Since mid-September of this year, the media had been talking about this new thing called “Occupy Movement”. Most TV channels, when airing their newscast, would have reports about this movement which have lately been identified with local places of action, as in Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy London, to name just a few.
Having grown worldwide, the "Occupy Movement" has attracted public attention; perhaps because of the violence that seems to dovetail with almost all of the protests. Due to this emphasis on the negative side, a good number of the public have remained uninformed on the very reason for its being, its raison d’être.
I am among those who may have a minimal knowledge of the intricate web of design behind how the movement has now evolved into what it is. Yet, on the other hand, I am aware of its formative beginnings and of how this was chosen as the venue to lodge protests against those that wield economic power in our society.
The “Occupy Movement”, minus the violence erupting from confrontations and minus the encampments and the horrible images affixed to them, was and still is a timely recourse when calling for an end of the injustices that emanate from those economic structures and systems that have become oppressive to the ones referred to as the 99%.
This claim for its justification and timeliness validates the continued proliferation of injustices in different cultures, time and place. How true, indeed, that forms of injustices have been so much a part of history and while efforts to correct them have produced dissimilar results, the common thread is that they’ll remain with us, until someone fashions the right “Occupy Movement” in the future.
Perhaps, it will come to pass at the day of Final Reckoning, the End of Ages, when the King of kings and Lord of lords will address the dissolution of all forms of injustices and supplant them with acts of mercy, love and forgiveness. For now, I guess, we should “wait a time with patience” and perhaps, use the present moment as a window of opportunity to learn how some forms of injustices had been addressed in the past.
Of particular interest to us would be the injustices that have befallen our forefathers in our Judeao-Christian heritage. The Book of the prophet Ezekiel contains imageries that allude to injustices and how these were played out in the relationship between God, His people Israel and those to whom leadership had been entrusted. Ezekiel uses the image of sheep and shepherds to represent the relationship between Israel and those who have power and authority over them. The failure of the shepherds in safeguarding the sheep entrusted to their care is a picture of the same failure that Israel’s leaders are guilty of, towards the discharge of their duties.
These accusations are found in Chapter 34 of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. What we have in today's reading (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24) is the continuation of God’s critique of the abuse of power among His people, and a description of God’s alternative ways of resolving those injustices. Ezekiel, as he does in the preceding verses, again employs the image of a flock of sheep and shepherds and says that there have been strong sheep that have thrown their weight around to bully and abuse the weaker ones. The allusion to injustice is that in the process of bullying and abusing, the stronger ones have reserved all the best pasture for themselves and grown fat on it, while those they bullied have become skinny and weak.
What we have in the description of guilty shepherds and bullying sheep is a picture of injustice; of power being selfishly wielded for its very own benefit. To use the lingo of the “Occupy Movement”, it’s the 1%, the ones who wield the scepter of economic authority, who exercise their power in order to improve their own investments, their “pasture” so to speak, with no thought for the needs of others, the so called 99%.
Similar to the ovine imagery of “butting and pushing with flank and shoulder” and edging out the rest of the flock, particularly the weaker ones, our contemporary scenario points to how this has become the normal pattern of the way things operate. And this has to stop.
Ezekiel tells of God’s way to curb this injustice; of God denouncing such power hoarder and promises a very different kind of leadership. Yahweh, through the Prophet Ezekiel, says: “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (NRSV Ezekiel 35: 12b-16)
What we have here is a total contrast between Israel’s leaders’ unjust ways and Yahweh’s acts of justice! It is a description of power, exercised not for its own sake, but for the benefit of the people, and especially for the benefit of those who are bereft of power, the lost, the strayed, the wounded, the ones without adequate resources.
This is so similar with the hopes and expectations that the 99% of the “Occupy Movement” continue to carry on amidst harmful threats and the duplicity of the very injustices they seek to overthrow.
While the images of encampments and police abuse could be troubling, all that the protesters really care for is to be “fed with good pasture; for their injured brothers and sisters to be bound up; for their fellow weak compatriots to be strengthened ” and to perhaps share the comforts that those in the 1% are lavishing on their own.
The alternative ways that Yahweh wants to bring back to His people are illustrative of a power that is good, healthy and life giving. This is what the world needs now. However, without trustworthy leaders to exercise such power, the world will remain a dangerous and frightening place to live in. The “skinny and weak sheep”, those living in the margins of society, would be even more defenseless and vulnerable to the abusive games of corrupt power hoarders. There will be the 99% unless the 1% gives up their deeply guarded systems and structures.
On the other hand, good power is selfless and self-giving and just as Yahweh wished it to be brought back to His chosen, so has it been made available to us, the Body of Christ; the Church, the new Israel. And that could be an overwhelming responsibility should we decide to take such offer. The ones who are willing to take it need to remain prayerful and mindful of others.
Our very nature often makes it hard for us to fulfill such calling. For example, it is quite easy to confuse our own needs with those of others, just as it is very tempting to lobby for others especially when there are strings attached to such an advocacy. With access to such power, we need to constantly model ourselves with the Great One, the Son of God, whose leadership is modeled on servanthood.
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Jesus Christ modeled the proper use of power by modeling his kingship on servanthood. And while that may sound as the best oxymoron, kingship and leadership could really become service-oriented. It will be the wielding of power we talked about earlier; power that is for the benefit of others, for the good of those in the 99%.
Our gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 25:31-46) gives us a picture of the End of Times, when the Eternal Judge will separate the “sheep from the goats”, the ones who handled their “power” for the good of others from those who handled theirs for their own benefit. The ones who will be invited to enter God’s Kingdom are those who have used their power to “give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty; welcome the stranger, clothe the naked; take care of the sick and visit those in prison”.
What have we done with the “power” that has been given us at baptism; the power to assert and make known the Christ that is in us? Have we done anything worthy of emulation? Christ the King would love to hear from us. I invite you then to let Christ Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to occupy our hearts and our lives.
Let Christ the King occupy our whole being!