Instant – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 16:1-13, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Let me read to you a text I received recently from a dear friend. He says, “Arnel, can you remember in your prayers my son who is frustrated in his job? Very talented boy, as you know, but gets frustrated easily. He already quit two jobs, same reason. Please pray for him.” Then his last line, “Time is wasted on the young.”

I never thought I’d see the day when I would be saying the same words I heard from many priests at mass when I was growing up. “Ang mga kabataan ngayon,” they often said “gusto nila, lahat instant.” Remember those times, remember those words? They said something like, “young people today expect giant returns for dwarfish efforts,” or “they want immediate reward before even putting in the hard work.” I even remember the metaphors they used, which sound funny & outdated now, but still true: “instant coffee, instant mami (noodles), instant calculator….” Like my friend, the old priests back then already saw this crisis, that young people hit rock-bottom too soon, without putting in the effort to run so that they could fly.

Well, those young people whom the old priests were referring to, they grew up…& became us! And many of us, now grown-up, swore we would never raise our children that way; that instead, we would impress upon them that the really crucial & lasting things in life grow from long, painstaking, even boring work, rather than from “instant coffee, instant mami, instant calculator”. We swore we would show them the truth behind our salawikain: napag may tiyaga, may nilaga; ‘pag may isinuksok, may madudukot; na habang maikli ang kumot, matutong mamaluktot, kung humaba na’t lumapad, saka mag-unat-unat.” We resolved that we would show them how to endure the long wait before self-gratification. But then just a few weeks ago at a restaurant, a family came in with two very restless, very rowdy kids. When they got all settled, mom & dad promptly gave each kid…an iPad. And what a transfiguration! Instant discipline!

“The person trustworthy in small matters is also trustworthy in great ones, and the person dishonest in small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” How divine these words, coming from the Lord himself, yet how very practical. They’re not just about money even if the parable bears such a theme. To be honest and trustworthy in small matters means that we accept, and reckon with, and ground ourselves in something that has remained unchanged since the beginning of time – that the most essential things in life, the “big” things, are forged solid by small, laborious, & persistent blazing, brazing, & molding. Marami na pong nagbago sa buhay at sa mundo, maliban sa katotohanang ito and this old truth cuts across issues. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about financial security, or getting a degree, or being married, or raising children. Honesty and trustworthiness in the small things are what give our feet their strength to run so that the wings God puts on our backs can help us fly. The steward who attains the essential things in life, despite many imperfections, is a person who works very hard while trusting very deeply in God.

“No servant can serve two masters” – another set of words very divine yet very practical. Have we even noticed how instant self-gratification has become our master? And how as we grow older, the more impatient we become, the more easily aggravated, the less tolerant. And I speak for myself, as well; I really do. How we behave in traffic is one of the worst examples of this, as you know. How we bribe government agencies to expedite our documents, there’s another. And please forgive me for saying so, how we’ve lately cleansed our country of criminality—all of this shows how we’ve grown weary of doing it the Lord’s way, which is the long, arduous, well-thought-out, & honest way…the way of the cross, as it’s sometimes called. The first reading surprisingly reflects our state of affairs. “You who trample on the needy & destroy the poor of the land,” Amos says. “You who diminish the measure of flour in order to add to the value of money…you who fix the scales for cheating.” What is all of that about? It is all about self-indulgent Israel that loves the quick fix. It is instant self-gratification right there, writ large, writ old. And the usual casualties of it all, then & now? The poor.

Since we, humanity, often ride roughshod over each other to get to our big dreams in the soonest possible time, regardless of whom we hurt, why then does God continue taking care of us—the small, self-absorbed, quarreling stewards that we are? Maybe the second reading has the answer. Because we are beloved? Because we are “good and pleasing to God our savior who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth”? With God’s unconditional positive regard for us, doesn’t it make us wonder sometimes, who is serving whom?

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