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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Isaiah 53:4, 10-11,   Hebrews 4:14-16,     Mark 10:35-45

- on the Gospel - What Is Success?
Alexander Woolcott, one of the most famous alumni of Hamilton College, New York, was asked to give a major address at the college's centennial celebration. Woolcott gave a memorable speech which began with these words: "I send my greetings today to all my fellow alumni of Hamilton College, scattered all over the world. Some of you are successes, and some of you are failures - only God knows which are which!" This is a wonderful reminder to us that in our measurement of success and failure, "God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways God's ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our ways, and God's thoughts than our thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9 paraphrase). This is the lesson that the overambitious disciples, James and John, are about to learn in today's gospel story.

If there is one thing we know for sure about predestination it is this: God created everyone for success. God did not create anyone for failure. But what do success and failure mean? For most people, as for James and John, success means to be head of the pack. To succeed means to excel. Success is measured by comparing one's achievements against the achievements of one's "competitors." That is why James and John go to Jesus and ask not that they be granted a place in his kingdom but that they be granted "to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory" (Mark 10:37). "You do not know what you are asking," Jesus says to them (verse 38), and then proceeds to teach them a new understanding of success.

For Jesus success means people realizing and fulfilling God's dream for them. Jesus tells us, contrary to popular thinking, that anybody cannot be anything. Before people come into this world, divine providence has already crafted a dream for each person to live out. We do not come into life to write our own job description, we come with a divine job description in our hands and with the physical and mental traits necessary to get the job done. That is what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is all about. God needed a singular job to be done, that of being the mother of His incarnate Son, and He created a woman fully prepared and equipped specifically to do the job. No other woman before or after Mary could have become the mother of God out of her own personal effort or ambition. This is why Jesus tells James and John that, "to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared" (verse 40).

Does this mean that God has already determined, from the word go, the outcome of our earthly existence? No. God has an intended destination for which He created you and me. This is predestination. But whether you and I attain this destination or not depends on how we cooperate with God's grace. To say that whatever people are or do in life is what God created them to be and do is determinism. The Bible teaches predestination (God has something in mind for creating you and me) but does not teach determinism (whatever we are or do is what God has predestined for us). God gives us free will to cooperate with divine grace or not. That is why, even though God predestined Mary to be the mother of our Saviour, when the time came for her to accomplish this mission, God sent an angel to seek her cooperation. She is a perfect example of success because she courageously said yes to the word of God detailing to her what Providence has in store for her.

James and John, on the other hand, represent the New Age anyone-could-be-anything mentality characteristic of our times. This way of seeing things encourages unbridled ambition, rivalry and unhealthy competition among people, which we call the rat race. But the trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you are still a rat. The new vision of success that Jesus teaches, on the contrary, encourages mutual cooperation and the contentment of realizing that we can all be successful because God has created every one of us for something different. God has enough dreams to go round, a different dream for everyone, a different success for everyone. Our ambition in life should be to discover and live God's dream for us. Herein lies our true success. But to vie and struggle with one another over the same dreams - that is failure.

- on the Epistle - Perfect Worshippers of the Perfect High Priest

The Epistle to the Hebrews, has been called "the Priesthood Epistle." Of all the books of the New Testament, it is Hebrews, more than any other, that develops the idea of Christ as the perfect High Priest of the new and eternal covenant. In today's second reading, Hebrews draws out the implication of this belief in Christ as the perfect and eternal High Priest for those who believe in Him. The implication, in a word, is that our belief in Christ as the perfect High Priest demands of us to become His perfect worshippers.

There are two reasons why people fall short of the Christian ideal. One is doubt or lack of faith. The other is weakness or lack of strength. Today's second reading shows us how our belief in the perfect High Priesthood of Christ helps us to overcome these two limitations and transform into fervent and perfect followers of Jesus Christ. First, it address the issue of doubt or lack of faith.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession (Hebrews 4:14).
Faith has been described as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Yet, if that is all there is to faith, then one faith would be as good as another, since they all have to do with the conviction of things not seen The radical Islamic belief that if I kill infidels in God's name and die in the process, I will be rewarded in Paradise with many wives would be as tenable as the New Testament teaching "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Romans 12:19). After all, both beliefs are based on "the conviction of things not seen." No, true faith is not just the conviction of things not seen, but the conviction of things not seen based on the reliable authority of one who has seen. This is what sets Christian faith apart from other belief systems. As Jesus himself explained, "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18).

This is what makes Jesus unique. Hebrews says that because we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, we can be sure that he knows what he is talking about when he tells us about God and what the mind of God is. Because of this we need to banish all doubt and put our unflinching faith in Jesus and his message. We should, therefore, "hold fast to our confession" because what we confess in faith is given to us on the authority of Jesus who has been there and come back to tell us that it is so. This is how we overcome any doubts on the truthfulness of the gospel we profess. It is based on the authority of Jesus Christ, who has experience life with God in heaven and tells us the fact about the matter.

Next, Hebrews takes us to the issue of human weakness. Here Hebrews points to the fact that Jesus has not only passed through the glorious heavens, he has also passed through the valley of tears in which we now find ourselves. He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He was born in a cowshed, had no where to lay his head and was buried in a borrowed grave. He suffered hunger, loss of loved ones, and betrayal by a trusted friend. He was misunderstood and unfair treated. He knew fear, pain and death. What can we ever experience in life that Jesus does not understand. He has been through it all. This is good news for us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus is the cure to all our spiritual weaknesses. When we understand that Jesus understands and sympathizes with us in our weakness, we are encouraged and strengthened not to despair. This gives us the courage we need to approach the throne of grace. When we do not give up on ourselves as Judas did, but pick ourselves up and brush away the dust of failure as Peter did, then we shall find the divine help we need to overcome our natural weaknesses.

The passage ends with a practical advance: "Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16). Let us stop trying to hide from God, as Adam and Eve tried to do. Let us stop running from God, as Jonah tried to do. Let us rather have the humility and boldness to come to God with the brokenness of our lives. Jesus understands us more than we think. He will then give us the spiritual empowerment we need to overcome our doubts and weaknesses and worship him in spirit and in truth all the days of our lives.

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