Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: WHEN AMBITION AND SERVICE GO TOGETHER
By: Fr. Andrew Ekpenyong at St Mary Magdalene Cath. Church, Omaha, USA.
1. Ambition and Service. It was winter. Anne Chauvin, an elderly woman, who was blind, partially paralyzed, homeless and had no one to care for her. Something happened. A 48 year old woman, Jeanne Jugan carried Anne home to her apartment. Jeanne let the old woman have her bed while she slept in the attic, from that day forward. Brothers and sisters, make no mistake about it, even as I give this homily, I don’t believe I would go as far as St Jeanne Jugan in giving up my bed for the homeless. St. Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross, soon took in 2 more elderly and homeless persons and then a dozen. Then she acquired an abandoned convent and gave a home to 40 more. By the time of her death, there were 2,400 other young women who joined Jeanne Jugan, as Little Sisters of the Poor, to care for thousands of homeless people across Europe and North America. St Jeanne had ambition to serve. She served ambitiously. This is what happens when ambition and service go together, in the name of Christ.
2. Twin Virtues. Brothers and Sisters, today‘s Gospel reading (Mk 10:35-45), teaches many lessons about ambition and servive. Let me summarize just 3. 1. Jesus chose ambitious persons as disciples. All ten other disciples became indignant at James and John when they heard about their ambitious request. They too were interested in those high positions. So why did our Lord choose ambitious persons as disciples to work with Him in spreading the kingdom of God? At the very least, ambition is useful for God’s work of salvation. 2. Jesus turned their selfish ambition to self-less service, to self-less ambition. He did not rebuke James and John and the other disciples for being ambitious but rather taught them: “… whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” He gave a formula for greatness. 3. Jesus Himself is fulfilled ambition at its best. Our Lord presented the example of His own life and mission: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45). Thus, our Lord demonstrated ambitious service at its best: He willingly sacrificed His life for others. This is also the message of the 1st reading (Is 53:10-11): “through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear”. Through ambitious Christian service, we desire to glorify Christ, not self, for Christ who saved us, deserves such glory. The self-less ambition to serve Christ in others is well articulated by St Thomas Aquinas in terms of the twin virtues of magnanimity and humility: “magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of doing great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God…. humility makes a man think little of himself in consideration of his own deficiency.” (Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 129, Art. 3. Rep. to Obj. 4).
3. #Let them Serve. With humility, James and John, you and I, would not think we deserve to sit at the right and left of Christ in glory, because of our sins and weaknesses. Rather, because of my sins, I deserve to be crucified on His right or left, like the two thieves. But because of God’s abundant gifts to us, because of God’s abundant blessings in my life, I have no better choice than to use those gifts in serving others, to the glory of God. Thus, when ambition and service go together in a follower of Christ, magnanimity and humility become twin virtues that shine forth. Thank God, James and John recognized God’s gift of fortitude when they responded yes, to our Lord’s question: Can you drink the cup that I drink? The cup of self-sacrifice and suffering. They showed magnanimity. Then our Lord demonstrated one of His attributes as our Divine Messiah mentioned in today’s 2nd reading (Heb 4:14-16), namely, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Yes, our Lord sympathized with their selfish ambition or vanity, for that was part of the temptation that He Himself overcame when the devil presented Him with fame devoid of self-sacrifice for others. He then continued to teach and form them to be ambitious to serve others. James and John cooperated. Jeanne Jugan and countless saints have cooperated. Even when we do not yet have the generosity to give up our bed for the homeless, we can at least support such work. No wonder the hashtag “#Let them serve” trended on Twitter, when the Little Sisters of the Poor were taken to court by the States of Pennsylvania and California for reasons you know well. Thank God, the Supreme Court on July 8, 2020, allowed them to serve Christ conscientiously in the poor. Thank God, you and I still have lots of opportunities every day, to serve as well. What a privilege!