He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV
What memory from childhood days that still pops its ugly head every now and then is that of a boy called Atong. He was sometimes called mockingly as Atong Bulutong. He was an ugly kid from our block in Pandacan but much bigger and older than I was. There was one time during play when without warning and without any reason, he just spat on my face. And then he laughed like crazy. I wiped his dirty spittle off my face and went away, not in tears but in bewilderment that somebody could do something atrocious like that. The knowledge of evil and the evil that people do, we learn from our experience in this world. And nobody is exempted. I can still see Atong's ugly face to this very day. I can still spell his ugly name.
The evangelist Matthew tells us that they spat in Jesus' face and beat Him with their fists (Matthew 26:67). I believe the spitting actually hurt more than the blows. The spits he received were the worst insults. The spits were not just rejection, but complete shaming scorn and spite. Honestly, how would you react now if somebody spits on your face? Yet Jesus accepted them all, the shame, the shouts, the scourging, and the spits, together with the beatings, the bruises, and the bleeding. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6). And yet the reason of Jesus for allowing himself to be subjected to humiliation was what? JOY. There was no joy in what they were doing to him but HE SAW THE JOY. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame. (Heb 12:2). The joy lay before him. It hadn't been there yet but it was coming. And for Jesus that was enough. This was God's demonstration of his supreme and unconditional love for us. Do you know what the ugliest faces in the world are? They are the faces painted with scorn, derision, hatred. The features may physiognomically be pretty, but the reality remains that they are ugly faces. When we sin, we insult God and spit on His face. The bigger the insult, the bigger the spit. Technically, God should not be able to forget our ugly faces and deal with us as we deserve, that is, with the wages of sin, death (Rom 6:23). But God is a forgiving God. But as far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us. (Psalm 103:12).
Father Roy Cimagala reflecting on Divine Mercy said this: In spite of our sin and infidelity to him, he continues to love us by forgiving us. He keeps loving us even if we have stopped being lovable. That’s what divine mercy is all about. [1*] Pope Benedict XVI addressing a group of bishops once said: "God gives us his love which forgives, heals and sanctifies." [2*] Christ's journey to the cross was a journey of reconciliation and redemption , so our sins can be atoned for, the spits removed from God's face, and our ugly faces become pretty again in the sight of God. And then God sees joy. And we in turn experience this same joy as a fruit of sanctification.
Isn't it just wonderful to know that His love knows no limits, that his mercies never fail, and that they are fresh like the dew every morning? (Lamentations 3:22-23). That ugly boy with the horrible name of Atong now also reminds me of my ugly sins and the awesome word ATONE (yes, from Atong to ATONE), which is what Jesus has done for us, atone for our sins. Who knows what has happened to him now, how he turned out to be. Only God knows. God can make all things beautiful in his time. He can make all the bad things we experience in the beginning into beautiful things we enjoy in the end. All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
The last time I went some years back for a quick visit to the place of my childhood in Pandacan, weirdly enough everything looked a lot smaller. The tenement buildings which looked enormous to me then, now appeared to be miniscule. I don't know why. Time may have that effect on things and places, making them sort of decrease or diminish. I still remember where I received that heinous spit from Atong, but time has decreased that memory to microscopic dimensions. I can still see Atong's ugly face, but it is much smaller, I can still spell his ugly name, but the letters would always appear as tiny and insignificant. I spent very little time in Pandacan during that blitz visit. Perhaps it was just to stir up some old memories, but nothing much really came forward. Or maybe it was just to see the place one more time, to feel if my soul could still sense some belonging there, but the signal was too feeble. I left the place silently and peacefully as I came. I cast a quick glance on the facade of old apartment where we used to live without a sigh or a whimper but with goodbye in a whisper.
Lord God, thank you for all the places you send us to. Thank you for the memories which you turn into joy. Amen.
Copyright 2009 BRoME
[1*] Pioneer Bi-weekly April 6, 2008 Negros Chronicle
[2*] Address of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the second group of bishops from Germany during the ÄD LIMINA visit
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