Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’s seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others, for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.Scripture Reading
Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)
Meron ba kayong ego? Do you have an ego? Or are you narcissistic? Are you narcissistic?
If you are human, then yes you have an ego, and yes, you have narcissism. All of us. And all of us, part of that ego is narcissism.
The word “ego” – it’s a Latin word that simply means “I” in English, or sa Tagalog ay “ako.”
All have egos. A sense of a unified self. And a great aspect of this ego and narcissism, sa aking suspetsa, in my assumption, in my guess, comes from the fundamental biological fact that all of life, and all of life forms seek self-preservation and survival. And then more complex forms of life, more complex creatures like humans, other than self-preservation and survival, we seek maximum benefit and comfort.
Isa sa mga favorite kong authors about human psychology and psychological history is Robert Greene. Sa kaniyang book na “Human Nature.” He tells us that: “From the day we are born, we humans feel a never-ending need for attention. We are social animals to the core. Through the quality of attention, we receive from others, we feel recognized and appreciated for who we are. Our sense of self-worth depends on this. Because this is so important to the human animal, people will do almost anything to get attention including, for some people, committing a crime.”
We are all attention seekers. All of us. Lahat tayo. And seekers of recognition or acknowledgement. It’s part of human nature. It is not bad. It’s not necessarily bad. For Robert Greene, all of us are narcissists. You and me. All of us. Every single human being is narcissistic by default. And sabi ko nga kanina, all life forms actually.
You want what is good and beneficial for you. But the difference, according to Robert Greene, is whether someone is a healthy narcissist, or what you call a “deep narcissistic.”
According to Robert Greene, the difference is whether our self-love is healthy enough to be transformed and used for empathy. Whether your self-love, love of self, is used and transformed for empathy, solidarity, service, compassion to others, generosity, acts of service. If I extend love to you, because I know what love is for myself. ‘Yon ‘yong healthy form of narcissism.
Ang opposite is, if this self-love is expressed through selfishness and greed.
“Ako lang! Sa akin lang! Only me! Only mine!”
Selfishness and greed. Manipulation, abuse, and exploitation, so that you can benefit. So that you, only you, gets the attention, the comfort, and the benefit. Also, chronic dependency, and co-dependency. You need to love me and me alone.
But unhealthy or chronic narcissism, or egotistical behavior does not happen out of nowhere. According to Robert Greene, whether a child will turn out to be unhealthy, narcissistic, or deeply narcissistic (or not) is between the ages of two and five years old. According to him: parents and other parent-figures should encourage us in our first efforts at independence. If they validate our need to feel strong and recognize our unique qualities, then our self-image takes root and we can slowly build upon it.
Kaya actually, ang daming nagsasabi na yung mga unhealthy and deeply narcissistic people are people who are insecure. The proper formation of the self or the ego in toddler years.
I want to assume and believe that healthy or unhealthy narcissism is formed up until the age of fourteen or sixteen years old. Para kay Robert Greene kasi, it’s during the toddler years. Para akin, it’s up until about fourteen or sixteen years old. Kasi up until that time ka nagde-develop ng iyong sense of self. And then afterwards, after the age of fourteen to sixteen, it takes firm root. Nag-uugat na siya. Or it becomes hard as cement.
Up until those ages, from toddler to teenage years, did we receive a good balance of attention? Attentive affection from parents or other parent-figures and peers? Did we receive some recognition and acknowledgment from an adult, siblings, and friends? While at the same time, did the adults held us properly accountable for any behavior that is selfish, arrogant and self-centered?
Were there experiences where we were appreciated and validated, while at the same time, experiences where we are forced to think about the welfare and feelings of others and not just ourselves? That the world is not just about you.
Did we have experiences that forced us as a child or as a teenager to think about other people? Or yung childhood ba natin or teenage years were always like: anything you need and want, you get?
Childhood experiences and even trauma are not an excuse nor justification to be a vile and violent human being later on. Of course, we understand trauma. Of course, we understand childhood experiences. And that some of those will lead certain people to behave in certain ways. We understand that, and we want to be in solidarity with people to be in the process of healing. But at the same time, hindi pwedeng palagi na lang ichichika… “I did this because I had childhood trauma.”
Because the question is, what are we doing about it? To heal that childhood trauma? So we do not pass on hurting others?
In our gospel reading today, Jesus talks about the kind of religious leaders who can be interpreted as unhealthy narcissists. The pulpit and the altar are centers of attention and influence, and therefore, focal points of great power. It is no wonder that a lot of unhealthy narcissists are drawn to it. But before talking about narcissistic religious leaders (at marami niyan, especially the charismatic ones)- I also want us all to be aware that there’s a narcissistic spectrum, according to Robert Greene, from which we are all part of.
So, even if Jesus is talking about narcissistic religious leaders, we have to frame it and ground it in the idea na lahat tayo are within the narcissistic spectrum. And even if we are in the healthy spectrum, there are triggers and situations where, minsan, magmu-move ka to the other side. We are in the spectrum. Which also means that both healthy and unhealthy narcissists are in every field, profession, race, and even in almost every religion. So, yung healthy at unhealthy narcissists, nasa lahat ng mga lugar, propesyon, lahi, at relihiyon. Some of these unhealthy narcissists are in our work, and even in family, in school, or in church. Sometimes it’s even us.
Sometimes, they’re subtle. Some of the deeply narcissistic people are subtle. and works incognito. Sometimes they are outright and openly terrible, yet gain the following like Trump, Duterte, or Putin. Other world leaders who, despite their being unhealthy narcissists, gain the following.
Sometimes, they are charismatic and cloaked in the light of religion. The shadow of their narcissism is drowned by both the light of the pulpit and the artificial light of their own charisma. Even as Jesus talks about the narcissistic attitudes and behaviors of some religious leaders of his time, let us also look within ourselves if these things also apply to us.
The first thing is about burdening others while you yourself is not willing to be burdened or to help. In the passage, the priests, the Pharisees burdened the people but were unwilling to help. But is this also applicable to other areas of life? If you’re a manager, a supervisor, a team leader, or if you’re a business owner, do you lay heavy burdens on your subordinates? On you teams or employees? While you yourself are unwilling to share in the work and the burden? And then, in the end, you get the credit, the promotion, or the commendation, and the profits.
Jesus also talks about hypocrisy in the passage. Of teaching and preaching, but not exactly doing them ourselves. Do you do this? Do we do this? Yes. You say one thing and yet do the contrary without any sense of guilt, remorse, or personal accountability. Now, I recognize that, as humans, all of us really have some contradictions. We say one thing and do something else, the complete opposite. But the difference is, do you strive to resolve the contradiction of your words and actions? Do you hold yourself accountable?
A third of today’s lectionary reading talks about the desire to be seen. Jesus talks about the desire to be seen and the desire to be famous. In any profession, or in anything that we do, is it all about being famous or being seen? Sure, perhaps, there’s some level of healthy affirmation. But the question is, is it just about it? And is it just all about you? Is it all just about being famous and seen? Is yourself defined solely by the number of eyes and ears paying attention to you and the number of likes and followers on social media?
The fourth thing that Jesus said about titles that makes us feel important and makes us feel powerful. Is your motivation more about the titles and accolades, rather than the work and the mission that those titles symbolize? Do you wish to be called team lead or TL, sir or madam, boss, CEO, or chairperson because it feels good to hear it and to hear it always? Do you wish to become a pastor or priest because you want to be called father without realizing or wanting the responsibility and the weight of what it means to be a spiritual parent?
Because yes, for many years there are been people who said they want to be pastor. They want to be a priest. They want to be a religious leader because of the title and without realizing the burden, what it actually means to stand here. What does it actually mean when someone calls me pastor. That is not just a word you throw around. There is some weight to that. Are we more about the titles or do we really realize what those titles actually represent, the work that they represent?
Kahit sa academe – PHD, doctor, or professor. Do you wish to be called this name simply because of the social standing they give without the social responsibility of what a serious academic really means or a serious person of any profession really means?
Do you wish to become a pastor or priest because all you see is the way the pastor stands and speaks in front without noticing all the difficulties and challenges of the vocation? The hard work that take that it takes before becoming a pastor? The hard work when you are already the pastor, and what it means to step out and resign as a pastor when the time comes? If you are motivated more because of the title or whatever other privilege you think the title gives, then Jesus tells us, “Do not be called by those titles.”
Do not do things because you merely want to be seen or to be recognized. What is your motivation for anything that you wish to have or aspire for? What is your motivation for doing what you are doing now? What is truly in your heart? God sees, knows, and hears the truest feelings and inner thoughts that we have.
How do we catch ourselves and avoid becoming the kind of narcissistic persons that Robert Greene speaks about? Paano natin maa-avoid ito?
The first one is always check your heart. Always examine your motivations and reasons. Always question your feelings and emotions. Tanungin mo ang sarili mo, “Bakit nga ba gusto kong maging boss? Maging si supervisor? Why do I want to own a business? Why do I want to be a councilor, a professional councilor? Is it already an unhealthy form of narcissism or is it a kind of self-love that is balanced with the love and consideration of others? Are you motivated by noble and honorable reasons, like common good, social justice, and uplifting others? So i-check natin. Pause and always check your own thoughts and inner conversations happening in your mind. If you wish to be a pastor, why? For what reason? If you are imagining yourself in front of the altar or pulpit, is there some other reason, other than feeling good about it? May iba pa bang rason? What are you willing to give up or to transform into? What unknown path are you willing to walk on? And what crazy life are you willing to embrace to become a pastor of your people.
Second: self-awareness. You must be self-aware of your own weaknesses and tendencies. You must be aware, you must check yourself for your own narcissistic feelings and behavior. you must be honest about them to yourself and even to a trusted few. You must be self-aware of your own triggers and moods. Your own traumas and mental health conditions. You should be aware of your own limitations. You must always check yourself and check your well-being to lessen and mitigate narcissistic natures and tendencies. And keep it in a healthy level.
Pangatlo: self-regulation and self-restraint.
Work on yourself. If you work on yourself, then promotion will follow. Undergo the process of discernment, even before considering any promotion, or becoming a pastor. May mga bagay na either wag mo na ituloy, kasi hindi talaga for you or may mga bagay na wag na muna and allow yourself to be transformed and developed.
Self-regulation: the pleasure of sex and the allure of money are the two main temptations and destruction of any leader, religious or secular. Kahit ikaw ang may hawak at nagdedesisyon sa pera ng simbahan, organization or pera ng bayan, can you spend it anyway you want it simply because you are the CEO, the priest, the executive director or because you are the Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines? Dahil lang ikaw ang may posisyon, you do what you want.
Yes, may feelings ka at may pangangailangan bilang tao. And we are committed to justice, to sex positivity and fair labor practice. Pero depende sa context at sa kakayanan. As a leader or someone who has been trusted with the people or money or both. You have to temper and regulate your and your actions. You must overlook and overpower your need for gratification and personal gain. To uphold ethical principles, honorable motivations. And uphold the very role you have or are aspiring for.
Last one, self-development and placing yourself in the larger work and vision. You can have self-development, you can have a certain benefit, you can be compensated. Within appropriate context and situation, you can engage in sexual whatever. But you must you must place yourself, your desires, your needs within the larger context and within the commitments and principles you are following, preaching and believing. Some level of self-interest is okay in the advocacy and ministry works.
But the key here is that, your self-interest should be more about self-development so that you can be effective in the work that you do or will do. You place your self-development in the larger work of advocacy or ministry. Nakapaloob at ini-inform ng community advocacy or justice work ang iyong paglago bilang indibidwal.
We are all narcissistic. We are all egotistical. But we must examine ourselves where we are in the spectrum. And how to best conduct and carry our bodies, our genders and our identities. To serve and love one another. Let us not be blinded by positions and centers of power, nor allow ourselves to be distracted by titles and crowns. And should any of you here aspire to become leaders, check your hearts for your motivation. And ask yourself if you are willing to give yourself to what the role or position demands and requires. Let us appraise and assess ourselves and then focus on what we need to heal and develop. So that we can participate in the true work of love in the world. Instead of selfish love that seeks to use and abuse others, let us turn our self-love to be a force of empathy, solidarity, and good for others in our world.
Magulo na ang mundo natin, our world is a crazy place now, wag na tayong dumagdag mga bakla. Wag na tayong dumagdag sa ingay ng mga echuserang influencers at mga karismatik na pastoras or politicians at makisali sa kanilang pakikipag-agawan sa posisyon at tensyon at kapangyarihan.
Tayo ay taga-sunod ni Kristo. We are followers of Jesus. Na hindi naghahangad kasikatan at kapangyarihan. Bagkus, nangangaral, nagsisilbi, naghihilom. At nagbibigay ng kaniyang sarili. And therefore we call him, Lord and savior. And see him as an example of what rule servant leadership means.
Jesus never claimed any titles. His own work and sacrifice, spoke and declared the title themselves. Jesus never claimed titles and crowns. His work and sacrifice spoke and declared the titles themselves. So do the work even without the title, speak goodness and truth even when so few are listening and looking. Your own work and commitment will speak for itself.
The people you help and serve will testify and speak on your behalf. Don’t desire or aspire to be someone. Just be someone, whose self-love overflows to love and serve others the way Jesus did.