August 16, 2008

The Wall

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 15: 21-28 “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from
the table of their masters.”

In the middle of the MoA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) controversy, a friend of mine suddenly blurted out, “Only a dead Muslim is a good Muslim.” But when he saw my violent reaction in my face, he immediately said, “I am sorry Father for being uncharitable and judgmental. I know I am not supposed to say those words. It’s just that I feel so helpless with our present situation. I don’t know what to do. I just want peace in Mindanao.”

We cannot deny that all of us feel so helpless in our fragile situation today. We do want peace in Mindanao but it continues to elude us for more than 35 years. The planned signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Muslim’s Ancestral Domain was an attempt to permanently bring peace in Mindanao. But when the signing was stopped by the Supreme Court, the supposedly “seed of peace” suddenly became “seed of division and resentment.” Emotions flared up again when an arm conflict erupted in North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. Some of our unspoken resentment and hidden frustrations against the Muslims surfaces again. Biases, prejudices, and mistrust are in the air again, which should not be the case. Forwarding cell phone text messages circulating around against the Muslims will not help us. Let’s make it clear to all. The MoA-AD brouhaha is not a religious issue but a political issue. We do recognize the right of our Muslim brothers and sisters to claim their ancestral land. But we need cooler heads and “peace-loving” panelists on both sides - GRP and MILF, to return to the table and revised the MoA under the scrutiny of everybody and under the ambit of our Constitution.

I do understand why some Christians are openly expressing their disgust and disappointment against the Muslims. They do have their own “not so good” experience living with our brother and sister Muslims. But giving up and hastily judging them in general is not fair to them also. In fact, they too have their own biases, mistrust and “not so good” experience with us Christians.

We do say we are for peace, but it means to continue trusting our Muslim brothers and sisters. In the midst of this very fragile situation, let’s avoid uncharitable words against them and avoid forwarding biased negative text messages. We don’t want to create an atmosphere and culture of hate against one another. Peace cannot be achieved as long as we have this “we are better than them” and “they are like that” attitude.

The need for honesty is important. And so we acknowledge the fact that people do have biases, prejudices and mistrust because of our experiences of betrayal, violence and discrimination. But this are man’s work and not of God. For our God is a God of love who desires to draw all people to Himself. He is a God who seeks to remove all biases, prejudices and mistrust that brings divisions to all people. Our reading from Isaiah shows us that Yahweh welcomes the Gentiles in his holy temple: “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servant.” (Isaiah 56:6). The Koran also says the same message: “It may be that Allah will grant love (friendship) between you and those whom you (now) hold as enemies. For Allah has power over all things and Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” (Koran 60:7)

Our gospel today shows the bias of the disciples against the Non-Jewish Canaanite woman begging for the healing of her daughter. They said, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” (Matthew 15:23) Jesus’ seemingly cold reply to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… and it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” (Matthew 15:24,26) were just to test her faith, but in the end, Jesus healed her daughter. Jesus clearly has a heart to those who were not Jewish. The salvation Jesus is offering is for all. The love of God is not exclusive to some “chosen people” but being offered to all. It is an all-embracing love. Jesus is a picture of God who wants to save all. He had no biases against anybody. He healed his enemies, dined with public sinners, touched the lepers, talked to the prostitutes, and spent more time with the marginalized, oppressed, and neglected. If Jesus has a bias, it is his bias to love everybody.

But we do have our own biases and prejudices to other people. We look down on people who don’t think and behave like us. We treat people differently according to their status in the society. We don’t trust an ex-inmate. We don’t mingle with people of lesser intelligence than us. We have all our ears listening to Mayor Lobregat or to Piolo Pascual; but the “kwentos” (stories) of our unschooled “katulong” (house helper) falls in our deaf ears.

What are the walls we have built to keep others out from our life? What are our fears that keep us from welcoming people who are different from us? What are our biases and prejudices that stops us from loving others?

Jesus is challenging us to go beyond these walls of fear, biases and exclusivity – by learning to trust and love one another. It is to realize that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ; that we are all Filipinos alike. It is only love that can move us beyond those walls that separate us from our marginalized and neglected brothers and sisters. We can only live in peace and in security when we learn to forgive and accept each other as God’s precious gift; and to see that there is unity in our diversity. Let us not forget the words of St. Paul, the disciples of the Gentiles, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32).

A student asked his master, “How can I know, if it is already dawn? Is it when I can say that this tree is a mango tree and that one is an acacia tree?” The master said “No.” The student asked again, “Is it when I can recognize a cat from a dog in a distance?” The master replied, “No.” “Is it when I can say that the man coming is a Muslim or a Christian? The master replied, “No.” “Then how can I know if it is already dawn?” And the master smiled, “It is when you see the man coming and you said to yourself, that’s my brother. Then it is already dawn.”

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

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