Rev. Dr. WatiLongchar
Easter is a day of great jubilation and it is the most important event in the Christian calendar. It is the day when God in Christ decisively revealed that in Jesus we have become conquerors in our battle against sin, death and evil. From the eyes of the world, Jesus was a pathetic loser for He was crucified and died on the cross. Seeing the Evil, God decided to break His silence, brought Jesus back to life – to say that Jesus won the battle against sin, injustice and evil.
Evil power structure makes powerless:Humans create social, religious, political and economic structures in such a way that some people live in misery without dignity. There are many layers of oppressive structure. Broadly, we may say the rulers and the ruled, or the domineering group and dominated group. The rulers/domineering group set the norms for the dominated group based on the structure they created for their interest. Thisoppressive structure is built on false ideology manipulating religion, culture and scripture. It is sustained because of manipulative legal system, forced occupation, intentional misrepresentation. So we have social inequalities on the basis of gender, caste, and race. Dominated one are defined as inferior, not intelligent, weak, incapable, impure, uncivilized, backward and primitive. The dominated group also internalized their inferiority and worship the rulers. We need to acknowledge that these false unjust institutions are created primarily by the ruler/domineering groupsto protect their vested interests.
Patriarchy is anoppressive structure that excludes women from the power structure. For example, Naga women cannot inherit immoveable property like land. Women have never given top leadership position both at Association and Convention levels of the church. Naga women have never been electedas Member of Legislative Assembly in Nagaland. Since cultures, religious beliefs, customary laws are all designed by man, women are intentionally excluded. Those women who have internalized their inferiority justify patriarchy as divine will.
Women shamed the Romans on Easter morning: Life in Judea at the time of Jesus was like living in a huge prison house. Palestine was under the absolute control of Romans.Theywould not only exacted tribute or heavy taxes upon the Jewish people, but also insult the religion of the Jews. They would appointthe king and High Priest. The religious establishment, or Judaism, was a mere instrument of the Romans, and the Jewish priesthood itself manipulated the laws of Judaism and made life unbearable for the Jews. Every now and then the Jews would mount rebellion, but the Romans would crush them without mercy.The Temple and the Romans had all earthly power on their side: the power of religion, the power of politics, of economics and of the military. Jesus and his disciples had nothing on their side but truth, self-denial, God’s righteousness, love towards one another, and the courage to stand before the enemy face to face in a battle to the death.
The Pharisees and other religious leaders recitedeveryday thanking God, “I am a man and NOT a woman”. This explains how women were treated in Jewish society at the time of Jesus. They were treated like slaves, sex object. They were not given political role. Women were denied of priesthood and temple entry. Woman’s witness was not taken as valid, if they werenot 6 in number.
Mark 16:3 captures the words of the women who were in great fear and despair. When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. They were discussing among themselves that who would roll the stone away, the large stone at the entrance of the tomb. However, when they arrived they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away. (Mk. 16:4).
There was rumor that the disciples might come and take away the body of Jesus.So the Romans went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard (Mat 27:66 NIV).Theyprotected the tomb in three ways:First, a large stone rolled against the tomb. Normally stone covers for tombs weighted somewhere between 1 to 1½ to 2 tons or 1,361 kg to 1,814 kg., so levers were needed to move the stone. It was impossible for the women to roll away the stone. Second, the seal of the empire was affixed on the stone. Nobody could remove the sealof the empire. Disobeying the empire was punishable by death. Third, the most powerful soldiers were stationed there. Several units, a unit consists of four soldiers, were stationed in different directions.They were well armedwho knew that failure on duty was punishable by death. The soldiers were there by the order of the emperor.
The Romans controlled all the media. Nobody was allowed to issue any message contrary to Roman authority. Without the approval of the Roman authority no one was allowed to speak anything. Women’stestimony about the resurrection of Jesus is thus considered as false. The Romans also had money.When the chief priests came to know that Jesus had risen, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, `His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day (Mat 28:1-15). Using money power and false media propaganda, they tried to suppress the truth and they started eliminating those who proclaim about the resurrection of Jesus, but failed.
The weapon of the powerless:The women did not have AK 47 to fight against the Romans. The weapons they had was faith in Jesus, courage to sacrifice, commitment to witness and love for Jesus and fellow beings. With these weapons those women went to the tomb. The disciples who were feeling hopeless suddenly re-energizedtheir life, full of fire and energy – ready to take on the Temple priests, the empire of Rome, and the whole world, declaring to the world that Christ is the way, the truth and the lifeupon encountering the resurrected Christ. The Romans could not defeat those weapons of women and disciples. The might Roman power – media, money power, military power, and political machinery trampled down as those women and disciples became fearless to die for Christ.This is the power of powerless.
Stone like evil structure in our society:What are the large stone that deny people to live in peace and harmony? What are the seals that block people to experiencedignity of life? Who are guarding and protecting the unjust system? What are the weapons that people have to acquire to fight against the unjust institutions? Perpetuators of unjust systems?What does Easter message mean for the people who are powerless, especially those who continue to face like the heavy stone structure of oppression?
The contemporary events seem to testify that we, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, are on the retreat, on the run.The large stone that deny people to live in peace could be one-sided development activities, or no development initiative (as in the case of Nagaland), massive corruption, cooperates multi-nationals, unmindful exploitation of earth and its resources, unjust political machinery, male or androcentric interpretation of the scripture, tradition, culture, consumerist life-style, tribalism,clanism, villageism etc. The stone like Romans soldiers may be our political leaders, and leaders of different organizations, departments, churches who are simply enjoying the fruit of unjust system sealed by wrong interpretation of the Bible, cultural values, selfishness, etc. To fight against these unjust system and institution, we have no option except to stand in solidarity for, of the people who have been crushed by the system. People’s solidarity in love and courage to face the death are the biggest enemy for those enjoy unjust power. People have to emulate the example set by the women – solidarity among them, courage to face unjust system, commitment to change the system, and love and care for one another. Women’s disciples brought down the empire value through the act of solidarity, courage, love and care for one another. No power can defeat those weapons till today.
To fight against the evil forces, one denomination church alone or one religion alone cannot fight against the institutionalized form of injustice. Churches need to work together if we want fullness of life to be celebrated. Moreover, we need to acknowledge that in a pluralistic society like India, one religion alone cannot bring change because the system is so institutionalized and structured that it requires collective effort and solidarity reistance. We need to mobilize community cutting across class, caste, tribe, gender barriers and religious communities to promote values and structure that enhance life, and reject the forces and practices that destroy life and liberate them from the bondage. Let Easter message empowers us to stand for truth in solidarity with courage and love to resist oppressive power and structures.