Homily for Wednesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, 20 Oct 2021, Lk 12:39-48

There is a Filipino expression that I find very fascinating and so difficult to translate: “Hala ka!” How do you say that in English?

Today’s Gospel helps me understand the meaning of this expression. I think it comes close to the idea of STEWARDSHIP and the sense of ACCOUNTABILITY.

You have been entrusted with something precious by an owner who has a lot of trust in you. You’ve lost it and now you receive news that he’s coming in a few days. We’d say, “Hala ka!”

You borrowed a big amount of money and promised to pay after a year. The year has passed and the lender is reclaiming his money and you’ve spent it all up on dissolute living and you have nothing to pay it with. “Hala ka!” Or the doctor has warned you repeatedly about the dangers of cigarette smoking. Now he tells you he has just found a big mass in your left lung and will have it biopsied. “Hala ka!”

You can add your own examples to elaborate more on this expression but they will all boil down to the main point of the Gospel: RESPONSIBLE STEWARDSHIP, which is characterized by a sense of ACCOUNTABILITY.

The final lines of the Gospel sum it up very well. “To who much has been entrusted, much will also be expected.”

I have a feeling that the “Hala” in “Hala ka” is actually short for Bathala, the proper name of God in our indigenous culture. And when people are entrusted by God with certain resources or responsibilities, they are, as it were, being given the privilege of acting in the name of Bathala or exercising a Bathala role over what belongs to him, in the spirit of (pagiging katiwala) stewardship.

And so when a parent says to his eldest child, “Anak, bahala ka na muna sa mga kapatid mo habang wala kami ng nanay mo.” (Literally, “My child, look after your younger siblings while your mother and I are away.”) If we understand Bathala to be the God who “looks after” us, then to look after those entrusted to our care is to act in Bathala’s name in the positive sense. Such as when parents entrust some of their roles to their more mature children. What the parents are implying is, “You are answerable to us when we come back.”

When people are too hard-headed and would rather ignore the advice of people who care for them, it is then that they are told in a tone of exasperation, “Bahala ka na nga sa buhay mo!” You be the master of your own destiny. I am told that Bathala is also the root word for governance in Tagalog, PAMAHALAAN. The root word HALA is there. Pamamahala is PAMAMATHALA—to rule or to govern on God’s behalf.

And so when Bahala or pamamahala are applied to us who are given positions of leadership, it is not necessarily negative. It is actually positive in the sense of assuming a role of stewardship, or taking responsibility for something or someone. It becomes negative only when the authority that is entrusted is abused, when people actually play God or get so deluded they behave as if they were God. It is then that they need to hear the shortened form of the expression, HALA KA! It comes across as a reminder that there is a day of reckoning, a time when we will be held accountable.

Only a responsible person who has exercised his sense of accountability will not be afraid of the warning, HALA KA. He has no worries because in his heart he knows he has done only what Bathala has expected him to. That even if he played the role of Bathala in the exercise of his authority, he know full well that he is not God and has not succumbed to the temptation to play God. He is ready to face his God and render an accounting.