By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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What Is Success?

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

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.

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