ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 45

Easter and human liberation

By Rev. Fr. (Dr) Leopold Ratnasekera O.M.I. Assistant Secretary General, Catholic Bishops' Conference

The message of Easter is that Jesus Christ is alive. He has vanquished the power of sin and death and inflicted defeat on all the principalities with their powers of wickedness. From all bonds of slavery to evil and injustice, oppression and alienation, He has brought freedom to human kind. He is liberator, the one who fought suffering through the cross and battled with death in the tomb.

He is no more in the tomb, for we are not to look for a living person among the dead! Life has been affirmed and death rendered powerless. The uniqueness about Christ, the Son of God, is that He went through the precariousness of life, faced rejection, torture and finally death as a true human person to the core of His conscious being. He was not just an appearance of a divinity but in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9).

Christian belief is that no human power or ideology can lead us to a victory in our struggle against the oppression of sin and slavery to evil except by taking recourse in the liberation that Jesus Christ brought to us. No man struggles alone but is sustained by the spirit of the Risen Christ who is the unchallengeable conqueror.

Filipino Catholic devotees watch a man re-enact the role of Jesus on Maundy Thursday in Manila. AFP

This writer takes liberation to mean not only political liberation brought about by freeing oneself from either a colonial power or a dictatorship of some kind, or economic freedom obtained through self-reliance and through partnership of good trade or social freedom from all oppressive forces rising from cultural and ethnic domination, but total and integral liberation that gives priority to the freeing of the spirit of man from moral evil whilst including all other types of liberation. Without the liberation of the spirit, mind and heart of man through a profound moral transformation and an inner revolution, all other forms of freedoms will be devoid of a soul and short-lived, thus leading to frustration. Without the liberation of the moral conscience, no progress can be made in the areas of other freedoms.

Jesus Christ was no political liberator and did not lead a social revolution against the colonial occupation of Palestine, His homeland ruled by the imperial power of Rome. But He did dare challenge Pilate, the Roman governor responsible for approving the unjust sentence of death against Him and ordering Him to be tortured as well. He did tell him that he had no power over Him unless given to him from above.

Pilate had to wrestle with Truth but lose it unfortunately, for he was utterly confused as he faced the already tortured prisoner. Jesus did speak about worldly oppressive rulers who lord it over their subjects, but His followers were instructed to avoid such attitudes and course of action. Instead they were to be the servants of the people and be ready to wash one another's feet according to the example He set before them when He washed their feet at the last supper.

The disciples were warned that the world would hate and reject them, yet they were not to be afraid for they would share the victory won by Christ in overcoming the world. Since He kept company with the outcasts He was looked upon as a friend of sinners. Children were precious to Him and He severely castigated adults who lead them to evil.

The first to see the Risen Lord was a woman who took the news to the others. Hence Jesus has good news to the poor, the children and women in a world that is guilty of oppressing them. They can help create a better world.

In the new leadership He formed, the partners were mostly fishermen, hard-working and poor, who risked their lives in the open sea to earn their livelihood. Peter the foremost eventually came to Rome, the imperial city and was able to challenge its high society to a new way of life.

The classical narrative of the three temptations of Christ in the desert following His forty days and forty nights of solitude and prayer in the wilderness lay bare His strong reaction against all aspiration to worldly glory and abuse of power. He refused to turn stones into bread to feed Himself, or to jump from the pinnacle of the temple yielding to the presumption of God's providence and more daringly refused to kneel before the tempter in exchange of possessing all the power and wealth of this world.

He showed in the drama of these temptations that one could be free only in serene obedience to God's will and His law and that only God is supreme and is the legitimate law-giver. One should not look for cheap popularity that will always turn deceptive both for the one winning it and for the people who bestow it. One can never trust big crowds, who would one day turn out in their hundreds to be fed freely in the mountains and then reject the same healer or find themselves helpless to plead his cause against other stronger powers that be.

Abuse of power and presumption are two clear evils to which many fall victim today. These are precisely actions that dehumanize human beings robbing them of their human dignity. These can turn into dangerous social evils when appropriated by groups who can mislead entire peoples.

Liberation is something that is well known to people today. It is rendered more dramatic when taken over by politics claiming to bring freedom to people and the masses to whom by priority all sovereignty belongs.

It is much debated in the area of economics by those protagonists who challenge systems that keep the proletariat at bay without the poor ever sharing the goods and fruits of a given economic programme. They call for a system that taps all resources, both human and material assets, to make a country self-sufficient and wean it away from excessive dependency both in production and distribution of goods.

In certain parts of the world there is the struggle for cultural liberation from alien forces that demean and threaten local cultures. There are the various movements that embrace the workers, women and children claiming to defend their rights and pledge to wrest them from oppressive forces enslaving them in various ways, either by silencing their voices or openly violating their rights. These aspects of human liberation are to be appreciated, the general principle being that whatever dehumanizes has to be overcome and a non-violent struggle to that end is to be promoted. Christianity is in accord with rejecting all forms of oppression, social alienation and violation of human rights in whatever forms they are being perpetrated and calls upon all men of goodwill to unite in overcoming them and thus healing society.

According to Christian understanding, liberation from sin is the pathway to all other forms of liberation.

Easter is the story of Jesus Christ being raised from the mortality of death, thus vindicating the victory over sin of which death is the natural result. Paul, the very prominent Christian protagonist, explains how the power of sin has tainted the whole of humanity and spreads seeds of destruction in its rank and file. He mentions the reign of sin that terrorized all human beings without exception. Writing to the believers in Rome he states: "Just as sin came into the world through one man and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:12, 17).

In this strongly worded scriptural text, Jesus Christ is seen as the true liberator who takes away the pervasive rule of sin from the heart of the world. It is death to sin in our lives that will bring us freedom from it. He exhorts people not to let sin exercise dominion over their passions through which they would lend themselves to be instruments of wickedness, leading to further deterioration of individuals and society.

Jesus Christ saved the world from the mire of sin by the sacrifice of His life. His life was inspired by no other ideal than love without limits. In loving truly, one has to die. It is this force of love that has to be released cross-country and beyond borders to renew the face of the earth. Teilhard de Chardin the great Christian paleontologist identified a phylum of love that secretly grows in the direction of the divine within the mysterious spiral of good and evil.

The Spirit of the Risen Christ empowers us fight sin and evil's oppression in all its forms, ushering in the total liberation of man within a world of justice and peace. The liberation He brought to us by His death and resurrection would indeed lead us to that haven of freedom, the hope of all ages.

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