Fifth Sunday in Lent. Intentional reading: 1 Kings 21:1-29 – Naboth’s Vineyard. Dedicated to the Justice Sunday, 29 March 2020, of the Lutheran Church in Germany especially in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany. Delivered on August 4, 2019, at Kiel Lutheran Church and was adopted and distributed by the Zentrum für Mission und Ökumene, (Centre for Global Ministries and Ecumenical Relations) as reference for today’s reflections.
Our inheritance is to help those who are in need and be the prophets to the Naboths of our time.
It is quite surprising though that the story of Naboth’s Vineyard is also the story of the Lumads’ land in Mindanao and the rest of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines and maybe elsewhere.
Naboth owns the vineyard and the king, King Ahab wanted to take the vineyard from him to make it his own and deceitfully offered a better vineyard for Naboth in exchange. But Naboth did not agree to give away his piece of land because God forbids it as it was his inheritance and said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Jezebel, the king’s wife, made it happen, she manipulated. She vilified Naboth and accused him falsely with the hired scoundrels. Naboth was killed as a result of this scheme of Jezebel. So for all the caprices of the king, Naboth lost his land and life.
On the other hand, the Lumads – the indigenous people’s (IP’s) owns the land, their ancestral land. The capitalist, the Transnational corporations (TNC’s) wants to own the lands of the Lumads for their big businesses – for plantations, for open pit mining to supply the needs – including profits from coal-fired power energy plants, and the caprices of the first countries such as the US, including European countries. Just like Naboth, the Lumads did not agree because it’s their ancestral domain and Magbabaya (the God) will not allow it as it is for their children and their children’s children and it is for everybody, not even exclusive for the lumads.
Just like Jezebel, the Philippine Government facilitated the wish of the TNC’s through the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). The TNC’s with the help of local officials of the NCIP, etc. paid and deceived other lumads and settlers to witness falsely, and even filed trumped-up charges against Lumad leaders. Like Naboth, the Lumads are killed and driven away from their lands to give way to the caprices of the first countries and their local cohorts. They evacuated from their homes and lands, they are jailed for defending their land and people, their communities are bombed, and the schools they established for their children and future are destroyed. They are losing their lands – their source of living, their life.
The role of the prophets. Here in the story of Naboth, the prophet Elijah has come and pronounced to King Ahab the wrath of the Lord and at least it has changed the heart of the king. But it could also be noted that the change of heart of King Ahab does not serve justice to Naboth because it came late – the prophet came later after the crime has been done. And at a glance, the judgment will even bring injustice too to the kins of King Ahab who will suffer after or later because of the crime he committed. It is a kind of posthumous punishment.
In the story of the lumads, we in the church have also done our prophetic role. We have condemned the plight of the lumads and challenged the leaders of the land and the big bourgeois-comprador, the TNC’s and their local cohorts. But it does not yet change the hearts of the oppressors and the leaders of the land. They continue their oppressions to the lumads. They even suppressed and persecuted the church people who prophesized and extended pastoral ministry to the lumads. Just like the old times and the time of Jesus, the prophets now are also persecuted.
We are not heard. In the case of King Ahab, the prophet Elijah was there along with them. Elijah’s words from his God who is also the God of Ahab. Elijah was also the prophet for the people of Ahab and Ahab himself. Ahab has to listen to Elijah or else he will be punished heavily including his wife Jezebel. Even if he will not be punished for his change of heart, King Ahab already suffers for the fact that he knew that his kin will be the one to receive the wrath of God – the punishment.
The lumads has a different spirituality and prophets as with their oppressors. Their oppressors are from the outside of their culture and even their life. Their oppressors do not see them to be people at par with them. The oppressors worship a God who is not the God of the lumads. The oppressors generally are Christians in countries where economy is far better than that of the lumads and even that of the whole Philippines. Indeed the lumads in Mindanao and elsewhere are victims of injustice and oppression like what happened to Naboth.
The Justice for the lumads is when they can go back to their ancestral lands and live peacefully and abundantly. That they will no longer be forced to evacuate. That they will no longer feel the insecurities and are troubled by the question of land ownership because in the beginning the land was theirs and there was no point in time that they do not own the land until the time when the laws of the land questioned it in favor of the foreign business interests. That they will no longer be under any kind of attack by the powers that be – that killings for defending their land, life and the environment will be stopped. That they will be educated and will know their basic human and people’s rights – know how to read, write and count and to live with dignity and abundance. Most of all, their inheritance – their ancestral lands will no longer be subjected to land grabbing and conversions.
The challenge and call. Our inheritance as Christians is the love of Christ as He commanded it and to love our neighbor – the least, the last and the lost, as we love ourselves. The Naboth’s vineyard is not only a story that is akin to the story of the Lumad’s land in Mindanao and in the Philippines but is also happening to the rest of the indigenous peoples all over the world – the First Nations, the aborigins, the red Americans or red Indians and whatever is the name they may have. The same story can also be extended to what happened to those who become refugees who seek help from their neighboring countries like Germany.
The love we inherited from God through Christ is the love that is clothing the naked, giving food to the hungry, drink for the thirsty, shelter for the homeless for whatever we do to the least of the brethren is what we do also to God (cf. Matt 25:31-46). The Gospel according to Luke 12:13-21 is about the Parable of the Rich Fool and is teaching us not to store up treasures here on earth that is used only for ourselves and we are warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” This is extending help to those in need, helpless and cannot make it to living because of impoverishment. We must give until it hurts us – that is quitting up our possessions that others may live. Today’s Gospel (cf. John 11:1-45) challenged us to help remove the stone in the tomb not of Lazarus but of the Indigenous peoples that they may help to come out and be part of the society.
We must also become prophets of our time. We must be able to confront the powers be – the governments of the land, the trans-national corporations, and their cohorts, and must be able to tell them that their greed is killing our people in the third countries. That European investments have become reasons for the killings and impoverishment in the Philippines and elsewhere. We must be strong enough to tell the German government that it is not fair to eradicate coal-fired power plants here in your country but transfer these energy sources in other countries like the one in our home diocese. We must be ready in doing this because we can also become victims ourselves like Jesus and the prophets who came a prophesied ahead of us.
I must end this reflection by sharing to you what the IFI taught me, “We have no land to give and no wealth to offer, we only have ourselves to share.” For love, may we become neighbors to the needy and the voices of the voiceless! Amen.