Sunday, August 04, 2013


18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc sue ssh

Sisters and brothers, do you speak Malay? I don’t. But, for some reason, I’m reminded today of a Malay word. It’s a word that I’m quite sure many of us are familiar with. It’s the word sayang. You’ve heard it before. You know what it means. The word is, after all, part of the title of a very famous Malay folk song. We’ve all heard of Rasa Sayang. So what does sayang mean? If I’m not wrong, when used as a noun, sayang is a term of endearment. It means something like darling or sweetheart. And, when used as a verb, the word means to love, or to show affection. Even to kiss. You probably already know this, but according to Wikipedia–and I’m not sure how accurate this is–the literal English translation of Rasa Sayang is I’ve got that loving feeling! So the word sayang has something to do with love and intimacy. With warmth and affection. With familiarity and relationship…

But not always.

As some of you may know, the word sayang actually has another meaning. A very different meaning. A meaning that, I believe, is very similar to that of the same word in Filipino. When used with this meaning in mind, the word is often uttered with a sigh and a shake of the head. As in (sigh) sayang lah! Which means something like, what a waste! Or what a pity! And I imagine this is what might be said, for example, by someone who, for some time, has been eyeing a very attractive and highly eligible young man, or young woman. And who suddenly discovers that that particular person has already tied the knot with someone else. Maybe someone who’s not even that good looking. Or that rich and successful. (Sigh) sayang lah! What a waste! What a pity!

But why, sisters and brothers, you may be wondering, are we discussing Malay vocabulary when we really should be meditating on the scriptures? The answer is quite simple. It seems to me that our Mass readings for today are really located somewhere in between these two meanings of the Malay word sayang. Or, to be more exact, I think that what our Mass readings help us to do is to move from one meaning to the other.

Consider what we find in the first reading today. Vanity of vanities, the preacher says. According to scripture commentators, in Hebrew, the word translated in English as vanity can also mean something like breath or vapour. In the first reading, the word is used to refer to the experience of someone who has worked very hard, very successfully, and accumulated much wealth. But, at the point of death, this person has to leave all possessions to someone else. For when one passes through the gates of death, all those material possessions, painstakingly accumulated over the years, are like the breath that passes through our nostrils. They slip through our fingers. There’s just no way for us to  hold on to them. No way for us to bring them along with us when we pass from this life to the next. Vanity of vanities. All is breath. All is vapour. Or, if the preacher were a Malay, we could very well imagine him saying, with a deep sigh and a sad shake of his head, (sigh) sayang lah! What a waste! What a pity!

And don’t we find something similar in the gospel? Here, Jesus warns us about the dangers of avarice. About the foolishness of striving constantly to accumulate material wealth, thinking that what is accumulated will actually make us secure. This is how the rich and successful man in Jesus’ parable thinks. But the Lord points out that no amount of money, or property, or financial investments, or business contacts can enable a person, any person, to escape the jaws of death. We all have to die. And then what becomes of all those things we have accumulated? Again, vanity of vanities. All is breath. All is vapour. What a waste! What a pity! (Sigh) sayang lah!

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. At the point of our death, when we look back on our lives, we don’t necessary have to be filled with regret. We are not all condemned to shake our heads, and to sigh, and say (sigh) sayang lah! According to Jesus, this particular reaction is not the fate of everyone. It is reserved only for a certain kind of person. The kind of person whom the Lord describes as one who stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.

Storing up treasure for oneself versus making oneself rich in the sight of God. Here, sisters and brothers, we find the way out. Here, we find the means to avoid being filled with regret when we reach the end of our earthly life. What we need to do–what our readings are proposing to us–is to move. To move from selfishness to charity. From greed to compassion. Instead of simply working and accumulating wealth for ourselves and for our immediate family, or even for our country–as important as all that may be–we are called also to spare a thought for others. Especially for those who are most in need our help. Whether materially or otherwise. Those who are, in some way, entrusted to our care. It is in reaching out to help them, that we actually make ourselves rich in the sight of God.

The second reading describes this same shift in at least two ways. It speaks of the need to kill and to cultivate. To strip off and to put on. What we need to kill, what we need to strip off, is the kind of life that is centred only on the self and on all its superficial cravings. The self, who seeks gratification and security only in passing things. Only in vanity and in vapour. The self who, at the point of death, will have no choice but to look back on its life and see only a wasted opportunity. (Sigh) sayang lah!

In contrast, what we need to cultivate, what we need to put on, is a different kind of life, a different kind of self. A life and a self that we do not really build for ourselves. But rather, a life and a self that we receive from Christ. By gradually, and continually, allowing Him to be the centre of our earthly existence. By living according to His concerns. According to His values. Mercy and compassion. Forgiveness and love. Values and concerns that do not pass away. But that endure for all eternity.

This then is the movement that we are all called, by virtue of our baptism, to make. Not just from selfishness to charity. Or from greed to compassion. But, really, ultimately, a movement from being wrapped up only in ourselves to being engulfed in the warm embrace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The same embrace that we are celebrating at this Mass. It is this movement that will make all the difference for us when we die. At the point of our death, after having cultivated, through prayer and good works, an ever deepening relationship with Christ, we will no longer have to look back on our life and say regretfully, with a sigh and a shake of the head, (sigh) sayang lah! But rather, with a joyful smile, and a warm embrace, and perhaps even a kiss, we will be saying to the Lord, Rasa sayang! I’ve got that loving feeling! It’s so good to be home!

Sisters and brothers, the word sayang really has two very different meanings. At the point of death, which meaning would you rather be using? And what do you need to do to move from one meaning to the other today?


  1. Dear Lord,

    You are a God of Love, a God of Magnanimity who is never outdone in generosity.

    You are Our God of Great Compassion & of Tender Mercy.

    Lord, may we learn to allow You to love us - to lead us back into Your Loving Embrace. Let us remain in You and to dwell in Your Love, for as long as You will it.

    In conclusion, may I share a quote from John Main:

    "The first step in conversion is allowing ourselves to be loved.

    The first step in personhood is allowing ourselves to be loved.

    The first step in loving God is allowing ourselves to be loved.

    Pax et Bonum

    1. As I reflect about Our God of LOVE who "sayang" us infinitely- He who died for us, who gave up His very life for our sake; He who is LOVE Himself, I wonder how my life and the way I live my life would appear to Him, at this moment in time..

      Perhaps, in my waywardness - I may have moved away from Him and His Love, without my being aware/conscious of it...

      Perhaps, in my trying to live my life and to be in control, I may have also drawn myself away from Him and His Love.

      Now that God has shed HIS LIGHT onto me and help me to SEE a little more of HIM, may I have the grace and courage to come home to Him, as his prodigal daughter.. to return once again to His most loving embrace.

      Father God, I thank You for blessing me with this grace and this LIGHT and for the courage to want to COME HOME to You.

      Lead me, Lord, lead me back safely into Your Most Loving Embrace for it is here that I truly belong.


      Seeing Is Believing
      17 August 2013

  2. Thank you for this beautifully thoughtful meditation. I too love languages, and often consider meanings of words in several languages. The word sayang fit so well into your message. Thank you, thank you, sayang.


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