Nevertheless and However – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 25:31-46, Feast of Christ the Kingleast_of_my_brothers_and_sisters

The Gospel today is not just about the “end of the world.” Although many of us priests love to jump on “end of the world” scenarios to hurry people off to confession in preparation for Advent. But the Lord’s message today is not just about the end of the world. In no uncertain terms, the message says that Jesus Christ, the one and only real king—he takes the side of the poor and the helpless. It’s something you cannot put a spin to, or smoothen the edges of, or sweeten. Whether it sits well with us or makes us uneasy, Jesus, our king—he takes the side of the poor and the helpless.

“But you know, Father, it can be very difficult helping the poor,” a very kind sister told me the other day while I heard her oral exams. Her community’s apostolate is  kariton families—families who practically live in their kariton. “No matter how hard we try to teach them and give them better livelihood, even if we put them up in more decent living conditions, they soon go back out to the streets and live in their kariton, Father. They prefer their kariton life. We really don’t know what to do. Minsan talaga, Father, ang hirap tumulong sa maralita.” I know. Still, nevertheless and however, we cannot deny that our one and only true king, Jesus Christ—he takes the side of the poor and the helpless.

Sister’s sentiments took me right back to the year I was ordained. My two high school best friends got some money together to bring the three of us to Boracay for the first time. One evening, we ended up ordering one ulam too much at the restaurant. So we took it with us as balot; still warm, untouched, delicious. As we walked back to our cottage, we happily decided to give it away to someone we figured would need it most. As we were about to go past a construction site, we spotted the hungriest, “tired-est” looking man in the crowd. We walked up to him, and because I was the priest, my friends said, I should give the binalot away. “Manong, baka gusto n’yo po ng pagkain. Malinis po ito, ‘di pa po nababawasan. Gusto n’yo po?” With no trace of a smile, he looked at me and said, “’Wag n’yong itapon dito ang basura n’yo.” I don’t recall what happened next. I just remember how we felt. We walked away stunned, angry, sad, insulted, guilty, confused—all in one bewildering mix, all at the same time. That’s what came back to me when the good sister said, “Minsan talaga, Father, mahirap tumulong sa maralita.” Still, nevertheless and however—the Gospel cannot and does not put it any more clearly: Jesus, our one and only true king—he takes the side of the helpless. He takes the side of the poor.

“But, Father, if we give alms to the blind beggars along C5, they’ll only lose it to the sindikato.” “But, Father, ang hirap sa ibang mahihirap, parang demand pa nila na tulungan sila; self-entitled. And, Father, we have to protect our village. Marami nang magnanakaw galing sa iskwater na katabi. Father, pabalik-balik para humingi ng limos, eh ke-laki-laki ng katawan. At Father, karga-karga pa ang baby nila para maawa ka…balita nga namin, pinapainom pa daw ng Neozep yung baby para tulog at mukhang may sakit!” You and me both: when we think of ways to help the poor and the distressed, an equal number (if not more) reasons tempt us to help them less, or to help them no longer…and many of our reasons are good, valid and understandable. Besides, the little or plenty we could do to feed and quench will only be a drop in an ocean of hunger and thirst. We could welcome only so many strangers, and still there’d be more everywhere. We have only so much clothes for the naked, only so much time and nerve to visit the imprisoned. The ratio between us and the indigent patients in PGH is cosmic! We do what we can, yes. But it is never enough. And by the way, weren’t there “kings” who rallied the poor over to their side by promising to help them by legislation and allocation? Where are they? Oh, right. They’ve fattened themselves by stealing what rightfully belongs to the people they promised to uplift. Still, nevertheless and however, our one and only true king—he takes the side of the poor…

…because our king himself and his family…they were poor. No spin on that. No smoothening of edges. No sweetening. They knew how it was to go hungry and thirsty and unwelcome. Foxes had lairs, birds had nests but no room for his birth, nowhere to lay his head in life, and a borrowed tomb in his death. Naked as he was in a manger, so, too on the cross. Well, now, he is king, the one and the only. And he has made his choice. He has taken his side. And he avows in no uncertain terms: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me. Whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” Not only is our king on their side; he is also within them.

The end of the world will not simply be about the sins we have not confessed. Also and more so, it will be about the good we were supposed to do to the Lord’s least….but didn’t.

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