By PATIS MUNGCAL
National Council of Churches in the Philippines
Psalm 104:1,24, 29-31, 34
1 Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13
Our reading from Acts greeted us with this line. Being in the nth day in lockdown because of the COVID-19, this line made me ache for a sense of togetherness. Although we have made strong efforts to maintain our sense of community from distance and in isolation, I am sure that I’m not the only one in need of a warm-bodied fellowship to grieve and weep, express compassion, and envision the better normal we deserve.
In a stronger sense, we are still in one place. We may not be together, but we are living in one place. We are living in a place of vulnerability and uncertainty. We are in a place of fear and hopelessness, of anger and frustration. And in this place, we are striving to cultivate compassion and hope.
But although we are in one place with a common threat, we are still facing different hardships and struggles. For the most of us, this place is a place of hunger where in order to get food, there is a high risk of being arrested. Meanwhile for some, the comfort of affording to go to groceries or availing food delivery services still exists. Most of our kababayan are forced to work just to have something to eat and are practically being sacrificed at the altar of profit, to keeping the economy rolling. (Imagine, profit at the expense of peoples’ lives!) While some could stay comfortably in their own homes and even shout with utmost delight, “Ang sarap ng buhay!”
It is even baffling to see that in the thick of the pandemic, while we are almost immobile because of the lockdown and blinded with false information and confusion, our sisters and brothers are still suffering the ruthless dog-eat-dog world outside. There have been reports of killings in urban poor communities in Metro Manila. Arrests and killings related to the drug war continue, and now detentions allegedly because of “quarantine violations” became rampant. These happen amid the resounding call of the international community to release prisoners to combat the spread of the virus in prison and detention facilities.
It is also beyond disturbing to still see and experience false allegations and malicious accusations against cause and service oriented organizations in the form of red-tagging and arbitrary arrests. Just on Friday night, a State task force released a malicious list that red-tags various legal organizations, including the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. This came urgently after the amendments on the Human Security Act, known as the Anti-Terror Bill, was passed at the House Committee level. The travesty!
In this place we are in, we find ourselves facing not just the pandemic but also government neglect and corruption (excessive use of power) and state-sponsored attacks.
Here, just like the disciples in the Gospel of John, we find ourselves huddled together longing to hear the words, “Peace be with you!” We are longing for the day we finally survive this. Waiting for him to breathe on us. But as Christians pursuing the vision of earth as it is in heaven, we know that the peace we desperately need won’t be simply handed over to us. For this, we need justice. We should know by now that there is no peace without justice.
In the reading of Acts, we saw a vibrant scene of speaking of tongues, how daring. This reminds me of a story from their ancestors when tribes were scattered in Babel with different languages. They were blabbering and no one understood them. But here in the reading, people were utterly amazed by how they are familiar and immediately connected with the language of their leaders.
I hope this story of the Pentecost compels us to speak the tongues of the people, as what our current pandemic situation demands. As we continue to live every day under the pandemic, as followers of the God of justice, I hope that we may never give in to the temptation to be silent and be complacent as the State and the ruling class slowly reveal to us the “new normal” that would only selfishly favor their interests. If we don’t learn to speak the tongues of the people, if we don’t shout with them their calls #MassTestingNow, #AyudaNgayonNa, and #SerbisyongMedikalHindiMilitar, we fail to do our crucial role as church-people.
Therefore I invite you to listen to the cries of the people in order to speak the tongues of the people. We must feel the oppression of the people. In the face of fear and uncertainty, us Christians are being compelled to step up, speak out, and act together. Out of chaos and suffering, God birthed the Church. And so in this time of struggle, may the Church with the people give birth to a “new normal” that is founded upon justice and peace.
Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of Promotion of Church People’s Response. The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action. As we nurture our faith by committing ourselves to journey with the people, we also wish to nourish the perspective coming from the point of view of hope and struggle of the people. It is our constant longing that even as crisis intensifies, the faithful will continue to strengthen their commitment to love God and our neighbor by being one with the people in their dreams and aspirations. The Title of the Lectionary Reflection would be Balik –Tanaw , isang PAGNINILAY . It is about looking back (balik) or revisiting the narratives and stories from the Biblical text and seeing ,reading, and reflecting on these with the current context (tanaw).