Work to Do – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 6:1-6;16-18, Ash Wednesday

In Loyola School of Theology, I teach a course called Introduction to Sacramental Theology. We recently finished our lesson on the Eucharist. But something’s still stuck in my head about the Last Supper, that last “Eucharistic celebration” Jesus had with his friends the night before he died. Did you notice that in the Last Supper, Jesus gave communion to Peter and Judas? Even when he knew that Peter would be denying him and three times—and that Judas had stolen from their petty cash and worse, sold out Jesus and was about to turn him in (!), he still gave them his body & blood to eat and drink “in remembrance of me.” Ever think about that? That’s still stuck in my head, that Jesus must have already forgiven his good-for-nothing friends on the night he was betrayed, and given them communion even before they consummated their offenses. It only proves again what I’ve always personally experienced about our God: na laging nauunaang Diyos. Siya ang naunang magmahal. Siya ang naunangmagbiyaya. At siya ang nauunang magpatawad. Before we learn to love God, he already is loving us. Before we could ask him orthank him, he is already giving us more than we need. And most of all, before we could get ourselves to apologize to God, our very desire to ask for forgiveness, that is already a sign that God’s forgiveness is already being given. Jesus gave communion to Peter and Judas even before the two of them consummated their denial and betrayal of the Lord. Nauna nanaman ang Panginoon!

But…just because Jesus offered them his body and blood as the sign of his forgiveness, still, that did not mean that Peter and Judas no longer had work to do, especially, in themselves. The forgiven Peter—he would still have to grapple with why hewould say one gutsy thing (“I will protect you, Lord, and die with you”) and end up doing just the spineless opposite (“I do not know that man!”) The forgiven Judas—he would still have to contend with why he just had to have money all the time, such that he’d steal from his friends, and as if that weren’t enough, sell his Master for 30 silver pieces (US$600 today or P31,374 pesos). And grapple, Peter did. “He went out and wept bitterly.” And grapple Judas did, he paid with his life.

You and I grew up being taught that Lent is a time to think of our sins, be sorry for our sins, repent over our sins. And that is true. But let’s not fail to see, even during Lent, that we are surrounded by many proofs that God has already forgiven us—based on the blessings we still enjoy in spite of ourselves, in spite of our constant selfishness, lustfulness, dishonesty, etc. Even during Lent, we must continue to see how forgiveness, how pardon, is the divine default. Nauuna parati ang Diyos. Like a good parent, the default-disposition of God is to love and to forgive. That’s his default-disposition. Bago pa magkasalaang anak, ang mabuting magulang, bukas na bukas na para patawarin ang anak. At kapag nagkasala na nga ang anak, default-disposition pa rin ng mabuting magulang angmagpatawad. So, just like Jesus had already forgiven Peter and Judas even before they could do the first thing to repent, so, too, God constantly sees you and me under the light of forgiveness before and while we fail him. But…but…

This does not mean that we no longer have work to do, does it? In ourselves. Because in spite of being blessed, we’re still covetous, we want more even if we already have plenty, and we want to get more regardless of how. In spite of being trusted, we steal, we lie, we take advantage. In spite of our God-given intelligence, we plagiarize, and some of us are even proud of getting away with it. In spite of being blest with friends, we band together and gossip and alienate. In spite of a spouse and children who love us to death, we delight in affairs. In other words, we’re practically swimming in a sea of God’s continuous pardon, sisters and brothers. But at the same, we really have work to do in ourselves, don’t we?

And Lent is a good time for this “work to do in ourselves.” The difference that I wish to share with you this Lent, however,is something like this: that we look at our failures and work on them from a place of gratitude, not from a place of hopelessness, not from fear of punishment, not from under the threat of hell. No. From gratitude. Dahil nauuna parati ang Diyos umibig at magpatawad, you and I have work to do. So, may the cross of ash on our foreheads today not only say, “My God, I am a sinner. Let it also, and more so, say, “My God, thank you. But we have work to do.”

Then God says, “Tara! Game!”

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