YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: TRUE SUCCESS
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
The manager of a business company died. During the funeral wake, an ambitious employee boldly approached the president of the company and asked, “Sir, now that the manager is dead, can I take his place?” He was obviously referring to the position of manager. But the big boss was thinking about another thing. He replied, “Oh, yes, of course. There is no problem with me. But we will have to ask the permission of the funeral director if he will allow you to take the place of the deceased.”
In the Gospel this Sunday, the brothers James and John asked their mother to tell Jesus about their ambition: to “sit, one at your right and the other at your left” (Mk 10:37). When the other disciples heard about it, they became indignant at the two brothers. In other words, everybody was also ambitious. Surprisingly, Jesus did not reprimand the two brothers. Instead, he took the occasion to teach all of them the lesson on true greatness. It is not in being ahead of others but in serving others: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44).
Ambition is fueled by the desire to be successful. But success can be viewed differently. For worldly people, to succeed means to excel, to be ahead of the pack, to be above one’s competitors. This was what James and John had in mind when they asked Jesus, not just to be given a place in his kingdom, but "to sit, one at your right hand and the other at your left" (Mark 10:37). "You do not know what you are asking," Jesus says to them (v. 38), and then continues to teach them about true success. For Jesus, success means to completely follow the will of God. Looking at Jesus on the cross, one may easily think that he is a loser. But actually, that is peak of his success. He has overcome the temptation to run away or to use his divine power against his enemies. Instead, he endured everything silently, “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:8-11). What higher success can there be? True success is measured, not in accomplishing one’s ambition, but in fulfilling the will of God.
There are two extremes that we must avoid. On the one hand is fatalism. This is the belief that everything is predetermined by God, and we cannot do anything else. So, it is useless to strive for anything, and just leave everything to fate. On the other hand is unbridled ambition, which leads to unhealthy competition, fierce rivalry, jealousy and arrogance.
Fatalism must be rejected. It is true that God created us, and He has a plan for each one of us. But He does not take away our freedom. The Blessed Mother is the best example. She was chosen by God from the very beginning to be the Mother of His Son. So, He gave her the unique privilege of the Immaculate Conception. But she did not lose her freedom. At the Annunciation, God sent an angel to seek her cooperation in the divine plan. She became God’s vital instrument because she freely consented to the divine plan. In the same way, God has a plan for each of us. But this does not mean that we will just remain passive. His plan cannot work if we do not freely consent and cooperate. St. Augustine said: “God, who created you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation.”
The other extreme – unbridled ambition – should also be rejected. This is very prevalent nowadays. This is the “I-can-do-anything-I-want” mentality. This usually ends up in something worse: the “I-am-God” mentality. The person does not care about God. He will pursue what he wants in life, no matter what the consequences are on others, by hook or by crook. But there is no end to his hunger for more success. It is what is called “rat race” – everybody joining the mad rush forward without any clear direction, only to fall headlong down the cliff. The trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you are still a rat – still miserable and a failure. Against this kind of ambition, St. Paul exhorts us: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others” (Phil 2:3-4).
Virtue always lies in the middle: not too much, and not too little. True success lies between fatalism and unbridled ambition. We acknowledge that God has the best and most effective plan for each of us, and He has given us a lot of talents and gifts to fulfill the plan. Let us freely abide by His plan and use our gifts to accomplish it, not because we want to be ahead of others, but because doing the will of God is the only way to be truly successful. St. Irenaeus said: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” A man who develops his full potentials and God- given gifts is the one who glorifies God the most. This Sunday we celebrate World Mission Sunday. Let us remember in our prayers the missionaries all over the world who are laboring to spread the Christian faith in different parts of the world. Let us also support them with whatever financial help we can contribute. They have offered their lives for the sake of Christ. They are truly great men and women because they are following Jesus, the Son of Man who “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs, Susano Road Camarin, Caloocan City 1422