Battling the false gods of power and wealth

The other day I saw a video of a group of Christians out on the streetS of Myanmar, earnestly praying for peace as security personnel looked on and filmed them.

Mar 05, 2021

By Anil Netto
The other day I saw a video of a group of Christians out on the streetS of Myanmar, earnestly praying for peace as security personnel looked on and filmed them.

At the time of writing, over 1,000 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in Myanmar, following a military coup against a democratically elected government. According to the UN Human Rights Office, police and military personnel used lethal and non-lethal forces on protesters, leaving at least 18 dead and 30 wounded at the end of February.

People around the world – even the UN – appear helpless in trying to stop the violence and the military’s trampling on democracy.

Over here, the immigration authorities defied a Malaysian court order and handed over 1,000 Myanmar migrants, who may have included refugees and asylum seekers, to Myanmar navy ships. We can only shudder to think what fate awaits them upon their arrival in Myanmar.

The Myanmar military, heavily involved in business as well, is known for its history of brutality and harshness towards protesters.

However, they are up against a fervent people’s movement that cherishes its brief democratic spring, which has now been cruelly robbed from them.

The history of the world is littered with episodes of humanity’s cruelty and brutality. Often it is due to ego – the quest for power, wealth and domination.

On the flipside, it is often ordinary people who suffer from oppression, persecution and  tyranny.

In the mystical experience of the Transfiguration, Jesus foreshadows his own death – and the coming of a new kingdom. He appears with Moses and Elijah on either side of him.

Moses was the great prophet who brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, where he had received them directly from God. But he was horrified when he saw the people had made a molten calf out of their gold jewellery and other valuables to worship as their new god. The people had known Yahweh through his law, but while Moses was away, they turned to worship worldly objects. So angry was the prophet that he flung the two stone tablets of the commandments, shattering them.

This is the challenge that followers of God face, no matter what their religion. Their faith may be corrupted by false gods, notably material wealth and power.

No wonder Jesus said we cannot serve both God and money. Moses had led a multitude of people from slavery to the Promised Land — it was often a violent journey — but he died before he  could enter the new kingdom. 

Elijah, on the other hand, symbolised the resurrection and the ascension, as he had entered heaven alive “by fire”. He was also involved in an epic contest when he stood up on behalf of God against the idol worship of 400 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. 

In the ninth century BC, Queen Jezebel, who had married King Ahab of Samaria in northern Israel, had promoted the worship of Baal, a god of the underworld.

Elijah showed decisively that Baal was powerless against Yahweh, leaving Jezebel furious.

What is interesting is that Jezebel was a Sidonian or Phoenecian, the daughter of the king of Tyre.

Flash forward to the time of Jesus: the coins for the payment of the temple tax at Passover in the first century AD were the coins of Tyre, bearing the idolatrous images of Melqart (son of Baal) or Baal. We shouldn’t be surprised: by the time of Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem had been corrupted in so many ways.

So, at the Transfiguration, Jesus was flanked by two prophets who had battled  against false gods – one that symbolised material wealth (the molten calf) and the other (Baal) promoted by a worldly power (Queen Jezebel). 

Interestingly enough, some believe the Transfiguration took place at Mount Tabor, just north of the Samarian highlands, ie not far from where King Ahab and Queen Jezebel reigned. The Transfiguration foreshadowed Jesus’ own Passion and the coming of the kingdom. It took place just after Jesus said in Luke 9: 7 “I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Some see this as meaning that Jesus was referring to the imminent end of the world during the lifetime of his followers, and that he somehow got it wrong. But Jesus had a different kind of kingdom in mind – he had proclaimed that the kingdom of God was already among us.

Earlier in Luke 9, we are given precious glimpses of what this kingdom would be like: there would be healing of diseases and the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom. It would also be a kingdom of redistributive justice, symbolised by the multiplication of bread and fish, an abundance of food, for ordinary folk who were hungry, also depicted in Luke 9.

But, just as importantly, Jesus, in laying the foundation for his kingdom, would have to challenge a corrupt system of domination and the false gods of power and great wealth behind it – even if it meant having to lay down his life.

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