Thursday, December 30, 2004

`Backpack of a Jesus-seeker’

If you’re one of those trying to make sense of the seemingly senseless Christmas to-do, groaning under the weight of gifts that had to be wrapped, trees that had to be lighted; if you’re suffering from christmasa nervosa, misplaced anxieties, worries and edginess (because it’s Christmas), pause awhile, inhale and gather your wits. Maybe Christmas has indeed passed you by. Good for you or good on you. You brought this condition upon yourself.

Missed out on the Christ in Christmas?

Noted Jesuit theologian Fr. Carlos Abesamis has come out with a sequel to his ``travel guide’’ of a book ``A Third Look at Jesus’’ which we wrote about in this space some years ago.

This new one, titled ``Backpack of a Jesus-seeker’’, has the format of conversations going on among several characters. One character is Carl (not Karl Marx but the author); the seeker who has been in search of the original Jesus and has found him but still continues to search; and the Backpack.

``Backpack’’ answers questions Christian believers ask about the basics of their faith—the teachings and ministry of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection, the Kingdom of God, heaven, etc. Through the conversations, Abesamis deconstructs and gives fresh interpretation to the hard-bound catechism gathering dust on the shelf.

Now that’s not easy to do. So it couldn’t be helped if the conversations sometimes sound contrived, with the theological weight weighing down on the backpack. Some stuff are simply weighty in themselves, and why not. (I just wish the book design were lighter, minus the allCAPS, bold face, italics, underscoring and illustrations trying to outdo one another. The backpack doohickey is cute though.)

I must say, Abesamis makes theology sort of fun and the Christian faith worth living out. His effort to bring things down at ground level is admirable. That’s my view. I have no intention to write a review. I just wish to share what the book is about.

Believer or non-, there is always something to learn from the core of any religious faith. Let’s eavesdrop on a conversation on ``life blessings or total well-being’’, food and, of course, eating:

Backpack: For ordinary folks, the Kingdom of God could be a new world filled with life-blessings.

Seeker:…such as decent homes, security, education, jobs, nutritious meals, the sea-breezes, spiritual well-being, the energy they get from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, friendships—these are all life-blessings.

Carl:… any and every blessing that gives life.

Seeker: Life-blessings include, but are not limited to, spiritual grace and divine life…

Carl: In short, we are here talking about total well-being… Have you been to a farmer’s vegetable farm bursting with a spectacular variety of vegetables and fruits? Isaiah’s version of the Kingdom of God can be compared to that. It is a rich harvest of vibrant details about the Kingdom of God.

Seeker: But that is Isaiah, five centuries before Jesus. Could Jesus have had another and different idea?

Backpack: Jesus had the same idea. In fact, Isaiah, provided the source for Jesus’ understanding. Watch how the ideas, images, and words of Isaiah are echoed in Jesus’ words…(Matthew 11 and Luke 7 and 4)

Backpack: Talking about life-blessings, we will do well to discuss the most striking life-blessing linked with the Kingdom of God. What would be a good guess? Hint: a lot of people carry it around often in their backpack, especially workers and schoolchildren. It is available in abundance during barrio fiestas.

Seeker: A good guess is…hmmm…food!

Backpack: Yes! Food! This was already included on the report on the beatitudes (Blesses are you who hunger, you shall be satisfied).

Carl: But it is worth expanding on it, first, because, from my own experience, it overturns one of our misconceptions, that is, that so-called `material’ things, like food, cannot be part of spiritual salvation…

Seeker: There goes somebody being stood up on his head again!

Backpack:…second, because food is a life-and-death issue in a world where millions of children and adults are malnourished and hungry…

Carl: But let us discuss these contemporary implications at some other time. Today, let us focus on the biblical data, the indispensable foundation in our search.

Backback: Well, first, it is truly intriguing that food would be part of Jesus’ Kingdom scenario. ``Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29; Matthew 8:11).

Seeker: Given our average mind-set, it is truly intriguing.

Carl: And furthermore, the Scripture not only incorporates food into the Kingdom scenario, it also does it so spontaneously, so casually—as if `to eat bread’ is a typical, expected and normal activity in the future Kingdom of God! ``Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’’ (Luke 14:15)

Backpack: And furthermore, it is natural and so taken for granted that the blessing most frequently associated with the Kingdom of God is food. Samples: ``Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’’…

Carl: And did you know that in the Lord’s prayer, the bread (``Give us this day our daily bread’’ originally referred to the food of the coming Kingdom of God at the end of time?

Seeker: to wrap it up, we Asians and Filipinos can say: The Kingdom of God is Rice!

Carl: Up here! And rice, corn, chapati, bread, yam, cassava, kamote, in short, food, is a significant life-blessing in the barrio fiesta of the Kingdom of God.

Paskong Makahulugan at Bagong Taong Makasaysayan.