It was 1988. I was doing my chambering when the Malaysian Bar called for an emergency general meeting in response to the dire judicial crisis facing our nation. In its protests against the then Prime Minister’s atrocious interference and violation of the Judiciary’s independence, among others, members of the Bar were asked to wear a black band around their arms indicating that the independence of our judiciary is dead! Appearing before one of the High Court judges, the following week, I was asked, “Miss Ting, have you come to launch war against me?” I had not come to war against him but we knew that it was a very sad period for the nation. One of the three pillars of democracy had been yanked out!
It was a crucial time for me, as a member of the Bar and a citizen of Malaysia; failure to protest or to speak up amounted to my failure in being responsible to the role I was to discharge in looking after God’s creation, about which He declared, “It is good!” The absence of an independent Judiciary that could dispense justice without fear or favour implies the tearing down of the check and balance mechanism that secures and protects the people’s dignity and right to life and property, leave alone the flourishing thereof for the common good. A grievous evil had been done but I do not remember any attempt to discuss such matters in the church — not in our Bible Study sessions, not in the Sunday sermons. The nation has since been reaping and continues to suffer the grave social, economic and political consequences that are a result of the paralysis of the independence of our Judiciary.
I wondered whether Jesus would have had a discourse with the disciples on the matter. I wondered what our perception and/or understanding of God would be, had the Word not become flesh. And when the Word became flesh, what have we made of it? The Word, Jesus, became flesh. Jesus came into the messy world ruled by a super power of the day — the Romans. Jesus lived in the context of the socio-political-economic system of the time. Logically, that informs me that He is God, who was not disconnected from the day-to-day socio-political-economic issues of the day. The power structure during Jesus’ time controlled not just the politics, legal matters, education and so forth, but it very importantly controlled the economic system (“The Ancient Economy” by Douglas E. Oakman in The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, ed. Richard Rohrbaugh. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996, 126-143). The power structure built upon “patron-client” relations was wrought with cronyism and corruption, yet maintained for the mutual benefit of those within the power structure — at the expense of those outside the power structure, the poor masses. Our observation of the powerful and manipulative wrangling to preserve the power structure would have been His as well. Our observation of the powerless and commoners on the street struggling for their daily bread such as clean water, food, transport, education and healthcare would have been His experience, most likely.
Ruthless dealings with those who could not settle their debts were implied in the sayings and teachings of Jesus Christ. People and peasants were burdened with debts. In His words to the crowds, (it may be inferred) He exhorted them to negotiate to settle their debts with their creditors before the latter presented the matter before the judge, which would have resulted in the debtor suffering greater loss (Matthew 5:25). Careful reading of Matthew 5:24, which dealt with bringing an offering to the temple altar, would suggest that the religious practices of the time would not have saved the debtor from the hard realities of the matter of loans, interests and debts in Palestine. Gerard D Heuver wrote about the failure of the religious authorities of Jesus’ time in addressing the harsh economic issues/realities faced by the poor peasants (Gerard D. Heuver. The Teachings of Jesus Concerning Wealth. Chicago: Flemming H. Revel Company: 1905, 57-73). Jesus was not uninvolved in and had not remained detached from the socio-economic-political issues of his day. Thus, we read in Luke 4:16ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” In other words, Jesus was saying that injustices should not be left unaddressed, mercies should not be withheld and oppressors (the arrogant ones) should not be left undealt with.
Justice, mercy and humility pave the way to the flourishing of life and the upholding of human dignity. It is good news! It speaks to me that God cares for justice and mercy for the people. The Word need not become flesh but when God chose to be one of the poor, I understand a little more about humility. I understand that God cares not only about things above but also things here below and the processes pertaining thereto, including political process, political activity and public process that lead to good governance and just and merciful laws and public policies for the common good. Good governance was merely an empty promise made by the national front. Disrespect and even violation of the people’s constitutional rights, especially those of the powerless, became almost routine in the nation’s day-to-day events; rule of law was given lip service. Arrogance was a mark of Umno leadership. It seemed that there was no stopping of the perpetuation of injustice, ruthlessness and arrogance in the Umno regime. Even though Malaysians were perplexed and almost crushed, they were not in total despair!
March 9, 2008 is historical for Malaysia and I pray that it be accurately archived. The Easter celebration of newness and hope was exceptionally meaningful. Hope and light dawned after a long, long dark passage of hopelessness and helplessness. I voted for a Malaysia with hope, hope not just for myself, but for Malaysians and generations of Malaysians to come. I voted for the restoration of the independence of our Judiciary, even though I am not a member of the Malaysian Bar (for the moment!). I voted for the restoration of justice, mercy, integrity and humility and I encouraged others to do likewise. Change has come and it is as if the year of the Lord’s favour has dawned. Yet, it is just the beginning of the change that has come — and where will the change take Malaysia, take us? We are unsure. There is one thing I am sure of, and that is the importance of our continual participation in the national political process, political activity and public processes as followers of Christ. It is our responsibility to pray for the leaders of our nation. We need to continue to respect and befriend others regardless of race and religion, because God cares for them too. We need to continue to stand up for and advocate the protection of the Constitutional rights of every Malaysian, that the change voted for on March 8 may be given opportunity to bear fruit for a better Malaysia.