Perfection Demanded By Empire

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in sincerity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal; be ardent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Scripture Reading 1
Romans 12:1-16 (NRSV)

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Scripture Reading 2
Matthew 20:20-28 (NLT)

Even if we have individual tendencies toward arrogance, self-righteousness, we imagine ourselves as better, if not the best, than other people, there is a social structure. There’s a sociopolitical, economic structure, and culture that pushed us or molded us to have those tendencies and to be that way.

Perfectionism is first taught at home and in school. You are rewarded and applauded when you get a perfect score or a high mark sa quiz, sa test, or sa exam. You are celebrated when you graduate with honors, lalo na if you graduate as valedictorian or salutatorian.

Kaya nga sabi sa article ni Sharon Martin, which was mentioned last week, The root of perfectionism is believing your self-worth is based on your achievements. Ang value mo as a person comes only from what you produce. What you become.

Perfectionism starts at home. And I quote Sharon Martin, “Perfectionism is encouraged in some families. Sometimes parents knowingly and unknowingly establish perfection as the standard. Mistakes are also harshly punished in these families. The punishment may be severe, even abusive, It is conveyed to the child in words or actions that mistakes will not be tolerated.”

And for some LGBT+ people, being LGBT+ is in itself already a mistake. Hence the punishment to some LGBT+ individuals. As a Church that claims to be progressive, and one of the values that we practice, mababangit sa latter part, we practice critical thinking. So, we must also be aware and understand that that different ways of perfectionism have been practiced, encouraged, and manifested in our families as part of a larger sociopolitical and historical system that goes all the way back to the Roman Empire.

What many call as the traditional or normative family goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. It is an enduring legacy, or more correctly, it’s the persistent curse that has reached us even today.

Sa social order na ‘yan, the father is the head of the family, and then the Emperor is the father of fathers. In the Greco-Roman Empire, the young man is expected to excel in athletics and combat, philosophy and rhetoric, the management of one’s household and enterprise. You are to reflect and emulate the excellence and the perfection of the Emperor, the father of fathers.

This entire culture and sociopolitical consciousness that privileges perfection through male excellence is also based on hierarchy, dominance, and conquest.

Pero ang akala natin, that is all in the past. It’s also here now and today.

Promotion based on excellence and productivity is based on two things. Competition and process. Productivity is based on competition, where you need to show that you can do better and more than the other person, to such an extent that you have to slave yourself to prove that you are the better person. Mag-overtime ka nang walang pay nang bonggang-bongga to outshine the competitor sa trabaho. Kahit hindi na makatao, basta ma-promote ka lang.

Paano na? This version of competition within corporations, and perhaps the competitive culture we have, is our version of the Roman conquest. To dominate. To climb the corporate ladder while kicking others to fall from the ladder. It is not even about excellence and productivity per se. It is primarily competition, conquest, and climbing the hierarchy.

Sa mga accla, sa LGBT – pagalingan at pagandahan. Ako ang mas magaling. Ako ang mas matalino sa ‘yo. Ako ang mas sosyal. Ako ang mas may class. Ako ang mas maraming body count. Ako ang mas magaling.

Ang ganitong mga behaviors and attitudes and practices within our social and corporate circles na mostly, hindi tayo aware, ay may malalim na hugot at pinanggagalingan. Bukod sa self-awareness, we also have to have socio-political awareness of why we live in a world of male privileging, competition, and hierarchies. Why women have to do more to be promoted. Why LGBT have to do triple more to be promoted. Dahil ito ang pinakaugat at kaluluwa ng oppression at kaapihan. An entire cultural, social, and political system that would want us to believe and continue to practice perfection based on competition and hierarchical domination.

Bakit? Kasi, it is all around us. And it is in the very fabric of the almost everything we do and everywhere we go. Most basic of which, sa bahay, sa school, sa corporate na trabaho or negosyo. At maging sa mainstream and dominant churches. Kung bakit in some churches, lalaki lang ang puwedeng maging pari o pastor.

Our gospel reading today is a direct reaction and resistance against the Roman social order and hierarchy. The reason Jesus was killed is because he was offering a totally different social order. And why the early Christians got killed. Our Gospel Reading today is a direct reaction and resistance against the Roman social order and hierarchy. Those who lead are the ones who must serve and must be willing to give their lives for their people. The Roman society says – the one who leads is the one on top. Served, glorified and privileged. Worthy of the wealth of the people. The wealth that the people worked for, or the wealth of the conquered peoples.

Even in the Jewish mindset, as expressed in the Gospel story, genuinely believed that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Who will expel the Roman occupiers? (Kasi ang Messiah in the Jewish thinking is not spiritual. The Messiah is a political person, a liberator, similar to Moses and to David.)

Jesus, I think, coming from the prophetic tradition, and knowing well the heart of the Jewish covenant law, saw that the problem is much deeper. Mas malalim yung problema, than simply paalisin ang mga occupiers. He saw that a kin-dom on earth must not be the same as the other kingdoms of earth where leadership is based on competition and conquest between the powerful and those who can assert through violence. Kin-dom is not about competition or hierarchy for Jesus. Leadership and Kin-dom is not based on outshining each other’s excellence, beauty, or productivity. It is not about who sits on the right, who sits on the left, and who’s the queen at the center.

And yet exactly the opposite is what most of us do. It is exactly the opposite kind of leaders we look for and we vote for. It is exactly the kind of leader most of us want to become. To be the powerful, the most beautiful, the strongest, and the smartest above everyone else.

But that’s not what Jesus is saying. In the kin-dom of Jesus, the Greek word “basileia,” leadership is about service and not personal gain or glory. Leadership is not about outshining the other, but making sure we recognize and encourage each other’s light.

Di ba ang sabi ni Jesus: “you are the light of the world.”

Lahat kayo ay liwanag, at lahat kayo ay dapat magliwanag at magningning. Hindi lang si Queen Bee ang magniningning. After all, there is no way to outshine light. Pwede ba mag outshine yung ilaw sa ilaw? Light is light, and they dissolve into one another.

Leadership is not about others serving you and dying for you, like the Roman Emperor. It is you serving and dying for your people. That’s the example of Jesus. And for the greater cause.

If every single person is willing to die for each and every other person, then no one would have to. If all of us are willing to die for the person next to you, then no one in the world would have to die. And then the world will finally know and experience genuine peace.

The problem that Jesus wanted to address is not simply expelling the Roman Empire and replacing it with a Jewish Empire, and bring back the good old golden days of David and Solomon. (Which by the way, historians and archaeologists and other biblical scholars tell us, was not really a golden age at all.)

Jesus wanted a new and different kin-dom. Where there is no competition, but rather communal cooperation, community cooperation. Jesus envisioned a new and different kingdom where there are no longer enemies, because even enemies are people we must love, feed, and pray for. And when there is conflict, Jesus saw a kin-dom, or wanted a kin-dom where there is a matured way of communicating. Of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Jesus wanted a kin-dom where the poor and those who seek justice are the ones who are truly blessed. Blessed are the poor. And the peacemakers are the true children of God and not the emperor. A kin-dom where there’s always room for grace and redemption. Even for those who have lost their way. Instead of punishment and torture. A kin-dom where everyone shared everything in common and gave according to each one’s need. Eating and praying together with glad and thankful hearts as practiced by the early Christians told to us in Acts 2 and Acts 4. As compared to the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Empire, where a few live in luxury and comfort, while other people are hungry and thirsty. While other people are overworked and underpaid. Or worse, others live in comfort and luxury, while other people are constantly displaced, homes are taken, neighborhoods are bombed, civilians tortured, and children killed.

All the conflicts and problems in the world today can be traced back to the system of empire that demands and encourages perfection through domination and competition. It is all around, and it is within each one of us to recognize this, especially when you wish to rise and succeed.

I want to end this preaching with the Letter of Paul to the Romans:

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to the standards of competition in this world, in this age. But be transformed by the renewing of the mind so that you may discern what is the will of God. What is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me as I say to everyone among you, not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For us in one body, we have many members. And not all the members have the same function. So we who are many are one body in Christ. And individually, we are members of one another.

In short, pantay-pantay tayong lahat. Tayo ay magkakasama. Walang mas maganda o mas magaling. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. Prophesy in proportion to faith, ministry and ministering, the teacher in teaching, the encourager in encouragement, the giver in sincerity, the teacher in teaching, the leader in diligence, the compassionate in cheerfulness

Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with mutual affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal. Be ardent in spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in affliction. Persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints. Pursue hospitality to the strangers, the people you do not know. Bless those who persecute you. And mahirap din minsan, di ba? Bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep – especially with your LGBT friends. Live in harmony with one another, even if you are different. Do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly. Do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Yes, we have to excel. Yes, we have to achieve. Yes, we have to be productive. Yes, we have to be beautiful. But we have to be aware of the ways that this world is trying to make us isolated and enemies to one another.

And like Jesus and the early Christians, we have to resist the system, and the culture of competition and domination. In the name of Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served.


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