Pastor’s Corner – March 3, 2024

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” 

As I write, I am mindful of what day it is today. It’s March 1st. For many Koreans who know their history, it’s an important date to remember. It was March 1st, 1919, during Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), to resist Japanese colonialism, Korea declared independence! The leadership, mostly Christians and activists who organized and wrote the basic human rights and independence document to be circulated were immediately arrested. There were mass protests on the streets all over the country that were met with violence and brutality by Japanese military police, massacring 7,500 people with many more wounded and imprisoned within a month. I guess this would be no different than the first intifada of Palestinians on December 9, 1987 and subsequent uprisings. Times have not changed in terms of how occupation works; to control, humiliate and dehumanize others. In the midst of all this, from human aspiration to be free and to live in dignity and to live fully as human beings, we need to build solidarity and alleviate suffering by building hope and dismantling systems of oppression. There will be massive protests all over the world and here at home tomorrow. Like the independence movement on March 1st a century ago, in the same spirit of human freedom, the movement continues. 

And then there are others, who protest and galvanize with self-immolation, a protest in despair and ultimate sacrifice to bring attention to the plight of suffering. There is a long history of such protests. One that stands out is when Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc was doused with gasoline and set on fire June 11, 1963. This was not a terrorist act nor a mental health issue, but a show of desire and desperation for human freedom. In the 1980s during the democracy movement in South Korea against military dictatorship, there were many students who set themselves on fire. Here in America, Airman Aaron Bushnell recently also set himself on fire and died last Sunday, in protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington. Two months ago, a woman who was not identified also did the same in front of the Israel consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, protesting against Israel genocide of Palestinians. The news media has dismissed all these forms of protests and belittled them by naming them as mental health issues. I wonder whether people during Jesus’ time thought the same, when Jesus said “Destroy this body and I will raise it in three days? I can’t help but wonder if when Jesus openly talked about his imminent persecution and death, and knowingly went through it anyway, if this was a form of self-immolation? When you place your body on the line, in harm’s way as a protest against military imperial rule, you are at risk. The stakes are high. During our Lenten season as we reflect deeply on the human condition and suffering, let us pray together and move together toward human liberation and offer ourselves in service toward that end. Amen.      

Pastor Dae