5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR A ON MAY 10, 2020 (R. 1: Acts 6: 1- 7; Psalm 33: 1- 2, 4- 5, 18- 19; R. 2: 1 Peter 2: 4- 9; Gospel: John 14: 1- 12)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
BEWARE OF YOUR SUCCESS!
I would like to begin by inviting you to turn to the nearest person to you, and say to him/her: “Beware of your success!”
When we were about graduating from Major/College Seminary, our rector, Fr. Michael Sasa, said to my class, “My Dear Deacons, I will not waste my time today to pray for your success. I know you are already successful; I will rather pray for you to be able to manage your success.” It did not immediately make much sense to me, but the more I think of it now, the more sense it makes to me. If you pay attention to human history, it reveals how nations rose to success, and how civilizations rose to success, but they could not manage the success. In the lives of individuals, we see how easily we can become successful, but challenging to manage success. It seems success contains the recipe for disaster if not properly managed. For this reason, an excellent way to greet a friend in the morning should be, “My friend, beware of your success!”
Stories in the Bible also reveal this same pattern of individuals and groups becoming successful, and then, the same success brings about huge problems. For example, In the Book of Genesis, Abraham and his nephew Lot enjoyed a good relationship, until they began to grow in wealth. The servants of Abraham and those of Lot started to quarrel, so Abrahan and Lot had to part ways, and Lot went to the region of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Genesis 13:5-13) where he lost his wife in the destruction of the cities. In the New Testament, Peter recorded a great success story when he identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus praised him and assured him that the response he gave came from God in heaven. However, a few verses afterward, when Jesus announced his coming passion and death in Jerusalem, Peter rushed to speak again, rebuking Jesus for talking about his passion and death. The same Jesus who praised Peter a few verses earlier turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (cf. Matthew 16:13ff). Beware of your success!
Jesus had only twelve apostles and seventy/seventy-two disciples. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached just one sermon/homily, and he converted three thousand people (Acts 2: 41). That is a huge success, but that became a recipe for trouble. Today’s first reading says, “As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” The growth in number, a success story, led the quarrel between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. So, beware of your success!
The Hebrews were Jews who lived all their lives in Palestine. In their Synagogues, they read the Scriptures in Hebrew, they were very fond of the traditions of their fathers and were very much attached to the Law of Moses. On the other hand, the Hellenists were Jews, but they had been born and brought up abroad, and their contacts with other peoples had led them to embrace different customs that were condemned by the Hebrews. They did not feel bound by the small rules imposed by the Rabbis. They hardly understood Hebrew as they read the Scriptures in Greek. So the tension in the first reading was between these two groups.
The story of the early Christians in the first reading did not end with the quarrel. It led to the institution of the order of deacons. It brought about a new style of leadership and an extension of the priesthood. They refused to be distracted by the quarrel. Rather than allow the quarrel to become a stumbling block in the way of preaching the gospel, they turned it into a stepping stone for enhancing the spread of the gospel through the creation of a new ministry of deacons. If we hold on to Jesus, who is the Way the Truth and the Life, our success will not be a recipe for disaster but a recipe for greater success.
In the gospel passage, Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that in His Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. The many dwelling places are not only in heaven; the many dwelling places also refer to our various talents, times, and treasures, which are the various ways in which we are the channels of God’s blessings to the world. Today we celebrate a group of people who continue to co-create with God, as mothers.
I would like to wish “Happy Mothers’ Day” to all the mothers. We celebrate those in this world, and those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. On this day, we celebrate biological mothers, mothers by adoption, stepmothers, grand/great grandmothers, mothers-in-law, godmothers, and expectant mothers. We also remember mothers whose dreams of motherhood were cut short through miscarriage(s), especially those who have not been able to give birth to children afterward. For such mothers whose children went back to God even before they were born, we celebrate you on this day and remember that your innocent babies pray for you in heaven, they remain grateful to you for all you did for them to become human beings. We remember mothers who mourn the loss of their children. For such mothers, the best time to connect with those children is during the Eucharistic prayer, when the priest says, “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.”
As we wish you Happy Mothers’ Day, I also say to you, “Beware of your success!” Remember how you longed for your wedding, and it came as a success story. But the same marriage may bring you tears. Remember how you longed for children, and the birth of the children came as success stories. But the same children may become responsible for troubles. When you become successful in whatever you do, always remember to give the glory to God, who is the source of all good gifts. The more successful you become, the more humble you must be. When you become successful, “Never look down on anyone unless you are admiring their shoes.”
I pray for you as I pray for myself, that the grace of God will turn our tears into tears of joy and our stumbling blocks into stepping stones, to the greater glory of God, the shame of the kingdom of darkness, for our sanctification and ultimately salvation, through Christ our Lord. Amen.