Twenty years ago, a popular brand of clothing came with shirts printed with the iconic face of Che Guevarra. It was the most “in” or most cool to wear among teenagers though many of them knew nothing who Che Guevarra is. In a newspaper interview, the marketing manager of the clothing company explained the image of the Cuban rebel leader perfectly fit their fashion sense that is supposed to be “revolutionary”. It may sound funny and superficial but that is how we often see a rebel who is both a radical and a subversive trying to destabilize the status quo, even out to destroy everything to start a new beginning in government and society.
But that is not the essence of the word radical which came from the Latin word “radix” that means “roots”. To be radical means to go back to the roots of a belief or a system like in government and in religion. So often, as the radical strives to go back to the roots of a belief or system, he is also labeled as subversive because of the need to overturn or remove false images and ideas to bring out the original sense. Last Sunday during canonization of new saints led by Pope Paul VI and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, Pope Francis said Jesus is a radical when He told a man to sell his possessions, give to the poor its proceeds and to come follow Him. It was a very radical step because that is the very root of eternal life which is to leave everything behind for God. And in that sense, indeed, Jesus is a radical and a subversive too.
Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ()
Keep in mind that Jesus is now approaching Jerusalem and had predicted for the final third time to the Twelve His coming Passion, Death, and Resurrection. And He is intensifying too His teachings to His disciples and to us in these remaining six Sundays before we usher in Advent Season for Christmas next month. In no uncertain terms, He clarifies today the true meaning of discipleship when the brothers James and John requested Him that they be seated beside Him when He reigns in glory. The two brothers have not fully grasped the full meaning of the pasch of the Lord. They have blindly followed Him because they knew He would triumph in the end and would want to ensure that they would not miss every bit of His victory.
The same thing is true with us when sometimes we are like James and John, willing to suffer and bear all hardships in exchange of something so precious, of something that would greatly benefit us after all the sacrifices. As we would say in Filipino, “hindi na bale, basta…” wherein there is always the overarching sense of rewards in every suffering. No wonder, many politicians are willing to forego of any little sanity and dignity left in them, sacrifice everything and everyone including family and honor just to be elected into office because of the rewards. The late Jesuit Fr. Thomas Green used to call this in his books as “humility with a hook” when people would “humbly” bear everything in exchange of a great personal favor. In that case, there is no real suffering nor service or love at all!
Jesus is asking us today to be radical in our being Christian, for us to go back to the very root of His mission, that is, save the world by dying on the cross. And that means we cannot be His disciples and have access to salvation without sharing in His death in order to have a part in His resurrection. This is the radical idea too of Isaiah’s oracle in the first reading when God said how through the suffering of His servant – the coming Christ – “shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” (Is. 53:11) Jesus on the cross is the supreme manifestation of the Father’s love for us all and the ultimate reason for all our hopes in life. Therefore, like Christ, it is into the Father’s hands that we must entrust the future without expecting anything in return! And this we can achieve if we go back again to our roots, to being like a child confidently trusting our parents that everything would be perfectly well in life. Like a child, we must learn to believe and to love simply without thinking of how things would eventually turn out. Like a child, let us simply love and just do it for love. Period.
To radically follow Jesus means we also have to subvert, that is, overturn all our ideas about Him and one another. When Jesus spoke of His “baptism” and “cup of drink” to James and John, He was asking them and us today to cast away and forget all our human standards and conventions of discipleship as if we are entitled to anything at all. That God blesses only people with comfortable and affluent life, that God loves only those who are good… these are not true! If wealth and health are the true measures of the goodness of God, then He is not good at all because there are more people suffering financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. In fact, in my own experience and among many people, I would dare and radically claim that when we go through many sufferings, it means God trusts us so much that we can handle and bear such trials in life like His Son Jesus Christ on the Cross. Rejoice when you are going through difficulties because God loves you and believes in you! Remember that our relationship with Jesus and with one another is always based on a life of service, of servanthood wherein we try our best to make the world more humane as possible, enabling the kingdom of God to come. It is so unlike the world where relationships are based on power and domination that many of our politicians have turned politics into a family business by creating political dynasties that ironically isolate them from others and from God.
It is always difficult to live radically as a disciple of Christ but let us be consoled by the words of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews who said we have in Jesus a high priest who “has similarly been tested in every way” (email@example.com) like us so that when discipleship becomes so difficult for us, “let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Heb.4:16) This Sunday, let us not be afraid to go back to our roots in God through Jesus Christ who abandoned everything into the Father’s hands to be a servant of everyone. Let us be radical in our love and service for one another. A blessed Sunday to everyone! AMEN. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022. Email:
*Photo by my former student at ICSB-Malolos, Arch. Philip Santiago at the Basilica della Santissima Trinita, Fatima, Portugal, October 2018. Used with permission.