What brought about the shameful torture, humiliation and excruciating execution of Jesus as a criminal on a Roman cross is what we need to ask and answer every day, not just during Holy Week. Hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world suffer persecution, torture and death because they are disciples of Jesus of Nazareth and put into practice values that give meaning to life. Why is there such opposition to a message, a way of life that espouses love of the outcast, freedom, human rights and dignity, equality and the defense of children and a better life for the poor and the oppressed? The man who was called by some a great prophet who came back to life, a wonder worker, a spiritual teacher, a man of compassion, a peacemaker, a defender of children and women and a social revolutionary brought these values into the world by his simplicity of life. He was welcomed into Jerusalem one sunny morning 2,000 years ago by adoring crowds waving palm branches who were inspired by his teaching, healing and prophetic voice for the poor and the downtrodden.
He stood with the marginalized and victims of social injustice. He was a hero and inspirational spiritual leader that day and has been every day since. The man from Nazareth was far ahead of his time. He said simply that he was the Son of Man. One who was just like everyone else, but ready to serve and help anyone in need. He was a man without power and influence, had no servants or slaves and one who even washed the feet of his followers as an example for us all. People said he was a Son of God and a descendent of the great King David. Perhaps the combination of these titles, their political overtones and the widespread belief that he would take political power in Jerusalem fueled fears among the ruling powers that there would be a popular uprising to declare Jesus "King of the Jews". That title was mockingly nailed to his cross, the instrument of his execution. When his disciples aired these sentiments and asked for big jobs in his supposed new Kingdom of God he rejected this and told them that he was amazed that they still didn't understand his mission despite being with him a long time. It was not a political movement he wanted but a moral revolution of the heart whereby goodness and love for everyone and by everyone would dominate. In the new social relationship, universal goodness, equality and justice would pervade the community and there would be an end to violence, rejection and exclusion. It is a most profound vision and an ideal that may never come to fruition. Yet it is one that is worth striving for in our own faith communities. The ideals are for everyone, disciples or not, Christian or not. We all need to love and be loved as Jesus taught and practiced. His words to his friends at his farewell meal echo today when he says the greatest love we can have is to sacrifice ourselves for others. It means those who are well off are challenged to give back and share their wealth. It means bringing goodness to the needy and the vulnerable. Of course his message was challenging and many left him. It was his fiery, challenging message to the hypocritical and corrupt authorities, the cheating traders and unjust judges of his day that aroused hatred, anger and fear among these rich elite. They ruled with gross indifference to the plight of the poor. Jesus called them stinking sepulchers, painted white outside but full of dead bones inside. That was strong language indeed. His words are as true today as they were then. A similar social and economic situation prevails today in many developing countries. Particularly in the Catholic Philippines where powerful families and their cronies rule the 100 million people with a benign smile and a machine gun in gift wrapping. They control the many by the tactics of the few. Immediate assassination, imprisonment and execution of the modern day prophets, the human rights workers, media practitioners, the social activists, oppositionists, priests and pastors. Just like the man from Nazareth they are risking all, their good reputation, their name, their family, even life itself. They are working and calling for true justice and respect for human rights and the ouster of corrupt politicians, judges and prosecutors. They get charged with false accusations, baseless allegations and legal cases to destroy their credibility and smother their cry for justice. They want the kingdom of Jesus to be real and present to end human trafficking, the jailing of children, sex tourism, and the coddling of criminals, child abusers and rapists. The messenger of God made an exciting and popular entry into Jerusalem but soon became a marked man — his every word and act was noted and used against him in false accusations, to trip him and block his mission and bring him down in disgrace. They shamefully succeeded only too well, but only for a while. His words and presence live on; his life lit up the world and set it on fire with idealism for the kingdom. Today it is still there for us. We only have to reach out and embrace that same mission and do our share to change the world and ourselves. Irish Columban Fr Shay Cullen established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sexual abuse.
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