Opposites – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Mark 8:14-21B, Tuesday of Week 6 in Ordinary Time

Don’t you find it interesting that into that ark Yahweh asked Noah to build, walked opposites. Not just opposite genders, mind you, but also opposites in purity and impurity. “Of every clean animal, take seven pairs; and of the unclean animals, one pair. Likewise, every clean bird and unclean birds,” etc. Genesis was written around the time of King Solomon. By then, this pure-vs-impure morality was already set in stone, strictly imposed and sanctioned. So, I find it fascinating that this detail of letting even the impure into the ark was never edited out of the ancient flood story.

The flood story is like a reset button that would restart a new creation. Remember the creation story? Where wind was sweeping over waters in formless chaos before God finally called the universe into being? The flood story looks awfully like a return to that chaos. But to prepare for the new creation, Yahweh commands Noah to gather creatures of opposites, beings of contradistinction, of dualism, of polarity, creatures of obvious binaries. And if these creatures want to survive the chaos outside the ark, then, they who are inside the ark will have to really get along. To make it out of that ark alive, they will have to weather this storm together, despite being such opposites.

The religious authorities back in Jesus’ day? They hated opposites. Instead, they demanded uniformity: only one form, meaning, their form. “If you are not one in form with us,” they seemed to say, “then you are opposite us and opposite God. We are pure, you are impure. We are normal, you, abnormal. We are righteous, holy, and so, Yahweh delights in us. You are sinful, worldly, and you disgust Yahweh. That was the leaven of the Pharisees, what “raised” their “dough,” what floated their boat, what bloated their egos. What did they call themselves? Pharisaioi? That literally means, the separated ones!

When I was assigned to San Jose Seminary, our cook there made bread every Monday and his bread could easily put Bread Talk to shame. “Anong sekreto mo, Kuya Eugene?” “Wala namang sekreto, Father. Dapat tamang-tama lang ang dagdag mo ng yeast.” Put too little yeast, the bread was clammy and chewy. Put in too much, the bread was like cheap pandesal: unang kagat, hangin lahat. So, just the right measure of yeast bound opposites in the dough: the solids and liquids, dry and wet, sweet and salty. Then Kuya Eugenefinally said:“At syempre, Pads, ang pinakaimportanteng sangkap: pagmamahal.” And we laughed. And I nodded and said: “Charot!”

Opposites are not all bad. Polarities, dichotomies, binaries, all these may and can serve good purpose esp. in personal maturity. Opposites make us distinguish boundaries and limits; what’s healthy and what isn’t; what’s life-giving and what’s death-dealing; what is true, only half-true, or entirely untrue. In life, opposites cannot be helped. Like it or not, they exist and are part of our existence. Even our heads are wired to distinguish opposites, to differentiate, to take apart, compare and contrast.

But carry opposites too far, then, we become polarizing. We turn fundamentalist. Mix in the yeast of self-righteousness, we turn into pharisaioi. Christian life is now merely a two-column table of what is sinful and what is not, what Church allows and what it forbids, what makes God love us and what makes him reject us. And nothing much in between. But life is so much more complex than that. Incidentally, sisters and brothers, you know what I’ve observed? It seems to also be a function of intelligence. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t help but notice: people who are not very bright but who happen to have a lot of power, they’re often the ones who think in either-or, black-or-white, all-or-nothing. No room for nuance, no room for discussion, no middle ground. But most dangerously, no need for the Holy Spirit.

Last night, I finally saw Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. What chaos, huh? Half hour into it, my head was spinning, akala ko kulot na buhok ko! I was on the knife-edge between “Should I keep watching this?” and “Should I do YouTube shorts na lang uli?” I’m glad I stayed on, albeit tossing, turning, and pitching in the deluge of comedy and tragedy, physics and mythology, traditionalism and progressivism, east and west, this world and beyond, evil and good, hope and emptiness. But as the story drew to a close, the message was really so beautifully simple and so deeply true: only kindness and love, especially between opposites, will resolve the chaos and calm the storm. Only kindness and love, especially between opposites, will make for a full circle. Only kindness and love, both outwards and inwards, will enable us to intuit our deepest meaning, see our true worth, and cherish our lasting joy—for as long as our truest joy lies not in things or mere principles or just the rules, but in people.

*image by Sandra Boynton

One Comment Add yours

  1. sally.abelarde@gmail.com says:

    Thank you Fr. Arnel. This gives me new eyes for people, things, events not quite like what I had in mind. Sally Abelarde

    Sent from my iPhone



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