There is an upcoming event that our parish will celebrate on September 26, namely: 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. Though primarily a celebration by and among Filipinos, it is a celebration for all. As people of faith, a celebration of one is a celebration of all. We, therefore, encourage everyone to participate. The highlight of the celebration is a Mass presided over by Rev. Fr. Patrick Longalong, the diocesan coordinator of the Filipino ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The Mass will be preceded by Novena Prayers to Sto. Niño, San Lorenzo Ruiz, Pedro Calunsod, Our Lady Immaculate Conception (Patroness of the Philippines) and the recitation of the Rosary. As we celebrate the five centuries of Christianity in the Philippines, it is worthwhile to reflect on what it means to be a Christian. The gospel reading this Sunday provides us an opportunity and a context.
The gospel speaks about greatness. Most, if not all, of us desire to be great somehow, somewhere. The disciples of Jesus were no exception. The gospel tells us that, while Jesus journeys through Galilee accompanied by his disciples, the Twelve apostles were arguing about who among them is the greatest. They were probably thinking that Jesus will soon proclaim himself as the royal Messiah, and as persons closest to him, they hope to be given important roles, quite similar to those officials and advisers who surround the ruler. Their aspirations spark their argument.
When they came to a house, Jesus asked them: “What were you arguing about on the way?” Like a gang of thieves caught red-handed, they fell silent. I think they were speechless with embarrassment. I think they realized how small they were and how unworthy their ambitions were. Then Jesus sat down and said to the Twelve: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
So Jesus tells the Twelve directly that greatness does not consist in being first or having authority, but in being a humble servant. “For who is greater, the one who is at table or the one who serves? It is not the one at table? But I am among you as one who serves (Lk 22:27). In other words, the true measure of the greatness of a person is the quality and the spirit of his service, and not his status or position. A certain Archbishop Secker used to say: “God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves and serve Him out of fear: others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are children, who serve Him because they love.”
To drive home his point Jesus placed a small child in their midst and said: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me . . .” Bible scholar Wilfrid Harrington, in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, notes that the Aramaic word used by Jesus for a child is talya. In Aramaic, it is also the word for “servant.” Jesus links the two meanings of the same word. The child thus represents the least and most vulnerable in the community. A true disciple of Jesus “receives” the child; that is, accepts the responsibility of service to the least and the most vulnerable. It is in serving the little ones or the least that one is the greatest in the kingdom of God. The treatment of the child becomes the measure of greatness because it demands loving service. Caring lovingly for the child does not offer prestige, honor or wealth.
The Christian is defined by loving service. It goes back to what Jesus said to his apostles: “I came not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many”(Mt. 20:28). To serve is to image Christ. In short, “Servant” is a synonym for “Christian.”
God bless us all.
In Christ Jesus,