29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON OCTOBER 17, 2021 (R. 1: Isaiah 53: 10- 11; Psalm 33: 4- 5, 18- 19, 20, 22; R. 2: Hebrews 4: 14- 16; Gospel: Mark 10: 35- 45)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
Three years ago, I flew from San Diego to St. Louis, Missouri. About a week to my departure, I began to select the items I needed for the journey. Two days before my flight, I became conflicted on what to wear for the journey. My first thought was to put on clerical wear (Roman collar). But I thought within myself that these days are not the best days for priests to travel around in clerical wears. I was concerned about what people would think of me considering the news of scandals that have been making the rounds. I thought about priests who were attacked not because they were personally guilty, but because someone was angry at what some other priests had done. I remembered the saying that “It is better to be safe than sorry,” So I got a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and a jacket to wear. The night before, I went to bed thinking about the implications of my decision. I thought about days that someone randomly came up to me for a blessing, confession, etc because the collar helped them to identify me. I thought of the possibility of someone being moved to pray or return to the Church, or do something of God as a result of a casual encounter with a priest. I began to ask myself if I was going to shy away from my calling for fear of the unknown. I thought about Christians in some parts of the world who are under daily threats of terrorist attacks, yet continue to proclaim the gospel. I continued to struggle with my decision until I fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up from sleep with my mind made up to travel in my clerical wear. If I enjoy the glories of the priesthood, I must be ready to bear the cross that comes with it; it is a full package. At the airport, I boarded the plane, and I was assigned the seat 14A (economy class of course). Just as we were about to take off, the cockpit door opened, I saw the pilot come out and he began to walk through the aisle towards the back. I noticed he was looking at my direction, but I was sure he was not looking at me. When he got to my seat, he stopped and turned towards me, my heart sank. I began to do a quick examination of conscience wondering what I must have done wrong to warrant the pilot coming to me. He then bent low towards me and said, “Good morning, Father, I am… (because I was so scared, his introduction came into my right ear and went out through my left ear). There is a lady at the gate who said you should be upgraded to first class. Would you please, follow me and take seat number 4B.” I was sure I didn’t hear him well, so I asked him to repeat what he said, he said exactly what I thought he said. Of course, I remembered my favorite psalm, “The lot marked out for me is my delight, welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me” (Psalm 16:6) and so, I followed him and flew first class for the first time in my life. I was unable to meet the lady behind my upgrade, but I offered a special Mass that God may upgrade her and her family in this life and in the life to come.
My dearly beloved in Christ, this homily is not a lesson on how to pay for economy class and fly first class. I certainly don’t know how that works. On my return flight, I wore the same clerical wear, but no one upgraded me, I flew back in economy class. The message I am passing across today is that the call to Christianity is a full package. It is not a restaurant or a buffet where you choose what you like. Christianity is not a part time job. Unfortunately, many of us as Christians live our lives picking and choosing. I just shared my story of how I deliberately wanted to conceal my priestly identity for fear of persecution. If I enjoy the glories of the priesthood, I must be ready to bear the cross that comes with it; it is a full package.
But that is not just peculiar to me. A few verses before today’s Gospel passage shows Jesus going ahead of his disciples. They knew that the journey was to Jerusalem, and Jesus had told them two times earlier what was awaiting him in Jerusalem. For this reason, they began to draw back, but Jesus was resolute and went ahead. Jesus told them for the third time what was going to happen in Jerusalem, how he would be betrayed, crucified, and how he would die and rise on the third day. In response to that, James and John came to ask for seats at his right and his left in his glory. Jesus gave them a full package, but they did not ask of how they would share in his suffering and death, they were just interested in how they would share in his glory.
To this day, we still have Christians who follow Christ but are very selective about it. Jesus on inviting his followers did say, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your Cross and follow me.” Some Christians believe that because they are very prayerful, temptation must not come near them. But Jesus prayed and fasted forty days and forty nights, after that the devil tempted him three times. Some parents believe that since they are so committed to their prayer lives and very active in Church, their children must all be perfect, causing no trouble. But remember that Jesus prayed before selecting his apostles, yet, one of them (Judas Iscariot) betrayed him, their chief (Peter) denied him three times, and most of them deserted him after he was arrested. Sometimes when we face difficulties as Christians, we easily ask: why me? What did I do to deserve this? When I find myself asking such questions, I answer with other questions: If not me, then who? What did Jesus do to deserve what he went through? Each time we ask: what did I do? We make it sound like Jesus was guilty before he was crucified.
Jesus did not promise us a problem free life, rather, he promised to be with us always in the midst of our challenges. Sometimes, he calms the storm, other times he allows the storm to continue while he calms down his child. Christianity is a full package. Let us pray that God may grant us the grace to accept the full package of Christianity, so that at the end of our sojourn here on earth, we may inherit the kingdom of heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.