It is but timely and appropriate that the Metropolitan Community Church in Quezon City (MCCQC) has chosen to reflect on hope as the central theme for this year’s Christmas season, at a time when so much destruction and tragedy—whether natural or man-made—has left our country in chaos and our countrymen in desperation. Indeed, one cannot turn on the television without witnessing how the sickening corruption in the pork barrel system in the government was exposed, nor the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the Visayas due to the earthquakes, the horrifying devastation brought by Super typhoon Yolanda, and the frustratingly incompetent relief operations that were conducted during its aftermath.
It is in times like these when we are forced to take a hard look upon ourselves, our faith, and whether our next courses of action emulate the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact is more urgent today that we, as Filipinos and Christians, revisit our understanding of hope.
Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope) explains to us that “hope” is a key word in Biblical faith, to the extent that “faith” and “hope” seem interchangeable in several Biblical passages. He further instructs us that to come to know God means to receive hope. The life prior to faith, such as what the Ephesians were living before their encounter with Christ, was “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). The Ephesians might have had their gods and a religion, but their gods had proved dubious and problematic, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their deities, they were “without God” and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a bleak future.
But for those who have received God, hope is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given. It is to look forward with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of his Body, to his definitive coming. It is by understanding how Jesus lived the message that he taught, whereby we gain a fresh perspective on what it means to hope as a Christian.
Jesus’s Ministry of Hope
After Jesus was baptized by the Holy Spirit, he went to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home. He went to the synagogue and read from the book of Isaiah, telling everyone: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”(Luke 4: 18-19)
Though there is a debate on whether Jesus meant to say a literal (physical) or figurative (spiritual) message, it is clear when we refer to the life that he led that his ministry focused on both physical and spiritual needs. “All the images have to do with the comprehensiveness of Jesus’s message and the hope that he offers people.”(Bock 1994:400)
The primary mission of Jesus was to preach the Good News to the poor, identifying all those who, for a variety of socio-religious reasons, are considered outside the boundaries of God’s people and are marginalized from society. This proclamation involves both words and actions to reveal the gospel. This meant that Jesus provided for both their spiritual needs, as well as various kinds of physical deliverance. He provided grace and forgiveness to sinners through his death and resurrection, but he also spent his life healing the sick, helping the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and giving sight to the blind.
The fact that it is the ptochos, or the “begging poor”, that is the focus of attention in the gospels compels us to reformulate how we are to share the gospel (cf. Matt 26:11; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 7:22; 14:21-23; 16:19-31; Acts 3:1-10). The proclamation of the Good News should not be treated singularly as sharing the way to receive eternal life, but rather, it requires us to also feed, clothe and help the poor so that their physical needs are also met. It should destroy any misconceptions that Jesus’s message is narrowly individualistic, that the “salvation of the soul” is a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others (Spe Salvi). Our relationship with God cannot be achieved from our resources alone, but rather, it is established through communion with Jesus: the one who sacrificed himself as ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6).He commits us to live for others, but it is only through communion with him that it is possible to be truly responsible for everyone as a whole.
Our Call: Spreading Hope to Others
To summarize, we should view the Christian message as not only “informative”, but “performative”. The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. In short, to follow Jesus’s example is to live a life of service. To hope is to do. To hope is to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ, in transforming relationships in our society into those of love and compassion. For in the end, Jesus’ message of hope is truly a message of love. Paul instructs us, “It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”(1 Cor 13: 6-7). Love, like hope, liberates us. The love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others. Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others (Spe Salvi).
This Christmas season, we invite you to reflect on how Christ’s message of hope and love transcends your life to reach out to those around you. May the Spirit of the Lord bless you, as you touch the lives of those who are in special need of hope and love.
Written by Nessa