The death of Jesus Christ on the Cross two thousand years ago did not happen in a vacuum, it had its own context. Beyond symbolism, the Cross is at the centre and it also stands at the intersection where religious and political powers meet each other to conspire against the voice that speak truth to power. We are living in hard/dangerous times, especially when one is a minority, a tribal, a dalit, a migrant, a labourer, a refugee. The “acche din” is just an illusion. We witnessed the alarming rise of fascism/ fundamentalism in this country and around the globe.
The Syrian Crisis which had displaced and forced millions of people to become refugees is not going to end soon and while in our own backyard dissenting voices are being shut down. Even College/University students are not spared. Dalits, Tribals or forest dwellers who defend their land, forest and rivers are being branded as anti-nationals or terrorists. The life of a bright student, Rohith Vemulla, was cut short by those in-charge who wished not to allow the son of the dalit woman to have an abundant life. In this context and as we are reflecting on the death of Jesus Christ, I would like to pose this question, what the Cross or the death of Jesus Christ means to us today?
The Gospel according to John 11: 47-53 states:
Was the crucifixion of Jesus a plot? Or a conspiracy hatched by the council of priests or the powerful people who were threatened by the Jesus movement which was built on the idea of justice, equality and liberty. Every Good Friday we are reminded of the sufferings of Jesus the Christ on the cross and ultimately the triumphant event of resurrection. Sermons and rituals abound through the Passion Week and around the death of Jesus. Many might still be wondering when Jesus Died? Or How He Died? Or, pondering on the tyranny of those people and the Roman soldiers who mocked and whipped him or on the nails or the crown of thorns or the blood etc. But more than the objects it is imperative to focus on the question why Jesus died on the Cross? It is important to tell the world today what Jesus died for and what he stood for?
The gap in time and space between the crucifixion some thousand years ago and the present day is so huge that it has made our study and interpretation of the event complex. Yet we can faithfully express that Jesus, the embodiment of the divine lived and worked among the rangli-juki (common people) and died for them so that they can gain and experience fullness of life.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The language of faith is dissent not intolerance[/pullquote]
According to Mark, Jesus began his ministry immediately after his encounter and experience in the wilderness. In the wilderness Jesus had searched for truth and justice, life and freedom, light and wisdom that would later become his ideals and values. In a way, the wilderness had become for Jesus a preparatory ground for the events that were to unfold in his life and mission. During the forty days of intense conflict and struggle in the wild, Jesus had experienced and realized what he was looking for and he gave a name to it and it is called the Good News or the Gospel. Further to make the message of the Gospel more intelligible to the people, to create a sense of hope among the rangli-juki or to make it appealing, Jesus translated the Good News into the Gospel of Love. Therefore for him, love is the foundation of faith and spirituality. Throughout his journey Jesus spoke the language of faith which is love as against hate or bigotry which is the language of religion.
The language of faith is sharing and solidarity.
The language of faith is equality.
The language of faith is grace not unhealthy growth.
The language of faith is need not greed.
The language of faith is protection not profit.
The language of faith is dissent not intolerance.
The language of faith is justice not oppression.
The language of faith is compassion not indifference.
The language of faith is common good not privatization.
The Gospel of love reinforces the idea of Justice. Love demands justice, whereas the high priests, Pharisees, Sadducees and the scribes in connivance with the Roman rulers were known for their acts of exploitation and discrimination against the poor. They were known for their acts of oppression against the destitute, widows and orphans. They were known for their acts of oppression against the destitute, widows and orphans. They were also known for their acts of injustices towards the people whom they ruled. In Luke 11:42 Jesus had this to say,
In other words Jesus had warned against the Pharisees and teachers of the law or against those powerful people whose act of injustice had made the lives of the common people miserable. Amartya Sen made a vivid distinction between niti and nyaya in his book The Idea of Justice. Both niti and nyaya are Sanskrit terms which connote justice. It can be said that Jesus’s concern for justice has more to do with nyaya rather than niti. The former stands for the realization of Justice. The Gospel of love which Jesus preached was the greatest challenge to the injustices of the time and he worked towards the prevention of manifest injustice. Jesus fought and died for the realization of Justice.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]For such a long period of time the Gospel of Love has been domesticated and individualized and as a result we have become self-centered[/pullquote] During the course of his preaching the Good News, Jesus performed signs, wonders and miracles and such activities became metaphorically significant and through each activity Jesus was writing a new narrative for a new community. A new community which provides free basic health care to everyone, a new community which allows every human being access to food, shelter and clothing, a new community which is gender sensitive . A new community which offers equal opportunity, a new community which shows concern and respect for the rights, dignity and liberty of every man and woman, irrespective of one being gay or straight and a new community which is based on equality – socio-cultural, economic and political.
For such a long period of time the Gospel of Love has been domesticated and individualized and as a result we have become self-centered. There is nothing wrong in our concern for the soul or self to attain eternal rest in heaven. Ultimately one is concerned for the “atman” becoming one with the “Brahman”, but before we reach such state of bliss one has to go through a process. How do we relate to one another? How do we manifest one’s life? What is our attitude towards the other? How do we relate to nature? The Gospel of love demands respect and to honor each other’s rights and freedom, and love is about sharing the commonwealth equitably and equally. Therefore inequality in any form becomes an anti-thesis of what Jesus stood and died for.
Then, the Good News is about abundant life, freedom, Justice and equality and hope for the rangli-juki. The Jesus movement and the Good News that it entails had shaken the grand nexus between the Roman power and politics and the Jewish cultural and religious institutions of the day and it still reverberates into the 21st Century and is assuming a significant role as a powerful hermeneutical tool that will bring about systemic change in all spheres.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Jesus paid a heavy price on the cross so that we may have hope of the future that we believe in and strive for[/pullquote] Jesus lived and died for what he meant. The “hungama” and “tamasha” around the acche din would soon die and the threat or intimidation posed by the fascist groups would not last long if people come together and stand up to the New Neros. The realization of justice requires the coming together of people. The narrative of the Cross can serve as the guiding force in our quest for a future that we all long to build, a future where Rohit Vemulla’s mother would not have to be dragged on the street to get justice for her son, a future where students can read, think, write or speak without fear of being seditious and can become innovative. A future where dalits/tribals re-engage themselves with nature, a future where there is no longer a source of law that would legitimize rape, torture or fake encounters and Irom Sharmila shall live peacefully ever after. A future where workers receive a decent living wage and are able to support a family, and a future where the dignity of an individual does not depend on his or her class. Jesus paid a heavy price on the cross so that we may have hope of the future that we believe in and strive for.