“Subjugated Thoughts”

by Nestor Ravilas

JUSTIFIED LIFE – It is interesting to note how the law was demeaned particularly in the Book of Galatians.  The law is a failure; it neither delivers righteousness nor justification, it says.  To count on the law then in attaining the two is to flirt with failure if not with disaster.  This makes me wonder then on the original functions of the law.  If the law is useless especially in delivering the best things in this life, why it was given in the first place?  And why the entire world, or the Israelites, to make my argument more specific, left for a very long period of time under the tutelage of the law if, after all, it could not bring them any good?  Was the law, from the very beginning of its promulgation, was given only to fail so as to pave way for the coming of a much better solution?  Or the law, after giving enough time to carry out its alleged purpose perceived later to be failing thus a new paradigm has to supplant, or maybe assist it, so as to arrest further escalation of trouble?  In both conjectures, the law was seen as failing – failing particularly to deliver its alleged purpose.  But what were those things that the law fails to deliver? – justification, righteousness, qualification to promise, a promise of ethereal salvation?

One would ask if those things mentioned above were originally expected corollaries on the giving and subscribing to the law.  Was there any incident where in the people was exhorted that the law particularly was given to make them “justified”; or they were sternly reminded, that all of the stipulations there have to be observed and obeyed to the letters at all times to ensure this “justification” thing? Failing to observe then even one of the enjoinments written there would automatically mar your record and would cause your qualification from any reward promised to those who will be found “justified”.  Within this condition therefore, since there are so many stipulations under it and the probability of violating one or two is great, it deems to be incapable to deliver justification, as the word specifically defined in the Book of Galatians. But none of these things mentioned was ever referred to as essential reasons of the giving of the law.

If I may suggest, sociologically,the giving of the law could be seen as an overture for nation building.  The Hebrews were at the threshold of building a community/nation in a specific location given to them by God himself.  They were brought out of ignominious slavery and were led, not on each separate way, but in a path of living together as one people or community of God.  God’s plan for Israel in saving them was not to scatter them out in the dessert, but to bring them in a greener pasture where they would settle down as social entity.  The law or laws came to express the divine will, the divine wishes on how this socialization must proceed.  It is, first and foremost, to facilitate,mediate and govern the making of a community.

There is enough reason to facilitate socialization by external forces such as laws and policies.  To build a community is to exist with neighbors; to include others within the interiority of our enclosed-self.  The law was primarily given to present the“other” from the view of the self in order to recognize the “other”.  It is given in order to facilitate the opening of the enclosed-self so as to welcome mutual recognition and responsibility.  The command “thou shall not kill,” more than anything else, is to present the other as an ethical limit to my pursuant of personal pleasure.  The“other”, donned with the image of God, standing before me is sovereign than my ego.  None therefore should be sacrificed in the altar of my insatiable yearning for self satisfaction – the “other” as neighbor therefore must be loved the way one naturally loves oneself.

The law however failed, and I agree with such conjecture.  Looking at the history of Israel, with all the history of abuse by those in power, the odious exploitation of the weaker “others”, the downside trajectory of the monarchy from the division of the nation into two kingdoms and the eventful collapse of one kingdom after the other and the whole drama of dismal dive to perdition culminated into the separation from the land of the Israelites is enough to convince anyone that indeed the law failed. It fails urging the people to prioritize socialization.  It fails convincing people to widen their horizon of the self into a communal span. It fails to compel everyone to stop consuming the “other” for personal satisfaction.   If indeed the law has something to do with such notion as justification, it fails to justify one’s responsibility in building a community.  A justified life is a life with other’s concerns and betterment is within the self’s primary consideration.  That is the essence of the command “thou shall not kill”, “Thou shall not covet”, and all stipulations under the Decalogue which is basically bringing to our consciousness that a justified life is bringing justice to the “other.”

I may err on this but I am willing to bet everything to vouch this: infringement of any of the stipulations in the law is not primarily against God, but a violation against the aim of those laws to build a community.  God has nothing to ask from us to make him complete. That is the true essence of his command to Peter – “If you love me don’t think of anything you could do to me, I need nothing.  Instead, go and feed my people.  That’s the way of loving me.”   The law was given to usher the journey of the community into shalom – the communal existence within the peace and prosperity of God.  To subscribe to the law, to observe the law, to obey it, is to love our neighbors as how we love ourselves.  To strike the “other” is to disrupt peace and jeopardize the bond of community.  I would say that the exile is not primarily God’s punishment to the sinning Israel. It was a grimy consequence of their blatant violations of the “other”.  Don’t expect a house to stand storms and waves when each one kills, steals, and covets each other. It is better to see it that way, putting entirely the blame on us than to a punishing God, in order that each of us will be justified by way we try to escape the tightly-closed“self” and go out totally in promoting community making. Other than this, no one could have a justified existence!

Tale of Two Heroes: Reflection on Mark 1:14-20

by Nestor Ravilas

In all materialist reading, there are two conspicuous stories in the introduction of the gospel of Mark.  Far from the romanticized version of Matthew and Luke, where in a poor baby Jesus was born in an unfriendly world, the Markan version skips the nativity story and starts rather his narration on the rise of the new revolutionary to replace the falling one.    This actually is a trite plot; usually done to show that the coming power is more potent than the old it was about to replace.  That the emerging one promised more than what the old has accomplished.

It is not literary accident that the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus was introduced along with the note that John the Baptist was incarcerated.  It is the literary formula of falling and rising.  While one is now taking his steps down the stage, a new face is claiming it to himself.  It is now the problem of Mark to prove both the legitimacy of this heir to the people’s social struggle and his qualification that promises not only continuity, but a significant advancement far than what his supposed mentor has achieved.

Three symbolic powers were conjoined that accomplished this crucial introduction of the new hero.   There himself the “supremo” giving affirmation on his speech about his supposed heir right after baptizing him into the “kilusan”.  This is enough to assuage any doubt coming from any disgruntled faction as to the legitimacy of the chosen one.    But more cogent is the affirmation of two eternal powers perennially engaged in eternal conflict.  Both God and Satan sanctioned the transition in different manners.

As I have said, the new leadership should not present itself as mere continuity.  It must offer new inspiration to retain and foment more the fire of revolution.  Jesus’ manifesto – “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” must be understood as “manifesto upgraded“ of the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” of the Baptist.   What makes this more cogent from the old one depends on how this would instill and inspire the yearning for social reforms and equality.  But whatever the old epoch has bequeathed to the emerging power, it has to leave the stage to give way to the new form of struggle.  It has to shape its own engagement; with this goes also the need for new “kapatiran” that are neither loyal to the old leadership of the revolutionary movement nor afraid to thread this new path of struggle.  Thus the calling of his lieutenants-would-be who would compose the inner circle of the new movement comes after the declaration of Jesus’ revolt.

The Baptist-Jesus saga is the story of humans’ refusal to be reduced to something that diminishes their good nature inherited from the very God who created them.  The transition shows this undying fire for more humane existence in the midst of gnawing evil.  One rises as one is falling; the struggle must continue.  Chapter 6 narrated the complete elimination of the Baptist from the scene of social struggle.  But not long after this, Mark ended his story/gospel with the brutal death of the heir to the Baptist.  There are many contentions as to what transpired after his brutal death in that ignominious cross.  But few have asked as to the fate of the movement’s struggle for prosperous and more humane social existence.

Many claimed to be heirs to this particular line of social revolution but none so far is powerful enough to hobble the advancement of evil.  What kind of declaration of struggle and protest is inspiring us now after Jesus’ -“the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” – that would inspire us to engage this social malaise?  Or are we now in the retreat mode and give up completely this world and our entire yearning for happy and harmonious life we deem to be impossible to win anymore.  The Markan narrative ended with the risen Jesus declaring this –

“In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Thus marks the death of social revolution and the birth of the cult as the continuation from the fallen Jesus to the risen Christ – the new heir to the legacy of activism.