Burmes Face of Jesus

24/07/2011 19:16

Burmese Faces of Jesus


Burmese Faces of Jesus: In Search of Contextual Christological Titles  

              There are many Christs in Myanmar. The Portuguese Christ and the French Christ are the Roman Catholic Christs. The American Christ belongs to the Protestant sects. New images of Christ are still exported from the Philippines, Italy, France and other western countries. The historical critical yet academic image of Jesus is hardly to be found. Appropriate faces of Christ can be presented in various ways in the multicultural, multiethnic, and plurireligious context of Myanmar.

            In this part, critical scholarly faces of Christ will be described as the Nonviolent Monk, the Peaceful Activist, and a Social Worker. The first shows the Burmese the way, the truth and the life even though the monk himself is not the way, the truth and the life. The second icon is the reflection and reminder of the liberative mission of Christ through prophetic ‘peaceful social involvement.’ The third reflects the Christian notion of “service of human promotion” based on Catholic Social Teachings for integral human development like human dignity, equality, birthrights, environmental care and the like.

         These contextual christological titles do not mean to put Jesus identical with the monk, the peace-activist, and a social worker. We just search for the “common ground” in which we can reflect the meaning, value, spirit, praxis of Christ from our context. “People have their right to discover and understand Jesus in their own culture and in their historical context and call on him with the titles which are different from the titles imported from the West.”[1] If Jesus did not have asked: “What do you say that I am?,” (Mk 8:28) the disciples of all ages will continue to question “Who is Jesus in himself and what is he for us?” Thus, we give our own titles to Jesus.

                Our search for contextual christological titles is in accordance with the church’s teaching particularly expressed in Vatican II ( for example, AG 9, 11; LG 16, 17; NA 1-5). Thus, we adopt the non-Christian elements to portray, describe faces of Jesus anew. Any reinterpretation of the doctrine of the universality and uniqueness of Jesus as savior within Roman Catholic theology must take into account the Vatican II teaching on the “possibility of salvation” for non-Christians and the existence of “elements of truth and grace” within non-Christian religions.[2]

            To picture Jesus with non-Christian religious elements is valid and relevant because “the catholic church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions” (NA 2). These non-Christian religious elements can help us in Phan’s words to articulate a “coherent and credible christology” whose intent is as to “reflect on how Christians should understand themselves in reference to other religions.”[3] As “the church rejects as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life or religion” (NA 5). “The church repudiates all persecutions against any man. She deplores the hatred” (NA 4). Thus, in line with the spirit of Vatican II, we try to reconstruct our images of Christ. Such images of Christ are hoped to be found in the three pillars of Burmese society. 


Three Pillars of Burmese Society

        The Buddhist monks are the first pillar of Burmese society. Throughout the history, the Burmese Buddhist monks (Sangha) play an essential role for social transformation. J. G. Scott documented that under the Burmese government (monarchy) the monks, who theoretically had nothing to do with politics or things outside monastery was really a political power, the only permanent power, a social power.[1]

          This power disappeared under the British rule. But the monk still is the guardian of religion, the depositary of learning, the instructor of the young, the spiritual advisor of the elderly and the aged. [2] His opinions, even in secular matters, are always accepted respectfully, and sometimes much sought for; he is still the self-constituted protector of his flock; and he is still cited as the best possible witness in all important transactions. [3] The sangha are regarded as the only group whom the civilians trust moral credibility and transparency.

           The students are the second pillar of the Burmese society. Since the existence of various schools, universities and academic institutes under the British colony, the students became the peace activists, following the teaching of the Lord Buddha and the instruction of the monks. In the history of Burma, (General) Aung San and his companions began their anti-British colony movement with a method of non-violence as students and peace activists.

       Again, in 1988 uprising, student-peace-activists initiated “a wave of pro-democracy protests.” Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) joined the student-movement. And civilians air “students’ affairs are our affairs.”[4] Without compromise, they are on the same side against the injustice, brutality, human rights violation, ethnocide, and crime against humanity.

         The social workers – volunteers, unpaid workers, community development workers – can be considered the third pillar of the Burmese society. Rich by nature but poor by policy, Burma remains a “hermit country,” a “lonely planet,” a “forgotten peninsula,” a “closed society.” Unsatisfied with the government notion of development, the local social workers try to reach the margins of the society. They are the groundbreakers. They have direct access, though limitedly, to the lives of the poor.

          Today, most people believe that “hope” for freedom, peace and development of the country depends on these three pillars of the Burmese society: the peaceful activists, the nonviolent monks, and the social workers. They demonstrate against the military generals in green uniform. The “green ghosts”, as the military men are called, claim themselves to be father and mother of the state, and the sole pillar of the society.



[1] James George Scott, Burma: A Handbook of Practical Information 3rd ed. (First published in London: Daniel O'Conner, 1906 and reprinted in Bangkok: Orchid Press, 1999) 382-383.


[2] Ibid., 383.


[3] Ibid., 383-385.


[4] Anthony Spaeth, “Student Power,” Time 148/25 (16th December 1996) 20-21.


[1] Alangaram, Christ of the Asian Peoples, 21


[2] Peter C. Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously : Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue (N.Y.: Orbis, 2004) 138.


[3] Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously ,141.


                    The author Maung John studied Theology in St. Vincent School of Theolgy, Manila.

                     John is currently working for the protection and promotion of indigenous people in Burma.

Samaritan Woman & Jesus at the Water Well Artist by U Moe Yin