Returning Home – Willy Samson, SJ

6 December 2015

Luke 3:1-6 (Second Sunday of Advent)

Durian! Love it or hate it!

Durian fruit is well known for its obtrusive odour but heavenly taste. The smell of durian brings out different reactions ranging from deep appreciation to intense disgust. People who dislike durian describe its smell as “a combination of pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with an athlete’s sock flavour.” But for those who love durian, it’s heaven! You cannot hide it from anyone if you’ve eaten durian. The smell will stay with you for some time – in your breath and in your hands. Unfortunately, water, soap and alcohol are not enough to immediately neutralize the smell. But nature has a unique way of removing that strong lingering odour: Pour water on the durian skin, simply dip your hands and it’s gone! Amazingly unbelievable! The antidote to neutralize the smell is found in the durian skin itself! Genius! God must have been playing when He created durian.

We are now in the 2nd week of advent. Our spiritual preparation for Christmas continues. This time, John the Baptist is calling us to prepare ourselves through repentance and reformation: “Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be levelled. The windings shall be made straight and rough ways smooth, and all mankind shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3: 5-6).
In Biblical Hebrew, repentance is represented by two verbs: shuv (to return) and nicham (to feel sorrow). Therefore to repent is to feel sorry and return. Like in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), after coming to his senses, he had a change of heart and mind (metanoia) and returned to his father. The son realized his mistakes. He finally smelled his foul odor. And the only way to correct his life was to accept his foul smell caused by his sins, repent and return to the father. He found the formula: Accept his faults, be sorry, and walk towards home!

In the spirit of renewal, returning home is the big step towards renewal and transformation. Jose Rizal even said, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa parooonan.” Even Filipinos abroad will return to their respective hometown to regain their identity. There is something in going home.

It reminds me of the story of the Greek hero Odysseus in the classical book “Odyssey.” He left his town Ithaca to fight the enemies of the City of Troy. And Odysseus spent most of his life journeying from one island to another to fight monsters and gods. One day, he realized that his real enemy was at home in Ithaca. For his beautiful wife Penelope was being courted by 108 boisterous suitors. It took him twenty years to reach home. But upon arrival, Odysseus immediately slaughtered all the evil suitors of Penelope. The real enemy was “with-in”… living in the comfort of his home!

In our gospel today, John the Baptist is challenging us to do our own “journey towards home and confront our real enemies – OUR INIQUITIES.” Saint Ignatius of Loyola would call these enemies “with-in” as “inordinate attachments.” Like Odysseus, we thought that our enemies are found outside of us: family and marital problems, broken relationships, poverty, senseless killings, climate change, graft and corruption, war, natural calamities, religious conflicts and others. Indeed, they are our enemies. We should learn to face them. But first things first. We need to fix ourselves first before other things. We need to face first our enemies inside us – our personal sins, emotional wounds and evil desires. Let’s confront our human frailties with GOD’s guidance. Let’s humbly correct our faults and our need of Jesus as our personal saviour. Let’s stop our favorite game of blaming everybody except ourselves. Let’s accept that our souls stink!

To repent is to humbly accept our disgusting “selfish and sinful odor.” Like the durian, our antidote to our soul’s lingering foul smell is simply “skin and water.” Coming to our senses, we beg God for His forgiveness, and humbly soak ourselves into the water of His mercy and love (the symbol of John’s baptism by water).

How’s your smell? Are you happy with your smell? Can you identify your foul odor? With contrite heart, spend some quality time in prayer and ask God to cleanse your spirit and purify your heart. For repentance is a matter of accepting ones sins and a firm decision to reform ones life. And God will quickly cleanse our souls and forgive our sins. Let’s learn our lessons from the durian.

Odysseus returned home and found himself in the comfort of his loving wife. The prodigal son returned home and found himself in the loving arms of his father. John returned home by spending prayerful quiet time in the desert. And it was in the desert that the WORD of God came to John and transformed him.

The gospel today is challenging us to return home this advent season. Compelled by the realities of our personal and societal sins, and their effects on our lives, we realize the necessity of coming home and confronting our enemies inside us. This is the only way to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord. Let’s learn our lessons from Odysseus.
If you’re exhausted fighting your enemies outside, pause for a while and pray. Strategize and prioritize. Return to the basics. Go home and confront the enemies inside you. It might drive away many of your enemies outside.

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