How do we determine the truth?
The Gospel reading for the week gives instruction for the early Christian community on how to deal with members who committed an offense against anyone in the community.
The first step is for the aggrieved party to personally point out to the suspected offender their fault. The suspected offender may not be aware that they have committed an error.
The talk between the aggrieved party and the suspected offender is to be done in confidence, giving chance to hear each other out and piece together the event from each other’s perspectives.
If they have settled amicably then they have arrived at a truth. But if the suspected offender refuses to listen, then the aggrieved party may escalate the concern by calling one or two members of the community who are able to confirm every word and every piece of evidence.
The truth is determined by the members of the community who bear witness to their dialogue and may probe questions that lead to the truth.
If the suspected offender refuses to listen to the company of two or three members, then the case may be escalated to the church. The church determines the truth.
Hopefully, the suspected offender may listen, but if not, the suspected offender may face demeaning consequences such as being tagged as a tax collector, which is the symbolic equivalent of greediness, or as a gentile which is equivalent to being unclean.
The early Christian community has operating rules and guidelines as mechanisms to determine the truth. These guidelines poster mutual trust and encourage behavior beneficial for the community.
These guidelines may also answer the need to encourage members to resolve conflicts within the bounds of the community, as many Bible scholars point to the intense persecution the early Christian communities experienced from the Temple and the Palace.
Aside from the practical utility of these guidelines, the Gospel writer points us to a profound meaning of being a community of believers bearing witness to the truth: the power at their disposal that they can bind things on earth as it is in heaven, and the legitimating presence of the Lord whenever two or three gather in his name.
The early Christian community does not have the complexity of the modern State. But complexity does not mean sophistication.
The early Christian community is sophisticatedly more egalitarian. Look at Acts 2:44-46, where the community of believers shared everything. The egalitarian feature of the community shapes the process of witnessing the truth.
When they have nothing to lose since they share everything, the interest of the community is not aligned with the powerful because, in an egalitarian community, there is no class of powerful people to begin with.
Unlike in the modern state or church, the understanding of the truth is oftentimes determined by power. In our imagination ‘might become right.’
But truth is not determined by power. Truth is allowing suffering to speak.
Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano who are community organizers working with fisherfolk and were looking at the impact of reclamation and coastal development projects in Manila Bay were recently abducted.
These forced disappearances seem to be part of a pattern of forced disappearances of many activists who are working to better the conditions of marginalized communities.
The two young environmentalists work with AKAP Ka Manila Bay, a network of advocates opposing dump-and-fill reclamation activities. The truth that they bear witness to is the truth that comes from the testimony of the poor people living around Manila Bay.
The reclamation project of the government does not pay too much attention to the impacts on poor people whose livelihood depends much on the water.
The nature of truth is that it always belongs to the people who suffer and not the powerful. The two have responded to bear witness to the suffering of the aggrieved people.
I imagine that they are fiercely doing advocacy work to the point that they become a threat to the powerful who bear a different vision for Manila Bay.
Jonila and Jhed bear witness to the truth that makes the powerful tremble.
Since Marcos Jr. assumed Malacañang, we have heard of a number of forced disappearances.
They have names:
Ma. Elenea Pampoza,
Renel delos Santos,
Lyn Grace Martullinas,
Gene Roz “Bazoo” de Jesus,
and Jennifer Binungkasan.
Desaparacidos is the collective name for the disappeared who were abducted and killed by state forces.
These abductions are known to be a classical tool for silencing people who bear witness to the truth.
In many parts of the world, totalitarian and fascist governments use this kind of tactic to impose their inhumane and selfish interest.
Any opposition to development projects that plunder our natural resources to serve the interests of big business is typically a threat to the state.
Yet the truth will persist.
Shall we, as a Church, bear witness to the truth that emanates from the suffering of people, of the disappeared, of the victims of the drug war, of the urban poor, of the poor peasants?
As a church, who bears witness to the truth of the suffering of our Lord, let us.
Gospel reflection of Rev. Ariel Siagan, IEMELIF for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Ez 33:7-9, Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9, Rom 13:8-10, Mt 18:15-20