Crucifixion and Development | Journalist

We are in Holy Week, the holiest time for many Christian denominations. We are thinking right now of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus which form the foundation of the Christian faith.

If the resurrection has not taken place, going to church is a waste of time. To be convinced of this is more a matter of faith than of putting together the historical pieces.

Why did Jesus die? To pay for the sins of mankind, to redeem us from the devil, his Father predestined him, these are some of the many answers that have been given over the centuries. Another, more modern response is to ensure integral human development, whatever the cost.

The key to unraveling this developmental claim is the metaphor Jesus chose to describe his dream – basileia – sometimes translated as “kingdom” or more recently “reign of God” or “government of God”, both of which I find unappealing, because they are not. t convey energy or excitement. You can piss people off on a kingdom, not on a reign. Try saying, “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” It falls flat.

Jesus himself does not deny being king and says very explicitly that his kingdom is not of this kind (Jn 18:36). It’s quite different from what we hear most of the time. We hear of “church”, but it is mentioned only three times by Jesus, all in the Gospel of Matthew. More often, Jesus speaks of the kingdom – a broader term that eludes definition but not description.

He always says: “the kingdom of God is like…” In Jn 18:37, he links the kingdom to the truth. Speak truth to power – people always get killed for that one. Holy Week begins with a politically subversive act – a peasant, apocalyptic preacher entering Jerusalem on a donkey. This customary motif is normally associated with a king entering the city after victory.

Everything is turned upside down: a peasant, not a king; a battle yet to be won, not a victory; a donkey, not a horse; the power of truth, not worldly power. Jesus had died long before Calvary and he alone knew the most. It is the utter loneliness of men and women who know they are going to die because of the double standards they are about to expose. I am thinking in particular of investigative journalists and human rights defenders, the unsung saints.

While all the different theories of salvation have merit, including Jesus’ death for love for us, the fact that he died in the service of integral human development puts a different spin on things. He moves from the church into the world of politics, big business, economics, communications, culture, etc., because that’s where the gospel leads.

If love is real, it dares to face the truth and because of that it becomes subversive as it did in South Africa, in the civil rights movement in America, in the liberation theology of Latin America and in the Black Power movement of 1970 here. My intention is not to make the mistake that many scholars make, of making Jesus some kind of political hero, military subversive, or social reformer.

At the heart of his struggle was not a humanism, but a transcendental humanism – he was passionate about what God wanted his world to look like. Religion meant the world to him because the best in his religion envisioned “a new heaven and a new earth” for mankind.

In many ways, Trinidad and Tobago is a cruel society – high levels of domestic violence; the failure to educate large masses of young men, who in turn turn hopelessly to crime, only to be brutalized in turn by the police who must be seen as tough on crime; blatant prejudices based on race and social class; a justice system that does not and cannot work for those who need it most, as witnesses are systematically and heartlessly eliminated; the veneer of religious respectability; not to mention billions of oil and gas revenues wasted through mismanagement, excessive subsidies and lack of investment.

The world and the Church would be a much better place if there were more David Abdulah in it, because unlike most, he has, dare I say, a Christian social conscience. It is no secret that the corridors of power in this country are filled with Christians, especially Catholics and Anglicans.

What does that tell us this week? Are we really working hard enough, especially the Christian professional elite, to make this country look like it should be: a sign of the Kingdom among us?

We can start with respect and justice. We can’t seem to hold a human conversation anymore. Everyone is so angry, so emotionally unstable. And for all this talk about love, which I’m sick of, I’ll settle for Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

I hope this Holy Week we remember not only our personal sins, but also our systemic sins, for which this first century Palestinian preacher was crucified.

—Father Martin Sirju is Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.

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