We all may wonder why one person’s reputation, popularity and words could last so long a time. A great songwriter, a rock band or classical music can last hundreds of years. The music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi is more popular now than it was in their own lifetimes. The Rolling Stones and Bono are going strong despite their ageing.
But to be top of the charts after two thousand years is altogether another phenomenon. Jesus of Nazareth is still the most revered and imitated person in all of history. What’s he got that grips the minds and hearts of so many people for two thousand years, inspiring them to live and die for him and for others ? No popstar has ever achieved that.
Despite the damage caused by the institutionalization, reinterpretation or even burying of the greatest message ever told, the legacy and inspiration, life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth lives on. He is just as alive today as he was when he walked by the Sea of Galilee telling simple but powerful stories to travelers by their camp fires or in the Synagogues.
He washed his disciples feet, he challenged the corrupt authorities, taught love and self-sacrifice, friendship and peace. He took the side of the poor and exploited, elevated the status of women and children, called all to repent and be forgiven. He fed the hungry and healed the sick, taught fairness, equality and justice. For all that he was; vilified, discredited, accused falsely, called a rebel, tortured and executed as a subversive. But he lives on, why?
His stories, words of love and friendship, his example of self-giving, his healing powers and his challenges to all to change, follow his advice and live a pure life of honesty and selfless love continues to inspire millions. Many good people reading this have accepted him and his teaching and believe in the risen Jesus. They reach out to help the abandoned and support them on the road to a life of dignity.
These good people have accepted the friendship of Jesus of Nazareth and they support the poor and share their wealth. They help break the cycle of poverty so the children of the poor will not be abandoned or impoverished. They have within them the living spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. They have helped many like Juanito.
Juanito was 23 when he came back to visit me at the Preda Center in Olongapo after many years. He brought his two children. He looked prosperous and unrecognizable as the ten-year-old ragged street boy I found with many others in a filthy Manila jail.
He had grown up and it was thirteen years since I had last seen him. Juanito was rescued from the jail by Preda’s social workers and myself the year before. We helped his family and took him into the boys’ home. He was ten then, street wise and had been arrested for drug possession; he was a runner coerced by a drug syndicate although he himself was not a user.
Juanito was an intelligent boy and he freely decided to stay at the Preda home for boys and start life anew. It’s an open community of kids from prisons. The values of freedom, respect, affirmation and education are the keys to motivate these unfortunate children to change their lives.
Juanito was happy to go to school and his life was transformed. He graduated, went on to skills training and became a welder. He has a good job and a happier life. I listened to his story once again.
“You remember me and my story”? he asked.
“Tell me your story again, I want to remember it all,” I said.
“I came from a broken home, as you know, my father left us when I was 9 years old. He didn’t love us; my sisters and I were his “mistakes”. He didn’t want us, his unwanted children, easily abandoned after he had his pleasure. We all suffered a lot everyday.
“He beat my mother and us too. Then one day he was drunk and he went for my little sister to rape her. I shouted at him, grabbed my sister by the hand and ran from the house down the street. I brought her to my grandmother’s house and told her everything. Grandmother went to the police and reported it and then my father disappeared.
“When he left I was not sad, I was relieved, happy in a sad way and that’s when I had to support my mother and two small sisters.
“I hated nearly everybody, I left school because no one loved me. I was only 9 years old going on ten. The local drug pusher recruited me gave me a loan to buy food, and then made me pay for it as his “runner’.
“I delivered packets of drugs for him and collected the money. If I refused, he said he would rape my sisters. So I had to do it and he paid so little and we were always hungry. He paid a lot of money to the police and they let him do his dirty business.
“I was caught when there was a big drive against the drugs. Some students had died of overdose. I was left in the jail. I had to fight off the bigger men who tried to rape me. That was when you found me. I was saved. I had a new life here at Preda, I found my dignity and meaning in life, I now care for others… I learned that at Preda.”
We embraced at the end of the lovely day when I saw the boy who was once dead in prison and who had come to life at Preda.
He had experienced a kind of “resurrection”, a coming alive from being spiritually dead. We are all in need of renewal, a new different experience of life, one that is built on a bond of friendship and unselfish family or community togetherness as Jesus taught and showed us.