To what kingdom are you journeying?

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Francis D. Alvarez S.J. - The Philippine Star

Many years ago, I was part of my high school’s theater company. By tradition, our fourth year members were always given the chance to decide what play they wanted to perform before they graduated. A favorite of many senior batches was Joel and Onofre Pagsanghan’s “Sa Kaharian ng Araw” (In the Kingdom of the Sun).

This one-act play begins with Ponce and his best friend journeying from their hometown in search of the Kingdom of the Sun and its promise to fulfill all of Ponce’s dreams. It is not too hard to imagine why such a simple plot would appeal to bright-eyed students about to leave the small world of high school and enter the bigger world of the university.

To get to the Kingdom of the Sun, Ponce and his friend must cross three other realms: the Kingdoms of Rain, Wind, and Darkness. But the kings there do not allow them to pass without first paying tribute. In the Kingdom of Rain, Ponce gives up the gold necklace his mother, a poor laundrywoman, scrubbed her fingers to the bone to buy for him. In the Kingdom of Wind, Ponce’s friend is forced to leave his guitar, which, more than an instrument, had served him as a faithful companion. It is a foreshadowing of an even bigger sacrifice to be made. In the Kingdom of Darkness, Ponce and his best friend swear to the king that they have nothing left to give. The King of Darkness points out that they still have each other, and the dark then swallows up Ponce’s friend.

The final scene, when Ponce finally arrives in the Kingdom of the Sun, is a stroke of theatrical genius. The previous kingdoms all had elaborate sets lit in mysterious, beguiling, if not haunting, blue. The Kingdom of the Sun makes one squint as it appears in rude, harsh, and blinding yellow. But the curtains open to a stark naked stage. There is nothing in the Kingdom of the Sun, and as this truth finally dawns on Ponce, he cries, “Hungkag!” Empty!

As Ponce breaks down, to an attentive audience, the most poignant lines of the play echo silently: “Hindi ka ba nangangambang magising isang umaga at matuklasan mong ika’y mali pala – na lahat ng iyong tinapon at inaksaya ay siya palang tunay na mahalaga?” Do you not fear waking up one morning and discovering that what you have been pining for and pursuing are all tied to this earth and merely fleeting? Do you not fear waking up one morning and realizing that what you have been setting aside and dismissing are what in the end give life its meaning?

I have often wondered: What if the Kingdom of the Sun that Ponce reaches is filled with wealth beyond his wildest dreams? Even so, I would still make the play end in the same way, with Ponce’s gut-wrenching wail, “Hungkag!” Empty!

Why? Because this is the message of the play: No dream is worth giving up your family, your friends, your values, and your beliefs. Nothing. If you sacrifice all of these, no matter what you achieve, you will still have nothing. Perhaps this is the real reason why idealistic fourth year high school students choose this as their valedictory – to warn themselves to be wary of their dreams and to be discerning of what they give up lest they end up with nothing.

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. If we read the whole chapter where our Gospel today is found, we might be tempted to say that Jesus is another dreamer who ends up with nothing. One of his closest friends betrays him. His best friend denies knowing him. The rest of his companions disappear and desert him. In the next chapter, it gets worse. On the cross which serves as his throne, he literally has nothing. The four soldiers who crucify him divide his clothing among themselves. Even his undergarment, they cast lots for. Is the kingdom he proclaimed and gave his life for just an empty kingdom? It would seem so, but as Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Kingdoms of this world, no matter how they glitter, will end in darkness. They will not last. The kingdom Christ the King brings to light might not at first seem glorious, but in faith, we believe it is the true kingdom. As our first reading professes, it is an everlasting dominion that will never be taken away.

What have we given up for the kingdoms of this world? Our time – not only the hours when we are awake but even those we spend in restless sleep. Our relationships – the friendships we have chosen to forego and the loves we could have deepened but instead left unfulfilled and let harden and stale. Our memories – because we neither had the time nor the relationships with which to make ones worthy to be treasured. What have we given up for the kingdoms of this world? Our selves – or at least pieces of who we could have been: the son or daughter our parents deserve, the spouse we have promised to be, the father or mother we have always dreamed for our children, the neighbor we are all called to be. And for what have we given these up?

If it is the Kingdom of the Son that will endure, what have we invested in it? Our answer will play a big part in what will happen to us when Christ’s kingdom finally comes in all its glory, whether we will end up with nothing or be blessed with everything.

Earlier this week, I was called to the deathbed of a surgeon I was told was quite well-known. For someone so accomplished in the medical profession, I was expecting… well, let’s just say I was foolishly expecting more than the simplicity that I saw. As I blessed his lifeless body, his wife asked for some drops of holy water with which she anointed his right hand. “This hand saved lives without asking much in return,” she said with not just pride but gratitude. The daughter took her father’s left hand and followed her mother’s tribute. I looked at the bent and bony fingers lovingly held by a wife and a daughter in mourning but also in peace. The surgeon’s hands clutched no money, no land title, no medal or trophy – nothing but the hands of those he loved and those who loved him, and nothing but the lives of the people he served without enriching himself. The surgeon would be buried with nothing in his hands, but in the next world I was sure his hands would not be empty.

Drop this newspaper, and look at your hands. What are they holding on to in this world? What would you like them to hold in the next?

Lord, lead us by the hand into your kingdom.

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