22 October 2010

MISFORTUNE AS GOSPEL

Saturday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time
Lk 13:1-9

To begin with, I do not believe in luck. I believe in grace instead. But many people believe in luck even as they believe in grace. See their confusion! Some of them consider thirteen to be unlucky but others speak of “lucky 13”. Whatever is true between the two, is it merely coincidental that our gospel today is from the 13th chapter of the book of Luke? But, certainly, this gospel narrative is not bad luck. Although Jesus speaks in this chapter about the horrific fate of the Galileans massacred by Pilate inside the Temple and the eighteen pinned to death by the tower in Siloam, this gospel is still Good News. The gospel is always Good News. That is, in fact, the literal meaning of the word’s Greek origin – “eu angelion”.

Was it not, however, apparent bad luck the people mentioned in the gospel today met? Were those people not simply and clearly unlucky? Parallel to their sad lot are the many horrendous events around us. The victims of the Ampatuan massacre – many of whom are reporters who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong company – were they not unlucky? Those who died during the super typhoon “Ondoy” and “Peping” – they were unlucky, were they not? And what do we say about the fate of those whose lives, homes, and livelihood were ruined by the very strong earthquake in Haiti and in Chile? Can we really say there is still Good News in their heartrending stories? Can bad luck really be Good News?

In Filipino, “bad luck” is “malas”. The Filipino translation is closer to the Latin original, “mal”. In Latin, “mal” means “evil”. In the Lord’s Prayer, the last petition we make is “deliver us from evil” (“sed libera nos a malo”).

Evil is real. It exists. The devil is real and is always at work to harm us. St. Peter warns us in his epistle (1 Pt 5:8): “We alert, be on watch, for your enemy, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” To be devoured by this beast is indeed the ultimate misfortune of all.

Misfortunes are impartial. They strike anyone. Righteousness does not exempt the righteous from misfortunes. Remember Job from the Bible? He was a righteous man, yet unfortunate events of unbearable proportions came upon him one after the other. His children died when the house they were partying in caved in. Then, pestilence hit his livestock and he lost all his livelihood. Then, his riches were gone. Then, he got afflicted with a horrible skin disease and his friends abandoned him except three who kept on insisting that he must have done something evil to suffer such misfortunes. But Job maintained his innocence and kept his faith in God. He was a friend of God but he suffered nonetheless. Wickedness, as we see happening around us, does not always hit the wicked with misfortunes either. Recall the sons of Jacob. Because of envy, they maltreated and sold to slave merchants their own brother, Joseph. Those sons of Jacob were certainly guilty of an evil deed, but, when drought and famine struck the land, God saved them from starvation and death through no less than Joseph himself, whom they maltreat and sold to slavery but rose to power in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. It takes little for anyone to understand that an unfortunate man is not necessarily an evil man, but, remember, a fortunate man is not necessarily a righteous man either.

Although misfortunes may befall a man because of his own carelessness, weakness, o wickedness, we cannot discount the fact that misfortunes can also be the doing of the people around him. Pilate caused the misfortune of those whom he massacred in the Temple. And those who were crushed to death by the tower in Siloam may be victims of the careless of others. Joseph’s slavery in Egypt was caused by his brothers. Job’s misfortunes were doings of Satan himself who had God’s permission to test him but not take his life. Anyone may suffer from misfortunes just as anyone may be a victim of someone else’s negligence, if not wickedness.

But even in the midst of our most painful experiences, God remains with us. He is always with us, encouraging us, healing us, reviving us, renewing us, re-creating us, o simply suffering with us. He does not abandon us. He does not allow misfortunes to have the last word on us. As it was when He raised His Son, Jesus, from the dead, God always has the last laugh of victory. Thus, in the many and varied unfortunate experiences we go through in life because of many and varied reasons, too, we should never, ever, ever, ever, never let go of our hold on God. Let us cling to Him tenaciously.

This was what the Israelites did in the midst of the intense suffering brought upon them by their slavery in Egypt. Although at times they would wonder if God took notice of their sufferings, they did not allow their hope in Him to die totally. In His time, God showed the Israelites that He indeed took notice of their anguish. He acted to set them free. “I saw the suffering of My people in Egypt. I heard their cry because of their taskmasters, and I am concerned about their affliction,” God told Moses (Ex 3:7). Thus, sending them Moses, God led the Israelites out of Egypt in freedom unto the Promised Land.

When we are in deepest trouble, which we sometimes refer to as life’s misfortunes, it is very important that our belief that God has enough concern for us remains alive. And because His concern for us is indeed enough, He notices what happens to us and His reaction to it is not “ma” or “pa” (“Malay ko? “Pakialam ko?”) – i.e., “Who cares?” – but His direct and personal involvement in our lives. This is also the reason why we have reason to hope. Our God, who is also the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not like the false gods “who have mouths but they cannot speak; who have eyes but they cannot see; who have ears but they cannot hear” (Ps 115). Our God, who is the Father of Jesus, is a “God of Action”: He acts, He does not only watch. He is not only looking at our mistakes and misfortunes in life. Though beautifully written and sang, still the song that says, “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance” is totally wrong and misleading. And the image of God the Father rendered as an eye inside an equilateral triangle is radically incorrect. Watching is never God’s hobby! He enjoys best getting Himself involved in the lives of you and me. And just as He made the shame of the cross the cause of blessing and the death of Jesus the fount of life so too does He act to turn even the most unfortunate event in our lives into the source of real and tremendous grace for us and even for others. Quite often, from our point of view, we even refer to this kind of experience as a “blessing in disguise”. That is why even misfortunes can be gospel, can be Good News.

It will do us well to find the grace of God in what we think to be misfortunes in our lives. Discover our “blessings in disguise” and allow our selves to be more overwhelmed by the feeling of wonderment at the mystery of God’s actions in our life so that we may trust Him more even and most especially in the midst of intense and confusing trials in life. With these good sentiments and response to God’s actions in our lives, we should also heed the warning that God gives us through the unfortunate events we see and experience in the world today. What does global warming tells us? What does the Ampatuan massacre warn us about? What does the earth mean with its tremors? St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 10:11, “All these happened to them as a warning, and were written to teach us who live in these last days.”

God notices us. Do we notice Him? Should a misfortune call our attention?

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