December 16, 2007

Heavenly Durian

2nd Week of Advent
Matthew 3:1-12 : Prepare the Way of the Lord
Ateneo de Zamboanga Chapel

Durian! Crave or hate it!

Durian fruit is well-known for its obtrusive odour. People who dislike it describe its smell as “a combination of pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with an athlete’s sock.” For those who loves it, its heaven! The funny thing is everybody knows you have eaten durian because of the smell that stays with you - in your mouth and hands! I tried using soap, alcohol, and water to remove the odour but failed. But nature has its way of removing that odour - get the durian skin, put water in it, dip your hands, and zesto! Wala! Now you smell it, now you don’t! Nature has its ways! The antidote to the smell is its skin itself!

We are now entering the 2nd week of advent. Our Christmas preparation continues. John the Baptist is calling, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

In Biblical Hebrew, repentance is represented by two verbs: shuv (to return) and nicham (to feel sorrow). Therefore to repent is to feel sorry and return, the way the prodigal son, after coming to his senses (Luke 15:17) of his fault, had a change of heart and mind (metanoia), returned to his father. The son realized that the only way to reform his life is to return to the Father, the one who gave him life. Nature has the solution. Return. Go home!
In any renewal, returning home is always an important element of change, growth, and fulfillment. Jose Rizal even quoted, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa parooonan.” To return home is the beginning of renewal and growth.

It reminds me of the story of a Greek hero Odysseus of the epic book “Odyssey”, who left his native town Ithaca to fight the enemies in Troy. He spent most of his time journeying from one island to another to fight monsters and gods, only to realize his real enemy is at home in Ithaca. His wife Penelope was being courted by 108 boisterous suitors who tried to convince to marry one of them because Odysseus was already dead. It took Odysseus 20 years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. He killed all the suitors and reunited with his wife. The enemy was not outside his hometown Ithaca. The enemy was “with-in”…in his home! It was an epic voyage of returning home and confronting the enemy.

John the Baptist is calling us to face our own “epic journey and confrontation within ourselves.” Like Odysseus, we have the illusion that our enemy is outside us - our own modern monsters and gods… family problems, marital problems, broken relationships, poverty, climate change, graft and corruption, human rights violation, Mindanao conflict, religious biases and others. Yes, they are our enemies, but you cannot face them without facing first our real enemy, and it is within us – our own sinfulness, selfishness and insensitivities. Confront yourself. Accept your responsibility. Stop the “I blame you” and “It’s not my fault” game. It stinks!

To repent is to humbly accept our foul “selfish odor.” Learn from durian. The antidote is simply “skin and water.” Coming to our senses of our sins “against heaven and earth” (Luke 15:21), we ask for forgiveness and soak ourselves into the water of God’s mercy and forgiveness (symbol of John’s baptism by water).

Odysseus returned home and found himself at the comfort of his lovely wife Penelope. The prodigal son returned home and found himself at the loving and forgiving arms of the Father.

What about us? … It’s time to go home.

- Willy Samson, SJ

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