LIBERATE ME, O LORD!

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
August 17, 2008

Man is, at heart, a social being. He pines for company, for relationships, for togetherness. Joy is never full, never complete, never true unless it is joy that is shared, partaken of by others, and – ultimately – enjoyed together. Joy shared is joy increased.

This is true even for societies like the Jews of old who were very jealous of their common identity. Outsiders, foreigners, gentiles (the worst of the lot) just did not fit in. They were outcasts. They deserved no attention. They were considered far from the circle of concern of the average Jew, whose utmost priority was to maintain the purity of the faith and tradition.

But the good news of the Lord is as much good for the ancient Jews as it is for us right now. The Lord was gradually leading his people to a less narrow understanding of salvation, a less ‘selfish’ outlook towards what was in store for those who believed in the Lord. This is what the mysterious unknown prophet that rode on the authority of Isaiah is telling us today. Foreigners, he in effect says, who follow the dictates of the covenant, will be brought to God’s holy mountain and made joyful in his house of prayer! Foreigners! Outcasts!

We are face to face with the inclusive nature of a God who saves! This is one clear offshoot of the nature of God as a community of three divine persons! Although by then not yet clear, revelation, on hindsight, may already then, through Third Isaiah, be showing signs of the truth that will be made formal and complete in Jesus Christ. God is community. God is a loving, “including” God. God is self-sharing, (the Latin word for it is diffusivum) goodness. Already, He was revealing himself as one who does not exclude, who is not at home with the word ‘outsider’ and ‘foreigner.’

Beginning from Abraham, God’s call was for the Jews to become the “jump-off” point of salvation for all nations and peoples. Like Abraham, his descendants were expected by God to bring salvation to all, notwithstanding the jealous streak that characterized the Jews for so long. Inspired by such a call, the psalmist could only declare: O GOD, LET ALL THE NATIONS PRAISE YOU!

O God, let all the nations praise you! This is the plea of one who has followed the cues of a God who calls all to salvation. This is the spirit behind the prayer we started out today with (the Collect)…There we begged the Lord that we may love him in all things and above all things and so reach the joy prepared for us beyond all imagining. Part of this joy is the joy of knowing we are all traversing the same path that leads to salvation, the joy of being together in God’s love, the joy of being united as a people, though different from one another in so many ways.

O God, let all the nations praise you! This is the plea of those who have understood that there is no fulfillment for those who still nurture separateness, class distinctions, and all forms of disunity in their hearts. This is a prayer of us all who know that part of the eternal joys in heaven would be characterized by fullness of union, communion, community with the saints and angels in their eternal hymns of praise to God, the heavenly liturgy that traditional theology has always been referring to.

O God, let all the nations praise you! Free us from all our selfishness, our self-centered concerns, our exclusivity and lack of attention to the needs of those different from us in any way. Let all your nations praise you. Let all those who have feel one with those who do not have much, or have nothing at all. Free our innate desire for oneness and cooperation.

O God, let all the nations praise you! Begin with our nation, O Lord, up till now, so broken and so divided by the “original sin” of patronage politics and elite economics all rolled into one. Let all the peoples praise you Lord, not only those who can afford the luxury of time to go and worship on Sundays, not only those who can afford to wear something decent and presentable in Church. Let all the peoples praise you: the churched and the unchurched, who, through no fault of their own, could not bring themselves to the mainstream and worship as one great, big community of brothers and sisters.

There ought to be something liberating in the Good News of today. St. Paul himself, in the letter to the Romans, makes an honest admission: ALL OF US WERE OUTCASTS, AT SOME TIME OR OTHER! All of us are sinners. “All men have fallen short of the glory of God.” We were all outsiders. But God’s love called us to belongingness, to union, to participation. “For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”

This is the mercy that was behind the seeming insistence of the woman, despite Jesus’ initial refusal. First, Jesus did not say a word. Then he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then, a third time, he refused her saying, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But behind the seeming stern refusal, the woman of great faith saw a heart that was overflowing with inclusive love and mercy. Her prayer is curious: “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” (ME!) But then, it continued: “My daughter is tormented by a demon.” No, her prayer was not for herself. Her prayer had to do with inclusivity. It was a prayer of intercession. It was a prayer for someone other than herself, addressed to one who said he came… that “all may have life and have it to the full!”

We need to allow the good news of God’s encompassing, inclusive love liberate us from our selfishness and closed-in-oneself exclusivity that is the bane of our modern society. Just look at the endless intramurals going on in all branches of government! There are termites and similar creatures that continue to wreak havoc on our hard-earned unity and relative political peace. Unless we are careful, our tiny country, the Philippines, may be dismembered courtesy of self-serving politicians, opportunitsts, ideologues, and rebels alike.

We all suffer from slavery. We are all enslaved by our selfishness, by our lack of mercy and compassion – our sense of entitlement to exclusivity. Politicians act like they are the only ones capable of holding office. (Just look at all those political dynasties!) Businessmen think they are the only ones with the right to make money. Big retail tycoons engage in cutthroat practices to corner the market and ease out smaller businesses. The intelligent and the schooled think they are the only ones entitled to an opinion and they lord it over those who may have had less opportunity to hone up their skills. Even the poor edge each other out for precious space, preying on the less wary and capitalizing on their ignorance (How else explain the phenomenon of professional squatters?) We are all enslaved by something. And the point of commonality resides in each one’s desire to keep out the “strangers,” the “foreigners,” the “outsiders” from our midst. Enclaves of exclusivities thus imprison us in various ways. (Look at all the streets of our subdivisions all appearing like virtual fortresses – if not prisons – with all the gates and high walls and sentries night and day!)

I would like to think that the model of today’s readings is one of liberating compassion, liberating inclusivity. Excerpts from a favorite poem of Miguel de Unamuno comes to mind at this juncture. He says: No canta libertad mas que el esclavo, el pobre esclavo; el libre canta amor, te canta a ti, Senor! (No one sings of freedom more than the slave, the poor slave; the one who is free sings of love, sings to you, O Lord!) The somewhat long prayer to the Lord ends thus:

Mira, Senor, que mi alma (See, O Lord, that my soul)
Jamas ha de ser libre (may never have to be free)
Mientras quede el esclavo (while the slave remains)
En el mundo que hiciste, ( in the world that you made)
Y mira que si al alma no libertas, (and see that if you do not free this soul)
Al alma en que tu vives, (this soul in which you dwell)
Seras en ella esclavo. (you will remain in it a slave)
Tu, tu mismo, Senor! (You, you yourself, Lord!)
Liberta-te! (Deliver yourself)
Liberta-te, Senor! (Deliver yourself, Lord)
Liberta-les, (Free them)
Atales con tu amor! (Bind them with your love!)
Liberta-te. (Liberate yourself)
Liberta-te en tu amor! (Liberate yourself in your love!)
Liberta-me. (Deliver me)
Liberta-me, Senor! (Deliver me, O Lord!)

Deliver all nations, Lord, from their selfish concerns. Deliver us Lord and free us from every form of exclusivity and uncaring unconnectedness. Free our capacity to love you in all things and above all things, so that we may reach the joy you have prepared for us that is beyond all our imagining. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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