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Sermon on the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2009

On the Gospel of Mark 10: 35-45

Born in a family of humble beginnings, I envied the rich, the influential and the powerful: politicians, businessmen, bishops, the stardom, the evidently well-known, the fashionable, those seated at spectacles and banquets, those in high and luxurious offices whose lives required personal bodyguards, secretaries and drivers. As they set the trend, command behavior, make rules and write history, I inevitably dreamed of becoming one, tried hard to imitate their examples with a disciplined and creative effort, aspired for an eminent and privileged position (to enshrine myself and memorialize my name) and ascend in the pecking order. In my desire to be part of this so- called, cult of human glory, I take advantage of every possible opportunity to cheer and vie for their attention, even rubbing elbows in a crowded place to take a glimpse of their faces or get closer them, ask to sign an autograph and pose for a picture. And the next day, show and tell my friends about the wonderful event as if that same power was instantly vested upon me, too.
In my spiritual pursuit, Priesthood made more sense to me than the rest but motives most likely were no different. A dramatic change happened after ordination, however. A certain level of respect was gained only because of the one I represent. When I was walking down the mall in my civvies, I came across a parishioner who eventually asked me to bless a religious article but she wondered whether the blessing was valid without the collar and holy water. Clothes and titles after a name don’t make a man I said to myself, character does. Influence and authority, if used solely for personal interests, magnify one’s ego, reinforce selfish inclinations, can be a recipe for distraction, a potential for catastrophe and terribly disastrous to the soul.
The request of the two brothers for a place of reservation in the kingdom wasn’t at all a surprise as it was a splendid example of people seeking power and authority, which takes place in every sector of society and at all levels of community life. In fact, it made perfect sense to me knowing that both of them belonged to the inner circle of Jesus. In a culture that highly values a person’s worth, importance and identity from family and affiliation, the favor requested by James and John was acted quite naturally. It clearly indicated that the endless quest for power reasonably elevates the status quo. And this is exactly how the world operates. Such an episode undoubtedly represents the human predilection for power, authority, honor and recognition.
Power, as perceived by modern eyes may be defined as the ability to exercise control and influence over people’s lives be it political power like the President of a country, supreme spiritual authority of a Pope, singing sensation and talented performer the late Michael Jackson, American Idol star Jordan Sparks and sports icon Derek Jeter (gosh! I shouldn’t have mentioned this guy as I’m still grieving for the terrible loss of the angels to the Yankees).
In a world fascinated by power, constantly seeking for recognition and honor, Jesus’ answer sounds surprising:
“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It may well be said that the request wasn’t actually a spectacular ambition to occupy prestigious positions in a church but expressed a great enthusiasm to share responsibilities and eagerness to lead. At that juncture, Jesus introduced a completely different standard and model of leadership beginning from the bottom. He presented an entirely different system of leadership, which led his disciples not to imitate the cultural practices but transform them by taking the role of a slave, the lowest position in society.
According to Jesus, the world would be changed not by the powers that be, not from above but from beneath, right from this gathered people who stepped out of their cozy beds on Sunday Morning, who left the comfort of their houses, who put aside unfinished business and work to do, who made their way to the church, sit in the pew, spend precious moments with fellow believers, willing to take upon their shoulders, whatever the cost and the burden in hopes of transforming the world, maybe for some of us here.
But, unless we consider ourselves enslaved by the power of God’s word, to render service to our church with a heart of a servant and the humility of a slave is not possible. As we rely heavily on volunteerism, we pray for ministers and volunteers with the purest intention and exemplary character able to lead exceptionally well, willing to suffer and sacrifice, ready to get hurt and embrace self-less service.
How far are you willing to go with him in mission?

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A Filipino Catholic Priest, born and raised in Virac, Catanduanes, Philippines, ordained for the Diocese of Tucson, AZ, eleven years in ministry and counting, Pastor of St. Christopher Catholic Parish, Marana, AZ.

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