“Persona Non Grata”

Screenshot_2014-08-20-13-00-59Last Tuesday, the Davao City Council declared comedian Ramon Bautista as persona non grata in Davao City. Their reasons? “He is an extremely corrupt influence to the youth” and “his abusive behavior should not be tolerated.” These comments were a reaction to a pejorative term he used in referring to the women of the city. Many felt insulted and disrespected.

Some said this was an overreaction and that banning the comedian from showing up in the city is harsh and unjust. I am not writing this to comment on that and generate a discussion or debate about that. I am writing this to give us some time to reflect – not on Bautista, the Dutertes and the Davaoeños – but on the story of our lives.

Every one of us – male or female – is created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). It means there is dignity and worth intrinsic in all of us. To insult a fellow human being, intentional or not, is to insult the God who created her. Whether Bautista meant to disrespect women or not is not the point. Many felt disrespected. So in that sense, Bautista sinned against them.

But is it not reflective of all of us? In one way or another, we insulted others. We may not have said negative words out loud, but when our thoughts about other people were recorded and our demeaning attitude towards others were played live on TV, all of us are deserving of being declared persona non grata. We have not just disrespected our fellow human being, we dishonored the King of the universe by neglecting him and his words. That’s why our first parents – Adam and Eve – were declared persona non grata by God. They were banished from the Garden, away from the presence of God.

We can’t enter God’s Kingdom. There is no way we can approach his presence. We can’t reverse his verdict against us. But God made a way. He sent his Son Jesus to be our Mediator, our Advocate. He took our place. “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT). Although he was welcomed like a king entering Jerusalem, his fellow Jews cried out for his crucifixion. He was unwelcome, he was rejected, he was persona non grata.

Golgotha Holy Cross EveningOutside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, he was unjustly crucified like a criminal, though he did not commit any sin. “So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood” (Hebrews 13:12 NLT). Jesus was declared persona non grata so that our status as persona non grata may be lifted up. By putting our trust in him, we are now welcome and accepted into the kingdom of God.

Bautista already apologized for his actions, but he was not forgiven. Many called out for justice to be served. In our case, justice was served. Jesus paid the penalty. He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that our forsaken-ness might be removed. He said, “It is finished!”, so that we will no longer pay for our sins. When we repent and trust Jesus, God will no longer require payments from us. He won’t demand that we prove ourselves first. He welcomes us into his presence with arms wide open.

That’s the way of grace. To Bautista and others like him who did not feel the acceptance they’re looking for, this is good news. Although many people may reject us (whether we deserve it or not) God welcomes us (although we don’t deserve it).

Mayor Duterte and the City Council have authority to do what they did. I’m not questioning that. But they can also choose the way of grace and forgiveness. We can only do that if we ourselves experienced God’s gracious forgiveness. Instead of retaliating with slander, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children” (Ephesians 4:32; 5:1 NLT). “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory” (Romans 15:7 NLT).

When others malign us or treat us with disrespect, we can choose to respond with respect. I applaud Bautista for respecting the City Council’s decision, instead of defending himself and criticizing the actions of other people especially those who are in power. If we are in Christ, we can now accept what other people may say of us, how hurtful they may be. Not because we minimize the wrongs done against us, but because we hear daily the Father’s words to Jesus during his baptism and take that as his words to us, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 NIV).

Because of Jesus, we are no longer persona non grata. We are no longer outcasts. We are welcome. We are at home.

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