Balik-Tanaw | Saying no to an unjust system

By Rev. DEXTER CEBALLOS
United Methodist Church (UMC)

November 15th, 24th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 128:1-5

Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

1Thess 5:1-6

Matt 25:14-30

Growing up in a poor family, I have always wanted to become rich and successful. I remember my childhood years when my relatives would often ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would eagerly answer, “I want to become a businessman and become rich.” I would assume that most people desire prosperity and abundance. The Bible also provides several motivational verses in achieving this human desire. Psalms 128: 1-2 is one of those verse, and it states,

Happy are those who obey the LORD,
who live by his commands.
2 Your work will provide for your needs;
you will be happy and prosperous.

One of the parables that is commonly used to motivate people to develop their resources is our gospel reading today. This parable has been traditionally referred to as the “Parable of the talents”. The talents here are not the skills or abilities that a person have like singing, dancing and the like. Rather, it refers to a unit of measurement used to weigh silver or gold. The common value of a talent was 6000 denarii and if one ‘denarri’ is a day’s wage during that time, then 1 talent is worth a lot in our present setting.

According to the parable, the owner of the property, or landlord called his servants and entrusted them the affairs of his properties because he was going on a journey. He gave five talents to the first servant, tow Talents to the second and one talent to the third. The 2 servants with five and two talents, were able to double the value and gave it to the master. The master was pleased and commended their work. We can read this in verse 21,
‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

On the other hand, the third servant who was not able to make a profit from what he received was punished by the master.

I used to think that the master represents God and the servants represent the people who decided to serve God. But, upon careful reading of the texts, I began to question verse 24 which states, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” This description does not reflect the God I know. God is fair and just as stated in Psalms 115: 5, “The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” The master in the story is not God, but represents the greedy masters and big landlords of that period.

This parable is a critique of the oppression and exploitation of the workers who labor to enrich the landlords and big business owners. The two servants are part of a system of exploitation and they work hard for the benefit of the landlords.

I remember an anecdote I have read from a random post in the internet:
“A CEO of a company arrived in a fancy sports car and one of the employees saw him. The employee remarked, “Sir, that is a beautiful sportscar, that must be very expensive.” The CEO replied, yes, that supercar is worth millions, and if you work harder, spend more hours in your overtime, and give your best to this company, I will get another one next year.”

This is the sad reality of our laborers who work hard to enrich the big land lords and oligarchs of the Philippines. These workers are surviving in a minimum wage that is below the threshold of Living Wages. According to IBON Foundation, as of February 2020, a family with 5 members needs 1,022 pesos a day in order to live decently; but the minimum wage today ranges from 500 to 537 pesos per day. This system works only for the ruling class and not for the benefit of those who labor and toil.

The third servant, on the other hand, decided to oppose this system. He was branded as lazy and was punished by the greedy master because he refused to be part of an exploitative relationship. It would appear, in verse 23 that the third servant was afraid of this oppressive master, we can read, “so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours,” But his action was a form of resistance. He knew his master would demand a profit from the talent entrusted to him, but he refused to work on it. He was courageous enough to say ‘NO’ to this cycle of oppression and exploitation, even if it would result to banishment and persecutions.

Today, numerous servants of peace and justice are being persecuted and branded as terrorists due to their advocacies in exposing and opposing the injustices perpetuated by the so called “masters” of our society. Church people, members of the civil society and ordinary citizens who express their ‘dissent’ could easily be ‘red-tagged’ as terrorist by these ‘masters.’

The Bible, through this parable, is teaching us to say NO to an unjust system that exploits our workers and laborers. We advocate for ‘living wages’ and necessary benefits for our laborers. We face the greedy masters and tell them, “enough is enough.”

These advocacies may result to persecutions, but I believe, this is the message of the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus. He mentioned this in Matthew 23:23, when he accused the religious leaders of neglecting the weightier matters of the law – Justice and Mercy.

Let us be courageous in the face of persecutions while upholding the message of the Kingdom of God. We follow this Jesus who is concerned with the welfare of all people and desires His followers to do the same.

This is the heart of God:

Micah 6:8
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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).

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