During my assignment in Nepal many years ago, I discovered how their religion (Hinduism) played a major role in how the locals see expatriates. One time during a heavy downpour, I can’t help it but feel pity on a young man who was dripping wet doing his job at moving bottles manually from one section of the factory line to another. He was practically trembling in the cold and so I went back to the Staff House to give him a shirt. Since it didn’t have impact on production, I also asked that work be suspended for a short while until the water coming through was contained. When the young man received the shirt, to my surprise, he knelt in front of me to kiss my feet. I backed off and told him he shouldn’t do that. His local supervisor, who was nearby, told me that it is alright as the man was expressing his gratitude for my kind gesture. (In their culture, the act of kissing feet is a way of telling that I’m like a god to him, thus the gesture of worship.) To which I replied that there is but one God in Heaven. The supervisor just nodded his head as he has already heard about Jesus from Filipinos posted in previous years. With the centuries-old caste system, this concept of a leader being a “servant” is quite strange for them.
In the Gospel (Mk. 10: 35-45) James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus explained that they don’t really know what they were asking. Eventually Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
After this lesson on humility and obedience to the will of God, the Gospel continued with underlying themes on leadership and service orientation, “… 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.”
Servant Leadership is one philosophy that’s been talked often though not practiced that much. There are several interplaying factors facing a leader’s plate that’s why it is often set aside. Yet, it is actually about humility, passion and enthusiasm (Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, in his homily today). When one sets it as a model, he will practice doing it regardless of the circumstance. He will be attuned to the details such that his work is always meant to serve others.
He is humble in service, confident of himself and knows that what he’s doing will always bring out the best in people. Regardless, he is not afraid to speak out for the people he serves. He steers his team to calmer waters when the going gets stormy.
Last week candidates seeking public office have already filed their certificates of candidacy, indicating that elections are just around the corner. During the campaign period, they will be telling and promising the electorate of what they will do if elected. The people’s experience will surely play a role in their choice of candidates. Hopefully, they won’t sell their votes but in a country like ours where patronage politics is common, there’ll also the need to educate and remind them of their sacred duty to elect only those candidates who are truly deserving.
This Sunday, let us pray for humility in service. Let us pray that our leaders be like Jesus who came to serve and to give His life as ransom for many.
‘The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (cf. Mk. 10:45)