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Unifying thread in ‘Parables of Jesus’

(Article published in the Aug 4,2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

I am a partner at Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles and have always been proud of being a member of that law firm. We are one of the lawyers of PIATCO and, though I was not, from the beginning and up to now, personally involved in representing the company, I am neither embarrassed nor do I offer any apologies for our being so or for the way we have championed its cause.  Thus, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in a most unpresidential fashion at the MOPC last Thursday asked, “What can you expect from a lawyer of PIATCO?”, I hastened to ask my senior partners for the right of first reply and, with my literary blade, slice off a piece of the offensive tongue. 

My seniors, however, bade me put back the sword in the scabbard and told me that the collegial decision is to “let it be”.  Well, then, so be it, for the moment at least.  And, inasmuch as I am still in the biblical mood, I want to take this opportunity to make a review of an excellent book entitled “Parables of Jesus” by Fr. Steven C. Zabala, published this June by Reyes Publishing, Inc. for the Catholic Book Center. 

Father Zabala is the parish priest of Our Lady of Pentecost Parish at Loyola Heights, Quezon City where he was assigned in May, 1999.  He is just in his mid-thirties and was ordained a priest on March 25, 1996, barely seven years ago.   But though short in years, he is long in pastoral experience.  After his ordination, he was assigned  Assistant Parish Priest of  Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Cubao and then Parish Priest of San Isidro Labrador Parish in Bagong Silang, both in Quezon City.  He was a member of the Presbyteral Council of the Archdiocese of Manila and former Vicar Forane of the Vicariate of St. Joseph. 


The title “Parables of Jesus” is, at first blush, descriptive of only half of what’s inside since the book, which is a collection of the young priest’s homilies, contains not only sermons based on Jesus’ stories, known popularly as “parables”,  but also his reflections on other passages of the Gospels.  A deeper appreciation of the book reveals how skillfully the title played on the ambiguity of the English “of”.  As the reader moves from one homily to another, he realizes a  unifying thread.  Here is God’s youthful storyteller, telling people about the Ultimate Story, Jesus. 

His homilies reflect the current trend in pastoral theology to bring to the faithful heretofore neglected aspects of the gospel stories.  For instance,     Mark 4:1-20 is known to most of us as the parable of the good seed, the lesson we remember being taught is that we ought to be like the good soil, receiving the good news and making it bear much fruit.  Fr. Steve, in “Bad Farmer?”,  draws attention to the central character: the sower.  Here was a generous God, a “wasteful farmer” who scatters the seeds not only in fertile soil but also in stony and thorny grounds because “He doesn’t see them as barren lands.  He sees opportunities in desolate places.  He sees possibilities in infertile lands”. 

Also, his homily on Mark 5: 21-43 which is about how Jesus raised Jarius’s daughter back to life and, while on his way, healed a hemorrhagic woman.  These are ordinarily presented as faith stories with Jarius and the woman held up as models of how our faith ought to be as strong as Jarius’ to repeatedly beg for the healing of one’s loved one and as trusting as the woman’s who believed that merely touching Jesus’ cloak would heal her.  In “Loved Equally”, Fr. Steve focuses not on what is common with the two stories but why the two stories were put together.  Taken together, they, to him, demonstrate “how the Lord loves us.  He loves both big people and small people.  He responds to all kinds of human problems, from the serious ones, like the death of Jarius’ daughter, and the less serious ones, like the woman’s bleeding.”  He concludes, “The Lord gives the same attention, the same intensity, the same dosage of love and compassion, whatever our status in life is.” 

By far the most moving of his homilies is “A Caring Parish”.  It tells the story of road accident that occurred on January 26 of this year involving about 80 of his parishioners traveling on a bus, a van and a car.  They were crossing Commonwealth Avenue from UP University Road on their way to attend the 7:00 AM closing mass of the Fourth World Meeting of Families at the Luneta Park in Manila.  A dump truck filled with sand, traveling fast towards Fairview, careened from the left side and rammed against the van, dragging it three to five meters unto the traffic post at the corner of the road.  All the 12 passengers inside the van were injured, some serious the other not so. 

And the story of how parishioners all joined in to assist the victims is Jesus’ story itself.  Noteworthy is his observation that “majority of those who immediately responded to help were people coming from our areas.  They belonged to the less materially blessed sector of our parish.  Sometimes, they are people whom society looks at with suspicion.  They are the little ones who are often belittled by some of us, wittingly or unwittingly perhaps”.  The rest of the story must be read in the original. No wonder Fr. Steve is loved by his flock.  Writes Onofre Pagsanghan, himself a great story teller: “We love our parish priest.  We are happy that he is what he is – a happy and holy priest.  Young and optimistic.  Simple and uncomplicated.  Easy to understand and understanding.  Gentle and kind; but focused and dynamic…”