Good evening. And thank you for your hospitality and the opportunity to share my thoughts concerning today’s readings. My name is Rosa Manriquez and I live in East Los Angeles. But I’ll tell you more about myself later in this homily.
Within these scriptures, there are themes concerning community, family and love. They also touch on the subjects of sin and what is considered precious.
The period that is the setting in the reading from Exodus is called the Sinai Covenant. It is a time of transition for the Israelites. Until their period of slavery in Egypt, they had been a nomadic people. Their society was based on tribal loyalty. The concept of being one people, the Israelites, was not gelled until the forty years they were in the desert. We see that they have gone to their old ways, worshipping their individual gods. God proposes a new start by eliminating all the tribes, except for Moses. Moses will become a great tribe. Moses turns this down and chooses to arbitrate for the group as a whole. This is remarkable in that Moses has chosen to pursue the greater good for all the tribes, even at the cost of his own. He has recognized the “we” where once there was only the “I.” This is not so much about the sin of the Israelites as it is about this precious, wondrous transformation into the identity of the Chosen People that has been embraced.
So now we look at Luke. Once again, Jesus is challenged for his association with “those people,” with the “other,” with the “unclean,” with the marginalized, with the ostracized…who happened to be Jews just like the Pharisees. So he tells two stories about the lengths a person will take to safeguard that which is precious. But, they don’t get it. They don’t understand that Jesus was talking about maintaining the whole when a portion is missing. Remember the Sinai Covenant? The Pharisees had created golden calves where it was more important to create outsiders, than to recognize they were all part of the “we.” And, I believe, that Jesus’ reference to the joy in heaven at the return of a sinner was made tongue in cheek. I believe he was referring to the Pharisees.
After two stories, they still didn’t get it. So he tells them a story about a family. In English it is called The Prodigal Son. In, at least one Spanish translation, it is called “El padre amoroso” or the Loving Father. I assume that we are all familiar with the lesson of this parable. We have been taught that it means that God will forgive all sins. I say that Jesus goes beyond this. He wasn’t arguing with the Pharisees about sin so much as he was teaching everyone about God’s unconditional love. This is an unconditional love that doesn’t even recognize sin as defined by the Pharisees and, even by present society.
Let’s envision the scene when this parent and child are reunited. This child is intent on delivering a desperately, carefully rehearsed apology to the parent, but what is the parent doing? This parent is busy giving orders, intent on making the child whole again. This parent is not even listening to the apology.
And, if this story was only about restoring the whole, Jesus could have left it at that, but he went further and includes the other child in the reunion. This child had worked hard to “save the farm,” so to speak. But his labor wasn’t done out of love for the parent as much as to protect his inheritance. And he angrily calls out his parent for restoring the other child into the family. This was also a sin. It was a sin so serious, that the parent could rightfully have the child stoned. But instead, this remarkable parent attempts to reason with the child and, in doing this, maintaining the whole that was the family.
You see, sin has become equated to the rules on the sheet that comes with a game set. Following the rules is paramount; enjoying the company is incidental. But this story tells us that God doesn’t keep score! So does that mean sin does not exist? And, if it does, then what is it? I believe sin is illusion that creates a distance between God and us. It is the insidious murmur bubbling up whispering that we are not a creation of love and that Abba/ Ama God does not love us unconditionally.
I want to share how these readings apply to my family and me. The following is a short speech I gave at a Latino family forum.
I was raised to believe, “Primero Dios,” (God is first). In the same breath the word “familia” was uttered. But another “dicho” put those values into perspective: “Una onza de madre vale mas que toneladas de sacerdote,” (An ounce of mother has more value than a ton of priest.)
My grandmother was an orphan at a very young age. She ended up working as an indentured servant in a middle class household in Puebla, Mexico. But, she had family. And one day they “kidnapped” her and sent her to El Paso to start a new life. This is what familia does. They rescue you.
Whenever I had a falling out with my mother, my grandmother would remind me, “At least you have a mother.” She never said it in a harsh way. It was always in a reassuring tone. She was reminding me to count my blessings. Family is a treasure and every single member is a jewel.
In the United States, the ideal family unit is portrayed as a man, a woman and 1.5 children. That is not my reality. I grew up in a household with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, sisters and pets. All on the same property! Family includes anyone who loves you and cares about your life.
There were other family members on that property that were not related by blood. I called these people my cousins, my tías and tíos, and my ninas and my ninos. A family is not limited by traditional social definitions.
There was always something cooking in our home. There was always a plate of food waiting for you at the table. And even during the most trying times when there was very little money, everyone was fed because “Donde come uno, come dos,” (What feeds one person can feed two). And it didn’t matter if you had done something hurtful or stupid, you were still welcome at the table. Family will always take care of you.
We have had family members with challenges that have branded them as marginalized people. And they are acknowledged, embraced and celebrated as familia. This means visits to the hospital, prison, across the border. This means providing support however we can because you never leave anyone behind. Family knows you and will always accept you.
The happiest day of my life was the birth of my first child. And although people may think, “Ah! Cuervo, cuervito,” (Even a mother crow thinks her little crow is beautiful). I tell you, she was the most beautiful child I had ever seen. She had long eyelashes and big eyes that opened up and stared at the ceiling lights as the doctor held her. I was in awe because God had given me this child to love.
I have another daughter. Do you know a person who is emotion incarnated? That is this child. If she is happy, you can hear the birds singing, she will cook for us, we joke with her. But if she is in a bad mood, the dogs hide, clouds cover the sun and we talk in whispers. One day while she was in high school she came home and was very subdued. This was not like her. She told me, “Mom, I have something to tell you, but don’t get mad.” I started thinking all kinds of terrible things. Oh God, she’s pregnant! No, what if she’s hooked on drugs? What if she owes thousands of dollars to some drug dealer? And as I was thinking all this, she was becoming emotional. She was crying huge, gasping sobs as her shoulders trembled. “Mom. Don’t hate me. I like girls. I date girls. Please, don’t hate me.”
That is one of the saddest days of my life because here stood my child terrified of me. From the day my children came into my life, I knew that I would do anything to support them, even die, if that was required. But here was my daughter crying inconsolably thinking that I would hate her. That makes me very sad. How could a mother hate her child?
We sat down and I told my daughter that she is my jewel, my gift from God and that I loved her then with the same love I had before she told me and with the same love I will have until I die. And then I did what a mother is supposed to do. Le di consejos de la vida; I counseled her about life. I talked to her about commitment, love, trust, character and integrity. But I was counseling her about a life I didn’t understand. Regardless, I think I did well with the exception of one consejo (counsel). I told her to be careful whom she told. If my daughter had been straight, I would never have told her that. But I said it because I was afraid that someone would hurt her because she is a lesbian. The reality of violence in all forms, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual, against a person because of sexual orientation must end.
I have always had gay family members. The difference today is that we know that forcing them to keep their sexual orientation a secret is not acceptable. It is destructive. It is cruel. Why would I ever allow strangers to call my children names or brand them as dysfunctional or abnormal? Family love is unconditional.
Because of my daughters, the definition of family has expanded. And now I have two daughters-in-law. I have a granddaughter and a grandson. They have taught me the definition of unconditional love. And I am such a rich woman because of them. What a treasure we have in family!