Weekly Reflections: God is rice but rice is not God


“Listen, then, if you have ears!” — Matthew 13:9

Rice and Rural Life

I would like to focus our reflections on rural life and remember the peasants and farm workers who are producing the food of our nation. Needless to say, among the most neglected aspects of our country’s life are the rural areas. Yet, it is from there that the food of our nation comes.

Perhaps, the best symbol of rural life is no other than the rice. It is not only because it is our staple food, but more so because rural people spend most of their life in the planting and harvesting of rice. Indeed, life for them is rice.

In one of the seminars I conducted among peasants in Bicol several years ago, a peasant from a remote barrio said in Tagalog, “God is rice”! Many of the participants were laughing, but I took his statement seriously. It was my first time to hear such kind of theological statement long before a Japanese theologian, Masao Takenaka, said something similar. The great theological minds in the West had not said anything like this before. And so, I asked him further why he claimed that God is rice.

He said that he spent most of his life in the rice fields. He plants rice, harvests rice, and eats rice. He discovered the reality of God through the rice. Whenever he has a bountiful harvest, he would remember God. Whenever calamity comes and destroys his rice fields, he would also be reminded of God. Indeed, the reality of God is revealed to him through the rice. This is actually what incarnation means. God comes to us in concrete situations we are in.

As I was listening to this poor, uneducated peasant, I was so fascinated by his wisdom, and humbled by the sharpness of his theological insight. This peasant seems to be saying to me that I’m not the only one who knows theology and that though he is a mere peasant, he has also experienced the reality of God and therefore he has something to share.

And this is the first point I would like to share: To remember rural life is to recognize the fact that our rural people, neglected as they are, despised and looked down at times, have much to share not only in our economic sustenance as a nation, but much more in giving meaning and significance to our human existence. They have the wisdom seasoned by experience; they have the truth tempered by faith. No wonder Jesus Christ spent most of his ministry not in the urban centers, like Jerusalem, but in the rural areas of Galilee.

Parable of the Sower

Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Mt.13:1-9) speaks of rural life in Ancient Palestine. According to the Parable, a man went out to sow grain. And as he scattered the seeds on the fields, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, it burned the young plants. And because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. Some seeds fell among the thorny bushes that grew up and choked the plants. But some seeds fell on good soil, and the plants bore grain; some had one hundred grains, others sixty, and others thirty.

This is a simple story that an ordinary peasant in the rural areas could easily identify and understand. I conducted a Bible study onetime among peasants in Southern Luzon and used this Parable of the Sower. I explained the Parable using the traditional interpretation. For instance, I mentioned the different kinds of people representing the different kinds of soil. I said that there are hearers of the Word of God with a closed mind like a rocky soil, or with a shallow mind like a shallow ground. But there are also those who are like the good soil: they listen, they understand, and they obey.

After explaining all these things beautifully, one of the peasants said that the problem is not on the kind of soil, but rather on the Sower himself! He said that before a peasant scatters the seeds, he should be sure that the soil is ready for planting. He should plow and harrow it carefully, removing all the thorns and rocks so that the seeds can surely grow and bear much fruit.

In other words, the peasant is saying that the problem is not the hearer of the Word, but the preacher of the Word of God. The problem is not the parishioner, but the pastor himself. I was surprised by what he said. I never thought of that before, and I knew that he was saying the truth.

And this is the second point that I would like to share: To remember rural life is to listen to what the rural people are saying.

This reminds me of what a peasant in Central Luzon said onetime as mentioned by Fr. Ed de la Torre in one of his writings, “You pastors and priests are always telling us that we should not go to the cabaret, and that we should always go to church on Sunday. But those things concern only our nightlife and our weekends. How about our everyday life? If I produce more cavans of rice per hectare, does it make me a better Christian?”

What the peasant was actually saying is that if the church is really serious with its ministry to the rural people, then it must address the crucial issues they are confronted with in their daily life, not just their nightlife and weekends.

Rice is not God

One of the major concerns of the peasants in the rural areas as well as the consumers in the urban centers is the artificial shortage of rice as mentioned recently by President Duterte in his second State of the Nation Address. This is due to the presence of powerful rice cartels that are controlling and monopolizing the trading of rice from the producers to the consumers. Rice is bought at a very low price from the producers, and sold at a very high price to the consumers. As a result, you have both the peasant producers and the consuming public complaining.

When the peasant from Bicol said that God is rice, he was not saying that the other way around is also true. God is rice, but rice is not God. What the powerful rice cartels are doing is turning rice into a false god; an idol that exploits, even the producers of rice themselves! A false god has no power of its own. The power of a false god is in the hands of those who are manipulating it for their own selfish ends.

And this is the third and final point I would like to share: To remember rural life is not only to recognize the wisdom of the rural people and learn from them, but also to share in the struggles and hopes of the rural people, so that the rice that gives life and sustains us all will not be turned into a false god that exploits us. Indeed, God is rice, but always bear in mind: rice is not God! “Listen, then, if you have ears!” (Mt. 13:9).#nordis.net


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