06 May 2007


5th Sunday of Easter
Jn 13:31-33,34-35

When I was a kid, one of the first limericks I learned was Humpty Dumpty.

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses,
and all the king’s men,
couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

I suppose the same is true with you. Who is not familiar with Humpty Dumpty? But who is Humpty Dumpty? Where did he come from? Or is he a he or is she a she? What is the real story of Humpty Dumpty?

Humpty Dumpty was created by the Lewis Carroll in his book, Through the Lookng-Glass. In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice, the main character of the story, meets a legion of strange creatures. Among her many rendezvous is with an old sheep who whiles away her time knitting while running a small shop of curious things. Visiting the shop one day, Alice buys an egg from the old sheep. On her way home from the shop of strange things, Alice notices that the gets larger and larger. Not only does the egg get larger, it also becomes more human – with short arms and legs and an enormous face! The large human-egg is Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty is a nice and friendly creature, except when someone calls him an egg. Referring to him as an egg provokes him instantly.

“What is your name?” Humpty Dumpty asks Alice.

“I am Alice,” she replied.

“It’s so stupid a name!” an obviously irritated Humpty Dumpty remarks. “What does it mean?” he continues.

“Must a name mean something?” Alice asks hesitantly.

“Of course it must!” says Humpty Dumpty with a short laugh. “My name means the shape I am,” he continues. “And a good handsome shape it is, too,” he adds. “With a name like yours, you might be any shape,” he tells Alice.

What is your name? What is your shape? Perhaps, our physical shape is not necessarily related with our name as Humpty Dumpty believes, but Humpty Dumpty has a point. Especially in our days, most of our names do not say anything about who we are and what we are like. Our names have been reduced to being convenient identity tags. The ancient Romans would rise in protest against the way we choose names for our children. They believed that “nomen est omen”; i. e., “the name is the destiny” or better yet “the destiny is in the name.” Nowadays, just by our names nobody could guess either the shape we are or the shape we are in. Sometimes though, we are labeled by others with nicknames that seem to catch something of our peculiarity, but too often, we are seldom flattered especially when they are accurate.

There was a young Jew from the island of Cyprus who belonged to the first Christian community. He was one of our first missionary preachers. His name was Joseph but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas which means “son of encouragement.” The name Barnabas describes accurately who Joseph really was.

The first thing we know about Joseph a.k.a. Barnabas is from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke, the writer of the Acts, describes him as a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”. A son of encouragement he really was, Barnabas encouraged many believers to persevere in their faith. This encouragement he did both by living according to the teachings of the Lord in word and in deed. He likewise sold his estate and gave the proceeds to the apostles for the work of the struggling neophyte Christian community.

When Saul was converted and became Paul, he spent a three-year retreat in the Arabian desert before he went to present himself to the apostles. Emerging from his three-year renewal course on the Holy Spirit, he showed himself to Peter. Because he had been the unrivalled persecutor of Christians prior to his conversion on the way to Damascus, Paul received a rather cold reception, if not suspicious, not only from the apostles but also from the Christian community in general. It was simply too good to be true for the believers to hear that an accomplished persecutor of their community now wanted to be counted among them. To avoid any harm coming to Paul, the leaders made sure that Paul was soon deported to Tarsus.

But there was one believer who believed in Paul, encouraged him in his new life and sponsored him. He was Joseph a.k.a. Barnabas himself. And when Barnabas was commissioned by the apostles to oversee the Church in Antioch, the capital of Syria, he sought out Paul and requested him to be his “auxiliary bishop”. For one full year, Barnabas and Paul ministered there. It was in Antioch where we were first called Christians, meaning disciples of Christ. And it was no accident why. For Jesus said, “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are My disciples.” Barnabas, the first bishop of Antioch, loved Paul in the exact essence of Jesus’ words. He was the best encouraging example for his flock; thus, as the book of Acts itself attests, when non-believers see them, they would comment, “See how they love one another.”

The fraternal bond between Barnabas and Paul, however, did not end in Antioch. They also went together in various missionary journeys. It is said that they traveled together for some 1,400 miles, preaching the Gospel of Christ. Everywhere they went, as the First Reading today says, “they put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith.” When Paul pursued other missionary frontiers alone, he extended to others the encouragement he himself received from Barnabas.

In Paul, Barnabas saw beyond the face of an unrivalled persecutor of Christians into the heart of a converted man who was struggling to be an apostle of Christ. Barnabas’ Christ-like love called out the best in Paul. And that he did not from afar but within the closest ranged: Barnabas stayed with Paul.

Picking up from the opening story of our reflection, Lewis Carroll tells us that Humpty Dumpty eventually sits on a wall and falls. Thereupon, all the king’s men arrive and try to put Humpty Dumpty together again, but to no avail. No one is able to help him into the shape of his name.

Paul, too, fell off from his high horse while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the believers. And when he did, it was Barnabas who turned up to help him into the shape of his name. Barnabas lived up to his name by helping Paul live up to his. He who was the “son of encouragement” made a great apostle of Jesus Christ out of an accomplished persecutor of the Church.

It is encouragement that gives shape to anyone’s life. It is the kind of encouragement that stays with and promotes the best in the other. It is the kind of encouragement that sees beyond faces into hearts. It is the kind of encouragement that assists the possible and even insists on what is seemingly impossible according to ordinary wisdom. It is the kind of encouragement that invests time, talent and treasure in the person of the other. It is the kind of encouragement that makes its giver spends his life for the other. That is the kind of encouragement whose other name is love.

Outside of Lewis Carroll’s book, there are many Humpty Dumptys who fall and are in need of being put together again. Along the road of life, we see them cracked and broken, avoided and abandoned helplessly laying on the dust. We can try putting them together again, but unless we love like Jesus, mirrored by Barnabas to Paul, we cannot help them into the shape of their names.


At 5:46 PM , Anonymous honey d. calinog said...

Hi, father! I like this one about Humpty Dumpty. This is good.


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