S.J Samartha asked, “There is a Cross in every resurrection. Is there a Resurrection for every Cross? ”In an era of manifest injustices and inequality, the quest for truth and justice is becoming tedious. Across this vast country there are indeed courageous comrades who have suffered and are facing the Cross, and may never experience resurrection, for the cause of truth, justice, equality and freedom.
Two millennia have passed, but the Cross and Resurrection events are still relevant today. Every Spring we are reminded of the Cross and Resurrection, but the gap in time, space and distance between the Cross and Resurrection events and the present day is so huge that it has made our readings and interpretations of the same so complex. Therefore, I deem it necessary to reflect on what Jesus died for and what Jesus stood for.
According to the Gospels, Jesus began his vocation immediately after his encounter and experiences in the wilderness. In the wilderness Jesus was in search of truth and justice, life and freedom, light and wisdom and these would become his ideals and enlightenment and later theologians would term as kingdom values. The wilderness was the ground work and at the same time his “Kurukshetra” (Battle) began here until it culminated on the Cross at Calvary. After forty days of intense conflict and struggle in the wilderness, Jesus had learned, realized and experienced and immediately put forth his Enlightenment in the language which is intelligible to the common person. He called it the Good News. The Good News encompasses abundant life, freedom, justice and equality. Abundant life signifies both quantitative and qualitative living atmosphere with equality of conditions and every citizen is ensured access to basic needs. Further, it also applies to a balanced eco-system where seasons flow naturally without distortion. The Good News lays strong emphasis on the freedom to earn a livelihood, freedom to avail of the blessings which have been bestowed by God and Nature and freedom to live with dignity irrespective of class, gender, sexual preferences, educated or illiterate, pious or humanist etc.
The Good News reinforces the idea of justice. Jesus’s concern for justice has more to do with “nyaya” rather than “niti” (“niti” and “nyaya” are sanskrit terms and both define justice. The former stresses on institutionalized justice, while the latter on the realization of justice). The Good News neither calls for an institutionalized justice nor the establishment of a just society. Rather Jesus confronted and battled against the manifest injustices that are aplenty. In his lifetime he stood on the side of the marginalized, fisher folks, women and those who were at the bottom of socio-religious and political ladder. He befriended the Samaritan woman who had become an outcast; he healed and fed those who were denied of basic health care and livelihoods. He lived among the people and died for them so that they can experience life, liberty and the enhancement of justice. Thus, during his lifetime, the Good News in a massive way appealed to the ordinary people and imbibed in them a sense of great hope.
Once again, the Good News is here to remind us of the Resurrection event. At this time of the year cultures across the Universe are celebrating the beginning of a new life. During spring the whole nature is awakened and very soon rain will drop down, lightning and thunder will clap to enliven the earth. Thus, after a dead, dull and lifeless winter follows a spring in which nature is bedecked with colours and it is a warm, lively, colorful and fertile season. Thus, in spring there is hope and life and without it, life would be impoverished.
Resurrection is about embracing a new life. Jesus in his resurrected body fully embraced a new life. Amidst hunger, poverty, injustices, inequality, corruption, confusion, frustration, hopelessness, pain and anger we embrace a new life and we begin on Easter. The Cross was not able to repress the struggle for those values which Jesus had stood and died for. The voices in the wilderness could not be suppressed by any force and the Cross is a manifestation of both the power of weakness and the weakness of power. On one side, there was the power that was hell bent to suppress the voices of freedom and justice, but on the other there was an indomitable spirit who was not deterred by the fact that death was right on his nose.
Above all the Cross and Resurrection stand out for freedom and it is freedom from fear that Jesus had manifested on the Cross. Freedom is both existential and transcendental. Today, there is a great desire for freedom and people long for one form of freedom or the other. As against the idea of freedom there is an inherent fear which is further fueled by external forces and today fear eclipsed our lives and being. The fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and the scourge of power intimidates those who are subject to it. Fear enslaves our minds, destroys our potential and reduces life to nothingness. Today the common people are frightened to experience sharp inequality and impoverishment. The fear about environmental degradation and merciless exploitation has engulfed the entire community. The fear of uncertain future grips our youths and the fear of being subjected to violence brings shiver down the spine. Our honorable lower and upper primary school teachers feared that they might again be treated shabbily. People living with HIV/AIDS are being scared to death by stigmatization and high cost medication. Our sons and daughters, who may have sexual preferences unlike our own, need care and not damnation. Every woman is frightened to think of maternal death or a child she had given birth may not live beyond the age of five. Farmers fear of bad season and the exodus of people in search of better pastures or livelihoods had already began. But new settlements cannot guarantee them a better life and new settlements mean living in shanties abound with insecurity and uncertainty. When families are broken, the society has undermined its values, the system of governance and the rule of law are in shambles people are shaken and petrified. The condition of life is deteriorating and fear is rife and as a result corruption, of all hues, become deeply entrenched.
In this context, freedom from fear becomes vital and necessary for the wholesome growth of individuals, society or a nation. The message about freedom is central to the Cross and Resurrection. Tagore’s idea of freedom began with the mind and the ability to overcome fear and through his poem, “where the mind is without fear”, urged his country men/women to strive towards that heaven of freedom. The ultimate freedom and a state of being in which an individual has no reason to fear nor would he be frightened or terrified, nor would there be any force or power to frustrate, intimidate and annihilate his/her being.
Coming back to the Cross and Resurrection, there are moments in which Jesus was gripped by fear and was overpowered by frustration and disillusion. There are critical moments in Jesus’ life and these moments are a reflection of his inner struggle for freedom and against fear. For him freedom precedes all other ideals. In the wilderness there was an intense conflict between freedom and fear, and this conflict did not end there. At Gethsemane Jesus was greatly distressed and troubled. Fear had once again overpowered him. Hours before he was arrested and crucified, Jesus quietly and intensely prayed, “…My soul is very sorrowful… Abba Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me…” However, Jesus stood firm in his conviction and commitment and came out stronger through death on the Cross. At the Cross he stood alone against the repressive powers of the day and unmasked the collusion of powers which had brought untold miseries to many. Jesus did not succumb and his victory over fear stands out to be a liberating force for generations to come.
Where are we heading to? Are we allowing ourselves to be enslaved by fear? Are we bereft of enlightenment? Can the Church/society come up with ideals/ideas that will liberate people from the bondage of fear? Or are we focusing more on power? Sadly, Community/ Institutions are drifting towards hierarchy with more concentration of powers in the hands of a few. During the Cross and Resurrection events it is important to remind ourselves with the words of the saints and prophets, “I hate, I despise your feasts and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies… but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like flowing streams…. leave this chanting and singing of beads…whom dost thou worship in this lonely corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee! He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path maker is breaking stones”. Let us also take courage from the words of Aung San Su Kyi, in which she said, “The greatest gift for an individual or a nation is “abhaya”, fearlessness, not merely bodily courage but absence of fear from the mind”.
First published in The Shillong Times FRIDAY, MARCH 29, 2013