Weekly Reflections: A theology of freedom

By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
www.nordis.net

“I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave drivers. I know their sufferings, and so I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a spacious land…” — Exodus 3:7-8

Independence Day celebration

We celebrated last June 12 our country’s Independence Day. While our government officials were extolling the virtues of freedom, militant groups however were also marching on the streets raising serious questions on the genuineness of our country’s freedom. It is important to note that we celebrated this year our country’s Independence Day in the midst of the Marawi Crisis threatening our country’s freedom and peace as well.

Our Scripture Lesson (Ex. 3:1-12) concerns one of the most important stages in Israel’s history – the period of the Exodus. The Exodus Story as we know is about the liberation of the Israelites from the bondage of slavery. Exodus is a very significant event in Israel’s history, because it marks the beginning of Israel as a nation.

Looking back Israel’s history, there was a time when the Egyptians treated the Israelites nicely. But then as they grew in number, the Israelites became a threat to the Pharaoh. Hence, the Egyptians treated them as slaves in order to prevent them from growing in number. The Egyptians conscripted them to make bricks and to build cities (cf. Ex. 1).

This was the historical context of the story of Moses (Exodus 2-3). In trying to defend the rights of one of the slaves, Moses killed one of the Egyptian slave drivers. To escape from the Egyptian authorities, he fled to the land of Midian, where he married Zipphora, the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he reared a family of his own.

However, Moses could not escape the truth of his peoples’ sufferings in Egypt he himself had seen. And so, while he was taking care of his flock in the wilderness of Midian, he realized God’s call for him to be God’s instrument of liberation for his own people. Moses felt within himself a burning desire to save his own people from the bondage of slavery. He had to go back to Egypt and to bring his people out into a Promised Land “flowing with milk and honey”.

Meaning of genuine freedom

Now, what does this familiar story had to do with the meaning and significance of genuine freedom? Like the Israelites of old, our country today is also undergoing its own period of Exodus. We are also struggling for genuine freedom. The Marawi Crisis is part of this difficult journey. Genuine freedom is not given on a silver platter. It has to be struggled for. It has to be paid by the life of countless martyrs and nurtured by the sweat and blood of freedom-loving people.

To be free is not just to have a flag of our own; it is not just singing a national anthem; it is not just celebrating Independence Day every year. To be truly free as a nation is to be able to determine our own destiny as a people. As long as our destiny as a nation is dictated by the US and the IMF- World Bank; as long as many of our people are squatters in our own native land; as long as people who tell the truth are being killed in cold blood; we are not truly free as a people.

A glimpse of our nation’s past

Perhaps, it is good for us to take a brief look into our own history as a nation, and try to read and to understand it in the light of the Exodus Story.

The Spaniards colonized us for almost three hundred years. We fought against them relentlessly until we were able to drive them out of our land. However, for the amount of twenty million dollars, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo sold our country’s freedom to the Americans. But because we wanted to be free and never to be colonized again, we fought the Americans.

American soldiers massacred almost one-half of our nation’s population in that infamous Filipino-American War. As a matter of fact, what the Americans did in Vietnam was just a repetition of what they did in the Philippines earlier at the beginning of the 20th Century. Perhaps, the only difference was that the Vietnamese won the war, while we Filipinos lost the war.

Now, in order for us to accept American colonization despite all the massacres committed against our own people, American missionaries and teachers were sent to our country to help in the pacification campaigns. Our key leaders were also sent as scholars to the United States to study in American universities and learn the American way of life. Schools, hospitals, and churches were established and served as powerful instruments in the spread of the American language, culture, religion and way of life. The Americans also taught us their own politics and economics.

Since we were then a colony of the United States, we had no choice but to join the Second World War. We bravely fought against our perceived enemies, not only to defend our land but also to defend our American colonizers. Our country became a battlefield. Yet, after the war, we were left alone to rebuild our own country destroyed and ravaged by a war not of our own making.

The Americans gave us our independence, which we later on rejected and declared it as farcical. It was a false independence, because before giving us our so-called “freedom”, the Americans saw to it that the Parity Rights and the Laurel-Langley Agreement would become part of the laws of our land. The Parity Rights, as we know, was a law giving the Americans exactly the same rights and privileges as the Filipinos. Consequently, most of our key industries ended up in the hands of the Americans.

The Laurel-Langley Agreement, on the other hand, was a law that provided the Americans the right to put up their own military bases in our country. These American military bases were used to protect American economic interests not only in our country, but also in all of Asia.

However, from the 1960’s up to the 1970’s, American control of our country weakened due to the growing spirit of nationalism and the growing mass movement. As a result, the Parity Rights was terminated, and the Laurel-Langley Agreement was supposed to be terminated in 1973. All these moves sent a wrong signal to the American government. Consequently, President Marcos declared Martial Law. And the first to congratulate President Marcos was the American Ambassador to the Philippines and the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

Then, one of the first decrees issued by then President Marcos was to open our country to foreign investors and to postpone the termination of the Laurel-Langley Agreement to 1991. Consequently, our country began to experience a deepening economic crisis. Our foreign debt rose up to staggering billions of dollars. And many of our promising young men and women were imprisoned, tortured, or even summarily executed.

With the use of people’s power, the Marcos Regime came to an end, and a new government was installed. However, the old fetters that chained our country for so long remained. Hence, we continue to sink deeper and deeper into the quagmire of poverty.

And so, today we need more than ever before Filipino Christians, who, like Moses, have burning love for their own country and people. Sometime ago, Philippine Christian University conducted a survey among its candidates for graduation. One of the questions asked was on what the students would do after graduation. The result was very revealing: 85 % of the students would like to leave our country after graduation. They would like to go abroad.

It is really sad to note, indeed, that many of our young men and women would think that their country could not provide them a bright future. This is the only country God has given us. We are born in this land. And if we don’t love and care for this land, then who will do it for us?

Instruments of genuine freedom

If we do love and care for our country and people, God through our text has something to say to us. Our text is saying to us that the God we believe in is a God of freedom, and that God calls us to live in freedom and to be instruments of genuine freedom. God said to Moses: “I have seen the afflictions of my people, I have heard their cries, and therefore, I have come down to deliver them from their slave drivers.”(v.7)… I am sending you to the King of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country.”(v.10).

God knows that to be instrument of genuine freedom is not that easy. Hence, God said to Moses: “I know that the King of Egypt will not let you go unless he is forced to do so. But I will use my power and will punish Egypt by doing terrifying things there. After that he will let you go.”

We should always bear in mind that in our struggle for genuine freedom, God is always there with us. For God is a God of freedom. God said to Moses: “I will be with you, and when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will worship me on this mountain. That will be the proof that I have sent you.”(v.12)

Our country’s exodus from bondage to genuine freedom goes on. Apolinario Mabini onetime said that genuine freedom is the freedom to do what is good. Our country’s victory towards genuine freedom will depend upon us, especially each one of us who truly believe that our God is a God of freedom, and that God desires for us to live our lives in freedom with responsibility. # nordis.net

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