Thursday, April 24, 2003

Beautiful

"Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into thetemple courts." Acts 3:2 (NIV)

Nakaka-addict talaga ngayon ang magbasa, kasi tuwing babasahin ko ang Scriptures prayerfully, the Spirit leads me to new reflections to old passages. Kahit nga magpalit lang ako ng Bible version, naiiba na rin ang reflection. Since I left my NRSV Bible last night at Janet's house afterour AG, I went back to my NIV and saw these beautiful words. :)

Take this man who was crippled from birth. Hindi ko naman fully ma-imagine kung paano maging lumpo talaga, pero may mga bagay (sobrang dami) na maco-consider kong crippling sa buhay ko, from birth pa. May mga misconceptions na ako about God na kinalakihan ko na, na sobrang hirap nang baguhin. Now that I'm into a personal relationship with God, I'm being called to unlearn those things. Lalo naman sa aking self-image, itdoesn't take a genius to know that a woman's concept of beauty is really a complicated issue.

So maybe like the crippled man, I allowed myself to be brought by the world into the temple gate called "Beautiful" - I find this name so significant in today's First Reading - to beg. Not knowing any better, not knowing he could ask for so much more from the One who lives inside the temple, he just begged for money, for silver and gold. He, like me,didn't know what true Beauty meant. He probably had a simple, outsider'sview of God. He didn't even ask that he be healed... or maybe, he stopped asking after a while. Kuntento na siyang magpabuhat sa mga nagsasabi sa kanya kung ano ang dapat gawin at hingin at magpabitbit hanggang sa TempleGate. Kuntento na rin siyang maupo duon para mamalimos.

Until God sent Peter and John into the crippled man's way. He who was waiting outside the temple gate called Beautiful begged for money. Hedidn't realize that by sending His disciples to the crippled beggar, Jesus was answering the true prayer of that beggar's heart - for healing. Money and external beauty are peanuts compared to God's mercy and love.

"He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God." Acts 3:8 (NIV)

That man instantly proclaimed how God had healed him. Siguro hindi niya akalaing gagaling pa siya. Hindi niya alam na ito pala ang hinihintay niya nang pagkatagal-tagal.

I'm also a beggar for God's mercy and love. I want to live by faith and not by sight. Sana pag andyan na ang Peter at John na pinadala ni God sa akin, magkaroon din ako ng expectant faith at hintayin ko rin ang ibibigay nila sa akin.

The farthest distance I've ever known is from my head to my heart....

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

My Costly Perfume

When, out of some 73 books of the Bible and goodness knows how many passages within them, you come across a particular Bible story three times from the most unlikely sources in a span of weeks, it often is the case that God is speaking to you through that passage. It would normally be a good move to take some time to listen quietly to what He is saying to your heart. :-)

“Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” - John 12:3

During the women’s Lenten retreat, our theme was the same as the above passage, but it was taken from the Gospel according to Luke. In that version, the woman who broke the alabaster jar was nameless, and she was even said to be a sinful woman (cf. Luke 7:36-38). For obvious reasons all of the sisters who attended could relate to that sinful, nameless woman. Just last week I opened a book that I suddenly thought of borrowing from our sister Janet, and lo and behold, the first chapter features the same nameless woman with the alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil. Max Lucado, the author of “A Love Worth Giving”, used her as an example of extravagant love. For indeed, when that woman walked into a roomful of men to break her jar for Jesus and to wipe His feet with her hair while crying incessantly, the woman painted a perfect picture of how we should express our love and gratitude for our Savior. The CD “Something More” features a song about that woman, too, and I listen to it almost everyday now.

Today when I read that story again in the Gospel, I was reminded of an ongoing conversation I have with Jesus. Grabe na pag in-ignore ko pa Siya. It’s similar to a conversation I recently had with my mother. You see, I saw our picture lying on top of our piano. It was taken during the recent recital of Mama’s piano students and it was a shot of the two of us on stage. I was on the mike reading the names of her piano students. Now, I’ve come to believe that my best pictures are taken from above (kind of how God sees me siguro), and since that picture was taken from below the stage, I didn’t like the angle. I said, “Ma, itabi natin itong picture na ito. Hindi ako kagandahan diyan eh.” She replied, “Ano? Gandang-ganda nga ako sa iyo diyan anak eh. Kaya ko nilagay diyan naghihintay ako ng frame na paglalagyan.” I paused to look at my mother, to check if she was serious. I saw her take the picture and re-install it to its previous pedestal on top of our piano. When she left I stared at the picture again. Why would anyone want to frame this? I thought. I realized then that only a mother’s unconditional love could see through the bad camera angle and still see a beautiful face worthy of display at the most conspicuous part of the house. I shook my head at this unconditional love….

Jesus asked me once while I was meditating after the second talk in our Lenten retreat, what I would do if I found out that He was there, in person, at the Chapel, which stood across the building where we were having our sessions. He asked if I would do what that nameless sinful woman did.

“Would you run to me, Ella, with an expensive jar filled with your costliest perfumed oil? Would you elbow your way through the crowd just to kiss My feet?”

At that time, my answer was, “I’m sorry, my Lord, but if you tell me that You’re here now, in person, I’d have to watch you through the windows only. I wouldn’t dare come near you.”

Jesus asked my why, when not so long ago I would not have stopped until I had the front seat where I could be closest to Him. I simply told Him that it was because I didn’t feel worthy of His presence, that I was so enmeshed in sin and entrapped in selfishness that I didn’t deserve that front seat. I was so ashamed of myself that I wanted to hide from Him. A foolish thing to do, considering He can see through flesh to my heart, I know.

Jesus replied that underneath all my masks and walls is His precious daughter. My external appearance was important, just as the jar that was made of rare alabaster was expensive, too. But He said that what’s more important to Him is what’s inside. My heart, my alabaster heart, contains perfumed oil that could fill a room with its fragrance, if only I would be generous enough to share it. Lord, before we could get to that very essence of my being, there would be a lot of breaking to do, as I have setup an intricate fa├žade around my heart to keep it from getting hurt. I have guarded my heart for so long, revealing only what seems to be pleasing pictures of me. I have only offered my best to You and the brothers and sisters, for would anyone accept the bitterness, the confusion, the sadness that sometimes visit my heart? I have only shared that which I thought was worthy of sharing. All negative emotions I have locked inside. Don’t come knocking for that, Jesus.

Then He said, “My child, that is false humility. You’re saying that I did not create something beautiful in You. Do you want me to take away all of your talents? Do you want me to give to others your loved ones who surround you at all times? Do not look in the mirror with your own eyes. Through My unconditional love you can be holy, blameless, and pure. Allow me to see your entire picture and let My love celebrate You.”

I have a face that my mother thankfully loves. More than that, I have a heart that my Lord and Savior finds beautiful, even if while sitting here I am still having a hard time understanding this truth.

That woman showed extravagant love, for she was extravagantly saved by Jesus. He removed her from her sinful past, restored her standing in community, exalted her acts before all the men sitting in the banquet, and, in the version of Matthew, even said that her story would be told every time the Gospel is shared. I was reminded of how I have been saved from my past. I do not have to fail any exam and lose everything for me to remember God’s generosity to me. Jesus does not have to die on the Cross again for me to accept His love for me. I just have to remember.

And this week, we remember.