He So Loved the Poor

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

This article will come up on Good Friday, a most special day for Christians. It challenges me no end to share what is appropriate, what is needed, on days that are great symbols to what are most important to people and societies.

At the same time, it is not my role or desire to give a homily. While I carry no insecurities about my natural understanding of what is divine or Christian, I am not any holier than anyone. I just get my opinion throughto more people than most, and I value my readers enough to strive to share with them substance, not trash.

I want to write about the “nation of servants,” I want to write about thepoor and about justice, I want to write about Jesus. All three are subjects of great substance and our present state of affairs in the country need for these issues to be thoroughly processed. At this point, I will borrow from Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), an English writer and author of note, who at the end of a personal questioning what the role of a writer was said, “It is to make men hear, to make men see— to give men a glimpse of awesome truth.”

We, indeed, are a nation of servants. We had long been servants to our masters, the datus, the Spaniards, Americans and Japanese. Now, we serve even more people from more countries. It has been a consistent journey, but one which I see as gradually but surely moving towards our emancipation. In fact, in this lifetime, yours and mine and all who are alive today, never have we been so close to our freedom. And it is because we are carrying a load that gets heavier by the day.

Domestic helpers are not a creation of Hong Kong or Singapore. They did not make us domestics – we did that ourselves. We are a nation of masters and servants, mostly servants, of course.* *Our poor are so many that even the non-rich can afford a domestic helper. If 50-60% of Filipinos rate themselves as poor, then 45-55 million Filipinos are potential domestic helpers to fellow Filipinos who do not rate themselves as poor. But with teachers and other college graduates often going abroad to be domestic helpers, then up to 80 million can be servants to both local and international households. That qualifies us under any measure to be called a nation of servants.

Serving others is a gift. In our case, however, it is a curse. It has little to do with Christianity; it has mostly to do with poverty. Filipinos serve because they are poor, because they have little choice, because it is the only way they can gain indirect access to what can keep them alive – whatever patrimony of the land that trickles down to them from the masters who control it.

In a bizarre way, then, there seems to be more reason for Jesus to love Filipinos if, indeed, He loved the poor first. His prophetic mission was to bring “glad tidings to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.” If one did not know better, it can look likeJesus came for Filipinos who are poor, captives of a less than just system, sick and cannot afford treatment, and victims of an extended oppression
from foreign and local masters. This week, this Holy Week, this Good Friday, is a perfect moment to reflect if truly we are a nation of Christians who love God and neighbor or a nation of servants forced to be so.

We can reflect on our religion and how it has been taught to us, if our collective behavior is an aberration of the teachings or a natural product of the same. We can reflect on our democracy and how it is applied to us by those who govern, if the sum total of our poverty and the corruption that strangle us are the fault of a lazy, disobedient populace or the consequence of the hypocrisy and exploitation of our leaders.

Assuming the majority of Filipinos are wrong and more to blame for their lack of access to what was divinely ordained, meaning the wealth and abundance of the islands known as the Philippines, what then is our recourse to correct our errors? Our options are few but radical as the intensity of our plight, and that is to recover access to material capital starting with land which belongs to all and not just a few families and their corporations. That can mean a bloody revolution, or that can mean a peaceful  revolution, but a revolution nonetheless. Only a revolution can dismantle a constitution that protects the right of a few over the rights of many.

Of course, Christians have another option – they can simply be true Christians. Christianity in itself is a revolution, and that is why its Founder had a bloody ending under the hands of the government in His time. Jesus offered a pathway for the poor, the marginalized, the ignorant and
the oppressed, a pathway for which only His blood was needed – and collective love of Christians for the neighbor, beginning with the poor. It was enough  that Jesus shed His blood – if we know how to respond to His sacrifice.

Sadly, Christians have yet to show that loving response. Sadly, the teachings have not taken root among those who need them the most – and it  is not the poor I refer to. It is those among us who have power over the poor, who have resources we can share with the poor, who have knowledge and wisdom to trigger enlightenment among the poor. The challenge of Lent is directed to us, to walk the talk of our faith, to follow the footsteps and priorities of Jesus, to dedicate our spiritual evolution in faithfulness to His mission.

The cross is a symbol of many meanings. It can be the bloody altar where servants are crucified by those who govern them. It can be the perfect stage
where the highest sacrifice can be offered so others can be set free. It can  be the intersection of error and realization, the point of conversion, the
choice of resurrection rather than an extension of an old wine skin.

Are the poor struggling through the way of their cross? Is the weight too much to bear, is the crown of thorns too painful to endure in silence, are the nails on their hands and feet the last straw before they say, “no more.” We know Jesus so loved the poor that He would compensate for their hardship What would He possibly do to the rest of us?

“In bayanihan, we will be our brother’s keeper and forever shut the door to hunger among ourselves.”

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