Balik-Tanaw | The fortitude from the wilderness

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By BR. JONEL DALIMAG, CICM

Second Sunday of Advent

First Reading: Is. 40: 1-5, 9-11
Psalm: Ps. 85: 9-13
Second Reading: 2 Pt. 3: 8-14
Gospel Reading: Mk. 1: 1-8

The readings of the 2nd Sunday of Advent tell us the essence of the season which is the coming or arrival of the Messiah or the Savior. For a long time, the people of Israel had been waiting for the promised One who shall deliver them from the hands of their oppressors. They did not hear for a long time from someone who preach about the Messiah. That is why when John the Baptist’s voice was heard from and in the wilderness preaching about the Messiah, the Israelites listened and believed in him. They allowed themselves to be baptized by John. John’s preaching was indeed good news to them.

Looking back (baliktanaw) at the scene where John the Baptist was preaching, as prophesied by Isaiah and as described in the Gospel of Mark, we can reflect upon two important themes that are very relevant or significant to us today.

First is the theme of social activism. As a forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist was an activist during his time. He dared to defy the system and talk against the status quo. He challenged the authorities to straighten their crooked ways of doing things. He preached justice and social transformation. His daring stance landed him to prison which led to his tragic death. He was decapitated for speaking the truth. John’s example reminds us that taking a principled stance against oppression and injustices is risky and consequential. Even today, those who dare to take a stand against the status quo and speak truth to power, experience being red-tagged, threatened, in constant peril, and even killed. The latest case of Jevilyn Cullamat speaks volume about taking a principled stance against those who continue to oppress and abuse other’s rights. At her very young and fragile age, Jevilyn witnessed how her Manobo tribe and other Lumad tribes in Mindanao experience abuse and oppression at the hands of the elements of the state. According to her mother Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, who is also a Manobo leader, Jevilyn’s “decision to join the armed conflict is not a simple matter, it was triggered by the abuses that us Lumads have experienced and the poverty she witnessed.” She added that Jevilyn “personally witnessed the killing of their local leaders Dionel Campos, Datu Bello Sinzo, and ALCADEV Executive Director Emerito Samarca on September 1, 2015, at the hands of the state’s paramilitary.” Like John, Jevilyn, Dionel Campos, Bello Sinzo and Emerito Samarca, were killed for standing for what is just and true. They all suffered and gave-up their lives for their message. Their cries were the voices calling in the wilderness to make crooked systems straight. Their deaths fortified the call of the time to save humanity from the unscrupulous grip of the corrupt. Their lives were not wasted. On the contrary, they lived their lives to the fullest. As Rep. Cullamat proudly said: “I say this without a tinge of doubt: I am proud of Jevilyn for fighting an oppressive system especially against us Lumads…The life that she sacrificed for the country and in defense of our ancestral lands did not go to waste. It’s a great honor for me to have had a child who became a martyr and a warrior.” We should also be proud of them. The fortitude of forerunners, of social activists inspires us to do our part.

The second theme of the readings that we can reflect upon is the theme of wilderness. A visualization of the scene of the readings point us to the mountains, to the valleys, to the forests, to the rivers, to the plains, etc. Why did John the Baptist not preach in the city? Why did he preach from and in the wilderness? A look back at the history of the Jewish people would show us that it was in the wilderness where Yahweh led them from their slavery in Egypt. It was in the darkness of the wilderness, in the uncertainty of the wilderness, that the Israelites meet God. It was in their wandering in the wilderness that they felt so close to Yahweh. Their journey in the wilderness strengthened their sense of history and community. It makes their faith rooted in their experience of enslavement as a people. It was in the wilderness that they struggle as a tribe. Yet, it was also in the wilderness that God built them as a nation. It was in the mountains in the wilderness that they worshipped God: “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid.” It was in the wilderness of the dessert that God promised them a fruitful land as they expressed in their psalms: “The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.”

The history of the Jewish people is very much similar to what the indigenous peoples of the Philippines are experiencing now. Their lands are converted for mining, for large scale plantations, for subdivisions and for malls. These cause massive displacements among them, which in turn causes them to take up arms to defend their land and their rights. As long as there is oppression, as long as there are abuses and as long as there is displacement; there will always be voices from and in the wilderness denouncing oppression, abuses and injustices. This is necessary in order to preserve cultural identity and community particularly among the indigenous peoples. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si observes that: “Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.” (Laudato Si, #145). The Pope further observes that extending special care for indigenous peoples is essential to the maintenance of a balance ecology: “In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their 110 cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.” (LS # 146). (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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