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Article first published as Jesus the Christ: Model of Spirituality and Volunteerism on Blogcritics.
Contrary to the popular belief, Jesus never introduced religion but a model of relationship. It is summed up in the greatest commandment: Love God and fellow human as one’s self.
This vertical and horizontal relationship is the essence of Lord’s Prayer. The first part pertains to relationship with divine while the last, with humanity. “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”. The use of plural words in the prayer – our, we, us– reveals the inclusiveness of Jesus in relationship.
Obviously, Jesus advocates spirituality, not religion. For religion promotes belief in various forms including rituals, dogmas, and creeds. Spirituality, on the other hand, espouses relationship of human person to something or someone who transcends themselves. This type of spirituality has twofold dimensions – personal and social or communal.
Similarly, Jesus has never skipped the voluntary process despite the supposed favor from people who know his real status. He prevails on John the Baptist when the latter appears reluctant to perform the required ritual. Jesus even rebukes disciples in their vindictive actuation against discriminatory treatments. Humiliated in an attempt to bridge the gap between warring cultures in one Samaritan village, he rules out retaliation as insinuated by James and John. He calmly tells Peter to hold peace, when fighting back against the savagery of his captors. Despite having in his disposal legions of angels to protect when needed.
Jesus washes the disciple’s feet at the height of leadership struggle during the last supper. The lobbying of both John and James and their mother for position in the kingdom might have sparked the internal conflict. Hence, nobody appears willing to do the menial task which earlier they enjoy taking turns. Jesus volunteers.
Jesus consistently exemplifies spirituality and volunteerism in his lifestyle and teachings, even in death. He voluntarily follows all the requirements of the law, although he deliberately skirts man -made unreasonable insertion and imposition to the requirements of God. He successfully passes the final challenge in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the way to the cross.
There, Jesus affirms his willingness to sacrifice, wrestling with his humanity vis-a-vis the divine mandate. As recorded in the gospel, the scene in the garden portrays the last struggle. Jesus pours out his innermost thoughts and feelings. Reviewing the justice requirements and redemption scheme, he attempts to argue for other alternatives apart from the cup of suffering and death
No wonder, the divine justice expedites resurrection as award for the greatest volunteer in the world. Had his professed adherents religiously follow suit, the world could have been a better place to live in.
The Christendom has capped its Lenten observance last Sunday with a bang- the Resurrection! But the perennial bias on Passion and Death is glaring. As it were, little emphasis is given to the resurrection which is supposedly the cornerstone of faith. The passion, and subsequent death of Jesus, has been misconstrued as the key to salvation and living. Apart from Christmas, it is the most celebrated event in Christianity. No wonder, days after the celebration believers appear to go back to Passion scenario in their living. The power of the resurrected Christ has not engulfed the lifestyle of many followers. Indeed, the vestiges of the colonial past with the embedment of the virtue of suffering in the psyche of the people.
It should be emphasized that the cross is only part of the womb- to- the- tomb painful experiences of Jesus. The passion and death is the culmination of all his sufferings. Hence, the old rugged cross is not the only thing we must cherish and exchange someday with a crown. Our salvation is not the product of the suffering of Jesus just on the cross. It is the totality of the life of Jesus, exemplifying the love of God for humanity, capped by the resurrection.
From conception, he has already foretaste the cruel world system. The intrigues his earthly family encounters due to the controversial pregnancy prior to marriage. At birth, he has been exposed to vulnerable condition of the poorest of the poor, being born in a manager. His childhood experience is colored with the uncertain life of refugees to escape the persecution. Likewise, he has to adjust to the internal struggle in family relationship, as well as the immediate social environment as he keeps up the ideal living, even going against the norms.
Prior to his public ministry, he has to undergo the process of immersion. Living in a depressed community, he has seen the hypocrisy of leaders in the socio-cultural, economic and political structures. Their wanton disregard of the avowed mission to serve the people as ordained by God. How corruption and abuse of power has encroached the ideal immunity of the religious establishment. How religion has been used for business and profit. Yes, he has witness how leaders enrich themselves at the expense of the people they are supposed to develop.
Jesus also knows the struggle of well meaning people in the government and other sectors including revolutionary forces in effecting change. Their two pronged vulnerabilities- stereotype from victims and antagonism from the mainstream perpetrators. Aware of their conviction, he includes some of them in the core of his disciples, mainly composed of representatives from the basic masses.
It is in this context that our observance of religious events or even public holiday should be done in the totality of the life of the honoree. It’s unfortunate that Christians have become selective in remembering the life of Jesus. The other aspects of Jesus life are seemingly neglected, especially his manhood. Some sociologists and theologians view this as manifestation of cultural distortion or vested interests. We love to think of the baby Jesus and Crucified Christ. Their images evoke compassion. More importantly, less threatening as they reflect innocence and helplessness. But we are uncomfortable of the adult Jesus who confronts everyone without fear or favor, even turning the tables of those who make business out of religion. It seems, we want to evade the Jesus who challenges us to follow his example in service.
As one clergy observes, almost all church members can easily recite John 3:16. Indeed, it is comforting to know that God loves us so much to the extent of giving His only Son for us. But many do not know what is 1 John 3:16. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Many Christians limit themselves to be mere recipients of the love of God. No wonder they fail to experience the power of the Resurrected Christ. The unlimited power which sustains the faithful followers who dare to follow his model of service at all costs.
I have learned from the study of Social Work the three development objectives, namely: (1) increase the availability and widen the distribution of basic life sustaining goods such as food, shelter, health, and protection; (2) raise levels of living including, in addition to higher incomes, the provision of more jobs, better education, and greater attention to cultural and humanistic values, all of which will serve, not only to enhance material well-being but also to generate greater individual and national self-esteem; (3) expand the range of economic and social choice to individuals and nations by freeing them from servitude and dependence, not only in relation to other people and nation-states but also to the forces of ignorance and human misery.
The three core values of development by Michael Todaro have enriched my understanding of development. Foremost, is Life Sustenance. It is the ability to provide basic necessities. A basic function of all economic activity, therefore, is to provide as many people as possible with the means of overcoming the helplessness and misery arising from lack of food, shelter, health, and protection.
Self Esteem is next, which connotes being a person with a sense of self-worth and self-respect, of not being used by others for their own needs. All people and societies seek some basic form of self-esteem. Call it by other name, authenticity, identity, dignity, respect, honor or recognition, the essence is still the same. Its nature and form may vary from society, and from one culture to another.
The last is Freedom from Servitude. It means the ability to choose. This refers to the fundamental sense of freedom or emancipation from alienating conditions of life. It covers freedom from the societal servitude of men to nature, ignorance, other men, misery, institutions, and dogmatic beliefs. Freedom also involves the expanded range of choices and their members together with the minimization of external constraint in the pursuit of some of social goals, which we call ‘development’.
I have always associated these core values with the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:7-13, as referred to traditionally. Although, in the biblical context, the real Lord’s Prayer is found in John 17. What was recorded in the gospel of Matthew is a standard prayer. A model prayer, which if analyzed in the context of our discussion, a prayer for development.
There are two parts of this prayer which summarize the commandments and reflective of the model of relationship. The First Part pertains to our Relationship with God:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
The second part is model of relationship with humanity which comprises the three core values of development.
Give us this day our daily bread connotes the first core value, i.e. life sustenance.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Whether it is a literal debt or sin as some suggest, the implication here is self-esteem. Because a person who commits sin or is burdened by debts, loses some kind of self-esteem.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil is akin to freedom from servitude.