacking in the fearful disciples & lived up to his name, Yosef (Hebrew): may He add.
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (16:1).
Perhaps their reflective silence in observance of the Sabbath strengthened the women to do a belated work of mercy. Thus the first recipients of the Easter message (“He has risen”) were women who attempted an act of mercy.
Even belatedly, “we must go forth, after we have worshipped, into the tombs & cities & their outskirts to make sure that all those who have suffered, even killed, are treated with respect & honor” (McKenna).

On their way to the burial place, the women asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (16:3). Perhaps they were like Filipinos who could add under their breath, “Ba(t)hala na (Let God take care of it).”
Indeed God already took care of it. In their attempt to perform an act of mercy toward the body of Christ trampled by sin, they would discover the Resurrection already at work.
Today, we can discover in acts of mercy, in feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, employing the jobless, generating decent jobs, empowering the powerless, the Resurrection already at work.

Inside the tomb, the women find a young man dressed in a white robe who says to them, “He has risen...Go tell his disciples & Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (16:5-7)
The young man in a white (baptismal) robe represents every baptized person who is empowered to proclaim the Easter message so much so that the (spectacular) appearance of the Risen Christ is unnecessary.
Indeed there is no appearance of the Risen Lord with the original ending of Mark’s gospel (16:8): “Trembling & bewildered, the women went out & fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Why did the earliest gospel end this way?
“Mark leaves the Gospel incomplete because the good news of Jesus is incomplete. It must be taken up & proclaimed by people in every generation.” (Binz)
Why were the women afraid? Were they fearful of rebuke or retribution from the Lord, who in his suffering they left alone surrounded by enemies who taunted & demonized him?

The disciples were told to go (back) to Galilee, where Jesus’ ministry started, to rise above their shameful cowardice & to begin anew.
Were the disciples afraid to start anew after shameful failure? Were they afraid to go back to ministry in a poor region like Galilee, to take up the cross again, to follow a Suffering Messiah?

The Easter message has reached our generation. Thankfully, the women overcame their fearfulness, and the men listened to the women & proceeded together to where everything began.

“On the road back to Galilee [144 kms through rough terrain] they became a believing community,” an Easter community (McKenna).
What could have been discovered, discussed & understood on the rough road?
“God’s promise was never that life would be fair. God’s promise was that we won’t have to confront the pain & the unfairness alone.
“The 23rd Psalm doesn’t say...‘I will fear no evil because people get what they deserve & I’m a good person.’” (Harold Kushner)

This Easter, may the following be gifts we discover & cherish:
1. Acts of mercy by the baptized reveal Christ’s resurrection here & now.
2. We can discover the Resurrection whenever we dare start anew after (great) sin or failure.
3. Easter people proclaim in word & deed the good news that nobody will have to confront pain & unfairness alone.
Have the “women’s story” reached me to begin anew?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Love's Tongue & Christ's Cry

“You, my God, lonesome man,
Love’s bitten tongue
Heaven’s incredible wound”
(Vassar Miller, 1924-1998).

One can say that, on the cross, Christ bit his tongue, as he restrained himself from cursing both his enemies who were insulting him & his faithless disciples who abandoned him. (Do I not also bite my tongue especially when I try to restrain myself from unnecessarily hurting somebody with my words?)
Most of all, Jesus restrained himself from cursing his Father, whose sheer silence & seeming absence at Calvary was Christ’s last & most difficult temptation.
Christ’s last cry on the cross was inscrutable (Mark 15:37) like that of somebody with a severely bitten tongue. Yet this last cry & breath tore the curtain of the temple from top to bottom (15:38) & confirmed the destruction of an institution that no longer could bear fruits of justice & mercy (11:12-21). It was also a cry “for those who hunger & thirst for God’s Reign of justice & peace” (Megan McKenna).

The tempted Christ, the naked Adam on the cross, kept faith in the loving Father’s plan of service in suffering & thus transformed the cruel cross into the new tree of knowledge, power, justice & life.
Every Christian’s cross, whether small or big, is the burning bush of Christ’s faithful presence in each moment.
This is beautifully expressed in the following lines from Vassar Miller’s poem, “A Duller Moses”:

“On time’s bramble bush impaling me
Each moment is a thorn aflame with God
Burning within, without me night & day.”

“I tremble dreaming between sleep & sleep
That He, both radiance & incendiary,
In my heart lies as on the cross He lay
(Which bed is fouler?), making my bone-heap –
Oh, monstrous miracle! – God’s sanctuary.”

With the breath & cry of “Love’s bitten tongue,” Christ on the cross creates a living temple in the believer’s heart, where echo the cries of brothers & sisters suffering with their crosses & hungering for divine justice & peace.