Material goods are instruments, not goals

Mark 10:17-27. How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!

Wealth is not the goal; but it could be an instrument to love our neighbors and truly enter the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus said to sell our possessions and to leave our families, how could we practically understand this better? I find solace in sustainability goals, social entrepreneurship, and integral human development goals in business. It may not necessarily be a very literal renouncement of our ties with our families and possessions, but rather, it is about renouncing overattachment – a bastardized version of “love”.

When politicians and businesspeople engage in nepotism, as in providing favors solely because of relationships and not because of merit, how is this “love”?

When a father merely provides financial sustenance to his wife and child without any attempts to build relationships, how is this “love”?

When a “philanthropist” donates a million dollars but continues to delay wages of his employees, how is this “love”?

When a businessman avoids taxes legally and delays payments to his suppliers, he may have complied with the law. But how is this “love”?

Entering the Kingdom means being authentically in love with our neighbor. The social entrepreneur seizes business opportunities to have just enough for himself and his partner communities. The salaryman donates a significant portion of his wages for a friend in need, no questions asked. The foundation director invests time and effort to teach business skills to the marginalized, not just donating nor posing for pictures for PR BS.

How beautiful would it be if businesspersons can become benevolent alchemists – capitalizing on business to convert goods into gold, then gold into Goods.


Insight is inner sight

Luke 6:39-45. Be wary of hypocrisy and judgement of others

A unique trait humans have is the ability to self-identify and refer unto one’s self. This is also how we learn; we are able to identify our behavioral patterns and design an environment to correct it or exercise personal agency to correct ourselves.

It is easier and more convenient to keep up appearances, rather than to wrestle with our thoughts that no other people can know. But this is contrary to our natural desire to know and our destiny to flourish.

I wonder: what would happen if all people or students would be required to experience being an athlete, artist, or performer once in their lives? The discipline and self-critique required to improve one’s craft are evidently honed in these kinds of activities.

Acquiring an insight to ourselves is not about vanity, but about an inner sight grounded on authenticity. It is not about competing with others, but rather, mastering one’s self. There is beauty in this struggle – understanding the limits of our own agency; accounting for the structures, culture, and external context that affect how we think and act; and crafting, with faith and reason, strategies that reconcile our entanglement with God and our neighbors.


When have we stopped being children?

Mark 10:13-16. Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it

How is it possible that a child already has a natural and pure desire to know the truth?

How is it possible that my nephews and nieces can call me out when I try to trick them in a silly and goofy manner? “You’re lying Ninong Patch! You’re so silly!”

How is it possible that a child relentlessly asks why, and acts and verifies a claim with his own (mis)adventures?

When did we decide to stop being children, becoming drunk with our own conspiracy theories, convenient narratives, and BS?

In a loving environment (e.g., family and friends), the child naturally seeks the good and the opportunity to flourish. But what have we done to our society? We suppressed the children in us, opting for a bastardized version of an ethics of care, reciprocity, and quid pro quo.

It is the irony of ironies: children are wiser and more authentic than us adults.


The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Mark 10:1-12. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate

The common themes in love songs are the honeymoon phase and the breakup phase, illustrating the intensity of highs and lows in a romantic relationship. During the courtship and premarital relationship stages, both parties get to know more about each other and assess how good a fit one is with the other.

Marriage is supposed to be an oath with a Higher Power as the key witness. This is a testament where love and oneness emerges not from excitable hearts and hormones, but from the discernment of the mind, heart, and spirit. Marriage should be an opportunity for two authentic lovers to pay attention to the new entity (couple) that emerges; to gain insight about oneself, the other, and the couple; and to commit together. A marriage allows us to appreciate what “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” mean from a human perspective. There is a miraculous beauty, an exponential surplus of meaning, in marriage.

But if marriage is treated as just another “title” between couples, if we make marriage akin to try-and-refund schemes of consumer products, then we risk destroying the beauty of what marriage should really mean. If marriage enables a new whole to emerge that is greater than the sum of its parts, attempting to break up a marriage could lead to the painful opposite:

When the whole is broken apart, the individual parts could be lesser than what they were individually before; suffering, losing meaning.


Gardens and jungles

Mark 9:41-50. Avoid causing the little ones to sin

In terms of avoiding sin and choosing virtue, half the battle is the context: are you in a garden of paradise or a jungle of survival and temptations?

I’ve come to realize that the best way to avoid sin is to avoid putting oneself in situations filled with temptations. Since we are naturally imperfect, we all have our weaknesses. And sometimes, discernment cannot necessarily cure our flaws, but at least it can help us recognize our weaknesses so we can avoid situations where we are prone to sin.

Thus, if managers should embrace the vocation of a business leader, one of their mandates should be to design a working environment that facilitates good work and avoids temptations. Our behaviors are both a product of our agency and the structures that surround us.

If we are blessed with the power to cultivate gardens and avoid jungles of survival of the fittest, then we should be compelled to choose the former. If a marginalized person sins primarily because of an environment he is not able to escape from, I surmise that God will show mercy. But if a person who was blessed with power still chooses to sin regardless of their environment, then I surmise God will exact justice.

To whom much is given, much is expected. If you can, avoid jungles and be in gardens.


For whoever is not against us is for us

Mark 9:38-40. For whoever is not against us is for us

This, for me, demonstrates the allure of the teachings of Jesus. When common sense or the “law of the jungle” would say that our world is that of survival of the fittest, when we say that those who are not with us are against us, Jesus would go the other way.

Whoever is not against us is for us.

Isn’t this more inclusive, instead of the divisive ways we tend to fall into?

Doesn’t this speak to the existence of the objective good and virtue?


How do we know that we know? All human insights have to be verified

Matthew 16:13-19. Who do you say that I am?

(Note: This is Matthew’s version of the same gospel from Mark 8:27-33)

Peter’s understanding of the real identity of Jesus is said to be an example of divine revelation, characterized by God choosing to reveal Himself to humans. A somewhat frustrating takeaway from this is that human understanding is always fallible and limited; and we can never fully understand the ways of God.

At the same time, this truth can be liberating in a way, because we can then devote our stamina towards being truly good and virtuous, rather than fixating on “fully explaining God” which is an impossible task. Our insight of God can deepen, but can never fully suffice.

As a side note, the Catholic Church and even different Christian sects have discussed divine revelations in terms of private and public revelations: An interesting takeaway from this is how the Catholic Church evaluates revelations: the default is a healthy form of skepticism.

We are familiar with the story of Doubting Thomas after the resurrection. I’m not too fond of the interpretation that it was wrong for Thomas to doubt that Jesus had indeed risen. Current believers have the benefit of hindsight, but imagine yourself in the shoes of Thomas: you heard a very extraordinary claim from friends you trust. Isn’t it natural to be incredulous first?

Frankly, I am empathetic to Thomas. And in a sense, maybe the reason why Thomas had to doubt was because he knew his limitations and inferiorities. Nevertheless, Jesus chose to reveal Himself to Thomas, and mentioned that those who have faith even without sense-seeing are more blessed. But I don’t think Jesus necessarily chastised Thomas for seeking evidence first; perhaps He knew that Thomas had to discern much more before Thomas can acknowledge the Truth revealed before him.

If any, this is a sign of love and peace from Christ.

Even if I have gained three higher education degrees already, I do not fashion myself as a “gifted genius” ala Einstein. I am not the fastest and most accurate when it comes to logic and puzzles, but I know I have a strong desire to know, to inquire, to pursue eureka moments. Maybe my love for writing has allowed me to develop a sort of intellectual grit and stamina. I may not be as fast as a rabbit, but I surely will do my best to march like the turtle.

In a sense, Peter was “more” blessed because he gained divine revelation about the real identity of Jesus. Yet, Peter denied Him more out of fear than doubt. On the other hand, Thomas had his doubts and required a sort of evidence so as not to succumb to blind faith nor simply be fooled; Thomas knew that human insights are fallible. Therefore, Jesus revealed Himself to Thomas; a divine revelation.

Only He is perfect. We can only strive to be excellent because we can never be perfect – we can never be God. Still, Jesus loves us for who we really are — virtuous, curious, and thirsty for what is truly good.


Faith is about humble reasoning and responsible action, not testing God nor the other

Mark 9:14-29. Help my unbelief!

I distinguish between “abandoning reason” versus “recognizing the limits of reason”. I can see the danger that this gospel could be misinterpreted: as if all that matters is an intention or a belief. But as the story of Job and the temptation of Jesus at the desert showed, faith is not about testing God, as in “Hah God is omnipotent, therefore He will save me!”…

… Rather, faith is about a humbled way of reasoning and a responsible way of acting that is oriented towards the Good.

When we say that we have faith in someone, what exactly do we mean? “I believe in you.” If we agree with the premise that it’s human nature to be good and to seek flourishing, perhaps it’s more appropriate to say, “I believe in your goodness”.

We have been gifted the ability to reason, to reflect, and to act. Aren’t these gifts the best manifestations of God’s intelligence, reasonableness, and responsibility?

Perhaps the invitation is not to think about faith and reason as a dichotomy, but instead, two sides of the same coin: virtuousness. Integral human development means the flourishing of the mind, heart, and soul.

Maybe the Lasallian vocation said it best: Lasallian teachers are called to teach minds, touch hearts, and transform lives.


Justice seeks an appropriate penalty; vengeance seeks to destroy another

Luke 6:27-38. Love your enemies

The tragedy of vengeance is that it creates a vicious cycle. If the desired outcome is to stop evil and pursue good, evil cannot be a response to another evil.

This is waaaaaay easier said than done.

The commandment of Jesus to love one’s enemies, I think, is one of the most thought and heart-provoking. It seems irrational and unnatural. I recall an instance when a loved one shared how a trusted friend betrayed trust. Immediately, I caught myself thinking of vengeance; to ensure that the abuser gets what he deserves and more.

… “and more.”

This is the difference between justice and vengeance: justice is rational and seeks fairness, an appropriate penalty for a wrongdoing. Vengeance is emotional, driven to pay back wrongdoing a thousandfold. Vengeance can trigger a vicious cycle that transcends generations – such is the power of wrath, pride, and greed.

The practical way, I think, to honor this commandment is to let mercy be the default. I cannot authentically “love” my enemies the way I love my friends. But perhaps, at least, I can still treat them as persons and dignify them as such. Or if I cannot control myself yet, at least I can avoid and ignore.

I don’t think I have acquired the necessary maturity and wisdom to fully comprehend what “loving one’s enemies” means. Nevertheless, I dare say that this teaching is one of the most powerful; something that would make me proud to be a follower of Christ.


An authentic faith is not an appeal to our gullibility

Mark 9:2-13. The transfiguration of Jesus

Even after the transfiguration, Jesus insisted to the Apostles not to divulge what they have witnessed, at least not before the Son of Man’s death and resurrection. This speaks to the importance of timing and one’s personal journey of discernment in encountering God.

I have heard heartbreaking stories about teachers fooling or abusing students. Even worse, I have heard of a certain Christian Living “teacher” abusing students. This is akin to the abuse of Catholic priests we have heard in the news. (Before I continue my reflection, this paragraph is not meant to generalize what a few rotten apples have done to the teaching profession and the priestly vocation. I have learned so much from the insights of various mentors and spiritual counsellors at different stages of my life.)

My takeaway is that an authentic faith is an invitation to engage in deep reflection that culminates in a personal commitment to virtue and the Common Good. On the other hand, an inauthentic “faith” can be used by “false teachers” to take principles out of context and make another blindly comply with authority.

Having taught in high school, I realize that it is easier to impose and expect full compliance from angsty, emotional, impressionable, and gullible teenagers (haha… This hurts because looking back, this applies to my own student teenage life!). But if I keep on relying on this kind of power as a teacher, what would separate me from the rotten apples who may have relied on the same power dynamics and abuse their students?

Teachers bear a literal life-and-death responsibility, because our words may shape the views of our students. At least in the Philippine society, I’d like to believe that teachers are respected, and students often place faith on us. Their lives could be literally on our hands.

Thus, an advice I would give to my teenage student self:

“Real teachers invite you to reflect, and to be a healthy skeptic of some sort (to counteract your teenage gullibility). They don’t aim to impress your impressionable tendencies (and, you are gullible even if you don’t think you are!). Real teachers express their views but do not impose; and they encourage you to own your decisions.

“Real teachers do not appeal to your gullibility and emotions, but to your sense of authenticity and discernment.”

If I would be able to teach my younger self, hopefully, he can call me one of his real teachers.

(Shoutout to the real ones, Pax Et Bonum and Animo La Salle po sa inyo!)