Not the Time to Forget
Homily for Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on June 8, 2010 at Holy Spirit Parish/The Newman Center at the University of Kentucky, Lexington KY
Readings: 1 Kings 17:7-16; Psalm 4:2-3, 4-5, 7b-8; Matthew 5:13-16
In the morning of June 16, 1991, my family decided to flee Angeles City after hearing on the radio that our village was within the danger zone of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. We were packing all that we could carry on our backs, not knowing whether this was the end of our city or the end of the world. Looking out from the terrace, I saw several families of Aetas, the black aborigines of the Philippines, staying in the front yard of our ancestral home, resting after a long flight from the mountain where their ancestors had lived long before mine had come to those islands. My Aunt Victoria went out to meet them and it didn’t take long before she was cooking rice from our last sack and all the food that had defrosted in the fridge for them. I was confused by this; I thought that in that time of need, we should have been fending for ourselves, saving what little we had for our family, keeping our provisions, our food and our drink for the exodus ahead. So, I asked my aunt, “Mama, why are you giving away our food to them? Why bother doing this now, when the world is about to end?”
She looked at me and said, “This may be the end of the world, but this is not the time to forget to be generous and kind to your neighbor. Now, shut your mouth and get them some plates.”
I would like to think that my Aunt Victoria was taking her cue from the widow of Zarephath. That widow knew a bit of what we were going through in 1991. “No rain had fallen in the land” (1 Kgs. 17:7) and all that she had left was “only a handful of flour in [her] jar and a little oil in [her] jug” (1 Kgs. 17:12). She knew that, after she had prepared something for herself and her son and had eaten of it, she only had to wait for death to come (1 Kgs. 17:12). And yet, in the face of her own need, she gave the stranger a small cupful of water when he asked for it (1 Kgs. 17:10-11), trusted this same stranger and prepared a little cake for him before she prepared something for herself and her son (1 Kgs. 17:13-15). She probably thought that it was the end of the world, but she also knew that it was not the time to forget to be generous and kind to her neighbor; it was not the time to forget to offer hospitality to the stranger.
There is something here that we can learn from my aunt and that widow. After all, isn’t that what it means when Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of world? (cf. Mt. 5:13, 14) Even when the earth has turned tasteless, that is not the time to forget that we are the salt and that we are called to season our surroundings with goodness and holiness. Even when the world has turned dark and cold, that is not the time to forget that we are the light and that we are called to shine before others with the truth and the love of Christ (cf. Mt. 5:16).
Whether it be an ordinary day or the world coming to its end, Jesus expects us to be faithful to who we are and what we are called to be. Otherwise, if we don’t do any good in the face of need, how can we expect to be any good? (cf. Mt. 5:13)