This week we welcome back Dr. Russell Jeung to the blog for the final installment of a six-part series on Asian America. Russell Jeung is Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and co-Founder of Stop AAPI Hate. In 2021, he was named one of the TIME 100 most influential people in the world.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” - John 5:13
In this blog series on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I’ve striven to show how Asian Americans are fluent in love languages by which God himself communicates his transcendent compassion and grace. Contrasting with the five expressions of love that white Christians utilize, these Asian love languages illustrate the breadth and extent of God’s love.
In my last post, I wrote that the gift of presence is a non-verbal, yet powerfully communicated expression of love.
However, I recognize that millions of Asians do not have the privilege of being present for their families. Due to poverty and government policies, many become transnational workers who have to labor in a foreign land, separated from their children by distance and time. Those who arrive in the US often face downward mobility and must work long, grueling hours as small business owners or as service sector laborers. They scarcely can survive and make ends meet, so that they can’t afford the luxury of being present for their families.
Yet even as these parents are away from their children, I’ve learned from my own father’s and mother’s examples that their children are always with them: in their thoughts and hopes, in their motivations and in their dreams. Their children are why they work so much and so hard.
Although these parents cannot always be physically available for their children, they are showing their love in yet another Asian American love language.
They love through their sacrifice.
Asian Americans can intuitively respond to sacrifice as love because that’s how many of us have been raised. Our immigrant parents or grandparents left their homelands, often involuntarily, just so that the next generation might have improved lives. Often limited in English proficiency, they suffered as deaf and mute in this society, ill at ease with its way of life. Our parents and grandparents have given up their own roots for their identities, family supports for belonging, and native opportunities for advancement. All these things they have sacrificed, so that their children could have even better opportunities.
Having experienced sacrifice as a love language, I think we Asian Americans can understand God’s sacrifices for us in ways that others may not so readily grasp. With these parental models of sacrifice, we recognize that we can never repay or reciprocate what we have received. Instead, in order to convey our love in return, we earnestly work to make them proud and to be able to take care of them when we can. Children reciprocate their parents’ love with their own sacrifice of time and hard work.
Certainly, sacrifice as the greatest form of love is a central theme of our faith. What greater love can exist, that a person would sacrifice themselves for their friends?
The father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is similar to the patriarch Abraham in that both had to consider the painful, heart-wrenching sacrifice of their sons. In faith, Abraham was willing place Isaac on the altar. The lavish father had long mourned his son’s passing. When the elder brother complained about his father’s lavish party, the father responded, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.” Eventually both were rewarded with reunions with their sons, and had great reason for celebration.
God, however, demonstrated his unfathomable love for us by fully sacrificing his son with the death of Jesus. God the Father gave up what He most cherished, his only Son. God the Trinity offered His whole self to us, that we might join in communion with God.
The two most powerful, distinctive icons of the Christian faith—indeed the most evocative symbols of the Church–are the Eucharist and the cross. The Eucharist represents our communion with God as we come to the table and are fed by Jesus. The cross signifies the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, by which we are redeemed.
These two symbols of God’s love also are Asian languages of the heart: food and sacrifice.
European American Christians consider love to be expressed in five, universal manners. Because Asian Americans may not share the same heart language, we may feel unseen by God or even unloved.
Yet clearly, Asian Americans do know and convey love in further ways. In fact, our love languages are the primary ways that God expresses His love as related in Scriptures—through feeding us, and through sacrificing for us.
Asian American Christians, let’s recognize that our ethnic and racial background are gifts from God that help us see Him, interpret His word, and live out our faith in unique ways. Let’s receive God’s love that’s communicated in ways that our hearts readily and intuitively understand. And then, let us who are fluent translate that love to offer ourselves and feed a hungry world.