Amid desperate times, where is Hope?

Even amid the most difficult and trying situations, if we keep our eye on Jesus and his Beatitudes for the Kingdom, we will prevail. So, amid the despair and suffering, let us never lose hope that a new kingdom awaits. But first we have work to do.

Jul 17, 2021

By Anil Netto

Many have lost their jobs. Among the worst hit are the small vendors and laid-off workers who have lost their livelihoods.

Many have withdrawn their retirement savings to tide them through this difficult period. But then, they will have little left to live on when they retire.

So far almost seven million people have withdrawn their savings under the i-Sinar scheme. Out of a total 15 million EPF contributors, just over six million have less than RM10,000 in their Account 1 retirement savings. Then there are those without any EPF savings at all: the informal workers, self-employed vendors, small business owners and migrant workers who have no retirement savings. How will they manage?

Several of my friends seem to have lost hope, as photos and videos emerge of people queuing up for food and hospitals bursting at the seams. One lamented, “I am so lost at the state of a once-beautiful country. I cry for my country.”

Many things — economic policies, healthcare underfunding and privatisation, the decline in our education system — have led to our present state. Some of these had their origins in the 1970s and 1980s. It would be easy to join in the collective sense of despair and hand-wringing.

But many people, including sections of the Church, have responded constructively, by organising and taking part in their own or interfaith relief efforts — feeding the masses and providing equipment and supplies to our overstretched general hospitals.

When Jesus started his ministry, the people mobbing him were also despairing; their situation was probably even worse.

Palestine under Roman occupation had little in the way of resources. It was not a maritime centre, and it had little natural wealth like gold and silver. But its fertile fields and valleys proved suitable for the cultivation of wheat, barley, figs, dates, and olives.

So, farmers could just about survive. But that changed when King Herod “the Great” arrived on the scene. He was a puppet king, so he had to pay tribute to the emperor in Rome. He also collected local taxes, especially to fund his mega-projects like the expansion of the Temple.

By the time he died around 4BC, he had amassed a huge fortune, enough to bequeath 10 million drachmae to Emperor Augustus (plus gold and silver to Augustus’ wife Livia), as well as five million to “others” and 500,000 to his sister Salome.

Guess where much of this money came from?

Ordinary people groaned under the weight of the various T’s – assorted taxes, tolls, and levies to local puppet kings like Herod and their cronies, tributes to the emperor in Rome, and tithes and taxes to the temple, especially to finance its expansion.

Herod’s son Antipas, used to a life of luxury, further exploited and commercialised the fishing industry, including the processing of fish.

To make matters worse, Palestine was under Roman occupation, which meant the people had few freedoms. Any sign of rebellion against the established order was brutally crushed, and rebels were crucified.

So, there could not have been much hope among the people when Jesus arrived. He would have surveyed the masses and seen their misery … people with so many ailments, the burdened farmers and fisherfolk.

When they saw him healing the sick, many pinned their hopes for the long-awaited Messiah on him. But Jesus knew many had a different notion of messiah. They, especially the zealots, were longing for a political liberator who would lead them to military victory and Utopia.

Perhaps that is why Jesus did not want to draw much publicity before he could complete his ministry; otherwise, he would have quickly drawn an even larger following – for the wrong reasons.

Jesus probably knew that an earthly “messiah” would provide only temporarily relief. If the messiah toppled the rulers of the day, would that person rule with justice and compassion for the people? Or would that person and those around him quickly descend to infighting, ambition, selfishness, corruption, oppression, and even brutality, with little compassion for the people?

The people of the Old Testament had already tried that with their rulers, with little to show, no matter how wise those rulers were. Jesus had other plans. He would usher in a new kingdom. Instead of being a political messiah who would vanquish oppressors, Jesus was thinking long-term. And his vision would be radical. He would plant the seeds of a new kingdom founded on the values of righteousness (justice), love, compassion, hope, faith and charity (social justice). It would be a kingdom where everyone would have a place at the table, and no one would be left out or left behind or go hungry.

The charter for this new kingdom would be found in the Beatitudes. This radical blueprint would turn upside down the world of the Caesars, the Herods, and the religious elites in Jerusalem. It would be a message to the privileged class that what was going on was not the order that God wanted.

The ones in Jesus’ kingdom who would be truly blessed were not the emperors, the local rulers, the Roman officers or the Sadducees and Pharisees. Rather, the blessed would be the poor, the peacemakers, the merciful, the meek, and the gentle, and those who hunger for justice, those who are persecuted while seeking justice — no matter what the obstacles they face.

They would not only gain the Kingdom of Heaven and see God; many of them would eventually “inherit the earth”! Not only would they see God, but those who struggled for justice would even rejoice and be glad despite the struggles and the persecution.

Even amid the most difficult and trying situations, if we keep our eye on Jesus and his Beatitudes for the Kingdom, we will prevail. So, amid the despair and suffering, let us never lose hope that a new kingdom awaits. But first we have work to do.

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