What Makes a Person

9 July 2006: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 6, 1-6 What makes a person?

When Jesus came to Nazareth, he was returning as a teacher, not a carpenter. He was coming, now as a Rabbi, who carried with him his own disciples. He taught in the synagogue, where people gather to listen to teachers. Ordinarily, Rabbis are given honor, but the people of Nazareth knew Jesus from boyhood, and they knew he was a tektōn. A tektōn was not merely an ordinary carpenter; he was a craftsman who could build anything from a simple table to a house. Homer said that tektōns in the ancient world built ships and houses and temples. And thus, because Jesus --- like his father, Joseph--- was a tektōn they refuse to believe him.

The Gospel speaks about a cultural attitude that looks down on blue-collared jobs, on people whose work does not find him in the tall buildings of Makati or Ortigas, but on the streets of Quiapo and the iskinitas of urban poor communities. It is an attitude that does not regard as honorable work by the sidewalks, vendors of fishballs, corn and isaw. We might have loved the famous products from the streets --- and UP is famous for its fishball and isaw --- but when it comes to the real thing, this attitude comes to the fore. When it comes to relationships, for example, we hear parents ask, “Kaninong anak ‘yan? Baka taga-diyan lang” (Whose child is he/she?). The culture of the present generation has it that certain things are “pogi points” --- you become more attractive if you have the following things: a car, a big house, or a glamorous career. It is not surprising that basketball and movie stars can move from one relationship to the other, while those who are from the backstage struggle to enter or keep relationships. Family background, pedigree and fortune still count to many as matters of great worth.

But what makes a person great? David Aikman, in his book, “Great Souls” said that he has always been inspired by the lives of great people, how they have risen from adversity and maintained a kind of purity in the midst of great temptation. If we follow David Aikman’s thought, then the fishball, corn and isaw vendors, the maintenance crew and the canteen staff count as great people. If you come to get to know them, they struggle to rise from great adversity and maintained a faith in God, stronger than death or a financial crisis. The Gospel tells us that the people of Nazareth referred to Jesus as “Mary’s son” meaning Joseph had been dead and Jesus who took over Joseph’s craft, took care of his family till he was thirty. Their souls and their hearts --- like Jesus --- are stronger than many of us. It is no wonder that Jesus preferred to be an ordinary and simple tektōn --- not a king or a political leader. It is to make the statement that greatness does not lie in how rich or popular you are, what position you have or who your friends are, or how beautiful or handsome you are. Greatness lies in character. Character forged by great adversity; strength tested in fire. This is what makes heroes and saints. This is what makes a person unforgettable.

A final word. To those of you who study: remember that when you leave the university, think who have saved you from great adversity. Get to know at least one of them. The photocopier who hurriedly copied your handouts and reviewers, the isaw and fishball vendors who provided instant food that fits your meager allowance or the meal vendor who with their small capital allowed you to give you a meal on credit, or the janitor who kept your rooms clean and liveable --- these are the people to whom you owe survival in a huge university as UP. To them you owe valuable service. Consider: a tektōn --- not a king or a president --- has saved the world.

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