Death in the Image of Jesus

[Homily: Second Anniversary of the Death of Fr. Pops Tentorio, PIME]

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.

“Unless the grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit”

The passage from the Gospel reading for this Mass recalls an old truth taken from nature: Unless the seed as it were as a seed rot and die, it does not germinate, it does not become a shoot, then a sapling, then a tree.

It is only if this black, shiny seed, gives itself up, dies, that it unfolds itself, develops into a tree, and bears much fruit.

The passage taken from the most familiar of our experiences of nature – how a beautiful seed rots, and dies as a seed, in order to become a tree – is used to illustrate the necessity of our Lord’s dying. And the glorious fruit of this self-sacrifice.

“Unless the grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it remains just a grain of wheat.
But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24) Here, the grain of wheat is Jesus – suffering and dying on the cross. Reflecting on this, the early Christians said, were it not that this dying had happened, we would not have experienced the fruit of the resurrection – the redemption of humankind, the formation of the People of God, the experience of liberation, the hope of eternal salvation.

So, the ugly image of the man who healed the sick, raised the dead and spoke of the Kingdom of God, nailed to a cross, tortured and dying, took on a new perspective:

The image of this death on a Cross became history’s most profound image of love: God expressing his undying compassion for us in the passion and dying of this Jesus on the cross. For: “Unless the grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24) Unless this dying have taken place, the divine love that heals and redeems is hidden, not manifest, not known. Sin is not conquered. Death rules. But with this dying, death is dealt its death blow. What triumphs is not sin, but God’s mercy, God’s love.

Two years after the ugly death of Fr. Pops, it is in this light that the Church looks at his death. That is why, it was this Gospel that was chosen for this Mass. Fr. Pops was a good man. He was a pastor of the poor. He served the poor in Zamboanga, in Columbio, in Arakan. He told the people about God’s love for them – manifested ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus on the Cross. He taught in a way the people understood – visiting them in their villages, their homes, helping them with their cooperatives, their health care projects, their efforts at education. When as a pastor of the poor, he knew his people to be threatened by the greed of the land grabbers, he fought the land grabbers; when as a pastor of the poor, he knew his people threatened by the greed of the miners, he fought the miners. When the land grabbers and the miners threatened his life, he didn’t care. He didn’t care about his life. He cared about his people’s life. That is why, two years ago today, he was killed. He was murdered. He was martyred.

“Unless the grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24)

Two years ago. Two years already. He was murdered, and still they have not found his murderers. Fr. Pops is now numbered among sisters and brothers, who standing up for the rights of the poor, have suffered and died: Anting Fulong Freay and Victor Freay; Juvy, Jorge and John Capion; Gilbert Paborada, Genersis Ambason, Boy Cabal, Totong Mabinsi,a nd many others.

During the recent World Celebration of Human Rights Day, the Hon. Etta Rosales, chair of the Commission on Human Rights, admitted that among the worst victims of human rights violations are the Indigenous Peoples, often in the context of mining – with formal accusations against the military nearing one hundred and more than double that number for the police. The violations of the State against the indigenous peoples were even worse during the last administration.

Meanwhile, extrajudicial killings of some 129 people include 69 farmers and 25 indigenous peoples.

My sisters and brothers, the blood of these victims of injustice, including that of Fr. Pops, cry out to the heavens for justice! To those who have perpetrated these crimes, the words of the Lord, should raise fear and trembling in their hearts, “Whatever you have done to one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, that you have done to me.” Where you have given these food, clothing and shelter, that you have done to Jesus. Where you have given them suffering, pain, torture and death, that you have done to Jesus. Unless you have repented, the message of compassion for admitted to heaven is a message of justice for those eternally separated from the Lord and admitted to the punishment they created for themselves.

The image of Fr. Pops, the pastor of the poor, murdered in his heroic service of his people, is an image of light and an image of hope – in the image of Jesus, crucified and killed, in his proclamation of the Good News of God’s love. That is still the message that Fr. Pops death echoes: an image of love. God loves us. “Unless the grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). God loves us. And therefore we should not bow to injustice. God loves us. And therefore we must not cease to stand up for the poor. God loves us. And that love is stronger than the greed of the agri-business landgrabbers and more powerful than the billions of dollars of the miners. God loves us, and this love is stronger than death.

Therefore, as admirers – lovers – of Fr. Pops, who loved us with the love of God and who died in his image, we must not live in the shadow and fear of death, but in the joy of life and the courage of deep, deep love.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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