June 01, 2020
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    A paradigm of Social Integration

    December 22, 2019

    BY REV. FR. LEOPOLD RATNASEKERA OMI NATIONAL SEMINARY KANDY

     

    Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ which took place two millennia ago. The so-called nativity scene is replete with paradoxes that take the eyes of the beholder by surprise.The countenance of God is seen in the graceful face of a tiny infant born in a strange setting of a cold night to a carpenter’s family in the back-yard of a stable because there was no room in the inn of Bethlehem crowded with people come for the census that had been declared by Caesar Augustus for all the colonial territories of the Roman empire. The new family would soon be in exile in far distant Egypt since Herod the local regent had ordered a massacre of two-year old infants of Jewish origin. It was later after the death of this tyrant that the family of Jesus returned to Galilee in the north of Palestine, a region well known for fishing and exotic beaches.

    The first visitors to greet the infant-messiah happened to be a group of shepherds who were watching their flocks by night and had heard an angelic host glorifying God and then three kings or wise men from the east arrive to adore the child guided by a strange star that appeared. They offer him three kinds of gifts: gold to signify that the infant is a royal baby, frankincense to signify that he is divine and myrrh indicating that the child is destined to suffer immensely sacrificing his later life. In fact, as a young itinerant preacher Jesus was to declare a series of teachings on religion and society that sent shock waves in the seats of authority both religious and political and in public opinion.

    Jesus was not a social reformer or a political revolutionary but his radical teachings had implications that were seen to be very controversial and revolutionary putting into serious questioning the prevalent status-quo of the socio-cultural and political affairs of the time.He questioned the ritual and legalistic traditions that were tied to worship in the temple of Jerusalem. He was not afraid to dub often, the religious leaders of his time, the Pharisees and the experts of the Law, the Scribes as hypocrites comparing them to whitened sepulchres.

    Even, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee was condemned as a fox, cunning in his ways and well-versed in the art of trickery and abuse of power and authority. He would tread deals with Caesar the Emperor in Rome to solely promote his vested interests, currying favour with the highest echelons and scheming to further his own hidden agenda. He never took the religion of the people seriously for he was a pagan himself given to the pantheon of Rome.

    On the contrary, though from a carpenter’s family, Jesus had befriended many fishermen, having gotten to know some of them closely, chose them to be his close companions, later transforming them to be his disciples who shared his views and perspectives and thus enabling a team of co-workers sharing his ideals. We see how Jesus had opted for the poor and defended the dignity of the marginalized and the most vulnerable such as women, public sinners, children and lepers who were despised. The publicans who were the official tax collectors for the Roman government was a class that was totally hated by the ordinary people for they represented a class that filled the coffers of Rome, the colonial power that occupied the territory of Palestine making it one of their colonies.

    Yet, Jesus exalted the prayer of a publican, was often invited by them as their guest. He condemned the public display of prayer and alms givings of the Pharisees for the vain glory that motivated these otherwise good acts of religion.

    The scene of a poor widow offering the little she had at the temple caught the pleasing eye of Jesus who despised those rich who just threw into the temple treasury out of their abundance. The beautiful story of the rich man Dives feasting daily on exotic banquets and Lazarus the poor man at his door with the dogs licking even his wounds, is a parable that is a judgement on all the rich and the powerful who do not care for the poor and because of whose accumulation of wealth, there is a growth of poverty and increase in the number of the poor.

    Needless to say there are structural causes of poverty due to the fact that there is an institutionalization of structures and systems on both local and global levels causing social injustice and class inequality in our world.

    Jesus made no difference between his own people and the non-Jews such as the Samaritans living in the middle of his country. He travelled through their villages and healed their lepers. He had marveled at the faith shown by a Roman centurion who pleaded for his intervention. Washing the feet of his disciples on the night of his betrayal by one of them, he taught them the eminent quality of being servants to others and not lord over them one’s authority.

    In his company of 12 there were a strange mix of different characters and men who have come from different backgrounds including those who even spoke Greek. Some of them were gentle, others impulsive, some quick to understand and many very slow to perceive.

    In an incredible sermon on a mount, he called for a clear reversal of social strata extolling the poor, the meek and those persecuted for the sake of justice. The challenge to love one’s enemy was indeed strange a teaching in the hearing of his listeners. Settling issues amicably was proposed a better and wiser option than contending in courts of law. Every opportunity should be explored to do good to others.

    As we celebrate Christmas this year here in Sri Lanka, we can hearken to the message Jesus Christ has brought for building a different kind of society. We must activate a moral and ethical code that will enable us to sink racial, ethnic and even religious differences to find points of unity, brotherhood and reconciliation. A national Sri Lankan identity must not anymore remain an elusive ideal.

    The pride of the country is in the unity of the nation breathing the same air, sharing the same borders and entertaining the same dreams. Truth must be the guiding light of the people. Human dignity and human rights always take precedence in our dealings with one another.

    Those responsible, the higher echelons in the seats of power, chosen and elected by the free choice of people at large, bear the sacred responsibility of serving the larger interests and needs of the country they are entrusted to govern.

    This public trust must not be breached. Leadership that is just and transparent is a vital need for the future of the country. A new society can be born only if we are genuinely ready and are humbly committed to change for the better.

     

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