Luke 15:1-10, Thursday of Week 31 in Ordinary Time
I think I’m quite lucky to be living in an international community over at Arrupe House. The differences between our cultures are fascinating. Like there was one supper when we just went around the table, asking each other what sound animals made in our own language. Because yes, there is a Korean, Indonesian, Burmese, and Vietnamese translation to aw-aw, meow, kokak–kokak, tiktila–ok . . . and they are all very funny! That’s just one conversation piece. There’s wake and funeral superstitions, there’s table manners, there’s food — like, if eating dead duck fetus makes us proud to be balut-eaters, wait ‘til my brothers tell you how they prepare a delicious dish made of snake or cat or ant eggs!
Lately, though, I’m fascinated with similarities we share across cultures. Like, for example, you know this thing about many Filipino families, where there’s one sibling who’s still very dependent on the parents, yung lagi na lang nakaasa. Na kahit matanda na, pamilyado na, nakaasa pa rin sa magulang? Well, I recently found out that the same thing happens to many families in other cultures. Hindi lang pala sa ‘tin. And it’s usually a son more than a daughter. And he’s been unemployed for the longest time, or pa-extra-extra here and there. He’s also the son who didn’t quite finish school — napa-barkada. Worse, he got a woman pregnant with whom he now has children. And all his kids are supported by the grandparents. He hangs around the house all day, runs errands, drives the kids to school, picks them up in the afternoon, then disappears at night to drink with God-knows-whom. Same story. His siblings often scold their own parents for spoiling this particular brother of theirs. They’ve told them or ordered them or begged them to stop giving him allowance, or arm-twist him into getting a job, or kick him out of the house . . . but all to no avail. Same story. Bizarrely enough, the parents endlessly complain about this son of theirs, which drives the siblings even crazier, because in spite of all that, nanay and tatay can’t resist him. In different languages, parents say: “Kung hindi kami ang mag-aalaga diyan, eh sino?” Or, “Hayaan n’yo na, nauutusan naman yan.” Or, “Buti na nga yun may taong-bahay.”
In one very serious conversation after a family crisis, I finally gathered enough courage to ask my own dad over the phone: “Dad, h‘wag n’yo sana ikagalit ha? Tanong lang. Why do you have such a soft spot for Jonathan (our bunso)? You didn’t raise me and kuya that way. You drove us very hard to work hard and accomplish and be independent. What happened to you with Jonathan?” I’ll never forget dad’s answer. “Naaawa ako sa kapatid mo, anak, eh.” I guess, only a parent knows how to define what that “awa” means and why it’s so compelling. Because it really defies rational explanation, any logic. It must be pure “heart.” My dad forever sees in Jonathan a son with a broken wing. Dad must wonder many times how his bunso broke that wing somewhere, sometime, and if he’s partly or entirely responsible for it. But whenever and however it happened, in his eyes as a father, his bunso can no longer fly and can’t be without fatherly care and won’t survive on his own . . . not even as the father of his own family. Jon will always be dad’s son with a broken wing . . . his lost sheep . . . his lost coin. “Naaawa ako sa kapatid mo, anak, eh.” Hindi niya matikis, hindi niya matiis.
We’re lucky to have a God who has a similar soft spot in his heart for each of us, dear sisters and brothers. Each of us has a broken wing, to different degrees. We can no longer fly for very far or for very long and we can’t be without fatherly care and we won’t survive on our own. And, whether we admit it or not, we’re totally dependent on our Tatay. But it defies logic that a God would go for broke to seek us out, like the weird shepherd who leaves the flock to retrieve a delinquent sheep, like the obsessive woman who turns her house upside down just to retrieve a coin. That’s the kind of God we have that Jesus revealed to us in many, many of his parables and healings and exorcisms and friendships, a God who may very well say, “Naaawa ako sa mga anak ko.” Hindi tayo matiis ng Diyos. Hindi niya tayo matiis. For reasons fully known only to God alone, he can’t renounce us and can’t resist us.
*image from the Internet