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The Biblical message is basically
a message of LIFE, of HOPE, of JUSTICE, of PEACE.
A re-reading or a re-interpretation of the Bible
is necessary in order to discover the biblical theme of
Justice as Right Relationships
which runs like a thread all through the Bible.
In the Bible, God repeatedly takes the initiative
to reveal himself as Love and Compassion
because of his desire to establish profound relationships:
This image of God needs to replace other erroneous images of God that we may have acquired in the past through an incomplete interpretation of the Bible.
Biblical research and study continue to make progress, and in the process, new discoveries are being made which are contributing to new images of God and Jesus, renewed images which help us to deepen our biblical foundations for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC).
It is interesting to note that Pope Leo XIII who was the first Pope to write a social encyclical (Rerum Novarum) was also the first Pope to write an encyclical on the Scriptures (Providentissimus Deus). This would seem to confirm the close link between the Bible and Social Justice.
Perhaps, at this point it may help to say a few words on the, Re-interpretation of the Bible, in the Church, which is the title of the document published in 1993 by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. The following four extracts from this document answer the question : Why a re-interpretation of the Bible today?
Extracts from the document, The Interpretation of the
Bible in the Church,
published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, 1993.
It is in the light of such an evolution of the study of the bible that we have evolved in our understanding of the biblical concept of Justice as right relationships. In fact the quest for justice is the effort to build constructive and liberating relationships at all levels:
|Ex 34:5-7:||A God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving ...|
|Jer 31:3:||I have loved you with an everlasting love... my faithfulness...|
|Jer 29:11-14:||I know the plans I have for you...plans for your good, to give you a future and hope...|
|Is 49:14-16:||Can a woman forget her child .... I have carved you on the palm of my hand.|
|Hos 11:1-9:||I who taught Ephraim to walk...I healed them ... I led them with compassion, love ... I fed them.|
|Psalms:||9, 12, 22,35, 69, 72, 82, 103, 107, 130, etc.|
We have three parables in the New Testament that clearly point to a new understanding of relationship between God and people, a relationship based on a new world order of Justice as conceived by Jesus.
1) Mt 18:21-35: The Parable of the Merciful Master: the mercy of the Master is extraordinary, for He does not act according to human standards. He shows compassion to His servant who pleads for mercy and cancels all his debt.
2) Mt 20:1-16: The parable of the Compassionate Employer: The owner of the vineyard is concerned about the unemployed. We are told that several times during the day he goes in search of them, inviting them to work in his vineyard. His preoccupation was not to get the work done, but to ensure that the workers received sufficient pay to ensure a decent life for their respective families. God’s justice is according to people’s needs.
3) Lk 15:11-32: The parable of the Understanding Father: He was unusually understanding of his young son who wanted to go away on an adventure. In agreeing to this he knew the risk he was taking as a father. When his son eventually returned to the house, the father asks for no explanations; he only showers love and mercy on him. When the elder son reacts angrily to the father’s attitude towards his younger brother, the father gently explains to him that all that matters is that the younger brother has been “found” again with new life.
The above three parables reflect the biblical concept of justice understood as “right relationships”, of mercy, compassion, understanding, forgiveness.
God is on the side of the poor because they are poor and discriminated against. That is who God is, and what God’s Covenant is all about: a pact with the poor that they be able to live as brothers and sisters in an egalitarian community of faith. God does not idealise the poor. God is not against the rich or powerful: God is against the structures of society that place the rich and powerful against the poor and dispossessed of the earth. God saves all.2
|Ex. 22: 20-21
Dt. 10: 18-19
Dt. 24: 17-24 )
|> just treatment of orphans, widows and strangers|
|Ex. 22: 24-26
Ex. 23: 3-11
Lev. 15: 4ff
Dt. 24: 12-15 )
|> Just treatment of the poor and needy|
|Ex. 22: 24||> not to take interest|
|Ex. 23: 6||> justice towards the poor|
|Lev. 19: 35-36||> right judgement of others|
|Dt. 25: 13-16||> not to cheat others|
|Ex. 23: 8||> not to accept bribes|
|Ex. 23: 1||> not to spread false rumours.|
|Mk 1,41:||A leper came to him... Jesus is moved with pity...|
|Mk 2,23:||On a Sabbath day, his disciples were hungry... he let them “break the Sabbath” so that they can eat... He relativises the Law : compassion is more important than the law.|
|Mk 3, 1 ff:||To save life, to promote life is more important than the law...|
|Mk 8,2:||“I have compassion on the crowd...” (Feeding of the four thousand)|
|Mk 12, 28-34:||You shall love the Lord... you shall love your neighbour as yourself... to love one’s neighbour is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”|
|Mk 2 : 15:||Jesus does not exclude anyone|
|Mt 9: 27-28:||Compassion on the blind|
|Mt 22: 37-39:||Love of neighbour.|
|Mt 18:21; Lk 17:4:||Forgiveness of others|
|Lk 6: 6-11:||Cure of the Sick.|
|Lk 7: 36-50; Jn 4: 7-39:||Attitude towards marginalised women.|
|Lk 7: 9:||Appreciation of faith of non-Jews|
|Jn 8: 1-11:||Compassion towards “sinners”|
Jesus’ relationship with people crossed all barriers:3
Jesus’ life and mission was a constant threat to the status quo:
In a society that was politically colonised, socially patriarchal, religiously conservative, Jesus introduced an alternative kind of relationship with God and others:
Lev. 25: 1-7
|To “rest” the land every seventh year|
Lev 25: 7
Ex. 23: 4-5
Ex. 12: 12
|Respect and compassion for animals|
In certain circles there flourished a cultivation of wisdom, an attitude and approach to life which stressed relations between God, human beings and the rest of Creation. Nature is given great importance in the books of wisdom.
Prophets need to be seen and appreciated from within the perspective of Jewish history as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.
They were “called” and “sent”: They played a central role in Israel’s history and in the development of Israelite thought and tradition.
Social justice was at the very heart of their message:
Amos 5:11-15; 21-24
|Temple worship, liturgical celebration, prayers and burnt offerings have no value if their lives do not reflect true love and justice.|
The role of the prophets could be summarised in the following way:
The message of the prophets is indicative of: (i) their preoccupation with idolatry and syncretism on the part of the Israelites; (ii) their concern that the “people of God” wanted to be like their “neighbours”, thus imbibing easily their patterns of worship and behaviour. (iii) their perception of the tendency of the Israelites to consider their choice as a privilege rather than as a responsibility, thus developing a nationalistic spirit considering others as “inferior”.
For further Reflection and Discussion
The image of the prophets as given in the Hebrew Scriptures is of a person:
Can you name some prophets in today’s context who have had similar experiences? How have they been an inspiration to you?
Martyrdom has returned to the life of the Church today with striking repetition . The Gospel truly lived will bring oppression. St. Paul warns us about the powers and the principalities that are at work in our world and its history. Persons working for the Reign of God will meet much opposition and sometimes death. Our recent history has examples of lives given for the poor and the abandoned, prophets and martyrs for the Reign of God.
The statistics for each year published by the Holy See give us the figures of those who actually gave their lives in the service of the mission of the church. There are many others who experience extreme hardship for the sake of what they believe. Martyrdom points to the degree of opposition to the Christian message which exists in the world. It is, in a real sense, a fulfilment of the promise which Jesus made to his disciples and a fulfilment of the beatitudes. It is apparent that the nature of martyrdom has changed. It can no longer be said that Christians today are killed because they believe in this or that truth of the catholic faith. There are more martyrs today because of their fidelity to the mission of love entrusted to them. They are in this sense social martyrs, martyrs who die more for their stand on behalf of justice and love.5
Mgr. Dien (Vietnam) is often quoted for his prophetic statement made at the Second Vatican Council: “We have many martyrs, but do we have martyrs of Justice?”
For further Reflection and Discussion
Below is a short write-up on a few contemporary prophets (prophets of social justice and eco-justice):
Archbishop Oscar ROMERO6
Oscar Romero was born in El Salvador in 1917 and ordained to the priesthood in 1942. He was consecrated bishop in 1970 and became the Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. There was a time when Bishop Romero was a strong conservative, a serious introvert not open to the aspirations of his people. This situation would radically change with the course of events. His life was turned inside out with the assassination of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, one among a series of priests who was killed. This event made him realise the seriousness of the situation of injustice and violence, and was the catalyst that changed his life.
From that moment on, Bishop Romero organised the life in his diocese around the teachings of John Paul II, who spoke of the preferential option for the poor, one of the priorities for Evangelisation put forth at the various Conferences, (Puebla, Medellin...). He became very attentive to the type of faith experience deeply desired by the poor and the little ones of his diocese. He also became a staunch supporter of the basic communities, the only bishop in the country to believe in them.
His keen sense of Evangelisation led him to want to find the means to inculturate Christianity into the social reality of his country, a country subjected to a state of poverty, to dictatorship and violence caused by the wealthy. His homilies were transmitted by radio throughout the country. He also had another program where he gave an update of the situation as it was experienced by the people and the local Church. Whenever he preached he spoke out strongly against the violence and the injustices imposed upon his people. His radical stance was firmly rooted in the Gospel and in the dignity of the person.
“The Church maintains and defends the eternal truth revealed by God, that man and woman are the image of God and that because of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ they have been freed from the slavery of sin and have been given the dignity of the Son of God, free to choose their destiny and participate eternally in the glory of God. This is the truth of those who defend the Church no matter what the systems or political realities may be.” (1.1.1980)
Bishop Romero always tried to situate Christianity with regard to politics so as to speak out against corruption, the lack of democracy, human rights violations, and to warn Christians of the danger of being too quick to bring together the Gospel and politics, particularly in groups using violence. The Gospel does have a political dimension, but it also commands certain specific behaviours.
“... That is why we must ensure the process of the liberation of our country. The Church will not abandon us, it will continue to journey with us but with the voice of the Gospel, that of the transcendence of Christ. It will continue to demand that every one of those involved in the struggle for liberation, if they are to be strong and effective, place their trust in Jesus Christ, the greatest liberator of all and never turn their sights from Him”. (1980)
Bishop Romero was adamant in his opposition to the violence imposed by those in power, (politicians, wealthy land owners, the military, the national police) as well as that exercised by the militant revolutionaries who said that they were acting out of a sense of justice. Romero knew very well that he was walking a thin line, but he continued in the conviction that the Gospel was not only the source of social justice but also the source of peace.
“No to violence was his (that of the Church) only cry, every time a hand was raised against another human being no matter who he/she was. Violence is an act of sin that soils the world. This cry of denunciation and of resistance never ignited the passion of vengeance and hatred within the Church... Rather the voice of the Church always encouraged here fellowship founded in faith and in the truth revealed by God, as a source of inspiration for social doctrine.” (1978)
He received numerous death threats and was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while presiding at the Eucharist.
Dorothy Day was born in 1897 into a family of journalists. She joined her father and brothers in the profession. Before her conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, she wrote articles for various secular periodicals that focused on social justice issues. Dorothy also participated in the anti-war movement (World War I), the right for women to vote, and wrote about people struggling with poverty.
During the 1930s the Catholic Worker newspaper (founder by her and Peter Maurin) offered many young Catholics, caught in the midst of depression, an opportunity to serve others, while living in voluntary poverty and promoting racial and social justice. Immediately after the atomic bombing of Japan, Dorothy condemned the bombing in a passionate article. Throughout the 1950s the Catholic Worker continued warning humanity about the nuclear peril the world faced, calling for fasts and protests.
During Vatican II, Dorothy participated in a ten-day fast with an international group of women. Their focus was to ask the bishops of the world to condemn wars of mass destruction. In Dorothy’s last years, she marched with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The Catholic Worker wrote regularly about the suffering of the people in Central America. She received the Laetre Medal from Notre Dame University in 1975.
Dorothy died in 1975, and since then the Catholic Worker Movement has continued growing. Her spirit, and her zeal for social justice continue to live on among Catholic Workers. This year (1997) national gatherings have been scheduled to commemorate her 100th birthday.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born 2 October 1869, on the west coast of India. He belonged to a caste of merchants although some members of his family were involved in regional politics. He was brought up in the Hindu tradition. He married when he was twelve and five years later left to study law in England. In 1891, he set up his law practice in Bombay, and in 1893 emigrated to South Africa where he lived until 1914. In 1894, he founded the Indian Congress of Natal to defend the humiliated and ostracised Indian people living in South Africa.
It was during this time that he gave himself over to the study of the Bhagavad and the Gospel, (particularly the Sermon on the Mount) and became an expert in the principle of non-violence as a religious and political process. He used non-violent techniques to defend his claims as early as 1906.
Gandhi’s spiritual search led him to lead a life of non-violence and of service to the humble members of society. He made no distinction between the spiritual and social dimensions of our life, and by so doing made a deep commitment to the advancement of Justice and Peace.
The non-violence practised by Gandhi, known as the satyagraha technique, does not consist in pacifism or in a state of passive resignation in the face of the enemy. The technique consists in adopting an active attitude of love, of resistance to situations of injustice, of opposition to evil, of disobedience to unjust and unfair laws in a non-violent manner. The satyagraha calls for great strength of soul, for one must be careful not to fall into the trap of vengeance and the cycle of violence.
In 1914, he returned to India after having fought for his principles in South Africa.
He was convinced that he had a mission: to spread truth and non-violence throughout the whole world as a way to counteract violence and lies.
Upon his return he made the commitment to fight against British imperialism and thus bring about the political and spiritual independence of his country. In 1915, he founded his first ashram and began to travel throughout the country to sensitise the people, particularly the poor, for he realised what a source of strength they were for the country. Gandhi began by organising campaigns of civil disobedience to the unjust laws passed by the British, followed by campaigns of non-cooperation... all of these non-violent actions served to destabilise the economy and the colonial administration. His most famous campaigns were the “salt campaign” against the English monopoly, and the “textile campaign” against importing foreign textiles. In the latter campaign Gandhi became the apostle of the “khadi”, the mills where the locally grown cotton was spun into thread.
Gandhi was an active participant in the negotiations that would give India a more favourable constitution and that eventually would lead to the independence of the country in 1946. He never hesitated to risk his life, fasting almost to the point of death. In his struggle for independence he had numerous misunderstandings with the political leaders who were unable to dismiss him; they needed him because of his enormous popularity with the poor, even though they had to resort to violence.
Gandhi was very concerned with the peaceful coexistence of the Hindu and the Muslim communities. Although he did not succeed (partition between India and Pakistan) he never gave up and constantly searched for new ways of reconciling the two communities, and of putting a stop to the violence and the massacres. Gandhi also worked to put an end to the segregation of those people commonly called the “untouchables” (whom he referred to as the harijans, the children of God), he also worked to obtain political rights and better social conditions for them.
Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948.
The message Gandhi left us is the message of the powerful force of political and spiritual non-violence. He also left us a series of different means that can be used to fight against injustice such as fasting, non-cooperation, silent marches, strikes...
“I could not live a religious life if I did not identify with the majority of humankind, and the only way to do that was to become politically involved. If I am concerned with politics it is because politics is everywhere around us, it is like a snake wrapped around our body and no matter how hard we try, we cannot free ourselves from its clutches.”
Sr. Rani Maria9
Sr. Rani Maria was born on 29th January 1954, in Kerala (India). She was educated in the Christian faith which became the foundation of her life and work till her death. From her childhood she had a deep concern for the poor and oppressed. In 1974 she joined the Franciscan-Clarist congregation.
Wherever she was sent, she helped people to reflect on their problems, and to take appropriate action. This led village communities to get involved in development activities: setting up non-formal schools, building low-cost houses, providing drinking water, monitoring public distribution systems, introducing small-scale industries, running literacy classes for school-dropouts, women and old people. In all this, she made sure that these became peoples’ movements for development while she played the role of a “humble catalyst”.
Having done studies in Sociology she had a profound understanding of the social situation and cultural background of people. Thus her commitment, zeal and concern was associated with a systematic approach to human development. She used to conduct social awareness classes, and she initiated various programmes for the awakening and empowerment of the people. Her social commitment went far beyond providing facilities or relief services. Her goal was to transform the shattered and broken people into the “image of God”. Her love and compassion found outlets in every conceivable way, in so-cial action and community services.
In 1992 she was sent to Udainagar in the diocese of Indore. The following are some examples of how she empowered people there:
The empowerment of the poor led to the opposition of those who had vested interests like money lenders, persons involved in illegal destruction of forests, and leaders who wanted to use Panchayats for their own selfish ends. On various occasions they protested about her activities, but unmoved by their threats and opposition, she continued her mission always inspired by Luke 4, 18: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim liberty to the oppressed...”
On 25th February 1995, she was killed brutally in broad daylight, having being dragged out of a bus in which she was travelling.
At her funeral, local leaders paid tribute to her with the words: “Sr. Rani Maria is not dead; no one can kill her. She will always remain an inspiration for us in the years to come.”
Joseph Au Gi Fu
Joseph was born in Macao in 1941. When he was nineteen he came to Taiwan and majored in Chemical Engineering. He then went to Switzerland, and spent eight years there studying and working, be-coming qualified as a Swiss National Chemical Engineer. At this stage he was invited to return to Taiwan to work as director of the research department in one of the biggest plastic industrial companies in Taiwan. He became a successful professional, a wealthy businessman, and greatly admired by his colleagues. All this while he remained a committed Catholic. After about twenty years of climbing the ladder of success, he began to question the value system inherent in this particular life style. He became increasingly conscious of the injustices and violence being done to humanity and the environment in the name of progress and development. In 1984 he resigned from his job. In his quest for a deeper meaning of life, he studied theology, and travelled to several countries to meet with people who had similar concerns and commitments. Nine years ago, he returned to Taiwan and began living an alternative life style which he expresses in the following manner:
The following is an extract from his writings:
"Those who come to Yenliao (name of the village) are surprised to see me here, living such a simple life style. Their many questions force me to reflect deeply and they serve me as a real test of will. They wonder what made me change so radically, giving up city life and the prestigious position in my career with its rewarding salaries. Surprisingly, those who express doubts about my simple living are my close friends. They question me with curiosity, wondering what led me to my present option: frustrations? difficulties? disappointments? They think I am wasting my talents in such a forlorn place. They consider me an ‘escapist’ from the world, as someone who has failed to contribute to society.
“Had I continued with my previous work, what would have I achieved so far? At most, I could have done some research work to help develop some new products, or to have helped students acquire some knowledge. New products cannot change a person's heart, nor can knowledge. Besides, there are many experts and scholars in the world who can offer their expertise in the field of their specialisation. Yet, persons who are willing to commit themselves to live a simple life style in view of attitudinal changes are very few...
"Economic growth has been an unbalanced development in the sense that people who have become rich have not become more cultured nor have they acquired spiritual values. For many, progress means economic growth, an increased income, new industrial products... To live a simple life style is regression, backwardness. But what is true progress? True progress cannot be measured only in terms of economy, technology or products. It is more important to look at the growth in people's spiritual life. Human progress needs to be judged in terms of the quality of life: whether there is more harmony, more mutual concern, more love among people. Love is the genuine criterion of progress. Technological advancement cannot be the criterion for human progress, on the contrary, it has become the heart of our self destruction. I am not denying the contribution of science and technology which benefits us all. However, it is necessary to ask ourselves whether economic growth brings happiness and well-being to all peoples: the rich and the poor, the developed and under developed countries, the present and future generations ...?. It is necessary to take into consideration not only human beings, but also the environment and nature including plants, animals, air, rivers, the seas, the mountains and the soil.
“It is not easy to get rid of greed and hedonistic desires from the human heart to replace them instead with detachment and self restraint. To effect this change, education of the heart and cultivation of religious values are helpful. What we learn through life experiences gives us true wisdom....
“I have been living this life style for eight years. Each day I feel freer, more peaceful and happier in this life style of simplicity. I do not assess it by its effectivity. Though I have not heard God actually speaking to me, yet, I do experience His presence within me. My hope is that people can change their life, their attitudes, their value system and out look on life, resulting in a changed relationship among human beings, between human beings and nature, between human beings and God.
“All these must come from LOVE, love of self, love of neighbour and love of the whole world. Only LOVE can make people live a simple life style willingly. When all people live this way, there will be PEACE in the world. It is a long road to tread. Perhaps we will not see the day ourselves; nonetheless, it is my conviction that this is the only road to world peace. Let us begin marching towards it.”
Professor Wangari Maathai
To be truly prophetic requires passionate conviction and fearless commitment in the face of opposition and threat. In Kenya they call Professor Wangari Matthai the lion of women for her courageous work to care for the environment and to see justice done for the people.
Founder of the, now famous, Greenbelt Movement in 1971, which boasts a membership of more than 50,000 and a number of flourishing tree nurseries. The organisation, apart from planting 7 million trees across Kenya, has successfully campaigned for the recreational rights of urban people, protested against chemical pollution and the construction of sub-standard housing for the poor.
This lion of women is a populist unintimidated by Kenya’s patriarchal politicians. She is not afraid to take on Moi and his government in order to protect the land and improve the quality of life for all. Labelled by the government as a subversive, she has entered the political arena as one of the members of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). Working for the release of prisoners, taking part in hunger strikes, protest marches and pressure groups she has been charged with offences, publicly taunted by politicians and the victim of vicious rumours.
Being without renown in the political establishment of her country has not prevented Professor Maathai from reaching international recognition for her work. As Kenya’s first woman University professor, she headed the department of veterinary studies in Nairobi and in 1984 received Sweden’s top citation, the Right of Livelihood award. She is a member of the prize selection committee of the UNEP prize (UN Environment Prize) and was awarded the Africa prize for leadership in sustainable agriculture.
Wangari Maathai in true prophetic style rails against those who rape the land and oppress the poor. Just because one is rich, powerful, and a landlord, this does not give him the licence to destroy our environment. Reminiscent is it not of that Hebrew prophet Amos:
The lion roars: who can help feeling afraid?
The Lord Yahweh speaks: who can refuse to prophesy?
… They know nothing of fair dealing it is Yahweh who speaks -
they cram their palaces full by harshness and extortion (Amos 3: 8, 10).
Sr. Helen Prejean
Sr. Helen Prejean of the United States fulfils the criteria of a modern day prophet. By her work, her example, her writing, her speaking out and her religious conviction she confronts the American government, especially in its policy of the death penalty.
Sr. Helen is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in New Orleans. She ministers both to families and individuals who are affected by the death penalty. She is one of the strongest voices for abolition of capital punishment in the United States. Her ministry as a spiritual advisor to death-row inmates witnesses to the truth that all life is sacred, whether guilty or innocent. She has shown that reconciling love knows no boundaries by reaching out also to the families of the victims of death-row inmates. Her persistent spirit and impassioned stories have moved many sleeping hearts to contemplate the horrible reality of the death penalty. Helen is very even-handed in her prophetic stance.
Her book, Dead Man Walking was made into a highly acclaimed film. Its many awards have drawn huge audiences. In this way her prophetic stance has affected many who perhaps would otherwise not have known the horror of legalised killing.
|N.B. The above are just a few contemporary prophets. No doubt there are many more women and men who could be included in these pages. We have been obliged to limit the number. However, the promoters’ group will appreciate receiving a short write-up on people whom you know, and whose life could be an inspiration to others.|
Jesus’ preaching and action centred around the Reign of God:
The Kingdom is “here” and “not yet”
The announcement of the Kingdom is an irruption of a new era, of a new order of life: this is what we really mean when we say, “May your Kingdom come ...”
Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom was a claim
that a special time of Jubilee had come and
that in him all the highest ideals of the Jubilee were realised:
He has chosen me
....to announce the YEAR of GRACE
given by the Lord.
When Jesus proclaimed the Reign of God:
The way Jesus lived amounted to a re-definition of what it means to be human. His conception of a human life was not based on current standards but on the standards and values of the future Kingdom. By believing in it and acting on it he brought it into existence. He lived as if his Kingdom was already present; and in doing so, he made it present - in so far as his personal relationships were concerned. But the Kingdom is a communal and public reality as well as a personal one. To make it fully present there must be a transformation of communities and of society as a whole. The followers of Jesus are called “to fill up what is wanting in the life and death of Christ” (Col 1:24) by continuing to live by Kingdom values and in this way continuing to bring the Kingdom into existence. The only way I can truly proclaim my belief in the Kingdom is to live it - in personal and interpersonal spheres and in the socio-economic and political sphere.10
The Kingdom values are best understood in the beatitudes:
Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom implied the vision of a new society. The Kingdom that he announced was the realisation of an alternative community previsioned in biblical history at the Exodus, where the Israelite people liberated from bondage in Egypt became God’s people (Ex 6:2-7)11
The proclamation of the Kingdom by Jesus is both a promise and a summons, a looking towards the ultimate realisation of this alternative community.
All his miracles need to be seen in connection with the message of the Kingdom.
God’s reign arrives wherever Jesus overcomes the power of evil. Then, as it does now, evil took many forms: pain, sickness, death, demon-possession, personal sin, immorality, the loveless self-righteousness of those who claim to know God, the maintaining of special class privileges, the brokenness of human relationships, etc.
It is particularly to those on the periphery of society that he communicates the possibility of new life on the basis of the reality of the love of God. God’s reign is for those on the margins, for those who suffer, for tax-collectors and sinners, for widows and children.
In Jesus’ preaching and action the Kingdom clearly includes the social-economic-political substance of human relations as willed by God. The distinctive ways in which Jesus portrayed and manifested the presence of the Kingdom were all concerned with the welfare of people. Jesus’ healings and exorcisms were indications that the Kingdom was already present. (Voices from the Third World, p.78). He also sees it as the end of Satan’s rule, where Satan stands for structured evil and power (Mk 5:1-20).
It is clear that he had in mind some fairly definite and distinctive patterns of social relationship for the Kingdom-society that is to be entered into, or as the requirements for entry. The old order was in fact being replaced by a new socio-political order, that is, the “Kingdom of God” which Jesus was inviting people to “enter”.12
In Jesus’ ministry there is no tension between saving from sin and saving from physical ailment, between the spiritual and the social. In the gospels, at least eighteen times, the evangelists use the word “save” with reference to Jesus’ healing of the sick.
In the synoptic gospels repentance (metanoia) is not a psychological process but means embracing the reality and the presence of God’s reign. The call to discipleship is a call into God’s reign and is, as such, an act of grace.
As we pray “Your Kingdom come”, we also commit ourselves to initiate, here and now, approximations and anticipations of God’s reign. God’s reign will come since it has already come! It is both bestowal and challenge, gift and promise, present and future, celebration and anticipation. Even rejection and the cross are not obstacles.13
Jesus made the Reign of God the center of his preaching. The term invites us to think, what the world would be like if God's will were accepted and followed by everybody, if the law of love was observed by all, if the plan of creation were fulfilled in all its elements. This Reign is now a reality, but in such a way that it needs to grow among us. It is the promise of health and integrity for all humanity and all creation: the blind begin to see, the lame begin to walk, the deaf begin to hear and Good News is being preached to the poor.
The Reign of God, is a reign of justice and truth, holiness and peace, grace, unity and love. As a reality it allows us to understand what God’s will is, and the kind of God we believe in. By what we know of the Reign of God we can discern what is good, acceptable and perfect. Belief in the Reign of God drives people on to be its servants and to build up the Reign of God, “through the love that has been poured into our hearts” (1 Jn).
The early church understood its missionary engagement with the world in terms of this end-time, which had already come and is at the same time still pending. The expectation of the imminent end was a component of and presupposition for mission; at the same time it expressed itself in mission.14
Some of the Kingdom values which we are called to promote in today’s world: unity, security, justice, work, relationships with people and the environment, compassion, harmony, hope, solidarity, inclusion, and, of course, peace.
"The Jubilee year was meant to restore equality among all the people, it was an occasion to begin anew ... Justice according to the Law of Israel, consisted above all in the protection of the weak ... The Jubilee Year was meant to restore social justice, i.e. created goods should serve everyone in a just way" (John Paul II: Tertio Millennio Adveniente Vat. 1994 #13 – henceforth referred to as “TMA”).
Each Jubilee year is also a Sabbatical year because, according to Leviticus, the Sabbatical year is each seventh year. This coincided with the Jubilee Year: “Seven times Seven years” (Lev. 25: 8). The law to “rest the land” was to be implemented every seventh year, and therefore also every fiftieth year.
|Ex 23:10-13:||“Every seventh year, let your land lie fallow, and forego all produce from it, so that the poor can take food from it and the wild animals eat what they have left.”|
|Lev 25:1-7:||“Every seventh year the land will have a sabbatical rest : what the land produces in its Sabbath will serve to feed you, your slave, your employee, your guests, your cattle, and the wild animals.”|
|Dt 15:1-18:||“At the end of every seven years, you must grant remission... you must set all slaves free...”|
|cf. Lev 25:8-55:||All debts had to be forgiven, slaves that had been accumulated during 49 years had to be set free, the land that had been accumulated during 49 years had to be redistributed...|
LIBERATION had to be proclaimed to all:
As we can see from these texts, liberation was proclaimed for people and for land. This is why the Year 2000 is important for its message in today’s context focuses both on human beings and the environment. The Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee Year were established to help the Hebrew community to rectify injustices and inequalities.
In Lk.4: 16-19, Jesus makes a clear reference to the Jubilee Year, "the year of the Lord's favour": "... to bring good news to the poor/afflicted, proclaim liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed ... The Jubilee, a year of the Lord's favour characterises all the activities of Jesus (TMA #11). In this passage, Christ's mission and the theme of the Jubilee are interwoven (TMA #40).
Luke sums up his whole gospel in the Sabbath reading of a passage from Isaiah by Jesus. Jesus goes back beyond the Davidic kingdom to the earlier time of the Jubilee:
The words and deeds of Jesus represent the fulfilment of the whole tradition of Jubilees, Lk 4:16-21; Is 61:1,58:6; Lev 25:10.
“All Jubilees point to this ‘time’ and refer to the Messianic mission of Christ. The foundations of this tradition were strictly theological... If in his providence God has given the earth to humanity, that means that he has given it to everyone. Therefore the riches of Creation are to be considered as a common good of the whole of humanity. Those who possess these goods as personal property are ministers charged with working in the name of God, who remains the sole owner in the full sense, since it is God’s will that created goods should serve everyone in a just way. The Jubilee year is meant to restore this social justice.” (TMA #13).
"How can we fail to lay greater emphasis on the Church's preferential option for the poor and the outcast? Indeed it has been said that a commitment to justice and peace in a world like ours, marked by so many conflicts and intolerable social and economic inequalities, is a necessary condition for the preparation and celebration of the Jubilee."
.... Christians will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not cancelling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations (TMA #51).
Some concrete suggestions as given in the encyclical: (TMA #51)
For further Reflection and Action
In several local churches, the preparation for the “Jubilee” includes reflections on conversion, reconciliation, forgiveness, etc.15
In Zaire, the missionaries in CIAM (Centre d’Information et d’Animation Missionnaire), have launched an appeal to women and men of good will asking for signatures on a petition calling for the cancellation of African debt by the year 2000.
In Britain, individuals linked to the various churches have launched the Jubilee 2000 campaign with a petition to present to the G7 meeting in 1999 (see Appendix A1.4, 1.5, 1.6) a Jubilee Charter which provides a practical basis for the remission of unpayable debts. Extracts from an article by Ann Pettifor who is the Coordinator for the Jubilee 2000 Charter:
“The call to Jubilee in the year 2000 is a call to lift the yoke of economic degradation from those enslaved by economic forces, in particular the International Debt.... The backlog of unpayable debt of governments of poorer countries can never be removed, except by an agreed remission on the part of the creditors. For the sake of ending the slavery of debt, and for creating a new and disciplined beginning in financial relations between rich and poor countries, remission of these debts should be achieved by the year of redemption, Jubilee 2000...16
In your capacity (whatever ministry you may be engaged in)
Our Planet Earth is being progressively destroyed in the name of progress and development, but only for a small minority of the earth's population. In the Hebrew scriptures, the Hebrew community was asked to rest the land every seventh year. During this year, Yahweh provided sufficient food for human beings and animals. The Sabbatical Year was a means of helping people to stop accumulating, while at the same time allowing the land to regenerate. The Planet can be saved only if we human beings stop accumulating. Many individuals and organisations are making efforts to save/regenerate the planet.
As a member of a religious congregation,
2. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Tertio Millenio Adveniente (TMA) proclaims the Year 2000 as a Jubilee Year, linking the Biblical concept of the Jubilee year with Lk.4, 16-19. In TMA #11, he says that, " ... The Jubilee, a year of the Lord's favour characterises all the activities of Jesus." In TMA #40, he says, " In this passage, Christ's mission and the theme of the Jubilee are interwoven."
Considering the reality of today's world, what would be your
The following are a series of reflections
on important themes which could further help
to deepen the biblical foundation for JPIC
The theology of Incarnation is gradually giving rise to a new meaning of Solidarity. Though he was in the form of God. Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant becoming as human beings are, and being in every way like a human being. (Phil. 2: 6-7). His coming in our flesh and being like us in all things but sin shows the extent to which solidarity with others is possible.
It is through being “inserted” among a people, and becoming fully “inculturated” that Jesus was able to carry out the Father’s plan for humanity. For thirty years, in the “Silence” of Nazareth, Jesus “reads and scrutinises the Signs of the Times” in the Palestine of his day. It is during this time that his mission becomes gradually clearer. It is through the “emptying” of himself that it becomes possible for him to accomplish the mission, confided to him by the Father, of promoting the Reign of God. Through his incarnation, Jesus has revealed to us the ability of the human person to be emptied in order to leave place for God and for others. All that Jesus had by nature, we have by grace.
The dark of night gives way to the bright light of day with the coming of the dawn. This inspiration has filled the hearts and minds of people since time began. With the resurrection Jesus has become not just a symbol of new life but the bearer and the guarantee of new life. Now built into humanity is the experience of new life appearing on the earth in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Reign of God is not a programme but a reality, ushered in by the Easter event. Intimately related to the resurrection, almost part of the Easter event itself, is the gift of the Spirit, which is equally integrally linked to mission. The Spirit is the risen Christ who is active in the world.
The power of the resurrection is released through the Spirit. In our Commitment to JPIC, grace is made operative through the Spirit. For the Jesus community, the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Spirit are tangible proof of the “alreadyness” of God’s reign. The “not yet” feeds on the “already”. (Bosch 41)
If the Lord did not rise from the dead, then our faith is in vain. We might say that without the resurrection, Jesus' life and preaching would represent a beautiful dream and no more; the law of love would have been a beautiful law, but too difficult and not at all realistic; the law of justice would make life much better, but it would have cost too much. By his death and resurrection Jesus was able to seal the value and effectiveness of his life and mission.
One time Dan Berrigan was giving classes on dying and approaches to death. One of the people in the hall was a man who knew he was dying of cancer. Dan fixed this man with his gaze and after some minutes asked, “What's the matter?” The man replied, “I'm dying of cancer.” Dan thought for a moment and said, “That must be very exciting!” The man said afterwards that no five words could have done more to change his life and to give him a sense of what the resurrection means.
Resurrection is a promise of life to come. It is the certainty of life which overcomes death and it is the mark by which Christian communities are known. They are believers in the resurrection. The cross, the empty tomb and the apparitions change our view of life. Life has meaning and it makes sense to make sacrifices for the cause of right It is essential to believe in the power of the human person to go on despite hosts of difficulties on all sides. The story of how people overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties is the kind of witness that convinces us that the Good News of the Resurrection is the sure foundation of our faith in life itself.
Until He Comes ...
Creation leads us to recognise the beauty and order which God put into creation from the beginning. Incarnation helps us to see how deeply God loves the world and all that is in it. Redemption allows us to understand that no one or nothing will be lost. All has been won back through the death and resurrection of the Word made flesh. All of this is achieved and promised. The Christian lives in a tension between what has already happened and what is still to come. The Reign of God is at hand and has still to come. We look forward to the fulfilment, when he will come, and devote ourselves to the task until he comes, because the One who is to come has already come. The believers know that the peace and justice and beauty of Creation, which they long for, is in the hands of God and will come, in the fullness of time. Rather than diminish our sense of mission, this hope makes us hasten to make a reality of what we have been promised.
Jesus began his preaching with the words, The Reign of God is close at hand, repent and believe in the Good News (Mk 1:14). He called for a change of heart, urging the people to change the direction of their lives, away from the security and insufficiency of what they already knew and possessed, to the bright promise of the Reign of God embodied in his life and teaching. Conversion, Formation and Evangelisation are closely linked. They are based on the encounter with God's will, the acceptance of that will, and the ability to judge what is going on in the world and in peoples' lives on the basis of that will, expressed in the divine plan of the Reign of God.
The process of conversion is made up of an encounter with a new reality, the acceptance of the truth and value of that reality and the shaping of one's life in according with that truth. For some people, conversion appears to be almost instantaneous. The examples of St. Paul and of Oscar Romero come to mind. For others conversion appears as a long and painful process of discovery and change. What has happened to religious congregations over the past few decades is an example of this. Even when the change appears to be instantaneous, the moment of conversion is followed by a long period of assimilation and integration, as the story of St. Paul indicates. The process of conversion is often painful. It means leaving the world of the known, with all its advantages and disadvantages and moving in the direction of a light which has begun to appear on the horizon. The dark night of injustice gives way to the bright dawn of the Reign of God, promised and given to those who believe.
The call to conversion recognises the presence of sinful and destructive ways in the world, and the desire to move away from these to a constructive way of life. Formation is needed to do this. Belief in a new heaven and a new earth is the result of the converted life. The new heaven and the new earth represent the end of oppression and life lived in accordance with the freedom given to the daughters and sons of God from the beginning, and restored through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. (Gal 4:31-5:1)
Conversion to the Cry of the Poor
The heart of God was moved by the cry of the poor. This God, knows the sufferings of his people, has heard their cry and is coming down to save them. (Ex 3). Before acting in the name of justice and love it is important to be like this God, to listen first to the cry of the people, to know their suffering and to have a firm desire for the liberation of the poor. The cry of the poor is the gift of the Holy Spirit. God, both gives the cry and answers it. For the believers, this cry on the lips of all those who look to God in hope, is the meeting point between God and those whom God has called. The cry of the victims of injustice, that is, the cry of the poor, is what tests the promise of the Reign of God, the truth of the Gospel which we preach and the depth of love in the disciples. Where the cry goes unheard, it is harder for people to believe. This is the rock on which people stumble. When we listen and respond to the cry of the poor, in an authentic manner, we go through a process of conversion.
The Evangelical Option for the Poor
While it is true to say that all people are poor in some way, it is important to understand the reality of the materially poor today, as those who do not have enough to live on, whose voice and contribution to society do not count, and who in many instances are the victims of positive discrimination and violence.
While the love of God touches and transforms the whole of creation, and the commandment of love extends to every woman and man, we have to discover the way in which that love is to be expressed. We are called to love everybody. That love, in the case of some will build them up, in the case of others “will cast them from their thrones”. God made choices. The option for the poor is first of all God's option as presented in the whole Bible, in the pronouncements and actions of Yahweh and Jesus. God chose a small and humble people and sent his prophets to defend the stranger, the widow and the orphan. The prophets in God's name reminded people of their covenant with God and proclaimed the jubilee years in which all things would be put right and the poor would be set free from their debts. Jesus was born in the least of the cities he made the poor and the outcasts his companions throughout his life and mission.
The option for the poor represents a choice between different ways of understanding and behaving. Each choice can be an experience of conversion. It represents a choice of friends and companions, a choice of ways to evangelise, a choice of interests, a choice of places in which to put our resources and a choice of wisdom. The option for the poor and the work of justice are not one and the same thing but they are very closely associated. The option for the poor appears as the privileged and Gospel way of bringing justice to all. In order to bring about justice and peace, people need to live in the world of the poor and set out from there to understand the world, recognise its possibilities for justice, condemn all that is unjust and build a world in which all are cherished and welcome. This whole process is one of Conversion.
Conversion takes place in and through our commitment to JPIC.
A Canadian religious priest offers us the following reflection :
“... I really think that most of us in the North cannot read ourselves into this awareness. We need to experience LIFE as most of our people experience it. We are so far removed from the life of ordinary people. The structures of Religious Life keep us away from the real life of ordinary people. We have to SEE the cry of the poor, and we have to be willing to use the word poor as the world uses it today, i.e. poor = materially poor, the abandoned, the non-persons, and those who are basically outside the economic power structures... This is called, perspective, and this for me is conversion.”
A concrete example of conversion to the cry of the poor:
“What brought about the conversion of Mgr. Romero? I have been asked this question a thousand times. I have no answer in the sense of a technical or psychological explanation. I never spoke to him about it. It is not easy to touch the deeper levels of another person's life. It would even be presumptuous to try to do so. Despite all that, I have my own ideas about his conversion, which I could tell you about, if only to record the fact that there was a change in him and that what he did after that cannot be explained in any way by the manipulative interpretations to which it was subjected.
I believe the moment of Mgr. Romero's conversion was the murder of Rutilio Grande. Romero knew this man very well. He thought of him as an exemplary priest and as a friend. Rutilio was the master of ceremonies at the bishop's ordination. Despite that, Romero did not agree with the kind of work Rutilio was doing when he was in Aguilares. He thought it was too politicized, too horizontal, very far from the fundamental mission of the Church and dangerously close to certain revolutionary ideologies. In this sense, Rutilio was a problem for Romero, and as well as that he was an enigma. On the one hand he was a good priest, zealous, with a deep faith. On the other, he seemed to have chosen the wrong kind of mission. The enigma was solved, I believe, when Rutilio died. Standing by the body the scales fell from his eyes: Rutilio was right. The kind of work he did and the kind of Church and faith which he embraced were the right ones. But even on a deeper level, if it was true that Rutilio had died like Jesus did, and showed the greatest love possible by dying for his brothers and sisters, then surely his life too was like the life of Jesus. Rutilio was a very special follower of Jesus.
In short, it was not Rutilio who was mistaken but he himself. It was not Rutilio who needed to change but he, Oscar Romero. And so he did.”17
(for more about Oscar Romero see Section 2.1.7)
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the words “Salvation” or “Save” are used in reference to the salvation of the whole person: there was no dichotomy between body and soul. Jesus being a Jew, also uses the word “save” with reference to the whole person in an integrated sense. Eighteen times in the Gospels, Jesus uses the word “save” with reference to the healing of the sick and the forgiveness of sins.
The dichotomy between body and soul is one of the consequences of the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian theology and catechesis in the early Christian church. It is being widely and increasingly acknowledged that in church history, we have tended to accentuate the salvation of the “soul” to the detriment of neglecting the salvation of the whole person. It is only recently, in the light of the growing and glaring injustices in the world with its resulting lack of human dignity for over two-thirds of the world’s population, that we have become more conscious of the liberation element in Evangelisation.
The emerging Liberation Theologies have contributed to a more integrated understanding of liberation/salvation as referring to the whole person, at the political, socio-economic and spiritual levels.
Liberation Theologies take into consideration the sinful structures that oppress people at all levels. People need to be liberated both individually and socially. This was salvation history as recorded in the Jewish Scriptures.
In fact, salvation and liberation are two words which we use to describe the same thing: God’s coming to the aid of women and men to raise them from every form of oppression and make them one with him. Salvation and liberation have been going on from the very beginning and will continue until the time when Jesus Christ is all in all. Called to be the heralds of salvation and liberation the Church and each of its members work in the world to make salvation known and to fulfil its promise. When justice reigns people will be free from all that is oppressive at the spiritual, social, economic, psychological and physical levels.
When we look at what we do, it is good to ask ourselves from time to time, “Is what we do liberating?” Does this help to liberate others? As Church people, we have sacraments, catechism, retreats, devotions, etc.: in so far as these practices help to set people free from what oppresses them, they constitute part of the Church’s liberating praxis. The term “liberating praxis” was introduced into Catholic theology by Liberation Theology.
According to the method of liberation or liberating theology, reflection takes place after the event, from which it cannot be divorced. The event, or series of events which are of interest to liberation theology, are those in which a praxis can be identified. Praxis is activity whose purpose is to transform history for the better. In the praxis approach to theology, truth is first of all something that is to be done and then understood. Praxis theology asks the question, “What does God do?” before it asks the questions, “Who is God?”, and the question, “What does the Church do?” before the question, “What is the Church?” This means that a person will know who God is from what God does, and will know what the Church is, from what the Church does.
It is not sufficient to say that the Church stands for liberation and salvation: the Church must be seen to have a liberating praxis. It must enter the experience of the community of believers as an agent for integral liberation. As a result of reflection on the liberating praxis of the Church, people will be more deeply aware of who their liberating God is. If the Church fails to have a liberating praxis, then the image of God in the minds of the people is in danger of being distorted. Authentic and liberating praxis is given the name, orthopraxis. It is a person’s cooperation with God’s love for the world, in the building up of the Kingdom of God. It is this that constitutes an authentic liberating praxis. It is, similarly, the Church’s cooperation with God’s love for the world that constitutes its liberating praxis.
People are saved in the measure that they are liberated from all that oppresses them. There is a need for continual discernment and evaluation in our search for a theology and missiology that helps us to accomplish God’s will for our world.
The following reflection by John Fuellenbach could perhaps help us understand more clearly the two conceptions of salvation:18
The plan that God has with creation has been conceived in different ways. The two best known are the following. The first one sees salvation foremost as a rescue operation from this sinful and evil world whereby the good ones are selected and taken into the New Heaven and the New Earth. This view corresponds well with the one which sees the Kingdom as a totally transcendent reality, something not related to this world.... The second one sees God's plan of salvation more holistically as including all of creation. It means a transformation of all reality rather than a selective process.
Individualistic view of salvation
The plan of God for creation is here primarily conceived as totally otherworldly and transcendent with no connection to this present world and its social dimensions. We could describe such a view in this way: God created human beings with the intention to lead them here on earth to their final destiny which we usually call heaven. The individual human being, however, must prove himself or herself worthy of such a calling. For this reason he or she is put into this world which is sin permeated, corrupt and therefore, dangerous. This world resembles a huge testing ground created to provide for human beings the perfect occasion where he or she can gain or lose his or her eternal salvation. If the person stands the test, God will reward him or her with eternal life. In terms of Gnostic and mystery religions, the gods are busy trying to populate Olympus with a few selected souls who have been rescued from the tumultuous sea of matter and human history. The individual is regarded as a self contained unit, a Robinson Crusoe to whom God's call is addressed as to someone on an island, whose salvation takes place exclusively in terms of a relationship with God. What is overlooked is the fact that no individual exists in isolation. It is not possible to speak of salvation without reference to the world of which one is part.
Such a picture is, of course, accompanied by a corresponding spirituality concerned only with the salvation of one's own soul. In such a view, salvation is easily conceived of as being totally individual and deprived of any connection to one's fellow human beings, to this world and its destiny. History with its constant flow of people and cultures has no meaning. Human achievements on this earth have no connection with the world to come. They will all disappear with the arrival of the New Heaven and New Earth. Not a trace of them will be found in the new creation. This world does not matter at all. It is totally unimportant whether one is rich or poor, sick or healthy, of high esteem or low caste. The only thing that counts is that I will stand the test and get to heaven, no matter what else I or we accomplish here on earth. But is such a conception of God's plan correct?
Universal view of salvation
Looking at the Signs of the Times we will find in Scripture, images of the 'world to come' which allow a different interpretation. Here the plan of God with the world is perceived not in terms of a total destruction of creation but in terms of transformation or transcreation.
The “New Heaven and New Earth” are understood as being this world transformed, renewed, cleansed and made new. It is this old, sin permeated, corrupt world, a world in which there is so much hatred, egoism, oppression, despair and suffering, that will be the object of transformation. It will become something totally new. Our world is the arena where God's ultimate plan for creation unfolds. The 'Kingdom of God' happens here, in the midst of human affairs. It is meant for this world here and now. It has happened already in our presence although the fulfilment is still to come.
If we accept this view of God's plan for creation, our whole understanding of salvation will change. Being saved does not mean being taken out of this world and being transferred to another place. Being saved means remaining a part of the whole of creation that has been transformed into the “New Heaven and the New Earth”. I will be saved because creation as a whole will be saved. My salvation is imbedded in the salvation of all human beings. Because my brothers and sisters will be saved, I will be saved since I am one with them. Strictly speaking, we cannot talk about individual salvation since we are tied with a thousand strings to each other and to creation as a whole.
For your Reflection
|Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese poet and Buddhist monk, describes our
being part of the total global reality in the following words:
“I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the 12 year old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hand, and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people, dying slowly in a forced labour camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life. My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills up the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.”
(Thich Nhat Hanh in E. Roberts & E. Amidon, Earth Prayers, pp 12 13)
For personal Reflection and Group Discussion
Parable: THE WORLD MAP JIG SAW PUZZLE19
A child was told to place together the pieces of a jumbo jig saw puzzle of the world map.
However much he tried, he could not succeed. Then, someone gave the child a clue. He said: "Look at the reverse of the pieces of the world jig saw map. You will find as well the pieces of the drawing of a full size man. Try first to put together the pieces of the man's jig saw”. The child did as he was told, and now with ease he could complete the jig saw of the man. The picture of an attractive and smiling man appeared.
And true enough at the back of the man's picture one could see the picture of the world's map in perfect order.
“I have come that you may have life and life in abundance.” (Jn 10:10) These words of Jesus remind us of Jeremiah’s words when he revealed Yahweh’s unconditional and forgiving love for his people: “Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. When you call to me and come and pray to me, I shall listen to you. When you search for me, you will find me; when you search wholeheartedly for me, I shall let you find me. I shall restore your fortunes and gather you in from all the nations and wherever I have driven you. I shall bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.” (Jer 29:11-14)
We too need to do our part in view of a new future - for ourselves as individuals and for our world. Let us listen to a sharing from India:
“India’s poor today are not just a hapless, passive lot. They are getting organised in a big way to resist, assert and claim their share of justice. They are becoming aware of the structural dimension of their poverty, of the possibilities of change, of their rights and the tremendous potential of their collective power. This eruption of the poor is threatening to shake the very foundations of the Indian society - caste and patriarchy - and offers new signs of hope. Therefore, now is the time for the Church to decide whether it wants to be on the side of the powerful for the sake of its own survival and safety or to be with the poor in their historic march towards a new India of justice and life for all. We need to see ourselves as partners with the poor in furthering the mission of God.
“As we discern the processes of marginalisation and the blatant, as well as subtle, methods of marginalisation in the society based on language, race, ethnicity, caste, class, gender, age, religion, region, etc., we need to ensure the absence of all such forms within our churches...
“... It is in this context that a theology committed to life instils hope for the Indian Church. This Theology of Life affirms God’s option for the poor by challenging the values of the world with the values of God’s reign as told to us by Christ. This means changing our lifestyles and structures. This also implies rediscovering the Church in terms of the local, and essentially of people, rather than hierarchy and structures. Therefore, a Theology of Life is a theology of sharing and just relationships. It calls for a reorientation of relationships based on a proper understanding of our faith. It compels a radical reordering of our lifestyles, attitudes and structures of human relationships in community. To be just and humane is a conscious moral and spiritual choice that one has to make in the context of life in community...
“...The new ecclesia affirms a spirituality that confronts and overcomes all life-negating forces and strives to build the community rooted in the love of God, justice, peace and the integrity of creation.”
A reflection from the Hebrew Scriptures:
A whole group of women were called to make sure that Moses would become what God had destined him to be: the leader of his people. Who were these persons who made it possible for Moses to become God’s chosen servant? There was a whole network of women who ensured that Moses would live to fulfil the plans of Yahweh.
Shiprah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives in Egypt, God-fearing women and mothers themselves. They defied Pharaoh’s orders to kill all male babies born to Hebrew women, enabling the Jews to increase in number. They may have delivered Moses (Ex 1:15-22). Though they were slaves, they stood unafraid before the king and his court.
Pharaoh’s daughter. She rescued Moses from his basket in the Nile and raised him in the royal household until he was an adult (Ex 2:2-10). She is a symbol of one in authority taking initiative to supersede an unjust law.
Moses’ mother defies Pharaoh and nurtures her infant son for a few months. When he is three months old, she hides him in the basket and places him in the Nile.
Miriam, the sister of Moses, who “stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.” When Pharaoh’s daughter notices the basket and finds the baby, Miriam steps out of her hiding place, asserts herself by offering to find a nurse for the baby and goes to get her mother.
When reflecting on our own vocation we should not forget the network of people involved in bringing it about. In order to appreciate more profoundly one’s call to discipleship it is helpful to ask oneself now and then: who were the persons with whom God surrounded me to ensure my being selected right from my mother’s womb?21
A reflection from St. John’s Gospel:
There are seven occasions in John’s Gospel when a woman occupies a role of prominence in the community and in the preaching of the Good News:
On these seven occasions a woman is presented positively. She helps Jesus in the discovery and fulfilment of his mission. The pain of birth is the symbol of the suffering which brings new life (16:21).22
The first chapter of Genesis (v. 27) clearly says that human beings - both male and female - were created in God’s image. In the same chapter we also read that “all the seed-bearing plants and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit” would serve as food for human beings (v. 29). All the foliage of the plants as food for the wild animals, the birds and all the living creatures that creep along the ground (v. 30). If from the beginning these verses of the Bible had been interpreted correctly, women and the environment would not have experienced violence and destruction. Unfortunately, chapter 2 of Genesis (vv. 21 - 24) and certain laws as found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were interpreted in such a way giving men full power over women and nature (land and animals). Obviously this was due to the influence of other patriarchal societies of that time on Hebrew culture. It is important to note that in the Hebrew culture there were also laws to protect the land from over-exploitation (Lev 25:3-8).
In Genesis, chapter 9, we read about the Covenant with Noah which includes all living things (vv. 9-17).
In Exodus 23, the law stipulates that on the seventh day all must rest, including “the slave girl, her child, the foreigner, the ox and the donkey” (v. 12).
In Leviticus 25, we read about the biblical concept of Jubilee, which stipulates that every fiftieth year all relationships between human beings and nature, and among human beings must be set “right”. The concept of jubilee has a socio-ecological and spiritual dimension.
The New Testament theme of cosmos as the body of Christ can be found in some of Paul’s epistles (Col 1:15-20).
Today’s ecological crisis has awakened us to the urgency of seeking a new theology that deals with all of creation and the need for a cosmic spirituality. The world’s religions, including the African Traditional religions and Indigenous People’s religions have much to contribute to our search. St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of ecology, remains our inspiration for a vision of a cosmic community which includes humans, plants, animals, the sun, the moon, and all of God’s creation.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”
Economic themes recur throughout the Bible. The Torah, in regulating and limiting the buying and selling of goods, the cultivation of land and the raising of animals, placed all economic activity within God’s covenant relationships with Israel. This includes concern for the poor (Ex 23:6, Deut 15:7-11), for the stranger (Ex 21:21-24), for the widow and orphan (Deut 24:19-22), and for the environment (Lev 25:1-8). The prescription of the Jubilee Year (Lev 25: 8-55) was intended as a regular moment of release from the economic hardships of slavery and poverty and to make a new beginning.
Economic matters come to the fore again in the prophets. Amos warns of doom because Israel had “sold the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes”, and had “trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” (Am 2:6-7). Isaiah condemned those “who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land” (Is 5:8). Again, Jeremiah condemns “him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbour serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages” (Jer 22:13).
Jesus is no less forthright: “No one can serve two masters: you cannot serve God and money” (Math 6:24). The rich young man is invited to sell all that he has and distribute it to the poor if he is serious in wanting to inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18-30).
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is condemned, not for any overt act of cruelty, but simply for ignoring the poor man at his gate (Luke 16: 19-31).
The Church fathers show a constant concern for the rights of the poor, a stern call to accept responsibility for the needy, and powerful warnings against the temptations of riches.
After Constantine, the Church came to exercise a significant leadership role in society. While it did not escape the temptations of wealth and power, it also tried to develop forms of service: hospitals, schools and advice centres, and often, through the monasteries which grew up, in part, as a protest against urban conditions, as an alternative way of ordering a community’s economy.
In the middle ages, in Europe, Christians had long since settled into a far-reaching acquiescence in the dominant attitudes and habits. Movements like the Franciscans and the Waldensians emerged among Christians to recall the priorities of Jesus and the prophets to appeal for service and respect of the poor.
Both Luther and Calvin struggled to discover distinctly Christian ways of handling and regulating the economic behaviour which was finding ever larger spheres of power in modern manufactures and in trade beyond national and geographical frontiers. Neither succeeded: the economic powers (rulers, bankers, manufacturers and traders) increasingly developed their own “disciplines”, some of them devotedly believing that the wealth they were creating was a sign of God’s favour, in virtual disregard of the more “official” teaching of the church.
When economics emerged as a science, a sharp distinction between the “secular” and “sacred” presented a critical challenge to the Christian understanding of the priority of God’s will for society.
Christian faith and the World-Economy WCC
Theological statements take on life when they are the result of a reflection on human experience in the light of revealed truth and then lead to a particular kind of human behaviour and commitment. Today we find that there is a unity between these two ideas. They form part of a cycle which goes from experience to reflection to commitment and back again to experience, continuing the cycle. Since Vatican II the age-old method of lectio divina has returned to the lives of Christians, giving them a way of uniting faith and life through their prayerful and committed reading of the Scriptures. The method consists in reading the word, reflecting upon it in relation to what is happening in each one's life, and accepting the implications and demands of that word in daily life. The same method can be applied to the way we look at life itself. We look closely, ask what is the meaning of what we see, and accept the implications and demands of what our reflection tells us. This is our purpose: to look with faith at what is going on in the world in such a way that it unites us in a common understanding and purpose, and leads to the kind of commitment which will result in joy for all, joy which is the experience of right relationship, which is the way we understand justice and peace. We are looking for a dynamic approach to the life and challenges of each day. (GS.#5)
Spirituality is a matter of education of the heart.
Spirituality implies a process of transformation.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed
by the renewal of your mind,
that you may prove what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect."
A spirituality gives rise to a way of life and is in turn the result of a way of life. A way of life is holy when it is produced by the Holy Spirit and corresponds to the values of the Gospel. Ways of life differ in accordance with the set of values on which they are built. On this earth, no way of life can embrace all the values of the Gospel fully and at the same time. "Spirituality" is the name given to the synthesis of Gospel values which takes place in each person or community. A particular spirituality reorders the values of the Gospel in accordance with the time and circumstances in which it is born and develops. This is why religious congregations are different, one from the other, though their ultimate goal is the same. The quest for justice is common to all forms of Christian life. The ways of understanding justice and pursuing it will differ from person to person, from place to place and from community to community.
For your Personal Reflection
THE WITNESS OF MONS. FRANÇOIS XAVIER NGUYÊN VAN THUAN24
“How working with justice and peace has affected my spirituality”
François was made a bishop by Paul VI in 1967. He took as his motto the name of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern world, Gaudium et Spes. This was to be the foundation of his pastoral planning for the next eight years. Just before the war in Vietnam ended he was appointed bishop of Saigon. The new government took his appointment to be part of a conspiracy and arrested him. He was to spend the next thirteen years in jail. On his release in 1988 he spent three years in Vietnam, but he could not return to Saigon as bishop. He came to Rome in 1991 to take up a position as Vice-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Amid such changes, what is it that has remained constant and given unity and harmony to his life? His inspiration came from the document, Gaudium et Spes. Its first part deals with the human vocation. The second part outlines five major areas of concern. These have been his concerns throughout all these years. One thing above all else convinced him: What we have to offer others is the testament of Jesus: the Word, the Body and the Blood, Peace and the new commandment of Love, “that all might be one”. This is what has sustained him all these years.
In the thirteen years he spent in jail there were two long periods of solitary confinement, one lasting two years, the other six years. He was arrested and convicted without trial. In his solitary confinement, he was always entirely alone, except for two guards who were always with him. He had no books, no newspapers. Every day from early morning to late at night, a loud-speaker in the courtyard belted out an endless stream of propaganda. This kind of mental torture continued day after day. Jail is always an awful sentence, worse when the jail is in a poor country, and worse still when that poor country is under communist rule. He discovered that the answer was love.
In jail, there was a constant stream of guards. He managed to win them over again and again by his commitment to love. At a certain point the authorities said they would not change the guards anymore because “this priest was contaminating them all”.
At the beginning the guards were always disinclined to talk to him. He gradually broke down the barrier by talking to them of the world he knew, a world very different from their own. He taught some of them French. He knew that these men could never espouse the Christian faith. They came from families which had proven their loyalty to the government. Otherwise they could not have become guards. Nevertheless François knew that they had changed inside, through the power of love.
At the beginning he made one request, to have a bottle of medicine sent in for his stomach complaints. The bottle arrived, with the label on it which said, "stomach medicine". In it there was altar wine. Everyday with three drops of wine and one drop of water in the palm of his hand he celebrated the Eucharist. In time his congregation grew. In the yard, during the exercises he would make the sign to his followers that he was leading them in prayer. He was never betrayed by any of the flock. Some were sent to spy on him. Even these, when they had to report, kept his secret.
In one period of his solitary confinement he was put in a cell, at the end of a corridor. There were no windows in the cell. Between him and daylight there was that long corridor and two or three large doors. In the darkness of his airless cell he discovered a tiny hole in the wall. Everyday, he lay down with his nose beside this hole, just to get air. This lasted for months.
Now in his new position in Rome, his mission continues: he knows what it is like to be treated unjustly and he knows that his mission is still a mission of love. In the beginning, all he could see was the mountain of papers on his desk everyday and he began to wonder what could he do in this kind of an office job. Then he realised that every one of those sheets of papers represented the lives of real people, people in need. He found a way of adjusting to his new mission. He appears now as a very peaceful missionary in the middle of Rome. He admires the people he works with on the Pontifical Council. At his age, he feels perhaps he should be long since retired, with a feeling of having done his duty and made his contribution. But no. Mission never ends.
Liturgy is the expression of our relationship with God, and is the source and fruit of our relationship with people and the rest of creation.
The prophets, Isaiah (1:11-17) and Amos (5:21-25) in particular, clearly denounce liturgical celebrations that are not coherent with a life of justice.
In our efforts to make liturgy meaningful, and a daily inspiration for our life of JPIC, we need to constantly remind ourselves that Jesus invited us to celebrate, in memory of him: “Do this in memory of me.” Do what in memory of him? To say the words he said, in the way he said them, to perform the loving and compassionate gestures the way he did them. It is when these words and gestures become LIFE that we become EUCHARIST. Each celebration of the Eucharist helps us to become Eucharist because:
At each Eucharistic celebration, we partake in faith in the Eucharistic
so that we too, in memory of Jesus, can become
“bread broken, shared and given”
for the transformation of this world.
Jesus’ words and gestures at the last supper when seen from the perspective of Mark (14:22), Matthew (26:26), Luke (22:19) John (13:1-15) and Paul (1Cor 11:17-33) are an invitation to :
The Christian is a person of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is first a verb before it is a noun. Jesus invites us to, “Do this in Memory of Me.” What did Jesus mean when he asked us to celebrate in memory of him? It is not just a religious ritual that Jesus is interested in. Jesus wants us to LIVE as he has lived. It is important that we, as a prophetic community, BE JESUS, BE EUCHARIST for these our times. That is how we remember Him.
When the Mother of James and John wanted high positions in the Reign of God for her two sons, Jesus had one response to her desire: “Can they drink the cup that I must drink.” Or in the Garden on that night before he died, Jesus cried out to the Father: “Let this cup pass away from me...” The cup is a life emptied for the marginal and the poor. The cup that is to be taken is a life poured out for the other. Unfortunately, many of our celebrations remain as domesticated rituals. That is not what Jesus intended.
Bread that is broken is a life broken that others might live. When Jesus took bread and said the blessing, it was a prophetic sign that what was happening to this bread would be happening later in His life emptied on the Cross.
The Eucharist is therefore first of all a way of life that receives its empowerment in the ritual of the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. But the breaking of the bread and drinking of the cup must be backed up with a life emptied and broken for the other especially the marginalised and the poor.
“If any one sacrament stands for the whole of Christianity and the Church, it is the Eucharist. It is the one sacrament that symbolises fully what the Christian message is, what it means for the world. Indeed it points to the world and all of creation. It is the presence of God in the world. It is the cross and the resurrection. It is the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation.”25
The word Eucharist also means thank you. We are invited to give thanks for what we have achieved. We pray for strength and perseverance. It is salvation and the new creation. It is Shalom. It is celebration. Celebration means knowing that it does not all depend on us. We are called, as Christians, to live now in our lives the hope that will be. Often people involved in the work of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation take life so seriously as if the realisation of God’s Reign depended on them alone. We need to have the ability to celebrate. We are not called to be successful but to be faithful to the call of Jesus to be Eucharist. An authentic commitment to JPIC helps us to be Eucharist.
Questions to help us reflect further the link
Biblical references on:
Justice, Women, Liberation, Oppression, Peace, Pardon Reconciliation Mercy, Poor, Sharing-Solidarity, Fraternity, Dialogue-Ecumenism, Service-Charity and Nature-Creation.
6. PARDON RECONCILIATION-MERCY
7. THE POOR
8. SHARING - SOLIDARITY
10. DIALOGUE ECUMENISM
11. SERVICE CHARITY
1 As a mark of respect for the Jewish religion we will avoid using the term Old Testament, and refer to it instead as the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jews are sensitive to the fact that we Christians refer to their sacred Scrip-tures as our Old Testament.
2 John Mansford Prior SVD, “Biblical Foundations for Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation” in Verbum SVD 36:1, 1995, 25.
3 Ibid., 20-21.
4 After the resurrection this inclusive thrust was taken further: membership of Judaism became optional and other nations were accepted with their own traditions, cultures and languages. The whole inclusive thrust of Jesus is summed up in the baptismal creed as quoted by Paul: Gal.3: 27-28: “All of you, through baptism in Christ, have put on Christ. There is no longer any difference between Jew and Greek, or between slave and freedman, or between man and woman; but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
5 Bartolomeo Sorge, Address to the General Chapter of the Carmelite Order, Sassone, Sept. 1995, published in CITOC Sept.-Oct.1995. no.5, p.89.
6 Dominican Order, Justice and Peace Workbooks, (Curia Generalizia, Rome) 1996, No.4
7 The following is an extract from an article by David Buer, ofm, California, USA.
8 Dominican Order, Justice and Peace Workbooks, No. 4
9 Extracts for the following write-up have been taken from, Sr. Rani Maria, a Martyr for Human Dignity, a Tribute by M.P. Voluntary Health Association, (Indore, India, 1995)
10 Donal Dorr, Spirituality and Justice, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1984). This section has been inspired by Chapter 6 of this book.
11 Voices from the Third World, Life Affirming Spirituality, Source of Justice and Righteousness, Ecumenical As-sociation of Third World Theologians, (Colombo, 1990), p. 78
12 Richard Horsely, The Kingdom of God and the Renewal of Israel , in The Bible and Liberation, Norman K.Gottwald and Richard A. Horsely, editors. Horsely clearly explains the social dimension of the Kingdom: ac-cording to him Jesus’ discourse on the Kingdom focuses on people, and its principal metaphors envisage so-cial extension not individualistic spirituality, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1993), 408-426.
13 Ibid., 33-35
14 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1991), p. 41
15 In his book Transforming Mission, Bosch gives a wider biblical meaning to the word, “Forgiveness”. He says it is important to take into consideration the biblical concept of forgiveness. In the Bible, the word “forgiveness” includes a wide range of meanings, from “bonded slaves” to “cancellation of monetary debts”, “eschatological liberation” to the “forgiveness of sins”, p. 33.
16 Forum for Action, Number 16, October-December 1996.
17 J. Sobrino, Monseñor Romero, (San Salvador: UCA Editores), 1994, 18-19
18 Throw Fire, (Manila, Logos) 1997, Ch.6
19 Ribes, p. 122
20 Taken from the article “Theology of Life: A case study in India: God’s option for the poor.” Consultation on Theological Issues for the, Indian Church Today and Tomorrow held at Vishranti Nikayam, Bangalore, 22-24 August 1996, Echoes 10/1996, pp. 28 ff.
21 Fuellenbach, Ch.4
22 Bulletin Dei Verbum, 40/41, p. 32.
23 “Radical Choices”, taken from A Christian Response to Poverty, (Australia 1996), 5
24 From a talk given by Mgr. Nguyen Van Thuan at a meeting of the Promoters of Justice-Peace-Integrity of Creation, Assisi, April 1995.
25 Vincent J.Donovan, The Church in the Midst of Creation, (Maryknoll, Orbis Books: New York, 1990), p.75-76.
26 Franciscan Vision for Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation, JPIC Office, OFM Curia, Rome, 1997