What were today's readings? He'd lost the book again, the schedule of liturgy. He hadn't actually consulted it for years, just read what he wanted, whatever verses the Book opened to. "Here's something." He read in English: "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies ..." He tried to explain in the local dialect what he thought might be meant by "bowels and mercies," and ended by saying, "I'm not sure what it means. Maybe how we feel toward our families."
He sought Matthew 27:5 -- And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
And now the homily. "In English today." He gave no reason why. Maybe it went without saying that the Joe's presence suggested this courtesy. Not that any of them would understand his thoughts in any language. Superstitious vampire-worshippers. But he himself had once seen the aswang flying with a child's bloody limb between her jaws.
"I've told them I'm going to do the homily in English. I don't really have anything prepared. We speak of our reading today, about Judas Iscariot the traitor: And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
"He goes back to the temple, to the ones who paid him to betray his Master. He want to give back their dirty silver but they won't take it. Ever think why? Why they turn down perfectly good money? Nobody paid me to betray Jesus, but what does it matter, eh? I could never pay them back. They would never take back their dirty money."
In over thirty years he hadn't spoken at such length in his native language. He let it run on, the English coming out of his head as out of a loudspeaker. "My grandmother used to use that expression, 'bowels and mercies.' I never asked her what it meant.
"I remember how I rejected my grandmother. I loved her very much, I was her favorite, but then, when I came to my early teens, twelve, thirteen, she came to live with us, and I was very unkind to her. She was just some old woman, and I was very unkind.
"I don't like to remember that. The memory is very bitter. My grandmother love me, and I treated her with disrespect. I felt no love for anyone.
"Here, of course, where the people are so poor, so sick, you can't love them. It would pull you under. You wold go under. Everyone here knows how to love, but love them back -- it's quicksand. I'm not the Christ. No man is the Christ.
"Other times we're the their on the cross, the one who got crucified next to Jesus, the thief who turned to Jesus and said, 'Remember me when you get to your Kingdom.' And Jesus had mercy and said, 'This day you shall be with me in Paradise.' I really think we have to be one of the other. We're either the betrayer, or we're the thief...
But of course, the sermon which this reminded me of was nothing like the one above. At the UCC, the Assistant Minister spoke on the parable of the prodigal son, and she made this point: that there were different levels of meaning to the parables of Jesus, and how frustrating it must have been that his disciples only seemed to get the surface level of meaning.
On the surface, the prodigal son is the story about a father and a son; yet, on another level, it is the story about a father and TWO sons, the one who was off put that his father would make such a big deal for the return of the prodigal, while the son who had faithfully served could make the Rodney Dangerfield complaining, "I don't get no respect." On yet another level, this story is about the other brother, and how he too, is prodigal, so ultimately, the story is about us, how sometimes we are the prodigal son, and sometimes the brother, and how, at our best, we can forgive.
Marat in the courtyard,
Sometimes the otter, and
Sometimes the hound
Sometimes the betrayer,
sometimes the thief.
And this, I think, is ultimately why we must read fiction -- to make these connections, to see our lives in the lives of others, and theirs in ours.