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WE ARE FAMILY

Practice Makes us Children of God
September 22, 2020
When God Calls, He Equips
September 23, 2020

Homily for 22 September 2020, Tuesday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Luke 8:19-21

“He who is deaf to a poor man’s cry will not be heard when he himself calls out.” This is the last sentence in our first reading today from the Book of Proverbs. It is a scary warning. It sounds to me like a reformulation of the Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy.”
Remember how I called your attention a few days ago to the fact that, unlike in Matthew, the Beatitudes are always accompanied by corresponding curses in the Gospel of St. Luke? In this case, the curse would be, “Woe to the merciless; they will not obtain mercy when they themselves ask for it.”
Pope Francis has made himself known as the Pope of Mercy. He brought the message of mercy to our country when he visited us in 2015. But he coupled the word with compassion. They do not mean the same thing but somehow, they always go together. In Tagalog, we usually translate MERCY as AWA, and COMPASSION as MALASAKIT. Mercy does indeed begin with pity for the suffering of another person; but it is not complete until it has moved us to do something concrete to alleviate that person’s suffering.
This reminds me of the character of Simon of Cyrene in the Passion Narrative. While all the other onlookers may have felt pity for Jesus as he carried his cross, only Simon of Cyrene stepped forward when the soldiers pressed people to help Jesus carry his cross to calvary.
Mercy is about being moved by what affects other people because somehow, you feel connected to them. We can never become truly human if we remain alone and disconnected from others. We achieve our full humanity only by entering into a network of relationships. The Africans have a saying that goes, “It takes a village to form a child.”
Mercy is not original to Pope Francis. He picks it up from Jesus and from the rest of the Scriptures. He calls Jesus the human face of the merciful God, who saw in every human being a FELLOW SUFFERER; he also suffered the consequence for it.
The Gospels tell us that because Jesus was merciful, he was not very choosy with his company. He behaved differently from the Pharisees who distanced people they considered bad company. Jesus deliberately sought out the company of the people whom the Pharisees avoided: the sinners, sick people, lonely people, poor people, psychotics and lunatics, those who were ostracized and treated as outcasts.
It was for this reason that he was rejected, not just by religious leaders, but also by his own family and relatives. In Mark 3:20-22, a few verses before the parallel reference to the visit of Jesus’ family, which starts on v. 31, Mark tells us his relatives wanted to seize him because they thought he was out of his mind. In short, they wanted to take him back to Nazareth and force him to behave as a regular adult male Jew was expected to.
I imagine how these relatives must have pestered Mary to convince her son to stop what he was doing in Capernaum, to get back to his senses, support his mother, find a wife, build his own family. They had no other notion of family except blood relations.
Actually, this is one thing we Filipinos are sometimes criticized for. Although it is a value to be family-oriented, it can also be a disvalue to limit one’s charity only to family. Haven’t we heard of instances when politicians get involved in corruption because of family? Like when they use their authority to favor a family members and not even care about impropriety or conflict of interest?
I don’t think Jesus will disagree with the saying CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME. I think his point is, it should not end there. Anyone who has been truly nurtured and loved by his family should be more disposed to be part of the larger family of God’s children.
And so, when Jesus says, “Who is my mother, who are my brothers and sisters?”, he did not mean to be disrespectful of them. He expected them to be consistently gracious, ready to share the gift of family with those who have not been blessed with a loving family. And so he pointed at those around him—the poor, the sick, the abandoned—these, he says, these are family to me too.
We often say blood is thicker than blood. The old emeritus archbishop of San Fernando who is fondly called Apo Ceto in Pampanga, loves to challenge this by saying “Water is thicker than blood.” And by water, he refers to the grace of baptism that disposes us to hear and live the Word of God, and to open our hearts to treat not just our blood relations but every fellow human being, especially the most needy, as family, as fellow sons and daughters of the same merciful God.

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