by Levy Abad
The decision of our Pastor to go on Sabbatical to do some immersion in the North and learn about the different forms of being a Church is a radical step. It is radical in the sense that it constitutes a break from the convenience of living in the city and a leap towards uncertainty. It is like leaving heaven and consciously embracing a world which is vastly different in terms of economics, culture, and expressions of being a church. It can be likened to a seed touching ground and taking root and nurturing itself with the nutrients of a different terrain.
I remember the last time I talked to our Pastor. His views expressed in the articles on his blog, reflective of his concrete experience of the church in the north of the province surprised me, for I noticed the qualitative change in his worldview. I even told him jokingly, “Listen to yourself, Pastor? It’s like you’re telling me about a different world.” The world of the marginalized. It is no longer just the articulation of a sound theology, but a substantiation of liberative idea gained by experience through preferential option for the poor/marginalized. It can be likened to Moses’s rejecting of his role as a prince of Egypt and deciding to serve the oppressed by leading the Exodus. But the question is how many in a given community will (have the readiness) be touched by the Spirit to plunge into and have a taste of the Exodus experience? From having a taste of the Exodus experience of siding with the marginalized, how many will endure and have a deeper experience of the Garden of Gethsemane where you find yourself in a dilemma of choosing between preserving oneself and upholding the Kingdom of God, which the prophetic option entails? How many will open their doors as a refuge for the marginalized? How many will risk being misunderstood for the sake of being a part of announcing and building the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven?
I remember Jesus when he told the rich man in the scripture to leave everything behind and follow him in Matthew 19:21: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” I noticed that most of the prophets in the scripture or the disciples and the early apostles really prioritized serving the Kingdom of God as an option and this usually starts with immersion in a given context of oppression.
Going back to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in anguish and said “Father, if it be possible, let this cup from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Further in verse 42, “My father it this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” In this instance, even Jesus felt the outcome of his radical activity of actually going to the root of everything and questioning the status quo when he entered the temple and delivered his seven woes (Matthew 23:1-36) to the authorities who are in cahoots with the Empire. Jesus, in his praxis of Redemption /Liberation, clearly saw the violent reaction coming when he told Judas “You have to do what you have to do.” We must not forget that during this period, what Jesus started was still a movement of building the Kingdom of God and not an institutionalized religion fettered by empire and theocratic greed.
Reflecting on my experience brings me back to the time my brothers and sisters in the democratic and human rights movement in the Philippines were one by one felled by bullets during the late nineties and early years of the present decade. Democracy movement in the Third World has nothing to do with how it is unknowingly appreciated in the First World that is enjoying the fruits of neo-colonial plunder and violence. Rather, it is a prophetic cry against imperialist greed in its varied forms, viewed from the perspective of justice and compassion.
Most of us were scared during those times, but as always, when the situation demands a prophetic voice and the task is placed on the table, someone will step forward and say, “I’ll do it! No matter what the cost!” Indeed, whoever wants to give light must endure burning! This also reminds me of the varying intensity of oppression which can be viewed from a First World or Third World context. Surely, one can have a prophetic experience in the First World, but this would work in a Third World context only up to a certain extent where what is needed is a radical prophetic response. For where the forces of greed are stronger and more violent, the more it swallows up the lives of the radical disciples.
In this context, reformism (cosmetic approach of feeding the poor in the service of empire) oftentimes becomes a violent reinforcement of the evil social structure or status quo, proving correct Marx’s critique that “religion is the opiate of the people.” This is true most of the time, particularly when the institution plays a passive role in the face of blatant injustice. Ergo, any attempt to honestly offer one’s time and effort on the side of the marginalized should be lifted up. As long as the marginalized groups in society exist in the midst of neo-colonial violence and greed, liberation theology and one of its central concepts, preferential option for the poor, remains valid. Indeed, my reflection on our Pastor’s experience inspired me to write this in order to lift-up our church and its dedication to justice and compassion, such as the establishment of the Migrants’ Desk, which is the rights and welfare arm of the church, job fair, human rights , gender equality and environmental education, to name a few. My reflection is also a tribute to all the Pastors who dedicated themselves in providing a prophetic voice to the marginalized for enduring persecution, arrest, torture, disappearance and martyrdom, better known as Crucifixion during the time of Jesus. They will never die!
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