The Gift or Giver – Willy Samson, SJ

Luke 15:1-3; 11-32 (Fourth Sunday of Lent)

Which one is more important? The gift or the giver?

Imagine this: Pedro was working abroad for twenty years. In his desire to give a stable future for his family, he decided to forgo his annual vacation to save money. Finally Pedro went home after twenty years. He was excited to see his family. Bringing a big balikbayan box for pasalubong, he finally reached home. But much to his surprise, instead of welcoming him first, his wife and his children quickly rushed to the balikbayan box, opened the box and grabbed their pasalubong. They totally forgot Pedro. No warm hugs from the children. No kiss from the wife. They were totally distracted by the balikbayan box, and oblivious of Pedro’s presence. If you’re Pedro, what would you feel? Which one is more important? The gift of the giver?

We may quickly judge the wife and the children, but stop! Hold your judgment first. For we are not far from them. Like Pedro’s family, we are also guilty of being attracted to the gifts (treasure, time and talent) and not with God, the Giver of gifts.

In our gospel, when the younger son demanded for his inheritance from the father, it was like telling his father, “I DON’T NEED YOU. But I need your wealth.” The younger son’s insensitive demand was like a knife that cuts to the father’s heart. Surprisingly, the father did not show his disappointment or anger to his insensitive son. Without any question, the father quickly gave his son’s request. No questions asked. No scolding. No condemnation. And the son left with his wealth.

And the rest is history: “He went to a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.” And when he had spent everything, a great famine came into that city, until the younger son found himself living with the pigs. Reality bites. Finally, he realized his mistakes and misgivings. And COMING TO HIS SENSES, the younger son humbly returned to the father with nothing but shame. Shaken and humbled, he said, “Treat me as your servant and not as a son.” But again, without any question or scolding, the father exclaimed, “Let us celebrate because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.”

On the other hand, the elder son was not better than his younger brother. He may have stayed with his father faithfully without any act of disobedience, but his reaction to his father’s mercy revealed what was in his heart, “For many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a small goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ (Luke 15: 29-30)

The elder son was also expecting a reward for being good. And when such reward was not given to him, he showed his frustrations and anger to the father. With his action, he also revealed that the reward or gift was more important than the giver. Thus, the father reacted lovingly, “‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31).
Both sons were thinking of the gift, and not the giver. Sinning against God is setting our eyes not on the Father but on His balikbayan boxes. We lose God when we search for the gift rather than the Giver. This is our modern idolatry. We worship the gift and not the Giver of gifts. But in spite of our ingratitude and blindness, God never stops showering us with his grace and mercy. He is faithful to his name. As Pope Francis would say, “The name of God is Mercy.”

In this Lenten season, we beg for the grace of “COMING TO OUR SENSES.” Repent before we find ourselves dining with the pigs. We still have everything: Our family, our parents, and our wife/husband/children. We still have our wealth, youthfulness, health, time and strength. Most of all, we still have the LOVE OF THE FATHER in spite of our unfaithfulness. Let’s come to our senses now, see that everything is gift. Repent and return to the Father.

Do not be blinded by our “balikbayan boxes” (our time, talents, and treasure). They are GIFTS OR GOODIES given to us, but they are not our everything. Know how to use these material blessings correctly. They are good servants but poor masters. They can give us happiness but not inner joy. They are self-satisfying but not heavenly fulfilling. Let’s come into our senses (BALIK) and return to the fold of the Father (BAHAY). Let’s lean on to the GIVER OF LIFE and not on WHAT LIFE CAN GIVE TO US.

Be a BALIK-BAHAY this Lenten Season. God is waiting for our coming home. And His Mercy awaits us.

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