~ Wati Longchar
Systemic Unjust Structures
The Gospel writer St. Mark compares the society at the time of the Roman Empire with a man who cannot be chained. It reads:
1They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain; 4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits[c] begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5:1-13 NRSV)
The passage speaks of a man who had been living in the graveyard. No one was able to control and tie the man up, not even with a chain. Even if chained, he would break it. He was yelling and cutting himself with stones. This depicts a society controlled and protected by unjust political, legal systems, religious practices, and economic relations. We experience similar situations in our context too. War, violence, corruption, and manipulation are so rampant, but no one can stop. Extractive industries are crabbing all the indigenous people’s land, but no one can stop. Religious fundamentalism destroys the whole secular fabric, but no one can stop it. In the name of liberation, people’s resistance/independence movements destroy harmony in society and kill many innocent people, but nobody can chain them. We have no courage to raise voices for justice. People who speak the truth are targeted and exterminated. The name legion suggests that many demons, rather than one demon possessing the man, and this meaning is confirmed by the following phrase, “for we are many” (v.9b). A Roman army legion was made of 6000 men; the powerful and well-organized army at the time of Jesus. The Roman became an empire due to their mighty army.
More than two thousand swine were drawn to death due to demon-possessed man. At the time of Jesus, the usefulness of pigs was understood differently. For the Samaritans, it was one of the most profitable animals. The pig’s meat was not only nutritious but also the highest economic valued animal for them. The same is the case in many societies like the Nagas. Therefore, they rear them in great numbers. For the Samaritans, people who reared pigs in great numbers were considered rich. But for the Jewish, it was the dirtiest animal, carrier of many diseases, and deadly parasites. It was also associated with unholiness. Anybody who cannot live according to the norm and tradition of the society was called pigs. It was the greatest insult to be called ‘pig’ in Jewish society. That is why the Germans during the Nazi regime, the Jewish were called ‘pigs’, a sign of insult and rudeness. The gospel writer is addressing a Jewish community here. It means one should hate evil power, evil systems, and evil structures. Such a system should be treated and destroyed like the pigs. One should resist unjust systems and be willing to sacrifice one’s life, one’s possessions for the protection of life.
Jesus Naming the Legion
Jesus’ style of resistance is noteworthy.Jesus asked the man, “What is your name?” Asking names has different implications. In this passage, it is placed in the context of challenge and confrontation. Resistance against the evil forces includes naming, identifying, and confronting them with courage. When Jesus asked, “what is your name?”, the evil possessed man replied, “My name is Legion” – Legion is a battalion of Roman soldiers, a soldier well-equipped, armed, trained to fight without fear. It represents power, the authority to attack, control, suppress, and subjugate others. Legion symbolizes collective institutionalized power and unjust structure.
Legion in our Society
Today, our society is controlled by legion. Politically, misuse and abuse of religion to gain political power is legion. Attempt to control political machinery through militancy or manipulation is legion. Gun culture, organized crimes are all legions. Economically, market capitalism, and unending competition of consumerism, excessive exploitation of natural resources are legion. Accumulation of wealth at the expense of the poor and earth’s resources is legion. Religiously, fighting against each other in the name of expanding one denomination or religion is legion. Extractive industries against the wishes of Indigenous people is a legion. The Judiciary system that cannot deliver justice to the victims is legion. Any forces that threaten the celebration of life are legion and thus must be collectively resisted. The church or any religious persuasion that does not participate in creating a just social order is a mere agent of oppressors or protector of oppressive systems. Unfortunately, when Christian activities are directed towards mobilizing collective people’s resistance for justice and create a new consciousness among the oppressed about their rights, especially collective social justice, then it is accused of anti-Christian activities. No one is willing to support such endeavours. Even today, Christian ministers are afraid to speak, encourage, or be involved in organizing people’s movements to fight for justice because of our long pietistic tradition and church structure.
Resistance for Justice
Resistance is entering into the struggle to protect the defenseless people for radical transformation. It involves struggling against systems and structures that disrupt the purpose of God for humanity and the whole of creation. Economic, political, social, and religious-cultural barriers that are erected by those people in powers over centuries have to be challenged and resisted in the light of the principles of abundant life for all. Unless there is a change in the existing power relations in favour of the powerless, justice will not be achieved. Resistance is thus a matter of faith, a missiological imperative as a way of living bound with the principle of Love, Equity, Justice, and Peace – for all.
Resistance is a mandate of our Lord Jesus. It involves contestation against the evil power. It is naming them, challenging them, and transforming them for the protection of life. This means Christians cannot be mere silent spectators when unjust systems crush life. Speak out against political manipulation, speak out against corruption in the church, and speak out against the caste system, tribalism, patriarchy. Resistance with the victims of the systems and the people in pain is the witness to the liberating power of God in Christ. The cross is the sign of solidarity. To witness Christ without resistance for justice has no meaning. Therefore, let us have the courage to name the evil power in our society, and resist against them collectively and individually by proclaiming love and just God. Let every child of God experience the fullness of life. It is possible to achieve through resisting the threat of life in our society.
Resisting the Threat of Life Together
We need to acknowledge that one single church or Christian denomination or a single indigenous community cannot bring change. Christian communities and people’s movements need to work together to bring about change in society. Collective resistance for justice is critical today. Moreover, we need to acknowledge that in a pluralistic society like India with multiple challenges, one religion, one community alone cannot bring change because the system is so institutionalized and structured that it requires a collective effort. We need to mobilize community cutting across class, caste, tribe, gender barriers, and religious communities to promote values and structures that enhance life and reject the forces and practices that destroy life and liberate them from the bondage. The Bible is a book about the community’s stories of their struggle together against oppression and domination for liberation. It speaks about collective liberation. The Exodus event is a collective experience of liberation. Liberating activity of God – God’s interventions, immediate, intimate encounter – takes place in the community and not to a person alone. A person is called primarily to serve the community. “Let my people go” implies that God is interested in community salvation. Jesus called a group of people to be his disciples and worked with them for the liberation of the poor, the women, the blind, the sick, and the sinners who had been denied life.
Let us resist together that threatens and denies life. Let us make a critical option against social structures in favour of the victims and an option for justice to the integrity of God’s creation. Let us abandon idealistic views of justice and peace, but locate the Kingdom’s value within the social structure, and resist collectively for the liberation of victims affirming the integrity of God’s creation.