TO LOVE AND BE LOVED: A Jesus Sandwich

WORD Becoming, Spiritual Reflections By Fr Rod Salazar SVD

On the basis of the Judgment Day scene in Mathew 25, 31-46
where do you think we would go: Heaven? Or some place else?
The Gospel, we remember, is about the King sending off
to the fiery place people because they did not recognize
Him in their brothers and sisters in their lifetime.
But he accepted into heaven those who ministered to those
whom society never accepted as deserving.
The frank line is: Whatever you did or did not do
to the least of your sisters and brothers, you did
or did not do to Me.

This is a question that each of us must answer for himself,
for herself, depending on how we live or not live
this part of the Gospel.
While I cannot answer for anyone what I can offer
is some Food for Thought. A simple sandwich.

A sandwich, as we know, is named after what is put
between at least two pieces of bread.
If it is butter, it is a butter sandwich.
It you have cheese or hot dog or hamburger
then the sandwich is called accordingly.

Today I offer a JESUS Sandwich.
The two pieces of bread come from two musicals with French titles.

This is French for The Miserable Ones. The Wretched of the Earth.
Mga Yagit, mga Dukha, Mga Mahihirap, Mga Kawawa.
Les Miserables.
It was originally a novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862.
A long novel about the social and political situation in France,
it is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.
It became even more popular when it was made into a musical
first on stage and then as a movie.

On stage, it made famous many of our own Filipino singers,
male and female. In the concert version at the Royal Albert Hall
in London, England, on the Tenth Anniversary
of its first staging, the acts are not repeated, but only the songs.

At the Finale, the main character Valjean is nearing his death.
He was a good man, but was forced to steal,
was imprisoned, escaped and tried to lead a good life
even as a police inspector Javert relentlessly pursues him.
He is dying now, Valjean. Where would he go, to heaven or to hell?
Two other characters, female, Fantine and Eponine join him,
one of them our own Lea Salonga.

Fantine sings, “Come with me where chains will never bind you…
all your grief, at last, at last behind you….
Lord in heaven, look down on him in mercy.” .
and Valjean joins in,
“Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory.”
Fantine again, “Take my hand and lead me to salvation,
take my love, for love is everlasting.

Then Lea, as Eponine, joins the two and together they sing,
“And remember the truth that once was spoken:
To love another person is to see the face of God.”

This is our first piece of bread for our Jesus sandwich.
This is what Matthew 25 is saying.
If you love another person, you see the face of God.

Of course, we say, because God is love. If we love,
then we see God. We love the beautiful, the handsome,
the clean, the good, all these because God is all these.

But what if our neighbor is ugly and dirty and poor and hungry
and thirsty and naked and ill and in prison?
What if our neighbor is the scum of society,
the criminal, the smelly one, the stinking one.
Am I supposed to love him or her? How can I? Why should I?

Because the Gospel tells us that we should
– if we want to go to heaven.
As Jesus said in another part of the Gospel,
if you love only those who love you, are good only
to those who do good to you, what merit do you expect?
Even pagans do that!

But if we love those who are not obviously lovable,
even our enemies, if we serve and are kind to the least,
the most insignificant, the forgotten ones,
then even if we do not see or even imagine
those persons to be God or like God,
then we shall see the face of God in eternity. In heaven.

To love another person is to see the face of God.
Lesson from Les Miserables. Lesson One from the Gospel.

Lesson Two from another musical, Moulin Rouge (The Red Mill).

Moulin Rouge was not a convent, it was a cabaret, a dance hall.
You did not find nuns or priests or religious people there.
But one of the songs in the movie and stage version
is titled Nature Boy.

Many years ago, Nat King Cole already sang it. It goes:
There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy.
They say he wandered far, very far over land and sea.
A little shy and sad of eye, but very wise was he.
And then one day, a magic day he passed my way.
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings,
this he said to me: The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
is just to love and be loved in return.

While it seems easy or easier to be loved,
though it feels good and pleasant to know that we are loved,
it can also be difficult.
Part of our Christian life is to learn to accept love and kindness
from others even from strangers. Give and take, that is life.

I once heard a Christian preacher on television tell his audience
so enthusiastically GIVE GIVE GIVE ALWAYS GIVE.
But if everyone gave at the same time, who would receive?
There is no giving if there is no receiving.
Just as there is no receiving if there is no giving.
These are the two sides of the same action.
Give, Receive. Love, Be loved.
And don’t be embarrassed if you receive love.
Love, yes, but learn also to receive love.

If somebody else is hungry or thirsty or naked or sick
or in prison, as the Gospel says, then let us give
if we are in a position to give,
even if the person is not likeable.

But there are times when we cannot give,
when we ourselves are the ones who are hungry and thirsty
and cold and naked and sick. Then we should also learn to receive.
Humbly. Joyfully. Gratefully. Graciously. But we must receive.
Let us receive. We must accept love and
learn not to be embarrassed to be loved.

I once had a rich friend. Once, while I was having dinner
with him and his family in their home, the village guard
called that their tenants were at the gate wanting to come in
and deliver some things.
They were allowed in and the tenants unloaded bananas
and camote and fruit and rice, their gift to their landlord.
My friend said, not maliciously, I know, but he said it:
Sa inyo na lang ang mga iyan. Mas kailangan nyo.

And the poor head of the family of tenants said so sadly, in slow tears,
“Bakit po sir, kayo lang po ba ang marunong magbigay?
Alay po namin ito sa inyo, bilang pasasalamat.”
Why, sir? Are you the only ones who know how to give?
Why would you not receive our gift, our appreciation, our love?

Do you think Jesus would say to us if we offer to him directly
whatever it may be that we give: Sa inyo na lang yan?
Di ko kailangan ang noodles, ang mangga, ang saging, ang camote.
I own the whole world, I created the world.

Would Jesus say this? No. He would receive what we offer him.
A loving father or mother would receive a crudely-made valentine
or Christmas card from a child of theirs because they know
it is done with love, from the heart.
They would not say, don’t bother.
Ah, the bother, the bothering, the taking time to do something
out of love is something precious. It is what matters most.
As The Little Prince has it, “it is the time you have wasted
on your rose that makes your rose so important.”

Let us not dismiss the time, the effort, the love,
in the little things in our life that come and go.
That we give, that we receive.

If Jesus says in the Gospel, whatever you do
to the least of your brothers or sisters, you do to Him,
this means that He also receives.
We are Jesus-like when we give.
We are Jesus-like when we receive.

No one is so poor that he or she cannot give.
No one should pretend one is so rich that one cannot receive.

Our sandwich today. The first piece of bread from Les Miserables:
To love another person is to see the face of God.
The second piece from Moulin Rouge:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
is just to love and be loved in return.

In between them, JESUS.

Thus, our Sandwich. For today. For our lifetime.

Happy Eating.

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