Access – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Mark 7:, 31-37, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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I’ve shared this story before but in a different context with a different Gospel. It’s a great anecdote told to me by a Josefino two years ago.

As soon as the Uber driver knew that it was a seminarian who hopped into his car, the driver started sharing his story as they drove off from San Jose Seminary.  “Alam n’yo, brother,” the Uber driver started, “Noong napansin kong babakla-bakla ang anak ko nung maliit pa siya, galit na galit ako. Strikto ako sa kanya. At pinapagalitan ko siya ‘pag lalambut-lambot siya.” It made him even angrier that his young son “wasted” time cutting little paper dresses. The child would draw them first, then color them, then cut them out. He even made a little cardboard doll to put the dresses on! “Noong may Piso-net pa, doon niya ginagastos ang baon niya, nagsu-surfng mga design ng damit.” After Piso-net, the father found out that his son was saving his allowance so he could buy a good pair of scissors for his hobby. The seminarian said he couldn’t imagine the Uber driver’s disappointment. He was a large and bulky man, he said; very masculine, “ang laki pa ng boses, Father!” Then, the father’s epiphany: “Alam ba n’yo, brother, kung anong nakapagbago sa akin unti-unti?Ang gaganda ng mga damit na drowing at gupit niya! ‘Di ko mawari kung paanong ganoon kagaling ang isang batang tulad niya!” He admitted that there were still times when he would hit his son out of his anger over his being effeminate. “Pero mula noong nagandahan ako sa mga gawa niya, brother, iniingatan ko na hindi ko masaktan ang mga kamay niya. Dahil sigurado ako na nasa mga kamay na ‘yon ang magiging kinabukasan ng anak ko.” That was so true. “Nahihirapan pa rin akong tanggaping gay ang anak ko,” the driver admitted. But the other Christmas, he gave his son a present: a Barbie doll! And since that time, whenever he could get a few retasos of scrap cloth here and there, he would take them home to his son. “Brother, dapat makita n’yo kung gaano siya kagaling gumawa ng na damit sa mga retasong ‘yon!” Now, if you don’t think that’s a beautiful story…

In today’s Gospel, Jesus healed someone with a speech impediment. Don’t you find it interesting that the first thing Jesus did was put his finger into the man’s ears and then touched his tongue? The Lord knew, even back then, that the man couldn’t speak because he couldn’t hear. That’s why today, we really should not say: deaf-mute. The deaf are not necessarily mute. They could be taught to talk. But theirs is a longer road to speaking than ours because we can hear our voices and they can’t. But they could talk if they were willing to learn. Anyway, what Jesus did was remove whatever obstructed the man’s ears from hearing and whatever obstructed his mouth from speaking. The man, once deaf, now had access to the world of sound. The man, once mute, now had access to the world of language. The man, once ostracized by society for this double-whammy of a disability, now had access to dignity, access to freedom, and most importantly, access to the temple, to God.

Access. One of the oldest expertise God has—granting access. In our story of salvation, one of the first and most paradigmatic actions of God was giving Hebrew slaves access to freedom. Yahweh tore down centuries-old obstructions to freedom. Yahweh opened up for the Hebrews access to a better land, a better life. He gave them access to the desert, access through the Red Sea, access to food and drink for the journey, access to the Promised Land. In fact, our salvation history is a tale bursting with testimonies of God giving access; access even to things that religious sovereigns and authorities had declared forbidden to the impure, no-entry to the sinner, prohibited to the sick and the disabled, locked off and away from the women, the divorced, the Gentiles. When Jesus came to take his place in that history of saving, he did no differently from his Father. Jesus granted access; access to health by healing whatever obstructed the body; access to nourishment by multiplying bread and fish; access to God’s forgiveness by winning over people that religion declared unpardonable. For that is what salvation means: to save means to grant freedom. Freedom means gaining access to God, to divine goodness, to God’s very love—unobstructed, untrammeled.

Religious authorities today are learning a painful lesson about access. We are now facing the nightmarish consequences of our many efforts at suppression, repression, covering-up; consequences of our outward self-righteousness under which lurk our double lives; consequences of obstructing from God people we label as “sinners”, even when many of us are now exposed as even greater sinners ourselves. How slow we priests are to realize that God is a God of access, not obstruction. So when we obstruct people’s access to God, the walls we build eventually collapse on ourselves and bury us. That’s what happens to walls built by human hands. Divine hands never build walls. Divine hands always grant access to the Divine, even if it means smashing walls down.

When the Uber dad realized how talented his gay son was, how invested he was in his beautiful hobby—he gradually, if painfully, allowed his son access into his fatherly heart. Because of that, he also gained fresh access into his son’s heart. And on that unobstructed road connecting his heart to his son’s, he realized that his and the world’s self-indulgent homophobia and machismo can never hold a candle to a human person’s goodness—especially if that person happens to be your very own child. And on that day, when father finally opened access to his son into his fatherly heart, he set two people free.

*image from the Internet

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