Luke 9:51-62, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There’s one priest from the probinsya who, whenever he arrives in Manila, he takes the airport shuttle to LRT 1, gets off at UN Avenue, and walks to Pius XII Center. Many diocesan priests from outside Manila usually get a room there when they visit. I don’t think anyone in the crowd ever suspects he’s a priest. He wears ordinary clothes, a pair of sandals under his feet (sometimes, even just slippers, I’ve been told,) and a backpack slung over his shoulders. Does he have money to take a taxi? Sure he does. But the good priest says this is what he’s used to, and he’s in no rush, anyway; and besides, he can save a lot of money doing LRT and using his legs. When it’s time for him to fly back to his diocese, same thing. He packs up his backpack, walks to LRT 1, squeezes himself in between commuters, hops on the airport shuttle, then flies home. As he gets back to his diocese, he is warmly greeted by his people: “Maupay nga aga,” “Maupay nga adlaw,” “Kumusta biyahe, Bishop?” Yes, a bishop; with 26 parishes, and a little over 60 priests at his command.
When Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” I strongly feel that he wasn’t only describing his life of ministry. He was also making a choice of how to live out that ministry. It was a choice of what kind of servant he wanted to be. We can be sure that discomfort and inconvenience were consequences of Jesus’ everday-pagka-kawanggawa. But I strongly feel they were also the matter of an explicit choice. Pinili niyang danasin ang abala at kakulangan sa ginhawa na bahagi na rin ng pagkakawang-gawa niya araw-araw. Could Jesus have done it differently? Sure. How many people followed him? Not just 12, not just several. A “crowd!” We often read in the Gospels how the “crowd” sought him and “pressed around him.” Gano’n siya kasikat. So, Jesus could’ve very easily parlayed this popularity into enjoying the comforts and conveniences of a popular miracle worker. And you know, sisters and brothers, I bet the “crowd” would’ve only gladly indulged him. Furthermore, I bet, it was very tempting—this temptation of pagpapakasasa. Remember when the devil teased him in the desert? Those were temptations of pagpapakasasa: riches, honor, and glory—which Jesus would’ve deserved, anyway! And I don’t think the temptation started and ended in that wilderness. Because you and I know the devil, don’t we? Ang tuksong magpapakasasa, lalung-lalo na sa kasagsagan ng paglilingkod sa Diyos, ang tuksong ‘yan ay pirmihan…pero tahimik at dahan-dahan. The temptation to riches, honor, and glory, sisters and brothers, especially in the midst of serving God, is relentless, but subtle and quiet. Kaya ang dami nang natisod at nahulog sa pagpapakasasa, kahit naturingang lingkod ng Diyos—pari man o laiko.
“But, Fr. Arnel, does God want us to be penniless and hungry and in pain for us to be good servants?” Absolutely not. What a sadistic god he’d be if he demands that his servants remain penniless, hungry, and ill while serving him. No. God has given us the whole of creation so that nobody precisely goes penniless, hungry, and ill; not his servants, not the people they serve. God desires servants who are grateful and loving, mga lingkod na mapapagpasalamat at mapagmahal. When you’re in constant discomfort & inconvenience—whether as consequence or choice—it will be difficult to be grateful and loving, let and alone be a grateful and loving servant. So, no. Serving God doesn’t mean we should decimate ourselves for the sake of the ministry, no.
Nevertheless…nevertheless, whether we’re a parish priest or missionary, religious superior or university president, whether we’re CEO of a charitable institution or just member, and, oh, whether we’re lector, lay minister, Mother Butler, or parish benefactor, or faithful Catholic—in other words, when we choose to serve God in some definitive and attentive way, there are good reasons to accept and choose discomfort and inconvenience. First, it keeps us focused on God’s desire rather than on how to feed our egos. Second, it keeps us dependent on divine grace and providence rather than human deference and submission. Third, it reminds us that we are all but servants of a Master, sa halip na mga amo, presidente, o superyor na iniluklok ng Diyos para katakutan at paglingkuran.
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” It’s more powerful in Tagalog: “Ano, Panginoon? Gusto n’yo, paulanan natin ng apoy itong mga hindi pumapansin sa atin?” ‘Yan. ‘Yan po ang pananalita ng mga lingkod na nahuhulog na sa pagpapakasasa. Nagbabalat-sibuyas dahil hindi napansin at nakilala; nagmamalaki.
“Foxes have dens, birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The best reason to welcome and to choose discomfort and inconvenience when serving God, is finally not a what, but a who. And quite clearly, that’s the who whose sandalled footsteps are followed by this dear bishop every day of his life—as he blends in and disappears into the crowd, wearing his ordinary clothes, walking in sandals, with his small backpack filled with God’s providence. That’s not really his style. That’s the style of his Master.