The last thing that re­mains

Cebu Daily News - - OPINION - by Simeon Dum­dum Jr.

Ev­ery morn­ing, right af­ter sun­rise, the wife and I wake up to the call of our daugh­ter. With­out de­lay, I would open the door to let her in, and she would hand her one-year-old in­fant over to me and re­turn to the next house, where she and her hus­band re­side. We have agreed on this ar­range­ment to al­low them to ex­tend their sleep, in­ter­rupted ev­ery now and then dur­ing the night by the baby’s needs.

The wife and I have agreed that I should at­tend to the baby first, so she can have an ex­tra wink or two (usu­ally two). To keep the lit­tle girl busy, I would play nurs­ery rhymes on TV un­til the wife takes over, and waits for the nurse­maid to ar­rive with the baby’s break­fast.

Aside from nurs­ery rhymes, I would show video lessons on the al­pha­bet and num­bers. I sus­pect that, since we have car­ried on like this long enough, the lit­tle one now rec­og­nizes sev­eral let­ters and nu­mer­als.

In no time she will know how to count, first her fin­gers and next the ob­jects ly­ing around. And then she will move on to the ba­sic op­er­a­tions. I re­call how, years ago, I taught a nephew how to sub­tract by get­ting him to eat two ba­nanas out of three (re­serv­ing the last for my­self).

Of course, school will do the rest to equip her with the knowl­edge of num­bers that liv­ing in so­ci­ety re­quires, es­pe­cially since the lat­ter puts a pre­mium on quan­tity. As an adult she will earn and own prop­erty and man­age her ac­qui­si­tions and bank ac­counts — and, as with ev­ery­one else, count­ing — the ques­tions how many and how much — would come into most ev­ery ac­tiv­ity.

Sci­ence teaches us that we can mea­sure ev­ery­thing, an out­look that has grown into an ide­ol­ogy that con­sid­ers only those that can be mea­sured as real. Which is, of course, false.

Peter dis­played a sim­i­larly mea­sur­ing mind when, as we read in Matthew’s Gospel, he asked Je­sus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how of­ten must I for­give him? As many as seven times?” Je­sus’ an­swer in ef­fect urged him, when it came to grace, to un­learn all the math that he had as­sim­i­lated. “I say to you, not seven times but sev­enty-seven times.”

Je­sus went on to tell a para­ble about a ser­vant who was called by his master to set­tle his ac­count, which he could not pay, and for which, there­fore, he was to be sold to­gether with his wife, chil­dren and pos­ses­sions. When he begged for mercy, his master for­gave him his loan.

But he him­self did not show any mercy to his fel­low ser­vant who owed him a much lesser amount. He put the lat­ter in prison un­til he could pay his debt. When word of this reached him, the master was en­raged, “You wicked ser­vant! I for­gave you your en­tire debt be­cause you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fel­low ser­vant, as I had pity on you?” The master then handed him over to the tor­tur­ers un­til he should pay back his whole debt.

“So will my heav­enly Fa­ther do to you,” said Je­sus, “un­less each of you for­gives his brother from his heart.”

Chris­tian­ity urges us to defy num­bers. With just five loaves and two fishes, Je­sus fed 5,000 peo­ple. As fol­low­ers of Christ, we be­lieve in the mirac­u­lous and will­ingly play down ap­pear­ances.

Even mod­ern math­e­mat­ics goes be­yond num­bers, and uses in­fin­ity to solve a horde of prob­lems. One can count with­out end, the se­quence of num­bers be­ing un­lim­ited.

Christ com­mands us to love with­out mea­sure, in ef­fect to dis­re­gard a man or woman’s mea­sure­ments — the height and width, the vi­tal sta­tis­tics, the phys­i­cal beauty — and to go di­rectly to the per­son’s soul. This is the only way that we can love the unlov­able.

A say­ing puts it nicely — “If only our eyes saw souls in­stead of bod­ies, how very dif­fer­ent our ideals of beauty would be.”

In the para­ble, the master looked be­yond the ser­vant’s cash value, his debt, and took pity on him. But that ser­vant could not treat a fel­low ser­vant with a sim­i­lar sym­pa­thy, be­cause he saw the lat­ter as mea­sur­able, as hav­ing no more value than the amount of his debt.

Time can erase one’s mem­ory. When one reaches old age, one might not rec­og­nize num­bers and for­get how to count. In­deed, one could get so old as to fail to re­mem­ber peo­ple, their names and faces. But I’m sure of this, that, if one for­gets ev­ery sin­gle thing, there will al­ways re­main an item that one will rec­og­nize and re­spond to — com­pas­sion.

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