February 9, 2008

Jesus Loves Pinoy Movies

1st Sunday of Lent (A)
Matthew 4:1-11: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and
Ministered to him.”

A good number of Filipinos do not watch Pinoy movies. They find it baduy, cheap and very predictable. You can easily know a Pinoy movie even without the benefit of the sounds! There are movie elements that are distinctively present in many Pinoy movies. The villains are wearing black jackets even in hot season. Its Pinoy when a dying character (usually the father or mother of the “bida”) has its last minute “words of advice” while catching his/her last breathe. It’s really Pinoy when the bida (hero) and kontrabida (villain) exchange dialogues before they exchange gunfire. The bida (with his sidekick who provides the comedy relief) will dispose or annihilate all the villains single-handedly, and when they are all dead or helpless, the police will suddenly arrive to arrest and handcuff the kontrabidas. End of story.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Lent. We continue our 40 days of prayerful preparation for our Easter celebration by remembering our own struggles against evil. Like Jesus, we do have our own bouts with evil and its daily temptation. We have our own failures against temptation. The season of Lent is a time to ask for forgiveness for the times we fell into the devil’s trap, do some concrete actions to strengthen our capacity to say “no” to temptations, and beg God to give us the grace to do it.

Close your eyes and imagine our gospel for today. And you will say it is like watching a typical Pinoy movie. Jesus (the bida) and the devil (the kontrabida) were also engaged in an exchange of words. The devil knew Jesus was hungry, weak, and vulnerable after 40 days of fasting in the desert. He seized the opportunity and tempted Jesus with his “best, time-tested and self-tested baits” - riches, honor and pride; but Jesus overcame the three temptations because of his faithfulness to God the Father and deep knowledge of the scriptures.

Like any typical Pinoy movie, where the police usually arrive after the bida’s encounter with the villain is over, the angels came and ministered to Jesus after the devil left him. In the original Greek of Matthew, the phrase "devil left him" was in the historic present tense, indicating a lack of permanence, that is, the devil would later return to further tempt Jesus (Luke 4:13). In Pinoy movies, a sequel is coming if the defeated villain will say, “Babalik ako, hindi pa tapos ang laban.” True to his nature, the devil returned again to tempt Jesus but in a different but more lethal attack: First, persecution from the Pharisees and unbelievers that will lead to his arrest. Second, temptation to abandon God’s will during his court trials, carrying of the cross, and crucifixion. Even when he was dying on the cross where he was most vulnerable, he was tempted by the people, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40) – An echo of the devil’s words: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3) and “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you.” (Matthew 4:6) … but Jesus was determined. His determination led him to his death on the cross. But the Father who saw everything vindicated Jesus by resurrecting him. A happy Pinoy ending!

Our own experiences confirm our struggle against the lure of evil spirits. The temptation of riches, honor and pride will always be there and will never stop until we are buried six feet under. The devil will never raise his white flag on us and give up because he hates happy ending. We can win against evil and its temptations. Evil may leave us for a while but he will definitely come again to tempt us, especially during our most vulnerable and unguarded moments. The devil knows us very well. He knows how to get us!

St. Ignatius, in his rules for the discernment of spirits, explicitly stated the strategy of the evil spirit: The conduct of our enemy maybe compared to the tactics a commander of an army. They will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.” (Spiritual Exercises, 326). The devil knows us well, he knows our spiritual waterloo. Therefore we need know, fortify and guard our weaknesses, limitations and vulnerabilities.

Jesus knew that he could not defeat evil by compromising with evil. The devil’s temptation is always attractive and hard to resist – the standards of the world. Jesus proposed the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) for our spiritual fortification to counteract the devil’s temptation. Jesus laid down the non-compromising values of the Christian faith and he fought for them even if it means dying on the cross.

When the devil saw Jesus’ determination against temptations was unshakeable, he left Jesus. The police came … I mean, the angels came and ministered Jesus. The word ministered is often interpreted as the angels feeding Jesus. This ending to the temptation narrative is a common literary device of using a “feast scene” to emphasize a happy ending.

Jesus was very determined against temptation for he found his real treasure - The love of God the Father. When one finds his/her treasure, everything becomes secondary. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21).

Fr. Pedro Arrupe,SJ somehow summarizes it: Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything

The next time you watch a Pinoy movie, do invite Jesus. He will definitely come with you! Remember, Jesus loves Pinoy movies because he loves happy ending!

- Fr. Willy M. Samson,SJ
College Chaplain
Ateneo de Zamboanga

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