What is fullness?

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

When Jesus tells us today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” I think he wishes us more than just an absence of conflict. Peace here is not just a space of quiet and calm, a break in the fighting, nor a cessation of hostilities. What Jesus wants to bless us with is the Jewish gift of shalom, which we inadequately translate as peace.

Shalom is when all our relationships are set aright – our relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves. Shalom is flourishing wholeness and ever-renewing openness; in a word, shalom is fullness. But before we get all dreamy and starry-eyed, here is a cold splash of water to wake us up: This is not the world’s idea of fullness. Remember, Jesus says, “My peace I give to you.” And not as the world gives does he give it to us.

What can this mean? What is Jesus’ idea of fullness?

In the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, the devil tries to goad him to turn stones into bread. Don’t think this happened just once. This stands for all the times Jesus could have just fed people and fulfilled their material needs. Imagine if Jesus just kept on giving people food. Most probably, he would not have been crucified; he would probably have been able to take over the throne of Herod. But Jesus knew that fullness is not just in material prosperity.

When the devil tempts Jesus to throw himself from the highest point of the temple and land unscathed, this symbolizes all the times Jesus could have just continued to dazzle people with works of wonder. If this happened today, every miracle of Jesus would surely get likes and retweets, people would subscribe to his posts, he would be followed and followed, and he would probably not end up crucified. But Jesus did not do things just to entertain and please people. In fact, he confronted them and called them out to change. Fullness is not just in being popular and liked.

In last week’s Gospel, we heard about Judas leaving the scene of the Last Supper. Strangely, Jesus then proclaimed, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” This is strange because we all know that Judas left to betray Jesus. This betrayal would lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. How then could Jesus say “Now is the Son of Man glorified”? How could being tortured and killed be glory? Again, Jesus could have avoided all of this if he just followed the world’s idea of fullness – being filled with material goods and relishing in the adulation of others. Perhaps Jesus’ shalom is one that involves the cross.

Last Sunday, Jesus already showed us a glimpse of what fullness and glory is for him: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Material things can be stolen by thieves, eaten by moths, and destroyed by rust. Love can endure. People’s tastes are as fickle as the wind. Love lasts. Lest we get too romantic about love, we need to remind ourselves that love also cannot be separated from the cross. And this is part of the shalom that Jesus wishes for us.

Some weeks ago, a group that invited me for a talk sent me home in a Grab car. Chatting with the driver, I learned that he was a teacher who had just finished a full day of lecturing, checking papers, and preparing his next lesson plan. Once he puts down his chalk, his class record, and his books, he logs in to his driver’s app and starts accepting bookings for rides. He does this because his teacher’s salary is not enough to feed his family and send his own children to school. I asked him, “Then why not just look for a higher paying job?” He told me, “Because there is a great need for dedicated teachers who care enough for their students to help them dream.” “But your family has dreams also,” I countered. “And that’s why I am also a driver,” he answered.

A teacher who has to moonlight as a driver – a dark situation, some may say. “Kawawa naman,” others may add. But that father/teacher/driver’s car was filled with light. Glory, Jesus would say. There is the cross, but there is also love – whether reciprocated or not – for his students and for his family. And so there is fullness. As he dropped me off, I should have bid him, “Shalom.”

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