Luke 4:21-30, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Remember the first time Pope Francis celebrated Holy Thursday mass as pope? He went to a juvenile detention center in Rebibbia, outside Rome, and washed the feet of 12 people, two of whom were women—one of whom was a Muslim. Many of us Filipinos were touched by the inspiring uniqueness in a Pope doing Holy Thursday mass with prisoners rather than the free, in a detention facility rather than a cathedral, and outside Roman walls, not within. But several western clergy and laity were angrily scandalized by this “gleeful abandonment of tradition,” as one Roman-Catholic writer put it. While we Filipinos are already accustomed to having women, and even children, among the “Holy Thursday Twelve”—apparently that’s not quite true among westerners. For some strange but wonderful reason, we Filipino Catholics naturally see the greater value of that whole gesture of a pope as a washer of ordinary people’s feet. Apparently, many of our western brethren look at the ‘washee,’ or check the ‘washee,’ and in this case, the ‘washee’s’ eligibility to be a ‘washee’! “Never mind that he left Rome’s walls for Holy Thursday mass. Okay, never mind that he did it in, of all places, a prison and not a church. But to include women—one of whom was even Muslim..! There must be something really wrong here.” That could’ve been the thought-bubble among the horrified.
The religious men were impressed over Jesus’ reading of Isaiah and his initial explanation. He must have been so masterful that he awed. But when Jesus ever broke Isaiah wide open by intimating that the unclean, the impure, the non-Jews would see the fulfillment of Scripture, the men moved in for the kill. How dare this upstart smear this sacred, untainted company by speaking of widows and lepers and Gentiles! The nerve to speak of Yahweh on the same breath by which he desecrates him! Cursed is he who wantonly breaks open Yahweh’s word that we have painstakingly guarded with our sacred authority!” On that day, the fury of insulted men knew no bounds.
But the Lord’s simple point was that God’s love knew no bounds. In fact, the Father’s love was patient. The Father’s love was kind. It was not jealous or arrogant, did not seek its own interests. And God did not have a short fuse. He did not injure or rejoice over injury. In fact, God’s love bore all things, believed all things, hoped and endured all things human…even the sinful, even the forsaken, especially the forsaken. “Walang ni isa sa inyo ang kaya kong tiisin…ang kaya kong tikisin,” God seems to say.
And we, Filipinos, we understand that, don’t we? We get it. We get Pope Francis because we get Jesus, don’t we? Whenever we hear Francis breach a rule of liturgy, and whenever we read Jesus break open the law and the prophets like in tonight’s gospel, many of us Filipinos—we don’t look at what rule is breached, what law is broken. Instead, for some strange and wonderful reason, we see ourselves as the ones for whom the law is breached, for whom the Scriptures are opened. And it’s like God stands at the other side of the hole of the shattered wall, and he bids us come to him. “You belong in here,” God seems to say, “With me.” And this, despite ourselves who could never boast of being sinless or pure, and not even the least worthy of God’s tiniest love.
It is the Year of Mercy, sisters and brothers. And I have started to hear from my friends how they’ve found themselves in situations where their mercy has been tested. “It’s like reaching a fork in the road,” said one; “and it usually concerns a family member or a loved one,” said another. One road leads to upholding the law and judging the person a sinner, or living in sin, and therefore to be shunned. But the other road, the more difficult one—leads to holding onto the person despite the sin. And because there is incredible difficulty to see beyond letter of the law and the blatancy of the sin, they depend on love. First they remember how much they love the person. And then they remember how they themselves were shown great love in the face of their transgressions. Then something in them says, “Who am I to be merciless? Who am I to shun the sinner?”
And we understand, don’t we? We get it. We look at the sinner, then we look at the Lord, then we look at ourselves…and we get it. We get it.