From First to Last
25th Sunday in Ordinary time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

This early, the race that leads to the Philippine presidential election in May 2010 is getting more and more interesting. Two bets who are scions of prominent families have been endorsed by their respective politicalparties. The old Liberal party has chosen Senator Noynoy Aquino, the only son of former Presient Corazon Aquino as presidential candidate, while the Administration coalition party, Lakas-Kampi-CMD anointed his second cousin Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro as its standard bearer. With Senator Manny Villar leading the Nacionalista Party, this three-way contest will be a cause for passionate discussions among the electorate. Hopefully the choice does not become too complicated with a fourth or fifth candidate throwing his or her hat into the ring.

What is it that drives men and women to seek the highest political office or any leadership position? No astute politician would be so crude as to admit seeking political office in order to gain more wealth and power or because he is plainly ambitious. Rather, everyboy will readily say it is for the love of country and to serve the people. This reminds me of a story about a class of high school seniors talking about their desired careers. Each one expressed his desire to be a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, a priest, a politician, a soldier, and so on. Each one also justified his choice of profession “in order to serve the people.” The teacher then turned to a little boy in Grade One who was listening, “And what would you want to be?” The boy right away shouted, “ I want to be the People because everybody wants to serve me.”

Children sometimes have direct insight into the truth. It must be because of this that in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus chose a child to illustrate a point to his disciples, “If someone wants to be first, let him be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and set him in theiir midst and when He had taken him in His arms, said, “Whoever welcomes a child such as this in my name, welcomes me” (Mk. 9:36-37).

Action starter: Where is your ambition leading?

The Lord recognized the natural human drive for achieving something higher and for seeking something greater. His words were occasioned by a discussion among his disciples about who among them was the greatest. Instead of condemning the desire itself, he turned it toward its proper object which is service. Power is for service. Greatness is for the least. The first must think of the last. The Lord is a great pyschologist. Suppression of the desire for excellence only leads to mediocrity.

What is it that drives men and women toward greater accomplisments? Some say man is naturally ambitious. Human beings want to know more, to have more, to do more, and to be more. If ambition is the desire for improvement, then we can say that most people are ambitious. We desire to improve our looks, to be promoted in our position, to have a bigger house, and to have a bigger income. Desiring and striving are innate to the human person. There would have been a poorer civilization if people did not desire to improve communication by inventing writing, or improving mobility by inventing the wheel.

Related to striving is the desire for recognition, honor, and preference. When one excels in something, whether that is in running or in singing, there is also the natural desire to be recognized. The early Olympic athletes were competing for a crown of laurel leaves. There is satisfaction in accomplishing something great. When a mountaineer was asked why he risked his life climbing mountains, his simple answer was, “Because it is there.”

Excelling in something and accomplishing something great has its internal reward. One can excel for the sense of inner satisfaction. It can also offer an external reward, such as money or public recognition. More than the internal satisfaction or the external rewards, the Lord Jesus is saying that our privileged position, gifts, and talents should also serve the common good, especially the less privileged, less gifted, and less talented.

To give some simple examples, those who do well in class can assist the weaker ones. The better athletes can coach the poorer ones. Succesful entrepreneurs can offer business advise to those who are starting. Wiser and older people can be mentors to the younger generation. The rich can offer opportunities for the poor to uplift themselves.

One model offered by the Gospel and the first reading (Wis. 2) is the model of the Suffering Servant. He is the servant of God whose suffering and humiliation brings healing and salvation to others. The leader becomes a servant.

As we discuss and make our choices of leaders let one guiding principle be, “Will he serve himself, his family, his party? Or will he serve the suffering people.”