17 October 2009


29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 10:35-45

Favors are not bad. But not all favors are good either. Thus, not all favors are to be granted. Here is an example.

James and John, Zebedee’s sons, approached Jesus. They wanted a favor from Him. Their eyes were fixed on the seats at Jesus’ left and right in His kingdom. “Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in Your glory,” they said. The favor they want from Jesus was favoritism. Such a favor Jesus never favors.

Do you remember that the disciples already argued about who, among them, was the greatest? No one won in that argument. Instead, Jesus reprimanded them and challenged them with a child. Such was the power struggle in this small community of Jesus that the brothers, James and John, made their request to ensure the highest place for each of them. For the time being, it was not important which of them would sit on the right and which of them would sit on the left of Jesus. But, we may well expect that problem would come sooner than soon. And, worse, the fight would be brother against brother. Nonetheless, first things first: Get those two seats before anyone gets them first!

Jesus’ answer to their indecent proposal was simple: “You do not know what you are asking.” Did James and John forget what Jesus said earlier that He would be rejected, arrested, tortured, crucified, and would die before He would rise after three days? They did not mention any of those when they made their daring request. “…in Your glory” – that adverbial phrase was rather very clearly put across by the two.

However, Jesus, running the risk of sounding like a broken record, kept on saying that His kingdom is not about who wears the crown but about who carries the cross. Thus, He asked these two power-brokers: “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?” When James and John replied “We can!” they sounded foolishly bragging. Hence, Jesus doused their burning ambition with cold water: He told them straight that they, indeed, would share in His sufferings; but, sorry, the seating arrangement in the kingdom of heaven was not Jesus’ concern. His message is crystal-clear: there is no short-cut to God’s favor.

When the ten heard this, they felt indignant with James and John. Who would not? The brothers almost outwitted them! All of them had their eyes on those two seats – one on the left and the other on the right of the Master.

Before any further trouble ensued, Jesus stood between them all. He placed Himself in their midst as the icon par excellence of the kind of greatness that God favors. For His disciples, the model of authority in the community cannot be the same as that of the pagans. Leadership is not lordship. Authority is not synonymous with lording over others. Authority and greatness are not and should not be flaunted. It is wrong to enthrone one’s self. Jesus’ command to His disciples then and now is clear: “This should not be so among you.” For such is not His gospel. For one who ran away when He felt that the people He fed wanted to take Him and make Him their king, Jesus strongly suspects people who drool over power or go crazy with their self-importance.

The greatest of all is the servant of all – for Jesus, this is the image of true greatness and authority. The same should be for His followers. And if, indeed, the ultimate joy of any disciple is to become like his master, any disciple of Jesus should joyfully embrace being a servant of all, for that is what Jesus the Master is. Therefore, if there is any primacy in the community of the Lord’s disciples, it is the primacy of service. And Jesus Himself is the best commentary on this primacy: He came to serve, not to be served, and to give His life for the many. James, John, and the other ten of the Twelve Apostles gradually understood and learned to live this out. As disciples of Jesus, we, too, should understand this and live accordingly.

For us, Filipinos, the common and immediate view on seats is different. For us, the one who is seated is the boss, the special, the one who should be served and not the one who serves. Perhaps, we have our long, colonial history to blame. For almost four centuries, we were colonized by the Spaniards, then the Americans, then the Japanese, then the Americans again. In between these giant nations, we also had short colonial periods under the Dutch and the Britons. The truth is, even until today, there are many of us who believe that we not yet fully and truly free. We remain dictated upon by foreign nations in state-policies. We are not yet free either from foreign domination or, more unfortunately, from the domination of our fellow Filipinos who exploit and manipulate us – and easily get away with it – simply because they have material wealth and political power. In the long period of our servitude under colonial regimes, to sit down was never for our ancestors. Our forefathers were not permitted to sit down in the presence of the colonizers. They were either up, attending to the wishes of the foreigners, or down on the floor, like footstools for the colonizers. Thus, when finally, we could sit down properly and with dignity like any human being, the meaning we learned to attach to seats was very much different from what the gospel today proposes: he who is seated is powerful, privileged, honored, has the right to give orders, and is in control.

To be seated is a privilege and a responsibility. The one who sits is given the privilege to account for the good of all. The privilege of sitting down is the privilege of serving others through the power and authority he has been entrusted by God and the people. Behold the chair – a token of an office, a sign of responsibility, reminder for the one seated that whatever power and greatness he has is, in the first place, a favor given him rather than a favor he gained. He occupies the chair, the throne, the cathedra, because serving others occupies his heart.

In the cathedral, the bishop’s throne is a sign of his being the chief shepherd of the diocese. In the parish church, the parish priest is enthroned by the bishop when he is installed as pastor – a token of the responsibility and privilege entrusted to him by the bishop to shepherd, in his name, the local Christian community. In the Mass, the presider’s chair tells the congregation the role of the priest who sits on it: to preside; and being the president of the celebration is the definite form of his service within the liturgy. In Malacañan Palace, there is a chair – or perhaps, there are chairs – on which only the President of the Republic of the Philippines may sit – a sign of the president’s high office that justifies the people’s high expectation that the president would deliver the highest service in the land. In the Senate, do you notice that even if it is not exactly the Senate President who sits on the chair of the Senate President, those who deliver speeches address the one who sits on that chair as “Mr. President” nonetheless? The same is true in the Lower House. Clearly, the office is in the chair, and that office is entrusted to the one who is seated. That office is the responsibility and accountability to serve.

I do not know if this story actually happened, but it does have a point to make now. When I was in Valencia, Bukidnon, for my rural exposure in 1988, I heard a story about our present Archbishop, His Eminence Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, who was then Bishop of the Diocese of Malaybalay, Bukidnon. Cebuano is Bukidnon’s language while Cardinal Rosales is a full-blooded Batangueño; he, nonetheless, really did his best to learn Cebuano. According to the story, in his homily, Cardinal Rosales once got his Cebuano and Tagalog mixed-up. “Ani-a ako” – “Here I am”, that was what the Cardinal wanted to say. Then, the Cardinal paused for a while, making an attempt to remember the Cebuano translation for “to serve” which in Tagalog is “maglingkod”. When he continued, the Cardinal said, “Ani-a ako aron maglingkod kaninyo.” For a brief moment there was silence, then the cathedral was filled with laughter, for “maglingkod” in Cebuano means “to sit”. As it seemed to the Cebuano-speaking congregation, the Cardinal said, “Here I am to sit on you.”

But come to think of it, in the light of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Cebuano language tells a lot! He who is seated should serve. Being seated means being a servant. Ani-a ako aron maglingkod kaninyo. Here I am to serve you. That is why I am seated today as I preach to you, for I am your servant.

Is there anyone here who wants to take this seat? Sorry, but this is not mine to give.


At 3:56 AM , Anonymous gbmr said...

hi fr. bob, everytime i hear the song YOU ARE MINE naalala kita. thank you for updating your blog. take care, god bless.

At 12:25 PM , Anonymous fdsm said...

Father Bobby hello.....thank you posting this, I've learned a lot from this blog. God bless you always. Take good care of your health and dont forget to rest. We need you in our Parish.

At 4:10 PM , Anonymous Bubut said...

God the Father, bless us that regardless of our position in our job, we will learn how to serve you...God bless, po.

At 4:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Humility is always the outstanding values in our daily grind especially when rank and file was able to go up the ladder of the organization.One could be overwhelmed and forgot where he came from but others are wise enough
to see it farther.

As the famous saying goes : As the bamboo gets taller, it bends", is a very true to life maxim to live by.

Attitude is always the measurement of one's success in life.

- rory

At 6:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like the way you delivered this homily while seating down.
At first, I thought you're not feeling well that's why you sat down.
You look like a Bishop in this homily. Joke!!!
We should all serve with love because if you serve with love you don't feel tired at all.


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