By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“Tell us when all this will be and what will happen to show that it is the time for your coming and the end of the age” — Matthew 24:3
Unending history of killings
Our Australian partners in mission recently issued a statement condemning the brutal killing of Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez on December 4, 2017, holding President Duterte responsible for the human rights violations in our country. Fr. Paez is the first Roman Catholic priest killed under President Duterte. He was the coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in Central Luzon at the time of his death. His pastoral duties were carried out alongside his abiding commitment to social justice and human rights.
Fr. Tito’s death follows that of Pastor Lovelito Quinones of the King of Glory Ministry in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro who was shot by the Regional Mobile Group (RMG) on December 3 allegedly in an encounter, with the military insisting that the pastor was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). Meanwhile, 8 Indigenous leaders were killed by soldiers from the 27th Infantry Battalion in the province of South Cotabato, also on the 3rd of December. That’s 10 activists killed in the last 2 days.
The pattern of political killings is consistent with the policies of the Duterte Government. President Duterte has often stated he supports killings, and not only of drug pushers. He has condemned human rights activists and has promised a new campaign of terror. And so, we ask, when will this history of killings come to an end?
Matthew 24 is one of the favorite Biblical passages of present-day evangelists who are preoccupied with the end times. It is often used to justify their claim that the signs of the end times, like earthquakes, famines, and rumors of wars are already here with us. And therefore we have to prepare to meet our Maker because the end is coming. Without discounting the importance of such emphasis in Christian tradition, I would like to look at this passage from a different angle and try to draw out some insights to live by in these trying times.
The story is about the Temple visit of Jesus and his disciples. Being Galileans, it was probably the first time the disciples personally saw the Temple. They were amazed of the Temple’s great splendor. And they could not help but call Jesus’ attention to this matter.
Herod’s Temple was considered one of the world’s wonders at the time. He started building it 20 years before Jesus’ birth. And it was not yet completed during Jesus’ time. It was built on top of Mt. Moriah, otherwise known as Mt. Zion. The famous Jewish historian Josephus tells us that some of the stones used were forty feet long, by twelve feet high, by eighteen feet wide. And the outward face of the Temple was covered with plates of gold. Perhaps, it was such a great splendor that impressed the disciples.
Apparently, the Temple was the summit of human art and achievement. And it seemed so vast and solid that it would stand forever. But then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you this: not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.” Surely, Jesus knew how the Jerusalem Temple was built by conscripted labor and heavy taxes imposed upon the masses of people. Hence, he was in effect saying that such piece of human achievement founded on human pride and greed would not last forever, even if it would presumably be offered for God’s glory and honor. All would be thrown down. No stone would be left upon another.
And truly enough, the Zealot movement launched a massive rebellion in 66 C.E., killed the High Priest and drove away the Romans. But the Romans recaptured the city in 70 C.E. and destroyed the Temple. Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled, indeed.
Then, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Tell us when all this will be and what will happen to show that it is the time for your coming and the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3). In other words, the disciples were asking Jesus as to when would the Temple, a symbol of oppression, be destroyed. When would the history of man’s inhumanity to his fellowman come to an end so that a new history of peace, of love and salvation, a new creation would be established?
The disciples’ queries were expressions of both despair and hope. Despair for what was happening to humanity. And hope for the establishment of a new age, a new history. Their questions could also be ours. Our history as a people has been a history of oppression, a history of crisis after crisis, a history of killing after killing. Thousands already have been killed under the present regime, mostly related to illegal drugs. Thus, we may also asked, when will this come to an end? When will a new history, a new creation be established?
Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ queries is indeed significant. There are basically two points he mentioned. Firstly, Jesus is in effect saying that the sign for the end of the history of oppression is the fact that everything in this world is finite. False messiahs, false prophets, wars, arrests, tortures, killings, betrayals, wickedness, all these things are transitory (vs.4-13). They are indicators of human sinfulness and finitude. Thus, we cannot say that we’ll live forever in crisis and oppression. There’s an end to everything.
Sufferings for Jesus are just pains of childbirth. In other words, they are pains that give birth to a new life. To believe in Jesus is to take crisis and sufferings as opportunities and transform them into a new way of life. Many of us are hoping and praying that through the crisis we are experiencing as a people we would indeed learn to unite as one people and even as one church and learn to live as one community, one nation under one God with dignity and self-respect.
Moreover, Jesus is also in effect saying that the sign for the coming of the new age, a new history, a new creation is the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (v.14). Jesus believes that a new history will be established if and when people live according to the Kingdom values of justice, mercy, and honesty, the so-called weightier aspects of the Law that the Scribes and Pharisees had deliberately forgotten (Mt.23:23).
A distinguished German theologian Rudolf Bultmann said that whenever the Word of God is proclaimed Christ is coming anew into the life of the believer. Bultmann believes that Jesus Christ resurrected in and through the preaching of the church. Hence, whenever and wherever God’s Word is proclaimed Christ is resurrected anew in the believer’s life and practice. That’s why preaching is not an easy task; it is a grave responsibility, because the preacher serves as a channel in and through which the reality of Christ is experienced and made known.
We are now in the Advent and Christmas Season and we celebrate International Human Rights Day on December 10. Hence, the call of the hour is a call to participate in the making of a new age, a new history; no longer a history of crisis, killings, and oppression – that kind of history must come to an end; but rather a history of peace and prosperity based on the Kingdom values of love, justice, mercy and honesty. # nordis.net