24 October 2006: Tuesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 2, 12-22; Psalm 85; Luke 12-35-38
In the celebration of Eid’l Fitr, the end of Ramadan, Muslim leaders declared in a khutba (sermon) senseless violence haram (unlawful), three times. “Allah has made it haram to kill children; Allah has made it haram to kill women; Allah has made it haram to kill elderly people.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports similar pronouncements and prayers were declared in other parts of the country especially the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. These declarations puts to the fore that Muslims and other people who do not share the same faith as ours, share the same desire for peace.
The first reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and the Responsorial Psalm tackle peace, and the barriers that prevent us from achieving reconciliation and unity. First, Paul cites Jewish worship. The temple of Jerusalem consists of courts each one elevated than the first one, with the innermost court at the highest level, the Holy Place itself. The outermost court is the Court of the Gentiles, the second, the Court of Women, then, the Court of the Israelites, and then the Court of the Priests, and the innermost is the Holy of Holies. If you are a Gentile, you can only enter the first court. You are prohibited to step into the other courts. The punishment of a Gentile who enters it is death. What separates the courts is a stone partition, and one of these has been discovered in 1871. It reads, “Let no one of any other nation come within the fence and barrier around the Holy Place. Whosoever will be taken doing so will himself be responsible for the fact that his death will ensue.” The Acts of the Apostles (21, 28-29) tells us that Paul himself was arrested because he took an Ephesian Gentile, Trophimus, into the inner court.
Fences and barriers like these were not solely the attitude of Jews towards Gentiles. The Greeks for example classified people into two classes: the Greeks and the barbarians. Today, we hear students do the same thing, with a little modification depending on who speaks it. A law student of UP would say that there are only two colleges of law — UP and the rest. Subdivisions are precisely what they are, people are sub-divided into two: those who live in their exclusive neighborhoods and those who don’t. But even within it, you see that some residents of affluent villages have built their walls so high that it is possible not to know the next neighbor. Technology has brought the world a little closer. We call it the global village. However, the task of each one of us now is not to build a neighborhood, but a brother/sisterhood — the human family. And this is precisely the work of peace. The McCann Erickson survey notes that the top products in 2005 are communication devices. People feel so alienated and alone that they seek connection with others in cyberspace.
Today, Paul teaches us that only when we find God — or Allah — that there is peace. Only when the foundation of our faith is on the love of Christ can we achieve peace. Christ destroyed the barriers between the Gentile and Jew and taught inclusion than exclusion. We have concentrated on our differences for so long that we forgot to see what we commonly share. Perhaps, we must focus on our similarities with Muslims (the central point of the Catholic Church’s Inter-religious Dialogue) and Protestants (the hub of Ecumenical Dialogue). A student once told me that after her best friend took away her boyfriend, she considered her the worse enemy. Now that she has found the man she likes, she has since reconciled with her best friend. She said that the long years of friendship — since Grade 4 — suddenly vanished with a single act. Now she is at peace. The fence that separated them has vanished. Sometimes I wonder that often we find ourselves wishing for peace and reconciliation after we have experienced the destructive effects of conflicts. President George Washington of the United States has built a lot of peace monuments, only after every war.
As we pray in union with all the Muslims, we think of the barriers and fences we have built around us that prevent others to come near our inmost courts. Or perhaps, it is our attitude that shut other people from coming close to us. If we find ourselves building fences than bridges, we have to rethink about the sincerity we have in coming to mass. We too can declare that God has made it haram to kill all forms of peace efforts.
* My choir C5 at McDo Katipunan