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THE JAILER & THE PRISONERS

FROM “THEY” TO “WE”
May 18, 2020
SPIRITUAL INDIGESTION
May 20, 2020

Homily for Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter, 19 May 2020, Jn 16:5-11

In our first reading, we heard Luke telling us a grim story of persecution, but I should say he narrates it in a very amusing way. He tells us the jailer had locked up his prisoners securely, or so he thought. It took only some praying and singing of pious songs for the chains to fall off from the prisoners and for the doors to fly open.
Now you have to ask, how come the jailer got so desperate he almost killed himself when he saw the prison doors wide open. Yes, you’re right, he thought the prisoners had escaped. Why would this get him into trouble? Because he was sleeping on the job!
The poor jail guard must have fallen asleep while listening to Paul and Silas praying and the singing. If they had escaped, he could be charged, not just of gross negligence but of acting in collusion with the prisoners. He could even be submitted to torture for questioning and sentenced to public execution. And so he decided it was best to kill himself with his own sword. Good thing Paul had managed to stop him.
To his great surprise, however, his prisoners were all there; no one had escaped. Meaning, they had thought of his welfare. They gave up the possibility of running to freedom because they did not want him to get into trouble.
When people whom you have treated with cruelty reciprocate you with kindness, I suppose it changes the equation. In Luke’s story, it led to the jailer’s conversion. From here on, he treats them with thoughtfulness, takes good care of them, washes their wounds and even spreads a meal for them. Eventually, he also asks to be baptized by them.
As Bishop of Kalookan, I am praying for the same kind of conversion for the jailers of Mang Dodong. I know that his story went viral, so you may have heard in the news lately. In fact, when our parish of San Ildefonso started sending ready-to-eat lunch to the more than 500 people presently detained there at the Navotas Sports Complex for basically the same reasons, I instructed them to feed the jail guards too.
You see, the jailers over there tend to be overzealous with their job; no mercy even for first-time offenders. I think they abide strictly by the now-famous Latin saying DURA LEX SED LEX. (The law is hard, but such is the law.) Except that the law tends to be harder on the poor than on those with means and influence.
And whatever happened to the other saying that goes, “Those who have less in life should have more in law?” That is why I asked our parish volunteers to give food and drink to the jail guards as well. The hard law cannot be softened; but the human heart can.
So, who is Mang Dodong and what happened to him? Mang Dodong is a fish retailer who was arrested on May 7 in Navotas. He had a quarantine pass for Caloocan but he did not know that his pass would not be honored in Navotas city. He was going to buy fish at the Navotas Fish Market so he could sell it for retail at the talipapa near his home barangay in Caloocan.
Maybe he thought he could be counted as a frontliner because he was involved in selling fish for food, which is considered an essential item. How could food items be made available in the markets of the poor without retailers? Fish retailing was Dodong’s only way of providing for his little family, namely, his wife Patring and their adoptive daughter. Since he had done it before and never got apprehended for it. This time, they arrested him and detained him at the Navotas Sports Complex, where more than 500 people are still presently detained. It is not true that they were just hard-headed. Most of them violated quarantine because they wanted to bring home some food to their families.
Since neither he nor his wife were cell phone users, he could not inform his family what happened to him. He pleaded with the police to have his family informed, to no avail. In the meantime, his wife had sleepless nights for almost a whole week. (Here in our diocese we know what happens when people are abducted by masked men and go missing. It means you can expect their dead bodies to turn up a day or two later. As theologian Fr Danny Pilario CM recently noted in an article, wearing masks in the recent past was for killing; whoever thought that later, all of us would be required to wear masks—but this time, to save lives?! God sometimes has some really strange ways of “rubbing it in”. ) Patring was therefore ready for the worst even when she sought help from her former employer and from the diocese, until a journalist succeeded in locating him.
It is now already the 12th day since Mang Dodong was arrested. I found it amazing how many kind-hearted people volunteered to help him. People went out of their way to donate the money he needed for bail. But the whole process is not only financially difficult for the poor. It is also legally tedious and the arraignment could only be done online. My good news is, it was scheduled this afternoon, and I have no news up to now if he had succeeded in posting bail so that he could be released.
You see, jailers are never expected to be kind. Their bosses expect them to be tough, hard and unrelenting in the fulfillment of their duties. It is necessary for maintaining order, but it is also how you can also create a whole system of cruelty. Now I understand why Jesus promised to continue his work of redemption by sending the Holy Spirit, in order to change, not systems, but persons.
In the Gospel, he says, the Spirit will vindicate the paths of righteousness and justice, and that, for him is no other than the way of Jesus. Only the way of Jesus can thwart the cruel and inhuman way of Satan that often hides beneath a cloak of legality and order in society.
(Latest news: Mang Dodong was released this afternoon! Correction: He wasn’t required to post bail anymore because his sentence of 10 days has been served already. He was detained for twelve days. Praise the Lord.)

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