Weekly reflections: In the world but not of the world


“My prayer is not that you take them out of this world but that you protect them
from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me
into the world, I have sent them into the world.” — John.17,15-19

Meaningful Life

One of our usual way of greeting friends or acquaintances is to ask the question: Where are you going? Some sociologists are saying that this is quite unique to Filipinos. Westerners, they say, wouldn’t usually ask such question when they greet each other; they would rather talk about the day’s weather, rather than to ask where a person is going. Such question, for them, seems to be quite personal.

But perhaps, it is good to ask this question time and again if only to remind ourselves not to lose sight of the direction we are going in life. We do not ask this question at this time simply to greet each other casually, but rather to seriously reflect on our sense of direction as a people and as a nation: Where Are We Going?

Not knowing the direction we are going as a people would make our life meaningless. We would be like chaff blown by the wind wherever it goes. To paraphrase the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that great black Baptist preacher who led the civil rights movement in the U.S. in the 1960’s, “A nation that does not know the direction it is going is not fit to exist”.
Sometime ago, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines adopted a theme for its Quadrennial Assembly, saying: “The Church for the Life of the World.” This statement spells out very clearly the essence of the church. The church lives not for itself, but for the life of the world. The church is not merely a social or religious institution, but the mission of God in the world.

Human Survival

Our world today is characterized by problems that are a matter of life and death, not only for individuals and nations, but a matter of life and death for the entire human race. We are perhaps aware of the problems that threaten the survival of humankind on this planet. The first awareness of this came with the nuclear bomb. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a world capable of destroying itself at the push of a button. We were all at the mercy of the men and women at the other side of the button. Could they be trusted? How about if they accidentally push the button?

The growing awareness of what was at stake made us feel more and more uneasy and insecure. In recent years, however, the fear of nuclear war seems to have been abated. Partly because of the much publicized peace talks among the superpowers, and partly because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it is also true that people gradually developed immunity to such frightening realities.

Today, we again find ourselves faced with new threats, which they say will destroy us more certainly and inevitably than a nuclear war. These include the problems of population explosion, the diminishing natural resources and food supplies, the pollution and destruction of our environment, and the escalation of violence in various parts of this planet earth.

We, in Baguio and in the Cordilleras, have our own share of these world’s problems. For instance, Baguio today is very much different from the Baguio we have had before about say twenty or fifty years ago. Today, we have lesser and lesser trees and more and more people than we ever had before. Baguio is a lot warmer today than we ever had before.
There is no point in exaggerating our world’s problems, yet we also could not afford to ignore them or argue them away. With the advancement of communication technology, we are being fed on a daily diet of new insights into the magnitude, complexity and insolubility of our world’s problems. And this creates an image of the future that is more frightening than all the old images of hell.

Sad to say, organized religion has been of very little help in this crisis. In fact, it has sometimes tended to make matters worse. The type of religion that emphasizes a supernatural world in such a way that one does not need to be concerned about the future of this world and all its peoples, offers a form of escape that makes it all the more difficult to solve our problems. And this reminds me of the old Gospel song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through”. But the fact remains that this world is really our home. And the present world crises force us to be honest to ourselves and to take our world seriously. We could no longer afford spending our precious time and efforts on trivial and irrelevant problems while the world around us is leading towards its ultimate collapse.

End of the World

Our Lord Jesus Christ faced basically the same problems during his time. He also lived in an age when it seemed that the world was about to come to an end. Despite differences of opinions about how, why, and when this would happen, many Jews at that time were convinced that the world was on the brink of destruction.

It was in view of this so-called “end of the world” and in terms of his understanding of it, that Jesus set out on his mission. Jesus Christ our Lord had seen a way out. He had seen the way to total salvation and fulfillment of humankind. Hence, I believe that Jesus’ concern about the end of the world during his time has a supreme relevance to us in this present age.

Our Scripture lesson talks about how Jesus regarded his disciples in relation to the world. This is part of the so-called Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is called a priestly prayer, because the main task of a priest is supposed to be a mediator between God and the people. And Jesus earnestly prayed to God for his disciples. He said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (vs. 15-16).

Our Lord Jesus Christ refused to pray that we should be taken out of this world. He refused to pray that we should escape from the realities of this world. Rather, he prayed that we should love and care for this world in the same manner that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son in order for the world not to perish but to have life (Jn.3:16).

In other words, through this prayer Jesus our Lord is saying to us that our total salvation from this world’s ultimate destruction does not come by escaping from this world, physically or even spiritually, but rather it comes by taking this world seriously, by practicing and demonstrating our faith in this world.

However, Jesus recognized the fact that this world is ruled by the evil one, by the forces of death and destruction. For instance, our world today has built up an all inclusive political and economic system based upon certain assumptions and values which we are now beginning to realize to be not only counterproductive but also has become our Lord and Master.

From an economic point of view, the system produces both wealth and poverty at the same time. The more poor nations, like ours, measure up to the standards of development and economic growth demanded by the system, the poorer and more underdeveloped they become. The system is competitive, but everyone does not in fact have an equal chance. It can produce more and more wealth, but it is incapable of ensuring that even the bare necessities of life are evenly distributed. This is because the system is geared toward profits rather than toward people. People can only be taken into account in so far as their welfare produces greater and greater profits.

The system, indeed, is like a monster that devours people for the sake of profits. Worse still, it seems that the system is now pressing its demands and defending itself with more and more violence. Let us always be reminded that any system that places material things above the life of people or anything that destroys life is the work of the evil one.

Hence, Jesus prayed that we shall be delivered from the power of the evil one. And to his disciples, Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Jn.16:33).

New World

Jesus prayed that we shall overcome this world for we do not belong to this world. This world is the world of the evil one, ruled by the forces of death and destruction. We belong to a new world – a new world where love, peace and justice prevail, a new world where there is abundant life.

Sometime ago, Fr. Carlos Abesamis wrote a very fascinating book entitled: “Where Are We Going: Heaven or New World?” He tried to answer in his book the question posed by the title by digging into the rich Biblical narratives in the light of his own experiences as God’s servant. And he ended up saying that we are going not to heaven as ordinarily understood, but we are going into a new world, a new history, a new humanity at the end of time.

However, he continued saying that partial realizations and samples of that future new world should be experienced through our lives, our words and deeds in the here and now. This is precisely what we mean when we say that the church is for the life the world. That in and through our ministry of teaching, preaching, witnessing, and celebrating, we shall be able to show concretely the partial realizations and samples or signs of that future new world which we are going into.

A story was told that when the City of Rome got burned during Emperor Nero’s time, the Christians were blamed for it by no less than the Emperor himself. And the Christians had to run for their lives. About 6,000 people had been crucified. While the City was burning, Apostle Peter rushed out of the City to save his own life. But then, he suddenly met Jesus our Lord on the road outside the City of Rome. The Lord asked him, “Where are you going, Peter?” Peter answered, “Lord, the City of Rome is burning, and I’m running for my life! I’m going out of the City; but Lord, where are you going?” The Lord answered him with a sense of compassion, “I’m going to the City of Rome, Peter, and if there is a need for me to be crucified once again, then let it be”. Realizing the meaning of what the Lord told him, Apostle Peter said, “Lord, I will go with you and be crucified with you”.

Where are we going? Are we going to escape from the realities of this world, or are we going to face the realities of this world? Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed to the Father, “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them safe from the evil one” (v.15).# nordis.net


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