By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“I am making a new earth and new heavens. The events of the past will be completely forgotten. Be glad and rejoice in what I create. The New Jerusalem I make will be full of joy, and her people will be happy.” — Isaiah 65:17-18
The President of our Republic once again gave her periodic State of the Nation Address or SONA. Like her previous SONAs, we could hardly recognize our country in her beautifully crafted speech. She seemed to be speaking of another country in another world at another time. Actually, what the President delivered was not really the state of our nation, but her own vision and perception of her own presidency. A genuine SONA should reflect the real situation of our country and the genuine hopes and aspirations of our common people.
Of course, dreams and visions for the future are needed for us to survive as a people. They define the meaning and direction of our nation’s life and future. But dreams and visions in order to be genuine should bear the sufferings and hopes of our people, and not simply the selfish political agenda of someone who claims to be the supposedly elected leader.
New heavens and new earth
The Israelites of old had a beautiful vision of “new heavens and new earth” as articulated by Prophet Isaiah (65:17-25). Unlike the President’s SONA, Isaiah’s vision of a new Jerusalem carries with it the historical experiences of the people as well as their living hopes on what God can do through them to bring about something new. Reflecting on Isaiah’s vision, we could see ourselves in the sufferings and struggles of the Israelites. Thus, we could also claim their vision as our own.
Let us look at some of the basic elements of their vision and compare it with our own. Firstly, “The new Jerusalem I (God) will make will be full of joy, and her people will be happy…There will be no weeping there, no calling for help” (v.18-19). Throughout their history as a people, the Israelites had been weeping and calling for help (cf. Ex. 1, Lam. 5). They had been colonized by ancient superpowers, like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. They suffered a lot in the hands of these superpowers. But in the midst of their sufferings, they cried out unto God, and God responded by sending them God’s servants as instruments of liberation and salvation.
We, too, have been weeping a lot throughout our history, calling for help, under the Spaniards, the Americans, the Japanese, under Martial Law, and now with all the political killings and forced disappearances happening. Weeping and calling for help of widows and orphans are heard throughout the land, at least for those who have ears to listen and hearts to understand. But we look forward to that day when there will be no more weeping or calling for help.
Secondly, “Babies will no longer die in infancy, and all people will live out their life span” (v.20). In times of a nation’s crisis, it is the weak and the innocent who suffer most. When the Israelites were in the hands of the ancient superpowers, their babies were the ones who suffered so much. The Egyptian Pharaoh ordered the killings of their infants (cf. Ex. 1). Children were dying of hunger when the Babylonians invaded and destroyed the City of Jerusalem (cf. Lam. 2:11-12;4:4-5).
Now, in the depressed areas of our country, babies are dying every day due to poverty, malnutrition and lack of medical care. In the evacuation centers and hamlet areas of the hinterlands, babies are dying due to illness and lack of food. Yet, we do hope a day will come when babies will no longer die as infants, but live out their life span.
Thirdly, “People will build houses and get to live in them – they will not be used by someone else” (v. 21). As captives of the superpowers, the Israelites suffered a lot in building gigantic structures and beautiful palaces for the kings and emperors (cf. Ex. 1:13-14; I Kings 9:15-28; Lam. 5:2). But they were not the ones who lived in those palaces, and beautiful structures.
It is no different from our construction workers today who build beautiful houses and hotels in the metropolis, yet they live in shanties. It is our hope that a day will come when people have decent homes to live in. They will build houses and will live in them. They will not be used by others.
Fourthly, “They will plant vineyards and enjoy the wine – it will not be drunk by others” (v. 22). Under the bondage of being captives, the Israelites carry the burdens of working in vineyards owned by absentee landlords in lands that were given to them by God but lost them to their conquerors. Similarly, poor Filipino peasants today till the lands of big land owners, but when harvest comes almost nothing is left for them and their families to eat. But it is our hope a day will come when people till the land and enjoy the fruits of their labors. It will not be taken away from them.
Fifthly, “Even before they finish praying to me (God), I will answer their prayers” (v.24). The sufferings of the Israelites under foreign powers were believed to be indications that God had forsaken them (cf. Lam. 5:20-22). But actually, it is not God who abandoned the people; rather it is the people who lived far away from God. They did not follow God’s commandments.
The absence of God in Philippine society, as indicated by her being the most corrupt country in Asia despite all claims of being Christian, is very much felt when those supposedly Christian believers have reduced their faith in God into mere rituals and ceremonies. But we look forward to that day when we feel so close to our God that our prayers are answered even before finishing them.
Genuine and lasting peace
And finally, “Wolves and lambs will eat together; lions will eat straw as cattle do, and snakes will no longer be dangerous. On Zion, my sacred hill, there will be nothing harmful or evil” (v. 25). This is a picture of genuine and lasting peace. Wolves and lambs are mortal enemies; the wolves eat the lambs. But if wolves and lambs eat together, it is like saying the AFP, MILF, and NPA eat together. This is political peace.
Actually, lions do not eat straw like cattle do. But if lions eat straw like cattle do, this means that the people eat the same food. The best indicator of an economy is not the exchange rate or the stock exchange or the GNP, but rather the food on the table. If the tenants in Malacañang will eat the same food as the squatters in Tondo, then we could say there is economic peace in our land.
Snakes in the Bible are symbols of treachery. The reason why Israel suffered in the hands of foreign powers is because of leaders who were snakes; they were traitors to their own people and to God. They worshipped other gods – the god of money and power. They would say one thing but would do the opposite. No different from our leaders today. But time will come when there are still snakes around, but they will no longer be dangerous! They will no longer be poisonous!
Zion was the mountain where the palace and the temple – two symbols of political and religious power, respectively – were found. The residence of the servants of God, and of God’s Anointed One – the King of Israel. Mt. Zion was supposed to be God’s sacred hill, but the evils happening in the palace and in the temple betrayed its sanctity.
Our country is supposed to be a sacred place, for this is the only Christian country in Asia. It is supposed to be God’s instrument in making known the Gospel of Christ – the Gospel of love and justice – in this non-Christian part of the world. But then, it is perceived to be one among the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, country in Asia.
But nevertheless, we do have a living hope that time will come when there will be nothing harmful or evil in this land of our birth. This is Isaiah’s vision, and also our own. #