Living, loving amid contradictions

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Life and love are full of contradictions that make both so wonderful, so appealing, and so engaging. The more contradictions we encounter in life and love, the more we become better persons, more like Jesus Christ who is himself “the sign of contradiction”.

We are still inside the synagogue at Nazareth where Jesus had come one sabbath, proclaiming – and claiming himself as the fulfillment of that part from the Book of Isaiah he had read. And here we find him already a sign of contradiction at the inauguration of his ministry!

People were amazed with him at the beginning but, soon enough, their true colors appeared: first, they doubted him for being the “son of Joseph”; then, they became hostile to him after hearing him say how God sent Elijah and Elisha to help pagans after being rejected too by their ancestors.

He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was none to these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Luke 4:23-30

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, a Black Winged Stilt (Himantropus himantopus), Quezon Province, 27 January 2022.

Making a choice, taking a stand with Jesus

It is true that there are always two or even many sides to a story; that is why, it is imperative that we make a choice for what is true which we must accept and believe and hold on. That was the challenge posed by Jesus Christ to the people at the synagogue and to us today: which part of the scriptures do we fulfill today, his coming or his rejection?

While the gospel is good news, it is not always comfortable because it dares us to be like Jesus Christ, freely living in love and in truth. His gospel challenges us always to change our ways and be witnesses of his justice and mercy.

Last Sunday, we are told that every time we listen and take to heart the words of God found in the scriptures, Jesus becomes present among us, “fulfilled in our hearing”; today, we are challenged to affirm and live the word of God daily in words and in deeds.

And that is where the ironies, the contradictions begin when we make a stand for Jesus and his gospel: his words and teachings are all about love and mercy, kindness and care for one another but, the more we preach and practice them, the more life becomes difficult for us. The more we love, the more we are hurt.

Photo by author, 2019.

Like Jesus, every time we come out in the open to make a stand on what is true and just, good and proper, there will always be rejections. When we speak the truth, there will always be some or many who would be hurt and disturbed from the illusions (even delusions) they have been holding on.

It is the most unkindest cut of all, so to speak: the ones who reject us, the ones who feel “hurt” with our stance are the ones closest to us, the ones we are serving, the ones whose lives we are trying to uplift by liberating them from darkness and ignorance, sins and evil.

We have a Filipino saying that goes, “mahirap gisingin ang nagtutulug-tulugan” (it is difficult to wake up one pretending to be asleep).

That was the problem with the people of Nazareth at that time and even with some of us today: we can be easily astonished with one’s proclamations and words but it can happen that such rave can also mean doubts and skepticism. Some people are not really surprised and even if they ask for more proofs and arguments, no amount of explanations can ever enlighten them because they trust more in themselves and in their illusions of having the truth. They have already made up their minds and would keep on holding on their beliefs.

Worst of all, any appealing discourse is rendered useless and immaterial when people take on the person proclaiming or speaking like Jesus Christ: “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Now we see the contradictions becoming more pronounced than ever when it involves the person. It always happens everywhere wherein it is the messenger, not the message, who becomes the focus and issue at hand. And here we have the perfect communicator of all, Jesus Christ who is both the medium and the message rejected by his own folks and by us today when we insist on the truths we believe in!

It has always been like that since the beginning of the Church until our present day when those who should have been the first to accept the good news and its preachers have reacted exactly like the folks of Jesus at Nazareth! More than 50 years after Vatican II, until now there are still those who continue to reject the reforms and changes we have in the Church, insisting on maintaining the past that was also borne out of developments in the course of history.

Sometimes I find it amusing whenever we put distinctions between “practicing” and “non-practicing” Catholics. Why be called a Catholic or a Christian at all if you do not practice or believe the teachings of our faith and of the Church?

Photo by author, April 2020.

The power of love that surpasses all others

Luke noted at the end of our story today how Jesus “passed through the people and went away” when they tried to hurl him down headlong at the brow of the hill on which their town was built. See their murderous intents against Jesus, their kin?!

But Jesus simply walked away from them, unharmed.

Like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, God assures his prophets and each one of us today how he would protect us every time we make a stand for the Gospel, when we live by the values of the Gospel.

We may not concretely experience God’s protection and deliverance in the given moment but we know from the life of Jesus that God is always present with us, especially at the nick of time, leading us to life eternal.

But, there is still something more to that image of Jesus “passing through” the people; it is very evocative of his own passover that would happen on Good Friday at the cross. For now, there would be so many oppositions and contradictions to him but nothing and no one can deter him from proclaiming his good news of salvation to all.

Like Jesus in this scene, we are invited to follow him in his path, to continue listening and internalizing his words, put it into practice in our daily lives which is a daily passing over, of passing through many contradictions and doubts sometimes from people supposed to love and understand us, accept us.

And that is why Paul encourages us in the second reading to choose a “more excellent way” that surpasses all other gifts, the way of love.

As I have told you earlier, life becomes more appealing and wonderful, so enriching when there are many contradictions coming our way because that is when we truly experience the power and meaning of love in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters: “Love is patient, love is kind… It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 12: 4, 7, 8

When doubts are cast upon us by others, especially those closest to us whenever we persevere in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in words and in deeds, that is also when our love for him and for others is purified and made perfect.

It is very difficult and would always be painful but it is during these contradictions when our lives become more meaningful because of the love that we have and share. Remember the beautiful reminder about loving from St. John of the Cross, “The soul that walks in love never gets tired nor tires others.” Just love, love, love.

Jesus gives us the grace today of meaningful life lived in love if we listen and internalize his words, choosing to make a stand for him by fulfilling his words in deeds despite the many doubts and contradictions around us, especially from people we love and trust.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, a Black Winged Stilt (Himantropus himantopus), Quezon Province, 27 January 2022.
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