28 January 2007

TENDER AND TOUGH

4th Sunday in the Ordinary Time
Lk 4:21-30

There is something strange about today’s Gospel. It begins with Jesus’ townspeople admiring Him. They are all amazed at the eloquence of a homegrown preacher. Then a sudden twist: the same admirers turn into an angry mob. Why? This is why: Jesus throws cold water on their hope that He will do in His own town what His townspeople hear Him doing elsewhere. “Surely,” Jesus says, “you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself’ and ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” Then, Jesus delivers a series of more punches. “Amen, I say to you,” He says, “no prophet is accepted in his own native place.” “Indeed,” He continues, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.” “Again,” the punches seem relentless, “there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” Thus, the episode that starts with a warm round of applause ends for Jesus ends with Jesus almost thrown headlong from the brow of the hill on which Nazareth stands.

If read without a correct understanding of the person of Jesus, one may say that Jesus is to be blamed for being literally kicked out of the synagogue and almost killed. A misguided reader of this episode in Luke’s gospel may misjudge the situation as Jesus unwittingly provoking His townspeople unto fury. A cynic may likewise question the compassion of God that we, followers of Jesus, claim to be Jesus Himself.

But was Jesus really imprudent? Did He really provoke the people to anger that led them to wanting to hurl Him headlong from top of a hill? Was He, after all, not God’s compassion?

Jesus is always God’s compassion. But what do we really understand by the word “compassion”?

Too often, many people misunderstand “compassion” as doing always what is pleasant to other people. Because of this misunderstanding, the same people waste their life by spending it in trying to please everyone always. They are the same people whom we often find incapable of making firm decisions. They call diplomacy what is pure but disguised compromise. They name “compromise” what Jesus may call “cowardice.”

But sometimes, compassion may be very painful. When a person, for example, needs to know the truth, he must be told it even if it hurts. And, truly, it often hurts. I read a wise statement that read, “The truth will set you free. But it will hurt you first.” When a surgeon’s knife cuts through a body part of a patient, we do not say that the surgeon has no compassion toward his patient. Rather, we consider to be lacking in compassion a doctor who refuses to operate on his patient for the absurd reason that he does not want his patient to go through the pain of a much-needed surgery.

Yes, to be compassionate is to be loving. But the love of a compassionate person is both tender and tough.

No matter how others may misunderstand Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospel today, no one can rightly say that Jesus does not love His own people. The love of Jesus is both tender and tough. And that is the kind of compassion that God has for each of us.

In a few days from now, my family and I will commemorate my father’s ninth death anniversary. No wonder, lately, I find my self indulging in nostalgia about my dad. Pardon me for concluding this reflection with a story about my father, Carlos Bautista Titco.

Dad was a very gentle person. My memories of him are all beautiful despite his share of human imperfections. I notice that when I think of him, now that he has gone home to God, there are two images of him that keep on flashing in my mind. One is dad working and the other is dad spending time with me. He was a hardworking man. But he had time for my sisters and me. He used to play with me and tell me many stories when I was a kid. Except for very few occasions when discipline truly called for it, he almost never spanked my siblings and me. He was a very gentle person. But once, I saw him very, very, very furious. It was when his eldest eloped at a very young age. His anger seemed uncontrollable and, though hurting inside, I knew even though I was then just a kid, he was firm in trying to separate my sister with her boyfriend. His many attempts, however, failed. Then he stopped talking to them. But everything of that changed when the first grandchild arrived. He welcomed them back with his usual, sometimes, even over-pampering, love.

From hindsight, I see my dad’s love to be both tough and tender. It reminds me of God Himself whose love is both bitter and sweet. It can be bitter when He confronts us with the truth about our selves. But it is always sweet, for no matter how ugly the truth about our selves is, it never ceases.

Unlike the townspeople of Jesus in the Gospel today, may we welcome the compassion of God in whatever form it comes upon us. May His tough love lead us to conversion and bring out the best in you and me. And may His love so tender make us love Him more and better.

As God is compassionate with us, may we be compassionate with one another. But let us not forget what compassion truly means: tender and tough. If our love is tender but not tough, it is not loving but patronizing. If our love, however, is tough but not tender, it is oppressing not loving.

1 Comments:

At 10:07 PM , Anonymous Joyel said...

Keep writing Father Bob, we're reading.

 

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