YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Some years back, as then American pre-election tensions ran high across the country, the BBC, thinking, I suspect, to add historical perspective to the arena of public service, re-broadcast a story first run 60 years ago:
“The mayor and corporation of High Wycombe [Buckinghamshire, England] were weighed in today in full view of the public to see whether or not they have been getting fat at the taxpayers’ expense. The annual custom dates back to medieval times and is unique to this Buckinghamshire market town. Weight is no longer an election issue, but for custom’s sake the new mayor, Councilor Lesley Brain, and 24 charter trustees and honorary burgesses obliged by sitting on a specially erected scale to have their weights recorded and compared with last year’s. Traditionally the macebearer dressed in traditional costume rings a bell and calls out the weight. When he adds the words ‘And no more!’ the crowd cheers as a sign of their appreciation and gratitude for hard work done for the community. But if he shouts ‘And some more!’ it means the mayor has been indulging in too much good living at taxpayers’ expense and the crowd jeers and boos.
“In years gone by they would have also pelted the offending person with tomatoes and rotten fruit. Luckily for the new mayor, this year’s crowd was more restrained as the macebearer shouted: ‘Councilor Brain – 13 stone 2lbs – and some more!’ A rather corpulent Councilor R.A. Wood weighing in at 20 stone received a loud ‘Boo!’ as he slid off the scales.
“The weighing-in was preceded by the mayor- making ceremony which began at the Mayor’s Parlor in Victoria Road followed by a colorful procession to the Guildhall. The new mayor signed several legal oaths to the monarch, the citizens of High Wycombe and to the clerk of the market. The tradition of weighing the mayor is unique to High Wycombe.” (BBC, May 20, 1958) While we in America tend to use more sophisticated means to identify fat cats, High Wycombe’s age-old method is surely simpler, quicker and so public as to be beyond refutation. That town’s citizenry insists that those who’ve vowed to serve ought to grow lean as the town thrives, not the other way around.
It’s a fearful measurement for both those in public service and those of us in religious service. Were I ever to get on that scale in High Wycombe, I know for sure that the ceremonial macebearer would call out in a loud voice last year’s weight and then add in a near shout, “And some more!”
What lesson might the BBC have been offering America’s elected officials by the replay of that now 60 year-old segment? It’s the same lesson offered by Jesus to his followers as we hear him clarifying the role of discipleship in today’s gospel passage. Simply put, those who’ve vowed to serve ought to grow lean while those they serve thrive. Or, to put it in gospel language, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)
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