The story is only an object caught in space and time. It sits always inside a larger world. It is never the world itself. The words in the story are important but only as important as what has been left out. The priest began his story this way: Ang sugilanon usa ka butang nga nahisulod sa iyang luna ug takna.
Nagpungko sa usa ka mas daku nga kalibutan. Dili kini ang kinatibuk-ang kalibutan. Bililhon ang mga pulong nga na-apil sa sugilanon. Apan, sama ra og bili sa kadtong mga pulong nahabiling wala maapil.
The priest sat on the floor of Datu Juan’s house with the four other elders of the village, drinking rum, chewing betel nut and wondering how he can possibly tell them the story of the Savior so that it would be a story that would actually save them. The hounds of progress were sniffing at their door. The village could be a perfect mountain resort. Someone was bound to come along who would seek to own it. And its people had no idea at all of laws and land titles. It did not need a prophet to foretell the village’s inevitable end. The priest would have wanted to talk about this but the village elders required from him instead the story of his God.
God is here. He said in a mix of Bisaya and the native tongue pointing to everything all about him. The language was close to but not exactly the same as Cebuano. They understood each other but every conversation was punctuated by a translation of key terms. Bathala was the generic word for God. But for the village elders, all and every God required a specific name. “Hesu Kristo,” they repeated after the priest, intoning the syllables as a sacred sound. That He was the person represented by the figure hanging from the priest’s cross was not strange to them. Equally not strange was the idea of two other persons in the same God. It went to follow that the whole story would be a long one spanning many thousands of years. They too had their story etched in memory in the head of Datu Yoku, the oldest of the datus. That the priest’s story was written down in two books gave the story additional legitimacy even if the datus did not read. But there was some discussion as to which was better: To read the story or hear it orated at the Halad, the village’s annual ritual of thanksgiving.
God commands us to love God and to love our neighbors as we would ourselves. The datus nodded in agreement. It was an easy pair of commandments for the village, exactly in accordance with their own beliefs where the greatest sin was not to kill but to deny a neighbor’s request for food, to watch them go hungry and not do anything.
God has a plan for all of us. God’s plan includes that we should all be free and happy inside a just world. God obligates his children to work so that his plan will come true but there is ignorance and greed everywhere. This ignorance and greed is the root of all injustice in the world. Injustice hurts its victims but it hurts its perpetrator even more. There are oppressors everywhere but it is not Christian to hate the oppressor. The obligation of the oppressed Christian is to free the oppressor from himself, his own ignorance and greed.
This is why it is important for the true Christian to live not alone but as part of a community such as this village. A Christian who lives alone has no power to confront the ignorance and greed of the world. But as a community working together they would have a better chance of learning how to stand up against their oppressors.
Oppressors will soon come to the village intending to destroy it and its people. God does not send these oppressors. They come in the natural course of fate. It is the nature of greed and ignorance to expand and to invade, usually by force. God allows the oppressors to come so that the village may save them from themselves. How does the village do this? The village does this by strengthening itself with unity and faith. God loves the village and its datus. But they must lead as true fathers. The village must gather together regularly. They must work to solve even the most ordinary problems, problems like getting all the children to go to school even if they have to walk a long distance just like Datu Juan’s oldest daughter, Neneng. By doing this, everyone learns to work together and the village educates itself. By doing this the village grows stronger so that when bigger problems come as they surely will, they will be able to confront these problems, hopefully to win. They can never be sure they will win. But if they are ever defeated they will at least put up a good fight and lose with the dignity expected of all Christians and as the villagers expect of themselves by their own traditions. Hesu Kristo gives to us the greatest example of the dignity of losing. For his children, what looks like the worst defeat is always and also the greatest victory.
This is the lesson of the cross. With this the priest ended his story. He looked at his hands and feet and wondered if they had told a good story.
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