Tempering justice with love can add a new perspective.
Today we honor Gregorio Aglipay, priest and founder of the Philippine Independent Church, a church in full communion with the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. Gregorio was born in 1860 and orphaned at an early age. He worked as a boy in the tobacco fields during the Spanish Occupation and bore hard feelings toward the Spanish colonists. He was eventually ordained a Catholic priest, but eight years later the Philippine Revolution began. At that time the church and state were deeply intertwined, so any revolutionary activity impacted both. Gregorio sided with the Filipino nationalists and rallied fellow priests to support the revolution. Of course, he was eventually excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, but Gregorio formed a new national church that eventually came into full communion with the Anglican Church.
Gregorio’s story feels very familiar to Americans. We too have fought against our colonist roots; we too have had to sort out the complexities of church and state, especially as Anglicans; and we even know the stories of people forced to work in the fields. But those stories are from a long time ago, and many of us distance ourselves from the nastiness of those times. This is why I find the Epistle lesson and Gospel lesson so interesting today. Here you have two stories: one of loving one another and one of a sense of justice. The two are interrelated: had the early workers seen the late workers through the lens of love, their protest would have been nonexistent. But the kind of love the epistle asks for is hard: being hospitable without complaining; serving one another; looking not to oneself, but to God. This kind of love is the most difficult – something we want to do, but rarely accomplish.
Part of me wonders how much Gregorio embodied this love. He did revolt against the colonists and Roman Catholic Church – how much love did he really have for them? But I think where he showed love was through his self-sacrifice. The easy way would have been not to fight. The Roman Catholic Church even offered him a bishop’s position with enormous resources at this personal disposal. But Gregorio understood that true love meant sacrificing himself and the easy way of life for something much harder and scarier.
This is the sacrificial, non-self-serving life Jesus invites us into today. It will not be easy or clean. Our only assurance is that if we are all in this loving journey together, the journey is a lot less scary. Amen.