On Mission to Serve

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

I was talking with a new parish priest recently. In his parish assembly there was a heated discussion about the parish structure and the roles of the different councils, commissions, and ministries. Those inclined to a more democratic church were proposing a rectangular model where everybody was on the same level, including the parish priest, “equal in dignity but differing in function”. Those who were more hierarchically inclined were proposing a triangular model, where the parish priest and the parish council were on top with the other faithful below. Finally the parish priest suggested why not an inverted pyramid, where the parish priest forms the base and everyone else is on top? They did not like this either. So someone suggested a circle where there is no top or bottom. Then somebody asked, “Who are in the inner circle?”

Action starter: Whom do you serve? Whom do you dominate?

Top or bottom, inner or outer, these terms manifest the issue of power. In the gospel, this was expressed in another manner. The brothers James and John, good friends and disciples of Jesus had the gumption to ask, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left. (Mk 10:37)” Being on the left and right implies access and therefore power. A person who is on the left or the right can whisper into the ear of the powerful.

The Lord Jesus had a clear teaching on the matter, “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 give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10: 42)” This is not the way of the world. This is a reversal of ordinary thinking where “those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you.(v. 43)”

The parish priest was hopefully not just being ironical when he proposed an inverted pyramid as a structure. That was what Jesus was saying in the gospel today Power is for service. Those who have authority must seek the good of their constituents . This principle can be translated into practical terms in the setting of the family, the parish, the work place, and especially of government service.

This also holds true for missionaries. Today as we observe World Mission Sunday, the missionary has to remember that wherever he goes, he steps on hallowed ground - the culture and traditions of people. The missionary has therefore to take off his shoes. He has to leave behind his prejudices and sense of superiority. He brings good news and is on mission to serve and not to dominate.

There are two ways of arrival in a rural village. One way to arrive is from the top using a helicopter. This disturbs the serenity of rural life. Everybody who is asleep is awakened. The vehicle stirs up a lot of dust and creates a lot of noise. Everyone goes running over to see the strange vehicle and whoever it is ferrying. What a triumphant arrival.

On the other hand, one who arrives walking or on the back of a water buffalo is unnoticed. He blends into the scene. He becomes part of the crowd. He is easily absorbed into the ordinary life of people. It is a peaceful arrival.

A missionary comes quietly as a leaven in the dough of people’s life. He comes to serve.