There was an amateur golfer who had the lifelong ambition of playing the famous pebble beach golf course and on that one particular hole where you have to drive your ball out over the ocean to a green on a spit of land.  Now the man had some money and spent much money and time trying to achieve his dream.  He had so many times sent his ball soaring out over the ocean only to have it fall short and plop into the ocean.  Long ago he had decided to not waste a new ball on his attempts but to use an old one with cuts and scuffs.

One year he arrived again at the course to try one more time to achieve his dream.  He teed up his old battered ball and whispered a fervent prayer.  Just before he hit the ball a booming voice from the heavens said: “Wait!  Replace the ball with a brand new one.”  Somewhat hesitantly, the man did it, encouraged that the Lord seemed to be implying that his long awaited dream was finally going to be realized.  As he addressed the ball, the booming voice came again: “Wait, step back and take a practice swing.”  The man took his typical practice swing.  The voice boomed yet again: “Take another practice swing.”  He did.  After a dramatic pause, the voice spoke again: “Put the old ball back.”

The divine presence in this joke comes across a bit heartless in deflating the golfers ambition.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus is not amused at all with the ambition displayed by his disciples, and his rebuke is immediate and stern.  What makes their glory-seeking so irksome is that it comes right after Jesus had spoken about his own impending humiliation and suffering.  Didn’t they hear what he said?  The message is that following Jesus inevitably involves suffering and service, leaving no room for pretension or self-promotion.

The life, message and mission of Jesus challenges our petty human ambitions.  Thomas a Kempis wrote a long time ago: “Man proposes but God disposes.”  We may set out with the best of intentions to be good Christians, but if we think we get to do that simply on our terms, we are in for a rude awakening.  Our tendency is to find the path of least resistance.  Yet in following Jesus, resistance and opposition may, at times, actually be the surest sign that we are on the right track.

Jesus’ chief criterion for greatness in his kingdom is the willingness to be of service to others.  Jesus’ rag tag group of apostles existed long before there was any thought of pope, bishops, deacons.  What were they looking for in terms of who is the greatest or most important?  Jesus would probably agree with what Robert Frost once wrote: “By faithfully working eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be boss – and work twelve hours a day.”  The reward program of Christianity is the privilege of being able to serve.

All three of our readings today speak to our call as Christians to be willing and ready to serve and to realize that sometimes we are going to face opposition and criticism.  Our world is filled with people of ambition who are out to make their importance felt by others.  Many people work extremely hard to climb the ladder of success and to impress people with their importance.  However, in God’s eye, after all their efforts to climb that ladder, they may find the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

May we, in our lives as Christians and Catholics, be anxious and faithful in following our call to be of service to others, no matter how small, so that when we come to the end of our journey, we may find our ladder of success is leaning against the right wall.

 Fr. Carroll Mizicko, OFM


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