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Remembering eight brave war heroes from WWII (Part 2)

File photo of the day of exhumation of three heroes in 1957.

During the annual 2018 official ceremony for all war victims Jan 21, eight men’s names were commemorated on a new plaque at the main war monument at the Petagas War Memorial Park. This is the second installment of a write-up to remember particularly six men out of the eight, with the perspective on how their Catholic faith had helped them to survive life’s ordeals.

In the second war crime charge, the four victims Paul Lee Fook Onn @ Paul Lee Onn, Simon Thien, Paul Chong Pin Sin and Stephen Pan Tet Liong lived in Tamparuli during the war. The war crime charge stated they were “native residents, chief of the village and very influential.”

SIMON THIEN and Paul Lee Onn shared some land that they applied for in Tamparuli, across from Charlie Peter’s property. Simon was also one of the Fr Weber’s ‘old boys’ from Sacred Heart School as was Charlie. He worked in the Customs as senior officer collecting taxes at the port. He was married to Hiew Nyet Kiao and they had three adopted children Agnes, Rose, and John. He is survived by his siblings, nephews, and nieces.

PAUL CHONG PIN SIN was born in 1903 and came to Jesselton in the 1920s from China and worked as a “house-mate” for “orang putih.”  With the little savings and experience he had from working with them, he first started a ‘laundromat,’  then moved on to trading and became a successful merchant owning a grocery shop in Jesselton town.

A written account by his only surviving child, Rose Chong states that in 1944 a troop of Japanese army marched from Sandakan to Ranau, and reached their house which was near the roadside at Tamparuli. The Japanese army stayed at their house where they required Paul Chong, Simon Thien, Stephen Pan and Paul Lee to supply food and other rations to them.

PAUL LEE FOOK ONN @ PAUL LEE ONN was the first born of three children to parents Anthony Lee Biang and Maria Liew Fung Kiao in Jesselton in 1902. He worked as a chief clerk at Harrisons and Crossfields Shipping. When his father fell ill and eventually died at a young age, his mother sent them to mission schools. Paul was also a former student of Sacred Heart School under Fr Weber. Church records show he was a devoted Catholic and prominent lay leader particularly of the Chinese congregation of Sacred Heart Church in the 1920s and 1930s.

Like Vitalianus Ubing, Paul Lee was also a volunteer with the North Borneo Volunteer Force and was ranked a Sergeant. After the war, the family received a scroll commemorating and honouring his sacrifice. Paul was the father of nine children. His wife was pregnant with their youngest son John when he was taken away and killed. Today, his six surviving children live around the globe.

BUNG AH TEE @ STEPHEN PAN TET LIONG previously worked at the British rubber estate in Sandakan as supervisor and owned a rubber estate in Bakut, near Tuaran. According to his grandson, Stephen’s family was originally from Papar and he was educated at St Joseph mission school, Papar. He was married to Francisca Chin Kon Kiao, and they had ten children.

As with the other families, because of safety Stephen moved his family to Tamparuli. The Pan family lived very near to the other three Chinese families at Tamparuli and became good friends. He was appointed as village Chief or as Kapitan at one time.

In 1945, all four men were captured by the Japanese and never returned. The reason behind the capture was that all the four men’s names were found on the Defender (undercover) list of names. They were accused of, “not supplying the Japanese army with foodstuffs, planning to attack the Japanese in the rear in the event of an Allied landing and in contact with bandits in Kinarut, and to attack the Japanese units which came from Ranau to Tamparuli.” (War crime trial proceedings)

After the Japanese surrendered, the Australian army caught the Japanese and they went house to house to find out how many victims were missing and forced the Japanese to tell where those innocent victims were killed and buried. It was then they knew Paul Chong, Simon Thien, and Stephen Pan were killed together on June 12 at the same place and their bodies shared the same burial ground.

Three months after the killing, the families followed a map given by someone and located the ground in the Telipong area. They recognised and confirmed the bodies by means of personal possessions which were with the remains. However, nothing much could be done then as life was difficult for the families and no one could afford to do anything with the remains. Twelve years later, the three families got together again and transferred all the three men’s remains into a burial jar which was then buried at the Tuaran Christian Cemetery.

Paul Lee was taken away on a separate day while the family was having dinner. He was taken away, badly tortured and returned home twice prior to his final departure on June 16. Although a map of his killing place was also provided by the same person (as mentioned above) months later but sadly, the remains of Paul have never been found.

Out of adversity comes strength, sometimes formidable strength and courage. After the death of Paul Lee, his widow Margaret Liong Choi Chin, like the other three widows in Tamparuli, struggled to bring up their children. The widows got together to form a strong support network.

Due to constant floods, the children were often prevented from going to school, which was located on the other side of the river. So Margaret, with the help from the widows and older children of the families, decided to raise funds to build a school for the children who lived on the south side of the river – about 20 of them from their own families alone. The boys led a Dragon Dance team and the girls sold handmade paper flowers. They went everywhere by bus or on foot. Margaret went as far as Labuan to raise funds for the school.

Their children were first schooled in Charlie Peter’s house in 1946.The families also gathered at the house on Sundays for service or Mass, if there was a priest visiting. Apparently, faith has put the families together and helped them survived through the difficult times.

While going through the hardships of raising funds, the school had to shift to an old Japanese warehouse when the number of students grew too big for Charlie’s house. In 1949, they had to move again to an abandoned two-storey attap house on the land between the properties of Paul Lee and Simon Thien. After some persuasive negotiations between Margaret and the land owner, they bought the land on which the Gong Gao School grew and rebuilt.

Being nearly illiterate, Margaret sought the help of Yong Tao Pin @Yong Chen Koon, who was educated in China, with the school’s administrative work. Meanwhile, Mrs Simon Thien, affectionately known as Nyet Kiao Ji, her sister Fook Kiao, wife of Paul Chong, and others helped with chores and the never-ending fundraising.

In the late 1950s the school was handed over to Father Tepstra who was in charge of the Tuaran Catholic mission. Around 1964, the school became known as St Philip’s School, under the care of Bishop James Buis. The school is very much in operation today and has educated many successful students.

The third war crime charge involved the killing of Lim Hock Beng and Mohinder Singh. They were the two non-Catholics who were also recently commemorated at the Petagas War Memorial Park.

LIM HOCK BENG was working as a wireless operator at the Jesselton Post Office. He was considered the “chief of the rebellion who used the wireless set to catch intelligence that was against the Japanese army and carried out an agitation to the native residents”. According to a family member, Lim Hock Beng was a Christian belonging to the Society for the propagation of the Gospel, now known as the Anglican Church. His wife was Rose Walker, a Catholic, who was also a close family friend of Lothar Manjaji’s wife, Otillia. With the untimely death of Lim Hock Beng, the children were separated. The two eldest, Lucy and Richard were sent to stay in the convent in Singapore where they were taught Catechism and subsequently they and their families became Catholics. The other three siblings, Jane, Victor, and Timothy studied in St Mary’s School, Sandakan where they were also taught catechism and accepted the Catholic faith.

MOHINDER SINGH, a 19-year old male nurse at the Jesselton Hospital, assisted Lim Hock Beng in keeping an eye out for enemy planes using his binoculars. They were captured and killed around early July 1945 and buried unceremoniously together in a shallow grave. Both bodies were later exhumed and taken away by their families.

Many gaps in the stories of these brave men remain and it is hoped more will be uncovered as the families embark on learning about their loved ones. Their story, set against a backdrop of the cruelties of the war and the horrific suffering they must have endured show how only their unwavering faith must have given them courage in their greatest hour of need, surrendering to God their lives and the families they were leaving behind. They also bring to mind the many other brave victims who were taken and killed during the war.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9-10 – Contributed by Vera Chin and Susanna Lye, granddaughters of Lothar Manjaji and Paul Lee.

Remembering the eight brave war heroes from WWII

Representatives of the eight families pause in silent prayer after the wreath-laying ceremony, Petagas War Memorial Park, 21 Jan 2018.

Between June 12 and early July 1945, eight local civilians were apprehended, denied military trials, tortured and unlawfully killed for participating in anti-Japanese subversive activities with “sympathies which leaned towards the Allied cause.”   The 1946 war crime trials held in Changi Singapore revealed that of the 30+ men on a black list, Kempeitai Harada Kensei chose to issue three orders to eradicate the “8 civilians” identified as the primary persons “definitely detrimental” “to the maintenance of peace and order.”

The first order involved Lothar Wong Manjaji and Vitalianus Joseph Lim @ Ubing. The second order involved Chong Pin Sin, Simon Thien, and Bung Ah Tee @ Stephen Pan Tet Liong and Paul Lee Onn @ Paul Lee Fook Onn. The third order involved Lim Hock Beng and Mohinder Singh.

The Kempeitai was found responsible and guilty of all three charges by the Allied Land Forces Military Court for War Crimes. (Ref: The National Archives, Kew. Japanese War Crime Trials Proceedings. Reference WO 235/884 1946 Case No.72. Defendant: Harada Kensei, Changi, Singapore).

On a bright Sunday morning on 21 January 2018, during the annual 2018 official ceremony for all war victims, eight men’s names were commemorated on a new plaque at the main war monument at the Petagas War Memorial Park.

After decades of waiting and grieving by their families, the eight were finally accorded a hero’s recognition, with representatives from each family laying a wreath at the site. The ceremony was attended by state dignitaries and representatives from the police, army, navy, foreign consulates and many from the eight families and other families.

On Jan 22, a Memorial Mass was celebrated by the Rector of St Simon Church, Father Cosmas Lee at St Simon Chapel, Likas.

Out of these eight men, six were Catholics and several were prominent leaders in their local and church communities. The Mass, held nearly 73 years after their deaths, was attended by up to 200 family members. It was the first time they gathered to pray for their loved ones – be it their father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, granduncle, great-granduncle or even cousin. To the younger generations, they were persons they had heard a lot about but had never known.

It was a poignant reminder of the cruelties of what war had done to the families. At the same time, it gave them much needed closure and a sense of pride knowing their beloved ones had died bravely and now acknowledged by the state authorities.

During the Mass, Fr Cosmas said that war has a dehumanising effect on humankind, on the aggressors and the victims alike. No one is spared the horrors of what happens in a war. We have to heal by praying for all victims, as well as the enemies. Just as Jesus prayed for and forgave those who crucified him, we must do the same.   As only by that, we ourselves are healed and reconciled to God.

After the Mass, old friends met to bond and share stories during a simple fellowship dinner at St Simon hall.

These eight men were not just random names but were inextricably linked together from their childhood days – through school, church and the local community. Much of what is known of them come from oft-repeated stories from the wives, older surviving children, written correspondence, official and church records.

The six staunch Catholics were also good friends to one another. They played a prominent role in the church community before and during the war. Born at the turn of the century, several of them were ‘old boys’ of Father Valentine Weber, a Mill Hill priest from the Tyrol looking after the Sacred Heart Mission and boys’ school from 1906-1930. They were very likely much influenced by this priest who was described as “a man of few words, his actions spoke for him instead. He continues to be reverently remembered by parishioners as a Father with outstanding kindness, especially his deep compassion for the poor.” (100 years of Good News Sacred Heart)

Church records provide a fascinating insight into the lives of these men and the part the church and their faith played in their lives. Fr Weber lived in the same house as the boarders – many of whom were children of “poverty-stricken emigrant parents, majority of whom could not pay a fee.” Fr Weber used his limited funds to shelter, clothe, feed and educate them like his own children. “These students, known as Fr Weber’s boys, developed a life-long loyalty to him and many grew up to be prominent citizens of Jesselton who would make up the core community of faith.” (100 years of Good News Sacred Heart Cathedral)

Among these older ex-students were Paul Lee Fook Onn (Lee Ah Onn), Simon Thien, and (Lothar) Manjaji.

In the first war crime charge, Lothar Manjaji and Vitalianus Lim were on this list. The Japanese authorities suspected them of making parangs and spears in preparation for an uprising, and also of preventing the Japanese from hiring coolies.

Msgr Wachter (L), Manjaji (seated)

LOTHAR WONG MANJAJI, was born Wong Kah Kee in 1896 in Limbanak, Penampang, the third child of six children of Antonius Bungon/Pungun Wong and Siaham. Lothar was baptised as a Catholic at age 16 in December 1912 by Father August Wachter, then the rector of St Michael’s, Penampang.

It is recorded in the history of St Aloysius School Limbanak that Manjaji first taught adult male classes in his elder brother Ligunjang Pungun’s house. At that time, no females went to school. Manjaji, who had been educated at Sacred Heart School under Fr Weber, later took it upon himself to educate some of his brothers’ children, especially the girls who were still living in the kampung.

In the 1930s leading up to the war, Manjaji was employed by the Rubber Restriction Board. He also owned family businesses e.g. a rice mill (where local families bartered the milling of their padi with rice grain) and 50 acres of rubber land. According to historian Danny Wong, this sound financial position allowed him to indulge in sporting activities and all that “made him famous and remembered among people of his community, as well as able to live quite comfortably and accorded him the strength to play a pivotal role within his community”.

He was an active member of the Sacred Heart Church and close to the priests. A father of seven children, he often invited the foreign missionaries to his Karamunsing home for dinner. A frequent visitor was Msgr August Wachter, the previous rector of Penampang Mission from 1907 and who became the fourth Prefect Apostolic of North Borneo (1927–1945).The then Fr Wachter had baptised Manjaji as a teenager and was undoubtedly a key influential figure in his life. His daughter Katherine Anna, born in 1928, would recount many stories of Msgr Wachter visiting the their Karamunsing house and how he would call her by her second name ‘Anna’.

During the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945, Manjaji was appointed native magistrate by the Japanese Military Administration. One of his duties was to supervise the collection of padi and other foodstuff for the Japanese army from the Dusun cultivators in the district, many of whom had little for themselves and hardly any to spare. Katherine said they used to hide the bulk of the padi up in the roof of their house and display the little padi left to the Japanese soldiers who would come to each house to check their stock.

Towards the end of the war, on 19 May 1945, the Japanese army arrived at the Penampang mission to take Msgr Wachter, six other foreign priests, and three school boarders away. The church annals recorded that before Msgr Wachter was taken away, “there came to him Manjaji, Herman (Motogol), Vitalianus Lim and Claudius Yap, all influential members of the parish and he begged them to look well after the Mission property in case the Japs insisted on their removal.” (100 years of Good News Sacred Heart).

Soon after, those men were also apprehended by the Kempeitei. Manjaji’s body has never been recovered. After his death, his widow Otillia Libuyan Bokuta was left to fend for their seven children and also those he had adopted.

VITALIANUS J LIM @ UBING was born in 1900 at Kg Limbahau. He was the son of Didacus Lim, a Chinese originating from Hainan China, and Maria Gondomboi Kokoyou, a local Kadazan. Vitalianus married Marcella Kuntim Duaon, a Kadazan and they had six children, three of whom are surviving today. He worked for the government as a clerk in Kudat and Keningau. Later, he was transferred back to Jesselton as Constabulary Clerk. He was also a volunteer with the North Borneo Volunteer Force (established in 1938) as a Corporal.

When the war started, Lim was appointed as the District Officer of Tenom and in 1943, was transferred back to Jesselton and resided at Batu Tiga (presently Bukit Perwira). Based on evidence from the 1946 War Crime Trial proceedings, the family believes that he was unlawfully killed on 13 June 1945 together with Manjaji. After his death, the family moved back to Papar and resided at Kg Limbahau, attending the Holy Rosary Church, Limbahau where they continued to journey on in their faith.

The two men’s close friendship and association with the church as well as the other men named on the black list seemed to suggest a linkage with each other. – Vera Chin and Susanna Lye

(Vera is the granddaughter of Lothar Manjaji and Susanna Lye is the granddaughter of Paul Lee.)

To be continued

Listening to God’s word between Christmas and Lent

THE beginning of the calendar year is a time for making resolutions, but in the Catholic liturgical year it is called “Ordinary Time” — a boring title for the part of the year that’s not Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter.

But it is also an opportunity to be an extraordinary Catholic — one who reads the Scriptures daily.

In the bad old days, Catholics were discouraged from reading the Scriptures because clerics feared their parishioners would become like Protestants and start thinking for themselves. “You don’t need the Scriptures; just memorise the catechism and do what I tell you.”

Today, the church encourages Catholics to nourish themselves with God’s word, and has some of the best Scripture scholars in the world. But sadly, polls show that Catholics still read the Scriptures less than their Protestant brothers and sisters. Only 17 percent of Catholics read the Bible every day as compared to 38 percent of Protestants.

There are lots of ways to read the Scriptures, but one of the best is to read the passages used during Mass, even if you do not attend daily Mass. Over its two-year cycle, the weekday lectionary gives readers a comprehensive taste of the best passages in the Old and New Testaments. The Sunday lectionary follows a three-year cycle.

These lectionaries are also used by many Protestant churches. When you pray over these readings, you are united with Christians across the world who are reading the same passages. It is an experience that can be shared in prayer groups or with family and friends.

The daily Scripture readings during Ordinary Time provide Christians with the opportunity to get acquainted with the Bible. The word “ordinary” comes from “ordinal,” as in “ordinal numbers,” since these weeks are numbered. The first weeks of Ordinary Time use the first chapters of Mark’s Gospel, and during even numbered years, the first reading is from the Book of Samuel.

These readings often have relevance today.

For example, during the first week in Ordinary Time, the First Book of Samuel begins with his mother, Hannah, who like many women today is being badly treated by her culture and her priest. She is told she has no value unless she has a son. When she prays in the temple, the priest Eli accuses her of being drunk. The only person on her side is God who hears her prayer.

Mark’s Gospel is challenging. Mark’s Jesus demands uncompromising personal commitment. In Mark’s mind, nobody understands Jesus, not even the Apostles and his mother Mary.  At the end of the Gospel, the women do not tell the disciples that Jesus is risen. Rather, they “fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

With such a downer for an ending, it is no surprise that someone added to Mark’s Gospel the appearances to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. It was not that Mark was ignorant of the appearances; he did not include them because he wanted to give one message to his fellow Christians: “You just don’t get it.”

Mark’s Gospel was sufficient in the early days of Christianity when people had to make a personal choice for Christ, but as time went on it was hard to live with his relentless calls to total commitment.

Matthew realised that Christianity was not only about personal commitment, but about a Christian community that needs teaching, structure and rules. Luke understood that we never are as committed as Mark wanted and therefore need a compassionate message that gives hope.

Each of the four Gospels has a special message. At the beginning of Ordinary Time, Mark tells us that we need to make a personal commitment to Christ and this commitment needs to be absolute. But lest we get too proud, we also need to be reminded that no one really understands Jesus. If we think we do, we need to return to Mark.

There are many ways to get the daily Mass Scripture readings, including buying hardbound missals or monthly missalettes with the readings. The readings are also online in text and audio at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

For those with smartphones or tablets, there are also free apps, like iBreviary. Or they can be heard on iTunes in “Daily Readings from the New American Bible.”

Catholics need to be nourished by the word of God, and this is a way to do it with the whole Catholic community, even if they don’t go to Mass every day. This is a great New Year’s resolution. If every day is more than you are willing to commit, at least read the Sunday Scripture readings during the week before attending Mass. – Fr Thomas Reese @ NCR

The New Wave auteur who believed great cinema had to be Christian

Felicie (Charlotte Very) in A Tale of Winter

Eric Rohmer, a devout Catholic, saw film as a ’20th-century cathedral’. He made a sublime Christmas movie, too.

While thrilling art-house audiences with his urbane, witty films, Éric Rohmer attended Mass each Sunday at the Church of St Medard, subscribed to the royalist weekly La Nation française, and kept up his membership in the Louisquatorziens, a group devoted to the genius of the Sun King.

Publicly, he was one of the leading directors of the French New Wave. In private, he was a Catholic of the old type: loyal to pope and king. As his peers scuttled from one fashionable cause to the next, he admirably refused all political engagement, lapsing only in 1974, when he joined an anti-automobile group called Les Droits du Piéton, and in 2002, when he supported Pierre Rabhi, the Green presidential candidate whose slogan was “Growth is not a solution, it is a problem”. (Rohmer, no leftist, correctly saw that the Greens had come to echo his own aristocratic and reactionary ideals. He asked: “Doesn’t progress often consist in moving backward?”)

Rohmer despised the kind of “engaged” art that indulges in pamphleteering. Rather than trumpet his religious convictions, he used them to construct a unique approach to film-making. Used rightly, he believed a camera could capture the movements of both body and soul. “Be an atheist and the camera will offer you the spectacle of a world without God in which there is no law other than the pure mechanism of cause and effect,” he said. But the greatest film-makers did more:

I am a Catholic. I believe that true cinema is necessarily a Christian cinema, because there is no truth except in Christianity. I believe in the genius of Christianity, and there is not a single great film in the history of cinema that is not infused with the light of the Christian idea. A mystical cinema? Yes, if it is true that a clear grasp of immanence leads to transcendence.

Rohmer believed that by showing us the singular being of real things, their absolute and irreducible givenness, film could point beyond our everyday reality to the God who is the source and ground of all our being. In this sense, all of Rohmer’s films are religious. But on a few occasions, he expressed his beliefs more explicitly: My Night at Maud’s, Perceval and (above all) the Christmas movie A Tale of Winter, which may be his best film.

It begins with two lovers frolicking by the seaside. When summer ends, Félicie (Charlotte Véry) goes home to Paris, and Charles (Frédéric van den Driessche) promises to write to her. Only one problem: she gives him the wrong address, and they have no other way of finding each other.

Five years later, Félicie has given birth to Charles’s daughter and still hopes he will appear. While she waits, she moves in and out of other men’s houses. But she places a photo of her lost love where her daughter sleeps, because “A child should know what her father’s like.”

Félicie is constantly chided by other characters who think her dim, but this statement is profound. It expresses the desire we all feel to know not only our human fathers, but also our Father above. Christmas responds to this profound desire, since it is the moment when God manifests himself to those who have awaited his advent in faith.

And Félicie is a model of faithful expectation. Though she is not a Christian and lacks Christianity’s sexual ethic, she resolutely refuses to tie herself to any man but the one she loves. One of her beaux, a sceptical, intellectual Catholic named Loïc (Hervé Furic), takes her to a performance of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. He warns her that “It’s pretty far-fetched … Lots of fantastic things happen. People who were thought dead, exiles who reappear resurrected.”

At the play’s most fantastical moment, when the onlookers are told “It is required / you do awake your faith” and a statue of a bitterly missed person comes to life, Félicie cries. She sees how faith can bring life to death, reunion to separation. She sees and believes.

I will not spoil the film by saying what happens next, but in this moment Rohmer gives us more than a hint about his own art. He believed that cinema could awaken faith by showing the divine in flesh. He expressed this belief in various ways at various points, stating that “Christianity is consubstantial with the cinema,” that film is the “20th-century cathedral” and that “the very essence of cinema” was “that world beyond”.

Whatever his phrasing, Rohmer’s point was always the same: film shows that we are embodied souls, and at its most sublime points to the God who took on flesh. It lets us come to know our Father. If this is true, there is something particularly fitting in celebrating the season by watching a Christmas movie. A Tale of Winter is one of the best. – matthew schmitz, catholic herald, 22 Dec 2017

Matthew Schmitz is senior editor of First Things and a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow

The Heavenly Father’s love for us is just plain “crazy”

featureThe three parables in 24th Sunday’s lengthy Gospel challenge conventional thinking. They describe people doing things that we most likely would not do. All three of them— especially the first two—seem crazy. Who would ever do what the shepherd of the lost sheep does or what the woman with the lost coin does? Probably no one. Likewise, the father in the Prodigal Son parable breaks all the rules of “tough love.” His forgiveness has an almost reckless quality to it. No father in Jesus’ time would ever have tolerated such insolence from his sons. So all three of these parables, on one level, are just plain crazy.

But that is one of the most fundamental points Jesus seems to be making here: The Heavenly Father’s love for us is just plain “crazy.” By that I do not mean that it is irrational, but that it stretches the limits of human thinking.

I also intend no irreverence in my use of the word. Please permit me a bit of hyperbole in trying to describe the astonishing quality of God’s love and mercy. Permit, too, my stepping away from the normal interpretation of these parables. The normal approach is to strive to make sense of the images through certain presumptions. But I wonder if that approach does not miss the truer intent of the Lord here: presenting God’s love for us as mysterious and to some degree unexplainable in human terms. Who really understands unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy? His grace is “amazing” in that it goes completely beyond our ability to comprehend. It transcends human concepts. Thank God! If God were like us we’d all be in trouble; frankly, we’d all be in Hell.

Let’s look at each parable.

I. The Parable of the Lost Sheep – The Lord speaks of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to search for one that is lost. Would a shepherd do this? Probably not! The passage drips with irony, even absurdity. If he knew the lost sheep were nearby, a shepherd might venture over the next hill, but it would be more likely that he would cut his losses and stay with the ninety-nine. Some of us might even consider it irresponsible to leave the ninety-nine to search for the one.

Many scholars and Church Fathers make sense of this parable by appealing to possible shepherding practices of the first century.  And while theories abound, I wonder if trying to explain the parable does not miss the point: God’s love is extravagant, personal, and puzzling. In the end, it would seem that God loves us for “no good reason.” He seems to love us even more when we stray. He intensifies His focus on the one who strays. To us this is not only crazy, it is dangerous—possibly enabling. God’s love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t try to analyse it too much. Just be astonished; be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves us is crazy, unexplainable.

II. The Parable of the Lost Coin – A woman loses a drachma. It’s a small coin, worth perhaps one day’s wages for an agricultural worker. In modern terms it would equate to less than $100. Not an insignificant amount, but not a huge amount either. She sweeps the floor diligently looking for it. So far, her reaction seems reasonable.

Things get crazy, though, when she finds it. She rejoices to such an extent that she spends most (if not all) of it on a party celebrating the found coin! Crazy!

But that is exactly the point. God doesn’t count the cost. He doesn’t weigh his love for us in terms of if it is “worth it.” Some of the Fathers and commentators try to explain the craziness by suggesting that perhaps the coin had sentimental value as part of her dowry or ceremonial head-dress of ten coins. But here too, the parable does not supply that fact, and over-analysing and trying to explain or make sense of it may well miss the point.

This woman is crazy because God is “crazy.” His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t try to analyse it too much. Just be astonished; be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves us is crazy, unexplainable.

III. The Parable of the Prodigal Son – A young man, entitled by law to a third of his father’s estate, essentially tells his father to “drop dead.” He wants his inheritance now and the old man isn’t dying fast enough. Incredibly, the father gives it to him!

Crazy! The father is a nobleman (land owner) and could hand his son over for serious punishment for such dishonour. Inheritance in hand, the son leaves his father and goes off to “a distant land,” where he sinks so low that he ends up looking up to pigs. He comes to his senses and returns to his father, daring only to hope to become one of his father’s hired workers.

But then it gets even crazier! The father sees his son from a long way off (meaning that he was looking for him), and then does something a nobleman would never do: he runs. Running was considered beneath the dignity of a nobleman because it would imply that he was either a slave on an errand or a fugitive. Further, in order for a man to run in the ancient world, he first had to “hike up” his long flowing robe. Otherwise, his legs would get tangled up in the garment and he would likely trip and fall. For a nobleman to show his legs was considered an indignity.

Do you get the picture? This nobleman, this father, is debasing himself, humbling himself. He is running and his legs are showing. This is crazy! Do you know what this son has done? Does he deserve this humble love? No! The father is crazy!

Exactly! The heavenly Father is “crazy” too. He actually loves us and humbles Himself for us. He even sent His own Son for us. Do you and I understand what we have done? Do we deserve this? No! It’s crazy!

The second son is also a handful. When he hears of the party being given for his wayward brother he refuses to come in. Again, it would have been unthinkable in the ancient world for a son to refuse to come when summoned by his father. And what does the father do? He comes out and pleads with him to enter!

Again, it’s crazy! It’s unthinkable. No father in the ancient world would ever have permitted his son to speak to him in this way. The son basically calls him a slave-driver who issues orders; he refuses to enter the party that his father is hosting, saying that he’d rather celebrate with his friends than with his father. But (pay attention here) the goal in life is not celebrate with your friends; it is to celebrate with the Father in Heaven.

This father is crazy. He is crazy because God the Father is crazy. Do you know what it means to refuse to do what God says? And yet we do it every time we sin! Our heavenly Father should not have to tolerate this. He is God and we are His creatures. If He wanted to, He could squash us like bugs! But He does not. The father in this parable is almost “dangerously” merciful. Shouldn’t his sons be taught a lesson? Shouldn’t he punish them both for their insolence? All our human thinking kicks in when we hear this parable.

But God is God, not man. There are other Scriptures that speak of God’s punishments. But in the end, none of us get what we really deserve. Jesus’ point in the parable is that God is merciful and His love is crazy; it makes no human sense. His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t try to analyse it too much. Just be astonished; be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves us is crazy, unexplainable.

Crazy! – Msgr Charles Pope/BLOG.ADW.ORG

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