FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time ( B )
Isaiah 53:10-11 | Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 | Hebrews 4:14-16 | Mk 10:35-45 or 10:42-45
Do we want to imitate Jesus in what he does? The readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us to find purpose beyond our pain, rest in the assurance that Jesus understands exactly what we’re going through, and serve God by serving others.
Bacoor City, though an urban environment, is blessed to have a wide varierty of trees, shrubs, palm ferns, and medicinal herbs in its landscape. One day, while I was walking my daughter to her school, we came upon something we rarely see. It was an almost-born butterfly. The little cocoon was spinning and spinning and part of one fabulous wing was already out. This was right at Jill's eye level, so I bent down and looked at the little cocoon at her level. She said, “Oh, Daddy, he’s just struggling to get out.” It looked like it couldn’t break free. It looked desperate. It looked like it was making no progress. I thought I'll just help it. So I reached down ever so carefully and gently and took the bottom of that cocoon and split it. And it all dropped in a blob, crawling around with a swollen body and wrinkled wings. It never was able to fly. I learned a lesson; the butterfly needs the struggle of emergence to be able to fly. Indeed, struggling is an important part of any growth experience.
Our First Reading is taken from the fourth of four servant songs by Deutero-Isaiah which begins with the startling sentence: “The Lord was pleased to crush him with suffering.” However, the writer does not discuss suffering philosophically or even theoretically. He focuses not on the reasons for the servant’s suffering but on its results, and, looking beyond the pain. Though there will be suffering, there will be life and light promised for the future. Sometimes, struggles are exactly what we need in our lives too. When we ask God for strength, he gives us difficulties to make us strong. When we seek for wisdom, he gives us problems to solve. When we pray for wealth, he gives us brain and brawn to work. When we desire courage, He allows dangers for us to overcome. When we ask for love, he gives us troubled people to help. When we implore him for favors, he gives us opportunities. We may not exactly receive what we yearn for but God gives us the struggle we needed to achieve them. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, we would not be as strong as what we could have been. As the Dominican virgin and penitent Saint Rose of Lima taught, "Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven." Suffering is personally painful yet redemptive.
Farmer Ernesto's dog had a litter of puppies that he put up for sale. He painted a sign advertising the 4 pups and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his yard. As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. He looked down into the eyes of Jun-Jun, 10-year old boy. "Manong Entoy," he said, "I want to buy one of your puppies." "Well," said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck, "These puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money." Jun-Jun lowered his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket, he pulled out a bill and some change and held it up to the farmer. "I've got ₱28. Is that enough to take a look?" "Sure," said the farmer. And with that he let out a whistle. "Tala!" he called the momma dog. Out from the doghouse ran Tala followed by four adorable balls of fur. Jun-Jun pressed his face against the wire-mesh fence. His eyes were shining with delight. As the puppies made their way to the fence, Jun-Jun noticed something else stirring inside the doghouse. Slowly, another little ball appeared, this one observably smaller and weaker than the others. It slid down the ramp. The little pup walked with great difficulty, doing its best to catch up with the others. "I want that one," Jun-Jun exclaimed, pointing to the runt. The farmer knelt down at the boy's side and said, "Son, you don't want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other pups would." With that, Jun-Jun stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his pants. In doing so he revealed a prosthetic leg. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, "You see Manong Entoy, I don't run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands." With tears in his eyes, the farmer reaches down to pick up the little pup and gives the little puppy to the boy.
It’s easy to think when you’re going through a difficult time that no one understands what you’re dealing with. The feeling of isolation creeps in, making you believe that you have to work through this tough season on your own. Our Second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us that Jesus is not only with us through hard times, but he can empathize with what we’re feeling because he endured totally our human condition yet without sin. No matter what you’re dealing with – pain, agony, disappointment, depression, anxiousness, heartbreak – Jesus understands exactly how you feel. He understands because He felt all of these things while He was on earth. He was hurt, betrayed, and disappointed by so many people, including some of His closest friends. He became a man to show us that this life and its many trials have meaning. Because Jesus is the compassion of God in person, he becomes totally approachable by those who suffer. We can turn to Jesus today. We can seek comfort in his presence, and rest in the fact that he understands exactly what we’re feeling and what we need to keep persevering.
In 2008, when I was working for a BPO in Mandaluyong City, we had our town hall meeting. There were about 250 people in the production area seated. T.H., the owner of the company came in right before the program was about to start, so there weren’t many seats left. He spied an empty seat near our bay and came over. Very politely T.H. asked the girl sitting by the empty seat, “May I sit here?” She was waiting for another team mate to come back from the rest room and so she kind of scowled at him and said, “No, that’s taken.” “Oh, okay,” he said, and walked away. Once he got a few feet out of range, we burst out laughing and said to the girl: “You just dissed the owner!” She said, “I did? What?” She had worked there for only two weeks, and she’d never seen his photo.
It is human nature to want to sit in the best seat in the house. In fact, the desire for the best seat in the house shows up in many places. At sporting events, upper box seats command the best view and the highest price at Mall of Asia Arena. “Go, USTe!” They also carry the greatest bragging potential. The best parking places are usually the ones closest to the front door. I’ve seen people nearly collide, competing for that one open spot near the door. The spaces way out on the other end of the lot are seldom taken unless the lot is full or employees are required to park in them. At a concert, the best seat in the house is probably the one closest to the artists. Maybe and even better one might be a backstage seat where you get to meet the performers. Diplomatic negotiating teams spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of pesos and many hours getting the seating just right so that visiting dignitaries are afforded proper honor by the placement of their chairs. A mistake here can mean that countries go to war. Of course, I am exaggerating! What do you suppose are the best seats in the church? The last pew, of course! I know that because it’s the one those benches at the back fill up first. We never have to hang "reserved" signs on the front pews. The first row seats are the least-preferred. Why? Maybe because it’s the farthest seat from the homilist! Getting into the "best seats" was the struggle for James and John in the Gospel. They cleared their throats and asked the master for the best seats in the house, the places of honor right next to the throne. "Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on your right, and one on your left." They wanted the best seats when the “big day” comes. They wanted the glory that comes with sitting at Jesus’ side but didn’t understand what it meant to be there. Jesus is telling us that the best seat in the house is the least desired seat and it’s what I want to consider with you on this Sunday. In no uncertain terms Jesus explained that, since he willingly undertakes to suffer and die for the salvation of others, his disciples must do likewise. James and John are invited to participate in the cup which Jesus knows he must drink as well as whether they can be baptized with the same baptism he will experience. Jesus sets himself as a model of such service, because he came into the world not in the pursuit of greatness through power but to become a “ransom for many”. During a youth recollection in Manresa Retreat House in Quezon City some years ago, I remember Br. Franz Angelus, lay Missionary of Charity, reminding young parish workers, "We have to be constantly reminded that parish service is a solemn mission, not a decoration or occupation." Are you serving the church for the right reasons? Some get involve in church because they want power, control, success, and fame. Greatness among Jesus’ followers is measured by the ability to live as servants and slaves, even if that life means suffering oppression at the hands of those who wield power. As modern day disciples, there should be no competition for privilege and power among us. Our only ambition and competition as Christians should be about who can serve Jesus, and the others, more devotedly and sincerely. In closing, Max Lucado was right after all when he wrote, "A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd." <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum