Choose Well – Arnel Aquino, SJ

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John 10:27-30; Fourth Sunday of Easter

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On the same week, just days apart, I watched the movie “Avengers Endgame” and episode 3 of Game of Thrones. That’s like asking for a heart attack. That’s two major battles that take your breath away. Producers these days really know how to get into your head. They don’t get you to breathe the sigh of relief until the last five to eight minutes near the end. But until then, for more than half an hour, the good guys get clobbered to within an inch of their lives by the Army of the Dead who won’t stay dead, and the army of Thanos, ugly as hell. They really suck the hope out of you, make you believe it’s a lost cause, that all heroes will die by hemorrhage or exhaustion, and the bad men will not walk back home nor take any spoils, because their one and only craving is that the whole universe fall craven to their vanity.

But, boy, I’m telling you—when Dr. Strange finally emerged from the darkness onto the battlefield along with the other Masters of Mystic Arts, the Armies of Wakanda, of Asgard, of the Ravagers…and when Arya Stark emerges from the darkness, eye-to-eye with the Night King…I was slapping my lap red and clapping my hands raw, alternately, like someone who had just lost all his wits about him. And I find that strange. I mean, why am I still taken on a roller-coaster ride by battle scenes when I know very well that good will finally triumph over evil? I don’t know. It just never gets old, I guess.

There are lines you just never get tired of hearing, for example, like: “Avengers, assemble!” “I love you three-thousand.” “I am Iron Man.” And: “When you play a game of thrones, you win or you die.” “Winter is coming.” “What do we say to the god of death? ‘Not today.’” And just as there are lines you never get tired of hearing, there are scenes you also never get tired of seeing, especially the scenes where good people emerge from the darkness of defeat and give the bad men back the hell they’ve forced upon the earth. In many other movies, those lines and scenes are reprised in many different ways, but we never tire of them. Why? Because we know that the good will punch back in the end. But first, they will get bashed, bled, and broken.

According to today’s Gospel, the sheep know their true shepherd. Sheep have 360-degree peripheral vision, did you know that? They can actually spot their shepherd before anyone else can. And like dogs, sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice. They don’t grow tired of seeing and hearing the true shepherd. In the second reading, the one true shepherd never gets tired of his sheep, either. “He will shelter them,” Revelation says. “They will hunger and thirst no more…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The Good Shepherd had done the same things back in Nazareth, never growing tired of tending the sheep. The first reading is a little different. The Jews get sick and tired of seeing and hearing Paul amd Barnabas tirelessly talk about Jesus of Nazareth, this hometown hero who clobbered, but rose again. So, what do the sick and tired Jews do? They stir up fake news about the two, and expel them from their territory.

When you wake up on election day, I wish and pray that you remember lines and scenes in our country that you love to see, as well as lines and scenes in our country that you’ve have grown sick and tired of; and by those two criteria, choose accordingly. For aren’t you tired of scenes of papogi, pa-epal, pakwela, pasipsip, pamudmod? This is a picture generations old. We already know they’re all smoke-and-mirrors that conceal their money-making. And aren’t you tired of the sound of empty promises, especially those made to the poor, the sputter of curse words and the nervous laughter from a beholden crowd. Aren’t you sick and tired of the static crackling with smears and self-promotion?

On the other hand, there are sights and sounds I hope we won’t ever grow tired of, dear sisters and brothers; the sight and sound of people who give and not count the cost, who fight without heeding the wounds, who toil but seek no rest, who labor and ask for little or no reward—especially among the poor who have next to nothing but still give, who fight for survival but still lose, who toil but get no repose from suffering, and labor but are yet to be justly rewarded. These are sights and sounds of what seems like a losing battle, a scene that’s been running for way too long, with the same old villains, ever richer but never better, whose one and only craving is that all of us fall craven to their vanity. And fall we did, many of us, the elders. While we haven’t sold our entire selves away just yet, many of us have sold our voices away, nevertheless, by staying silent. But you,  young voters, your choice tomorrow will be our dragon glass, our Valyrian steel, the Infinity Stones by which we can still repossess what’s been stolen from us. Choose well because we’re not yet quite at the five to eight minutes push-back after the bashing, bleeding, and breaking. And our country is sick, dear sisters and brothers. Our country is tired.

To end, I pray a redux of today’s psalm. “We, Filipinos, are God’s people, the sheep of his flock. The Lord is the God of Filipinos, not politicians, not presidents. We are God’s people whom he tends. The Lord is good to Filipinos. Bad leaders go, bad leaders die. But God’s kindness endures forever and his faithfulness lasts for all generations.” Mabuhay ang Diyos. Mabuhay nawa ang ating bayan.

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