Monday, February 28, 2022

Jay Choi: Jubilee Mission and Poverty in the Philippines

Today’s post is by Rev. Jae Hyoung Choi. Rev. Choi is Missionary in Residence with the General Board of Global Ministries. It is part of an occasional series on mission and jubilee.

In my past post, I said that unity is important for mission but not the ultimate end of the church. The raison d’e tre of the church always has something to do with the plan of God’s salvation for the world. In order to save the world, the unity of church becomes one important means.

What does it mean for the church to save the world? Solving the most urgent and universal problems of the world through God’s will and way! When the church is fully committed to this task, only then can it boldly speak the truth, receive credibility in the world, radiate the real meaning of eternity it propagates, and be acknowledged for its origin of divine revelation and commission.

Poverty in the Philippines
Then what is the most urgent and universal problem that Philippine society now faces? Needless to say, it is poverty. A kind of poverty from which the masses suffer, requiring a call for the church to be one.

Like many Latin American and African countries, the Philippines is full of natural and human resources. Also, the Philippines is the only majority Christian country in Asia. Nevertheless, many in the Philippines have long been affected by poverty and socioeconomic polarization. The coexistence of countless church buildings and widespread poverty is the dilemma of the country.

Unfortunately, at the outset of this dilemma, there was Christian mission. When the early Spanish missionaries brought the gospel, they introduced Jesus, but without Jubilee. What arrived with Jesus at that time was the Roman concept of absolute private ownership. Before the Spaniards arrived, a local indigenous people had had their own ownership philosophy and practices.


Exclusively mine (things produced or traded)


Exclusively ours (like villages and rice terraces)


Inclusively ours (like mountains, rivers, and ocean)

As reflected in their everyday languages, the indigenous people had a clear distinction between private and communal ownership, and they had been able to practice it organically. That local ownership was similar to the biblical principle of Jubilee.

Early Spanish missionaries were pious and committed people, but at the same time they were the people of their own time who took the Roman ownership for granted. The indigenous Filipinos could not fully understand the Roman concept of ownership. Onofre Corpuz, a Filipino scholar, said that from the colonization in 1500 to the Revolution in 1900, for 400 years, except for a few local elites, almost all Filipinos were still confused about the concept of Roman absolute private ownership.[1]

For me, this Roman ownership that was bundled with Jesus was the first button put in the wrong place in Christian mission in the Philippines. What if, the missionaries introduced Jesus who proclaimed Jubilee in his inauguration sermon?

As the old giant Goliath horrified God’s people, so too does poverty scorn the people of God. What we need is a small stone that can eradicate it, just as David defeated Goliath by hiting the dead center with a small stone. And the stone is the “Law of Jubilee.” God has put this law in the hand of the church to throw at evil.

Misunderstanding Jubilee
But does the church understand this? There are many churches, and many of them are large, powerful, and influential; but they seem to have no will to comprehend and proclaim the principles in Jubilee. Churches are too busy with heavenly concerns and earthly businesses. Their energies are divided and wasted.

But if they pull themselves together; tighten their grip; and in unity, with resolution, stare at the Giant, then the Spirit of God, who is able to make the impossible, possible; will come and work through them. Then the world will know God through the church in action.

My spirit is depressed, however, with the way people misunderstand Jubilee. According to my personal experience, there seems to be two main understandings of Jubilee: spiritualized Jubilee and idealized Jubilee.

First, spiritualized Jubilee is representative of a mere religious or spiritual symbol. One example is the 50-year Jubilee cycle, which is used for periodical celebration. The danger in this approach dissolves the historical and social significance of Jubilee.

This phenomenon happened frequently in the history of Israel. During the Second Temple period, most people were accustomed to such spiritual Jubilee that they used the cycle as an apocalyptic tool to predict the future. We know how the socio-economic and political conditions were during the time when they were holding the husk without the kernel of Jubilee, and why Jesus proclaimed Jubilee in his inauguration sermon; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me … to proclaim Jubilee (the year of the Lord’s favor).” (Luke 4:18-19)

There have been numerous theories on the cause of poverty in the Philippines. But Christians should be able to discern the correlation between spiritualization of Jubilee and the prolonged socio-economic and political extortion and injustice. In other words, the real culprit for such problems is neither corrupt politicians nor unjust social structure, it is Christians!

The second misunderstanding is to see Jubilee as an impractical ideal. Ironically, this attitude is found among many church leaders who are well versed in Scripture and is more serious than laypeople spiritualizing Jubilee. Christian leaders treat Jubilee as a mere ideal; an impracticable, utopian vision; or a culture of a specific ethnic group in antiquity, analogous to those who cut their own hair but still believe that they are Samson.

Nevertheless, the Counsellor, the Spirt of Hope, always reminds us of the vision the Prophet foresaw, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

Churches in the Philippines, converging all their energy to solving the most urgent and universal problem of society, poverty, through the law of Jubilee, while journeying toward unity in the Triune God, is ecumenical Jubilee mission. Such mission has been a constant call from those who are in dark, lonely, and marginalized corners of society. It is a wake-up call from the suffering people who yearn for the epiphany. It is an invitation from the suffering world to the church to be faithful to God’s call. The church should make this mission its own again, lest it is too late.

[1] Onofre D. Corpuz, An Economic History of the Philippines (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1997), 63.

No comments:

Post a Comment