Luke 10:38-42, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
If you haven’t read Gary Chapman’s book, I’m sure you’ve nonetheless heard of his “5 love languages.” Chapman is an 81-year-old pastor and spiritual director. After long years of shepherding his flock and counselling married couples, he concluded that from the many ways we express love, we could distill five chief ways of what he calls, “languages,” of loving,namely: (1) giving gifts, (2) spending quality time, (3) saying words of affirmation, (4) doing acts of service, and (5) physical touch.
It was only fairly recently—in the last year-and-a-half, to be exact—that my dad learned to finally text that he loves me. It caught me by surprise when he replied to a text of mine, and he ended it with, “love you, too, anak, heheh.” Hindi niya ‘yannasasabi ng harap-harapan. Sa text lang. To be fair, he has texted “love you, too, anak, heheh” more than and beyond his masculine threshold. I know so, because he never puts the “I” in “I love you.” He just says, “love you, anak,” like he still doesn’t put himself out there whole and entire. Plus: the “heheh.” Ano, joke?
Unlike before, though, I’ve long stopped taking it against him how he’s not verbally expressive. Now that I’m past more than half my lifetime, I get it that dad says, “Love you, anak, heheh,” and I know that it takes a lot out of him to even do it on text. Why? Because saying “I love you” has never been dad’s love language. In fact, words of affirmation don’t rank very high on the love languages of Filipino fathers. Second, and more importantly, dad has more than made up for the love language he doesn’t speak by being articulate in other love languages. Up to today, for instance, he still does the cooking at home, even if he can entrust it to manang or to Jonathan, my youngest brother;act of service. Whenever I visit, he clocks off from the office—which I know is what gets his life going every single day—just to be there for me; spending quality time. And I think I’ve already told this group, whenever I had crazy attacks of asthma as a kid, dad stayed up all night, to rub my back and my chest, because that was the only way I’d catch a few minutes of sleep in between running after my breath; physical touch.
It’s pretty clear that Martha’s love language is to run around like a headless chicken in the kitchen whenever Jesus comes visiting. It’s also fair to say that this is her manner of spending quality time for Jesus, isn’t it? Mary, well, she’s a little different. Her love language is attentiveness to the Lord—directattentiveness, immediate presence to him. That’s how she spends quality time with him; that when he’s at the door, Mary drops everything she’s doing, and attends only to Jesus by being available to him, eager and wide-eyed for the next story he’s about to tell.
Jesus doesn’t take it against Martha that she’s spinning around in the kitchen like a top. But he doesn’t pressure Mary either, to help her ate in the kitchen. The Lord knows Martha and Mary like his very own sisters. Whatever love they offer, he takes it. He treats every love language as a precious gift to be gratefully received, not a feat to be bested. The Lord is like that. He understands whatever love language we “speak,” though we falter many times in clarity and sincerity. Whatever we can offer, though, he takes and receives.
Jesus himself was fluent in all love languages. He turned water into wine, for instance, his miraculous gift to the Cana couple, and multiplied bread and fish, his gift to his hungry listeners. He spent quality time by eating and drinking with tax collectors and prostitutes whom he wanted to bring back around. Crowds of people wouldn’t have gravitated towards him if they didn’t feel soothed and gladdened by words that affirmed, encouraged, and yes, even vindicated them. As an act of service, he healed them, exorcised them, forgave their sins, raised the dead. Finally, and most scandalously of all, he also touched them, and allowed himself to be touched. So Jesus was articulate in his love languages, fluent, and for many religious authorities, he was also quite disturbing.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Parinig. Mary was right there, at the foot of Jesus. Martha could’ve addressed her sister directly. But that she just had to tell Jesus to tell her sounds like a veiled rebuke directed at both Jesus and Mary. And you know, sisters and brothers, many resentments both in families and communities arise when we begin imposing our love language on others. When we judge their loving as lacking or incomplete or wrong because their loving isn’t like ours, that’s when our heads get hot and our hearts turn cold. We then turn “love language” into love-fest, a love-off, a competition. Someone’s love language now triggers our envy, jabs us to outdo it, to beat the other at his/her own game, to come out the winner, to be awared the most lovable and most loving. Love then ceases to be a language. It’s become a weapon.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about what I’m going to eat for lunch—so, thank you, thank you. Mary has chosen to sit with me and listen to me and be quiet with me—so, thank you, thank you, too.” I could almost hear Jesus tell us today, “Don’t pick a fight with each other to see who wins my love more, who earns my mercy more, whom I’m going to save more, whom I’ll regard as more righteous, whom I’ll give more reward. Whether in your family, in your different religions, in your different religious congregations, don’t impose your love language on each other. The human community is a many-splendored thing because it is rich in the love languages God put in every human heart he has fashioned! So, don’t resent each other’s variant expressions of love for me. What is first and most important is my Father’s love for all of us. This is the better part.”
I’m not sure why daddy could already get himself to text “love you, anak, heheh” these past months. Maybe he finally realized there will no longer be that opportunity when I’ll ever be with him for any appreciable stretch of time. So, for the most part, he and I are left with words of affirmation to directly show each other our love across the islands. But, you know, each time dad texts that he loves me—sure, minus the “I,” plus the “heheh,”—my heart feels like bursting with pride and joy. After all, it only proves that we’re never too old to learn another language!