Saturday, July 30, 2011

A year of jubilee

In this year of jubilee, then,
every one of you shall return to his own property.
Leviticus 24: 13

Today’s lectionary reading from Leviticus hits close to home, here in Honduras, where land is so badly distributed.

Leviticus 24 is a call to a release from slavery and a restoration of lands to those who have lost them, mostly through having to sell them to pay debts. It presumes that the first partition of the promised land was equitable, so that there was enough for everyone.

Whether the actual practice of Israel may have been, the jubilee presents an important challenge for social justice in a society.

When most of the wealth is in few hands – as well as most of the land – and most of the people have little or no land for even subsistence agriculture, something is wrong and people suffer.

That’s what’s happening here and in some places, like the Bajo Aguan, it’s led to violence and the death of over 40 poor farmers in the last 18 months.

This is a tragedy that a little biblical wisdom might change.

There are many and some of them have suffered.

A few weeks ago, Nery Jeremías Orellana, a young journalist, owner of a community radio station in the municipality of Candelaria, Lempira, was killed. The police called it a simple criminal act, but it looks very different.

Nery was a member of the Resistance to the coup and the current government, a movement calling for structural change in Honduras. He was also a devout member of the Catholic Church. I have been told that when he was studying in Gracias, he was a lector int he parish.

In Candelaria Padre Amilcar Lara, the parish priest, also sympathetic to the Resistance, has recently denounced some cases of corruption by organizations in the area. He has received death threats and one night, about 3 am, someone drove around the church grounds shooting a gun into the area in a vehicle owned by one of the organizations that is thought to be involved in corruption.

Shortly thereafter Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, the bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán celebrated a Mass in Candelaria and spoke out forcefully in support of Padre Amilcar and against corruption. As they say here, Monseñor Santo "no tiene pelos en la lengua" - there are not hairs on his tongue. He speaks what he thinks.

The Mass and homily was broadcast by the radio station, Radio Joconguera, which broadcast the homily many times after the Mass.

Nery also received death threats and then, on July 14 he was shot while riding to the station on his motorcycle.

Nery, Padre Amilcar, the mayor of Candelaria and others there had received death threats for their denunciations of injustice and corruption. But will there be a real investigation of Nery's death? I doubt it, if the recent history of deaths is any precedent.

And so I live in a country where the lives of the poor are not only precarious because of the injustice of the economic and social systems here but those who seek to take up the cause of the poor are threatened and even killed.

Interestingly, the Gospel reading for today is Matthew 14: 1-12, the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist by Herod,  another tyrant and puppet of an empire.

Pray for us - and work with us for justice and jubilee!

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