29th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
October 21, 2012


Political dynasty is a big issue from where I come. We never see the end of families and clans being on the same road of what they love to call “public service.” They drink of the same cups that run over with poise, position, and power. If we go on in this strain, soon we might see fathers and sons, first cousins and half-brothers with the same surnames occupying the highest offices of the land, all in the name of “service.”

It is so easy for us in this forlorn part of the world to identify with the two sons of Zebedee asking the Lord for a little favor, a seemingly insignificant request. Come on! What harm can two brothers occupying more or less equal places in the kingdom do? Haven’t they served the Lord? Haven’t they given up family, home, and an entrepreneurial job with Zebedee as chairman of the board, and the two as board members in the little fish trading company in the lucrative shores of Galilee? Give me a break! We are just asking for a little favor, for everyone knows we love to serve. Doesn’t everyone see how great we are, and how much greater are the things we intend to do?

We Filipinos just love to literally and figuratively “drink from the same cup.” Even now as I write, I am sure, in some little corner of our poverty-ridden country, there is a group of men, young and old, who are literally drinking from the same cup, sharing the same gin, or beer, or lambanog (coconut wine), or some other strong spirit, like basi (rice wine). We show our oneness in literally drinking from the same cup that we call “tagay” (taking drinks by turns, in carefully graduated measures!)

We Filipinos love to go through things together … all for one; one for all. We love to congregate during baptisms, weddings, fiestas, and other invented occasions. And for many of us, including our armed forces, there is nothing better than celebrating by drinking from the same cup, or, as the case maybe, eating from the same banana leaves, in a celebration that is graphically referred to, as a “boodle fight.”

James and John were doing the equivalent of such an ill-concealed desire to stay on together, through thick and thin. Presumably, since they were asking for right and left-hand positions in the “Kingdom,” what they really had in mind, was more “thick” than “thin.” To push the analogy further, it could safely be surmised that what they really had in mind, was not more pain and suffering, but more glory and honor, as they were, indeed, looking forward to the “kingdom.”

But yes, the Lord was intently observing, closely monitoring the polls and the pulse of his close-in followers. But no, the Lord was not impressed, and was not getting worked up either by the two brothers whose egos were getting far bigger than their ability to understand the full implications of what they were asking for.
The Lord was not one to fall for the shallowness of their desires. He was not one to give in to the youthful excesses of two impulsive young men, who were counting on being at the steeple, without counting the steps to the steeple.

The Lord has bad news for them. No, the Lord had good news for them. But that good news didn’t sound anything remotely related to being “good.”

We all had our youthful excesses. We all know what it means to dream far bigger than our real capabilities. We all understand what it means to be taken up by ambition and greed. And yes! We all feel sad that our politics is nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else but that which relates to naked and selfish ambition. But to be honest, not even us holy clerics are exempt from such manipulative positioning and ambitious plotting and scheming.

The Gospel tells us as much! And we get it straight from the horses’ mouths – from James and John, no less.

But thanks be to God, today, we don’t have to be captive audiences of the two. Thanks be to God, we, too, don’t have to be captive audiences of our tri-media, biased, prejudiced, slanted and as manipulative as manipulative can be. Thanks be to God, we have alternatives. And even if what they say don’t approximate our definition of a “good life” in style, in power, in position, and as members of an elite club who alone think they can “serve” the people, we need to hear what they say. We need to see the alternative culture. We need to be reminded that, one: there is indeed such a thing as honest-to-goodness service; and second, that that service does not have to be equated with power, wealth, position and control, backed up by hordes of adoring and adulating fans that follow you only when they can get something from you (with a little help from a lot of theatrics and gimmicks from mass media, of course!)

Let us hear it from Isaiah, to start with. The servant he speaks of, that of course, referred to Christ, was one who justified many through his suffering. Clear enough?

Let us hear it, too, from the letter writer to the Hebrews. The High Priest, again referring to Christ, was one who not only “sympathizes with our weaknesses,” but also one who “has similarly been tested in every way.”

But let us hear it direct from the horse’s mouth – the real one – from the Lord Himself. He speaks and he knows whereof he speaks, of the servant who does not lord it over others, but one who is great, but one whose greatness is based on his being a real, authentic, genuine servant, not one that is good only for tarpaulins and TV plug-ins, and star-studded campaign gigs and all.

Now, this is tough. This is unacceptable. This is service devoid of the title “honorable” and “distinguished” (even if one has not even finished elementary education!) This is the real mccoy. And it is not fun, to begin with. It does not pay. It does not lead to higher places. It does not reward here and now. For what reason, we ask? “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”

Last thing I heard, there are two vacancies in the Lord’s cabinet. Those who were called, sent, and placed there without applying are now gone, after much suffering … Lorenzo de Manila, Pedro de Cebu (named Calungsod), Blessed Mother Teresa, Blessed John Paul II … They all served and suffered, and died!

Anybody interested? (oh, by the way, James and John changed their minds. They don’t want the position anymore. They got something better, by following the great servant leader of them all – their Lord and Master!) They drank the same cup, eventually, and did the same mission. And they are great, even without being part of the Lord’s cabinet.