By HANNAH SANTILLAN
National Council of Churches in the Philippines
July 5, 2020, 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Ps 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
What is rest in this time of pandemic? What is rest for the jeepney drivers who can’t sleep because of hunger and that they can’t provide for the needs of their families? What is rest for the Overseas Filipino Workers who are stranded and are staying under a flyover bridge? What is rest for parents and students who are not able to afford online learning? What is rest for our frontliners when there are not enough PPEs to protect them? What does rest mean for people who are suffering under lockdown and a state-instigated terror?
Commonly, we interpret our text – Matthew 11:25-30, as to let God be “the answer” to all our woes, “Ipaubaya na natin sa Diyos.” (Let’s leave it to God.) or “Tiisin na lang hanggang sa maging maayos ang sitwasyon.” (Let’s endure our suffering and things will soon get better.) Yet Jesus has a very active invitation in this text rather than inaction or misaction to these sufferings. In verse 25, the “wise” refers to the experts of the law and leaders who displayed their self-centeredness and tyranny. Their refusal to listen have caused them to fail. The “infants” are the common people who are sick, persecuted, “sinners”, and marginalized people who came for healing and life-giving yoke. Jesus thanked God, for the wisdom belongs to common people, and not to the Pharisees and tyrant leaders. These “infants” see God’s grace, love and wisdom which the “wise” do not (or refused to) acknowledge. In verse 28, Jesus invites all heavily burdened and weary to rest. This is an invitation to the common people who suffer from heavy labor, and unjust practices of the law. It is not for the religious leaders in the book of Matthew which were complicit to the Roman rulers in maintaining the imperial system. People suffer from maintaining a system that doesn’t serve them. This invitation of rest is a life under God’s reign that the people is bringing into being.
July 3rd – the tragic day when the Anti-Terror Bill became a law. President Duterte signed this dangerous bill at the time when the Philippines set the highest single day increase in the new cases for Covid-19. The bill is terror itself to the people which gives absolute power to the executive branch to judge who the terrorist is and who is not, based from its vague and overbroad definition of terrorism. Anyone who is critical of the government can be tagged as a terrorist. Anyone who is airing their legitimate demands can be accused of doing acts of terrorism. This law does not only undermine our long history of stuggle for democracy, but also tramples upon our human rights and dignity as a people. President Duterte’s signing of this controversial bill only shows that he does not respect the wisdom of the common people. Guilty of so many transgression against the people, he weaponizes the law to curtail the exercise of people’s rights to demand transparency, social justice and the delivery of services to the people . He would never understand the danger of it because he never listens to the cries of his kababayans.
All of his CoVid-19 pandemic responses are miscued. To begin with there were no clear overall plan to manage the pandemic. The national government was just letting the LGU’s work with their own strategies. The militaristic display of power by arresting the common folk on “violation protocols” and doing humanitarian work, while having a boastful display of military tanks and high-powered guns in our streets will not kill the virus. This militarist approach does not solve our health crisis, but even more creates terror to our communities. We can imagine the several layers of suffering to the Filipino people yet the policies and military equipment cannot comprehend it. They will just identify the hungry people as “pasaway” with the authority’s insensitive comments like, “disiplina lang ‘yan”. With these mentally, emotionally draining scenarios for almost four months now, what does rest mean for the most of us?
Besides needed rest for us to function like sleep and food, to REST is also about raising our awareness, and crying out. Rest is also about releasing the heavy burden of yoke of slavery from unjust laws and practices. Rest is learning to set boundaries and saying “no” to any form of exploitation. For us today, rest is also about resistance. For jeepney drivers, rest would mean driving back to the streets, and gaining back their hanapbuhay. For OFWs, it could mean going home to their families and where employment is guaranteed. Rest for parents and students could mean freezing the school year and serve the mass-oriented, scientific and nationalist education. For our frontliners, it means sufficient amount of PPE’s and raising their salaries ample support from the government. Rest for all of us could be free mass testing and junking the Terror Law. Rest is not a luxurious self-care like how capitalism is capturing it. It is sensitive to the human need. It is not just an aid for a dysfunctional society. It is awareness and embodiment of our rights and God-given life.
The yoke Jesus offers is easy and light. It is not a life that is magically at ease. It is not an escape but engagement. It is full of struggle and challenges, not because of injustices but because we are working for freedom and justice. The yoke is a humble service instead of proving oneself and unending competition. The yoke is security in God and people’s love instead of illusionary power and wealth. The yoke is healing and intentional change instead of repeating the tyranny of the past. Practicing rest may be hard at first especially when exploitation conditions us to be busy. Practicing rest is engaging in the process of change. Change is engagement; it is not what politicians promise to us. Change is intentional and cultural consciousness. It is the work of everybody. Change is the creation of society that realizes the life which God had have given to us-the fullness of life. Rest gives us that energy that drives us for change, and changing the system, revolutionizes everything. To put rest to the perspective of the masang-api, and for the whole lot of us who are suffering, rest is about resistance.
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).