Humility and Greatness

My late Dad was one of those who lived a life of humility. He didn’t brag around about himself, he was one who moved around work quietly. His day was always about service to others. He was a town councilor for several terms, a leader in Church organizations, a teacher and school administrator, but hardly can you feel any air of arrogance in how he worked with others. He never talks to us about what he did; all his life was about listening to his children’s stories and achievements. In fact, we didn’t know what he achieved for our town until the day he was honored during the necrological services.

In today’s Gospel (Mk. 9: 30-37), Jesus and His disciples were coming from Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them,

“What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who is the greatest.

When asked who is the greatest among them, Peter will probably be the expected answer, considering him as the spokesman of the group.

Then Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child in their midst, and putting his arms around it and said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.”

What is it about a child that Jesus used to illustrate an important point? The answer to this question must be taken from between one who is like a child and one who holds a certain worldly view of greatness. A child is one who is powerless, is not being listened to as much, is simple, ordinary and is innocent. Our Lord re-defines the meaning of greatness, showing different criteria from what the world is familiar with.

In the First Reading, the greatest is one who differentiates himself from the wicked and reproaches them for their “transgressions of the law”. He is brave and fearless, that’s why evildoers try to destroy him but God protects him (Wis. 2: 12, 17-20). In the Second Reading (Jas. 3:16 – 4:3), St. James describes the greatest as “pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” His personal mastery enables him to go beyond passion, greed and envy.

The world looks at greatness as one who is strong, powerful, moneyed, successful, politically-connected, well-respected, etc. Yet Jesus looks at greatness as one who serves the community, does not compromise with evil, and does not look highly of himself. The humble person knows the innate goodness and likeness of God in each person he meets. He knows that when confronted with a choice, he chooses to follow Jesus than the ways of the world; he comes not to be served, but shall be “the last of all and the servant of all”.

As we reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel, let us pray that we embrace wholeheartedly and in deep humility our place as His beloved child. Doing that is when He does extraordinary things through us, despite how ordinary we are. All we have to do is love Him and let Him in. Also, loving Jesus enables us to match our thoughts with action by our readiness and willingness to reach out to the last, the lost and the least amongst us. Doing this is what will make us truly great in the eyes of God.

‘Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life. Freely will I offer you sacrifice; I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.’ (Ps. 54: 8)

Faith in Action

One of the most challenging realities of life is to encourage people to do what is required, even in the most difficult situations. Meaning, no shortcuts allowed. While in a meeting preparing for an external audit, one of the attendees made comment that let’s ensure we do these protocols when the auditor is around, to which I further added, “let us do this at all times, even when the auditor isn’t around.”

To be consistent is to be remarkably different, to be consistent is to be honest and reliable.

In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus was asking the disciples how he is to others by inquiring what others say about him. He then turns the question directly to them and asks what they believe. Peter, the spokesperson that he was, told him that they believe Jesus is the Christ. Now that they acknowledged him as the Christ, Jesus shared with them what his ministry is all about: the rejection, the passion, death and resurrection after three days. Peter reacted to this, and the Lord rebuked him strongly. (At that time, the image of the Messiah was someone like a political leader who would free the Jewish people from Roman occupation. Jesus comments about his ministry appeared to be misaligned with how the disciples expected him to be.)

Jesus then summoned the crowd with his disciples and taught them the path of discipleship:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mk. 8: 27-35)

This is quite a dreadful revelation. While the St. Mark didn’t mention how the disciples reacted, we can assume that this must have evoked fear among them. During the time of the Roman occupation, death by crucifixion on the cross was a method of execution. Thus, our Lord was inviting them to potentially share in tremendous suffering and death. This is really scary and those who were afraid then and now, will easily abandon Jesus.

How about us, will our faith be strong enough for us to be ready to commit to the Lord, as he says in the Gospel today?

Let us pray that God grant us the grace to have our thoughts and deeds aligned with those of God. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit grant us the strength to match our faith with action, so that we will gain Eternal Life.

‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.’ (Gal. 6: 14)

Opening the Eyes and Ears

The lady protagonist in the Netflix series Homeland appears to be stubborn and “deaf” to the realities of the world. While being a spy allows her to know certain aspects in their operations unknown to the rest of the world, because of her bipolar disability and affection for the Marine-turned-suspected terrorist; she is portrayed to be hard-headed, blinded to the truth, and never listens to reason. Her character in the series often elicits reaction and catches the viewer’s frustration.

The readings for this Sunday show us God’s love and concern for the disabled in our communities. Do we share in His concern for them?

In the Gospel, Jesus healed the deaf man with a speech impediment and ordered the people around not to tell anyone. But the more He ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mk. 7: 31-37)

In the First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah presents God as one who comes with vindication, with divine recompense, and He comes to save. Then will the “eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” (Is. 35: 4-7a) For Isaiah, the “deaf” was the people of Israel. The deaf person is unable to hear what is being said to him and, therefore, cannot even communicate what he did not hear; he lives in isolation, alone in his own world. While this is an image of someone who has never had the opportunity to meet and listen to the Gospel of Jesus, it is also one who refuses to open his ears and not allows the word of salvation to penetrate his heart.

In reality, we all have disabilities in one way or the other. There are times that we ignore those who are poor while we give attention to those who are rich and influential in society. We look at how they appear on the surface while ignoring their gifts and talents, yes, we can have eyes that see and still be blind. We can be judgmental.

Yet God looks at a person differently. He sees all the goodness in a person’s being, and yet, people make judgments about others as if they’re like God. They rush into making conclusion while failing to understand why others are like what they are. Only God has the ability to see and look at a person deeply and yet people judge others easily as if they know exactly the circumstances people are in. As if they’re God!

Today, so that you can receive this healing, it is important that you slow down and stop reacting immediately to what’s happening around. You need to take time to prayerfully pause for wisdom and discernment. This is why Jesus gave us His Holy Spirit, so that God’s Spirit will aid us in interpreting, and instead of reacting, we will act the way the Lord wants us to. Thus, we will act with faith and compassion; we will be tuned in to God’s will in our life.

In this fractured world, let us pray that the Lord opens the ears and loosens the tongue even in our families, in the Church communities that we go into, in the social settings where people often insist on their own issues more than listening to others. We pray that Jesus open the eyes of those that want to be blind, and ears that open to hear the words of everlasting life.

‘Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom and cured every disease among the people.’ (Mt.4: 23)

Faith In Action

A few weeks ago in the run-up to the annual technical review, I led my team in conducting a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis and the most common weakness that came out is Inconsistency. The team realized that this is the most common reason for the problems that came in the way of achieving excellence and high results. While I had known this already, I made sure that it was a realization among the team members, for only then can we accept and tackle actions towards achieving our goal of becoming better and better at what we do.

In the Gospel (Mk. 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23), the Lord reacted to the Pharisees and scribes with strong remarks for over-emphasizing the letter of the Law rather than the intention for which the Law was made. The Pharisees observed that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. The Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the ‘tradition of the elders’. So they questioned him, ‘Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?’ Jesus responded strongly, even quoting Scriptures, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

The fault of the priestly class at that time was on placing the emphasis on the action rather than on the reason for the action. Jesus was not saying that washing was bad but that the emphasis was wrong, and not in a way that is consistent with the intention. The Lord’s words about the food people ate didn’t necessarily dismiss the idea of cleanliness but again highlighted an incorrect interpretation and application of the law. He clarified that,

‘Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.’

That is, the evil thoughts and actions of the people come from within themselves, from within their hearts, rather than through the food they consume. As we look at the daily news, we read bad things happening, we see people reach breaking point and mess up, we see people fall in different ways. When encountering challenges and difficulties, people often give in to the easiest way out, which are more often than not straying away from the Lord. People do give in easily to the desire to seek vices to fill those voids in the soul thinking that this will cure the sickness. Once you’ve started the wrong habit it may be harder to get out.

In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we see that Moses has given the people the Ten Commandments and the various other Laws and he encourages the Israelites to be faithful to them. They are not to add or subtract but are to live them as the Lord gave and intended them, to see the wisdom that they contain. By observing them carefully, it will give evidence of wisdom and intelligence to the other nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’

In the Second Reading, St. James exhorts us to ‘Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’

And so the readings remind us that the Commandments of God are meant not to make it difficult for us but to give us life, and to improve the quality of life which we are open for the taking.

Heaven can only be reached by keeping the Commandments of God, which is possible only by His grace. God’s awesome grace is what we need to look for every day, because it is in doing so that we become better, make others happier, and be an inspiration to others as well. God’s grace makes the world better, because without it, the world would have been worse than what it is today. People mess up, but God’s grace does more good infinitely than the evil that is happening every single time.

May these teachings today make us appreciate more the Sacraments for the graces that can heal our hearts and get us closer to God. As Cardinal Chito Tagle said in one of his talks, ‘You can choose to be peace-seeking, rather than add to the divisiveness prevailing in the world today’; so we can become an inspiration, not just to those that share what we believe in. May we become consistent in our faith, putting into action what we believe in, so that others may appreciate more God’s grace and wisdom in our lives.

‘The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.’ (Jas. 1: 18)