Did you know that “life is impossible without connection!” Indeed, nothing exists without some connections to other realities. In other words, each reality on earth depends on another to function effectively, so nothing subsists on its own.
The human body could function on the strength of the connectedness of the various parts. Plants could stand because of the connection their roots have with the ground. Today, we depend so much on internet connection. A world without the internet is unimaginable.
Most success stories in life have links to some of the direct or indirect connections we make with people through networking. Connection is a powerful factor in human relations, especially when it is genuine.
In the Gospel of John (15:1-8), Jesus gives the divine angle to connection using the relationship between a vine and its branch. He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing”.
Beyond the material connections lies the divine connection. Life itself would be impossible without God. God is the ultimate connection that can exist alone, and without God, all connections fail. In the passage, Jesus says, “anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”
The Keys and Fruits of Divine Connection
For every connection, there is a key. The same pattern applies to divine connection. The First Letter of John (1 Jn.3:18-24) says, among other things, that God’s commandment includes believing in His Son Jesus Christ and loving one another.
Here we note that the keys to divine connection are faith and love. Faith moves you to believe in God against all odds and even when it does not make sense (Hebrew 11:1ff). Love challenges you to trustful giving of your heart, soul, and mind to God.
In the Gospel passage, our Lord mentioned that the Father takes away every branch that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does bear fruit He prunes so that it bears more fruit; we have a lot to learn from here.
Accepting the Father’s Pruning!
Fruit-bearing is evidence of a productive connection. Our Lord further says that a branch needs pruning to bear more fruits. Pruning means cutting away the unwanted and wasteful areas of the branch, and the reason is to allow it to produce more fruit.
Bringing the message home, every Christian represents a branch attached to the vine, our Lord Jesus. Every branch stands as an expression of the productivity of the vine. Notice that the fruits grow on the branches, not in the vine stem itself. Christ is looking up to us to bring forth fruits.
The Father prunes the branches that are bearing fruits so that they could deliver more fruits. Pruning is not always a pleasant experience as it involves cutting away unnecessary parts though they may appear healthy and beautiful.
We often go through our respective pruning experiences with some of the things we encounter in life. It takes patience, understanding, and faith to accept those pruning processes that could involve a loss, disappointment, or some other painful experiences.
The good news is that God the Father is the one doing the pruning, and he prunes with profound care and love because He wants the best fruits to come out of us. The letter to the Hebrews (12:6) says that God chastises the one He loves and scourges the one he receives. It is indeed better to be pruned than to be cut off as a branch.
We are all parts of this great vine, and we have to support each other as we develop and bear fruits. It is not uncommon to see strong branches of trees supporting weaker ones until they become strong enough to strive. We need to do this as we all stay connected to the true vine.
Let us remain committed to our vocation and strive always to be true branches of the true vine. We achieve this through our faithful prayers and intentional love, and obedience to the directives of the Lord.
As we march through the new week, may God’s grace abide with us to remain intimately connected to the true vine every day of our lives.
Have a blessed week.
Have you ever been rejected for any reason at all? I once heard the story of a man whose mom abandoned as a baby in a plastic bag left in a corner of a public park. Luckily, someone rescued him after two days of exposure to the weather conditions. He only learned about his story of rejection and rescue when the woman who adopted him was dying.
Rejection could be a very painful experience that involves abandonment, denial of benefits, or the feeling of being unwanted. The Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12) relates Peter’s testimony about the power of the risen Lord in the healing of a disabled person.
Peter let the authorities and the elders know that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the stone they, the builders rejected, that has become the cornerstone as it is written in the book of Psalm (118:22-23). How was Jesus Christ rejected? In every way, from his infancy up to his death on the cross.
We could recall that after Herod learned about the new-born King, he was troubled and called for the massacre of all the kids in the region from two years down (Matt.2:16). Jesus was rejected in his hometown Nazareth; in fact, they tried to kill him (Luke 4:16-30).
For economic reasons, the city of Gadarene rejected Jesus after the cure of a demoniac. Remember also that the disciples abandoned him after his arrest (Mark 14:50). Jesus even predicted that the Son of man would endure many sufferings and be rejected by that generation.
Dealing with Rejection in Life
If people could reject Jesus at various points during his earthly life, what would make you think that anything could save you from rejection in the world? You may not plan for it, but it could come in a relationship you cherish, in your job, your neighborhood, and even in your faith community or church.
Rejection is unavoidable, so praying against it is senseless. What is important is how to deal with it, and we can find the perfect example of dealing with rejection from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do not Reject Yourself: Self-rejection is the worst kind of rejection; in fact, it is a bad choice. Sometimes we allow people to define us when we adopt their feelings and perceptions about us. Nobody has a right to define you but God, who formed your being and knows you more than anyone else.
Understand that people will reject you because they cannot be like you nor withstand what you carry. Recall that the major people who rejected Jesus were the authorities of the time, the political and social builders who could not compete with the excellence in the Lord.
Furthermore, people will reject you because of their ignorance; if they know better, they will act better. Imagine, the “builders” of the time did not recognize that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone; hence they rejected him. Every building depends on the cornerstone for alignment and good structure. Remember that Jesus said, “Cut off from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Do not lose your Purpose: Your purpose explains why you are here on earth. God created everyone with a purpose that means your life is not an accident or mere chance. Rejection does not destroy your purpose; in fact, it could even reveal it. Some rejections turn out to be elevations.
Going back to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, we discover that the rejections he faced did not diminish his purpose, leading us to redemption as the Good Shepherd. Often in life, we lose our focus because of what people are saying or doing to us.
Most people could not attain their laudable goals and aspirations because they paid attention to people instead of focusing on their purpose. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid attention to what the Father desires, not what the people want. He says, “my food is to do the will of my Father and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34); that is purpose right there.
If God has not rejected you, it does not matter if the whole world rejects you; you will still be fine. Psalm 27:10 says: “Father and mother may abandon you, but the Lord will take you up.” God will never forget you because your name is written on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:15-16).
The challenge now is to follow the Good Shepherd, not the politically correct shepherds of our world today who will reject and abandon us when danger comes. In the Gospel of John (10: 11-18), Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep with strong ownership dedication to the point of death, and that is what he accomplished for us on the cross. We belong to the Good Shepherd, and he loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3) and will never reject us.
God bless you and have a glorious week ahead.
In the history of your life, one of the important pieces of advice you may receive from your parents, teachers, and others could be, “stay out of trouble.” But you soon discover as you go through life that as much as you try to stay out of trouble, it sometimes comes looking out for you. And the trouble with trouble is that it never comes alone.
The arrest, passion, and death of Jesus Christ happened like a swift storm leaving the disciples confused, distraught, and troubled. The various versions of the news of the resurrection could have made the matter more troubling.
The Gospel of Luke (24:35-48) relates how two disciples who encountered the resurrected Lord on their way to Emmaus were recounting their experience to others when Jesus appeared among them. What happened afterward leaves us with profound lessons for our Christian life and hope.
First, Jesus says, “Peace be with you!” But they were still startled and terrified and thought that they saw a ghost. Knowing the state of their minds, the Lord asked: “why are you troubled?” In other words, Jesus was asking them, “can you give me reasons for being troubled? I am here with peace!”
If the disciples were attentive, they could have remembered the words of the Lord in the Gospel of John (16:16ff), where he says, “little while you will no longer see me and a little while you will see me.” They should have also recalled these words: “very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy” (John 16:20). Great and memorable promises.
Overcoming the Closed Mind
The disciples were troubled and terrified because their minds were closed. Our actions and reactions in life depend on how we set our minds to things around us. When the mind is closed, nothing gainful happens; instead, we are troubled.
Their closed minds could not allow them to remember the words of the Lord. Jesus had to open their minds to understand the Scriptures. Notice here that we need to open our minds to understand the Scriptures, and there is a difference between knowing and understanding the Scriptures.
Why Are You Troubled?
Life without troubles does not exist; in fact, life is full of troubles. In the Gospel of John (16:33), Jesus said, in the world, you will have troubles. You may not stop them, but he promised that you get through all of them because he has overcome. David was not guessing in Psalm (34:19) when he says that many are the troubles of the righteous, but God delivers him from all of them.
Some of the troubles you go through in life are necessary. They could even help to bring out the best version of you. Remember that without Joseph’s troubles at Shechem, he would not have made it to Egypt to become the prime minister and adviser of Pharaoh (Genesis 37 & 40). The troubles of the pit and the prison may lead to the glory at the palace.
Like the disciples, we are often troubled about things that are no longer there. We need to open our minds and rise beyond the ghost-seeing mentality that distorts the reality around us. We need to see the risen Lord and not a ghost.
You need to understand that your condition is not your conclusion. There could be troubles, but they are not forever. Do not allow the troubles around you to disorganize your life, get you locked in, and rob you of that peace you deserve. The good news from the visit of the Lord to the disciples today is that wish of peace, and you know what? You would need that peace this hour, and nothing should stop it, not even the troubles around you.
We pray that the peace of the Lord, which the world cannot give (John 14:27), reign in our heart today and always. Amen.
Once upon a Holy Saturday afternoon, I visited a police detention facility in my country, also known as a police cell. I went to share some moments of reflection with the inmates on the passion of Christ and the hope of liberation leveraging their confinement and the odds they face.
While interacting with some police officers after praying for the inmates, I understood that some of them were detained because they could not pay the fine options. Surprisingly most of the fines were below $30 per inmate. Instantly, I asked one of the officers if paying the fine would liberate anyone that benefits immediately, and he affirmed.
By the grace of God, I had some money with me, and I was able to pay the fines of four of them who had been detained for more than six months. Furthermore, I added something extra to help them get food and transport to their homes when they leave the detention. Thanks to God!
Forgiveness and Mercy
My story reflects what mercy stands for, and which also makes it different from forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about letting go of a hurt or some other thing that happened in the past. Often, forgiveness comes after pleading, repentance, or the promise to do better in the future.
On the other hand, mercy involves letting go and showing compassion, and giving some benefits to someone who does not deserve them. In this case, the beneficiary may not have asked for it. We can say that mercy starts where forgiveness stops.
From the description above, we understand that mercy is a product to grace; without grace, mercy would not be possible. The Letter to the Hebrews (4:16) says we approach the throne of grace to obtain mercy.
The Power of Divine Mercy
Today, we thoughtfully reflect on God’s mercy and, specifically, the Divine Mercy. Mercy is one of the major attributes of God. The Book of the Lamentations (3:22-23) tells us that God’s steadfast love never ceases and His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. St. Paul remarks (Eph.2:4) that God is rich in mercy because of the great love He has for us.
What happened on the Cross on Good Friday is the Divine Mercy! Yes, we did not deserve it, and we did not even ask for it. God’s graceful love uncovered the paying of the debt for our sins on the Cross.
Those words on the Cross, “it is finished” before Jesus expired, confirmed the Divine Mercy. Today, we look back at Good Friday’s events, and we joyfully celebrate God’s mercy which we did not merit.
The Elements of Divine Mercy
John’s Gospel (20:19-31) tells us about two important Divine Mercy products: Peace and the Holy Spirit. The narrative tells us that eight days after the resurrection, the disciples gathered in a locked room in fear of the Jews.
The Jews were not after them. It was the fear of their past deeds (Mark 14:50). What they did not realize was that when Jesus said, “it is finished,” they were also included. Instead of searching to see the resurrected Lord, they preferred to lock themselves in, which also meant locking their hearts, as we see in the story of Thomas, who was doubting the resurrection of the Lord.
Suddenly Jesus appeared to them and said to them twice, “peace be with you”. Here we understand that they lacked peace. Even the locked door (their comfort zone) could not give them peace. The simple fact here is that they lacked peace. Furthermore, the risen Lord breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” Notice that these two facilities could only come to them after the event of the Cross: the paying of the debt.
Moving Forward: Be Merciful!
How can we actively respond to the awesome gift of the Divine Mercy? Praying is good, but that is not enough. In the Gospel of Luke (6:36), Jesus instructs, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” St. James (2:13) says that judgment is without mercy to one who has not shown mercy, and in the Second Book of Samuel (22:26), we hear that with the merciful God shows Himself merciful and with the blameless God shows himself blameless.
We freely received mercy from God, and in the same way, we should freely give mercy a chance. Our world would become messy without mercy as there would be no peace; mercy comes before peace. The Book of Acts (4:32-35) tells us that the community of believers was of one heart and mind because they had peace and the Holy Spirit through the same gift of Divine Mercy.
Let us take up the mercy challenge today in honor of the Divine Mercy. Look around you and beyond; you could find someone who could benefit from your act of mercy. It could be anyone known or unknown to you. Divine Mercy is a facility that is open to everyone, just as your mercy could add value to anyone. Remember that blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7). So, whatever you do to others would come back to you. Try mercy today!
Happy Divine Mercy Sunday, and may God bless you.
We start by looking at a word we use often, and that is “empty.” It could indicate something positive or negative depending on the context. When you say that someone is empty, people would quickly conclude that the individual lacks certain qualities may be common sense. On the other hand, when you say that an individual emptied his or her heart to you, it positively indicates that the person was docile and did not hide anything.
The word empty is immensely powerful in the Easter context, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is impossible to talk about Easter without the empty tomb. If the tomb was not empty when Mary of Magdala came to the grave or when Peter and John arrived after hearing about the resurrection (John 20:1-9), Christ did not rise from the dead.
Another fact that explains that Jesus Christ was nowhere in the tomb on that third day is the presence of the burial clothes dumped by the side and the napkin that covered the face of the Lord, which was carefully rolled up to a separate corner.
In the Jewish culture, a servant would know whether the master is done eating or not from how he arranges the eating napkins. If he leaves it unrolled, it means he is done, but when it is carefully rolled up, the master would be coming back to the table to finish his meal. The positions of the clothing materials in the tomb showed that Jesus was not there. He has forever risen, and on the other hand, he would come back again (Matt. 24:44).
The Empty Tomb and The Power of the Easter
The joy of Easter begins with the empty tomb; that is where the story begins. The account of John (20:1) starts by telling us that Mary of Magdala saw the stone removed from the tomb. That sight made her run to inform Simon Peter and John that the Lord had been taken away, which means he was not there.
The empty tomb tells us that the Lord fulfilled his promise of rising from the dead. Earlier in Mark’s Gospel (9:31), he said: “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days, He will rise.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrates victory over sin and death. We could recall that the sin of Adam brought death (Romans 5:12), but through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, that sin cleared (John 19:30), and his resurrection restored us to life.
The joy of the Easter season is not just that Jesus has Risen; it is also about the resurrection effect. Put in another way, the resurrection, just like the death of Jesus on the cross, is all about us; our Lord Jesus Christ did not gain anything by dying and rising; we are the gainers.
Easter tells us that the sting of death due to sin has been removed; victory is ours. Now the promise of eternal life in the Gospel of John (10:10b) comes to fulfillment. Easter assures us that no matter the limitations we might face, they are temporary because we shall rise again. We shall regain more than what we lost; the joy of the rising is more than the pain of dying. All the pains and the passion are now in the past.
Moving Forward: The Gift of Easter
Easter is an amazing gift from God that has all we need to go through life’s challenges as we journey to God. If you look at the word EASTER very attentively, you will discover that it has a message from the resurrected Lord who Emptied All Satanic Threats and is Eternally Risen.
The challenge is for us to start living the resurrected life. St. Paul advised us in his Letter to the Colossians (3:1-4) to change our focus from seeking things below to searching for realities above where the risen Lord sits at the right hand of the Father. We cannot have a risen Lord while still living like those in the grave of sin and damnation. This is the time to rise from all spiritual, material, and mental limitations, and you can do it because it is a choice.
From the narrative of the empty tomb, we learn how to empty ourselves of all the dispositions and attitudes that negate our spiritual life. We need to come to God empty to be filled. St. Paul reminds us that Jesus emptied himself though he was in the form of God and became obedient unto death, even on the cross (Phil. 2:6-9)
Whoever runs without God runs a race, but when God is involved, it becomes grace. It is not about who runs faster, but who runs with God, and remember that God runs at his pace and not how we want it. John thought it was all about youthful strength and outran Peter. But coming to the tomb, John had to wait for Peter to arrive and lead him inside. a lesson about waiting on God, which is what Easter celebrates. God’s word is always fulfilled at His time and pace.
Happy Easter, and may God bless you.
Can you recall any experience of intense suffering and pains? Have you been at an agonizing point in your life where nobody seems to care, and the best among your close allies abandons you? Sometimes, when we go through some challenges and changes in life, some people around us tend to change or back-off. Difficult situations indeed reveal our true friends and the unreal ones. Please, do not disregard anyone who stands with you during your tough struggles.
The events between the entry of our Lord Jesus Christ to Jerusalem and his death on the cross give us a powerful narrative about suffering, pains, and abandonment. Imagine how the ovation that accompanied our Lord to Jerusalem suddenly turned into aggression and a public acclamation to crucify him on the cross. Imagine how the jubilation of the crowd turned into insults, arrests, and brutality.
As the events unfolded, one of the trusted disciples betrayed him with a kiss and received a reward of thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16). Another vested with a leadership position denied his master three times (Matthew 26:69–75). Finally, everyone deserted him and fled (Mark 14:50).
The Necessity of Christ’s Suffering
Why did God allow his Son to go through suffering to pardon our sins? Was the suffering of Jesus Christ necessary? We could understand the necessity of the passion and death of Christ better when we have clarity about the damaging effect of the sin of Adam and Eve.
The sin of our first parents was so huge that no sacrifice was sufficient to make up for the fall, not even the blood of humans. God’s compassionate love moved Him to atone for our sin through His only begotten Son, Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
Now, the suffering part would excite any active-minded Christian. The intensity of the suffering of Christ shows the nature and gravity of the sin of Adam and Eve. The prophet Isaiah (53:5) says, “but he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises, we are healed.”
Another spectrum of the suffering of Christ is the fact of God identifying with our human struggles and sufferings. The Letter to the Hebrews (4:15) says, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been testedas we are, yet without sin.
Through the suffering of Christ, we understand that God knows our pains and struggles because He has been there. Name anything you have been through; Jesus had a similar and even more excruciating experience. Talk about insult, betrayal, abandonment, unfair judgment, physical pain, and cruel death, Jesus experienced all of them.
Turning Your Pains into Gains
The challenge is not about what happens to us in life but how we respond to them. Yes, there are sorrowful moments, but they are not forever. Our Lord Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem with shouts of joy and the Hosanna hymns before his arrest, unfair trial, beatings, and execution. But that would not end the story.
Your story would not end with the sufferings of the moment. What is most important is what you do with whatever is confronting you. You may not change the situation, but you can change the way you approach the problem. At this point, we look at the PAINS approach that could lead us to GAINS. PAINS is here an acronym that means Positive Attitude In Negative Situations.
We learn the PAINS approach from the best, our Lord Jesus Christ. He did not complain nor curse anyone during the passion leading to his death on the cross. He encouraged those weeping for him (Luke 23:28). He prayed for his executioners; “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). Jesus left everything in the hands of God as cries: “into your hands Lord I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He also declared, “it is finished” (John 19:30).
Moving Forward: Becoming a Cross Bearer
The struggles in life are real but so are the blessings that come from them. The struggles of today are developing in you the strength you need for tomorrow. The passion of Christ leaves us with the lesson that suffering is a necessary route towards a glorious future. Nothing great comes easy, not even our redemption. We further learn that to be a Christian is to be a Cross Bearer. The cross is a plus or addition sign; the cross is a platform to scale through life’s obstacles. The cross is your spiritual sword. You are a CROSS that means Christian Running Over Satan and Setback. You are blessed.
“Have you seen the new movie?” Most people asked this question during the weekend of March 5 when the sequel to the hilarious comedy “Coming to American” was released on amazon prime. The film turned out to be the most viewed streaming motion picture since the past twelve months. The reason is simple, those who watched the first dramatization were curious to see what happened to Akeem, the heir to the throne of Zamunda, after thirty years.
John’s Gospel (12:20-33) tells us about some Greeks who came seeking to see Jesus during the feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. They approached Philip, who referred them to Andrew, and both brought them to see Jesus. Coming to Jesus, we do not hear them ask any questions, but Jesus addressed them by reflecting on the process of dying to produce much fruit, about eternal life, and the need to follow and serve him.
The Search to See Jesus
It is important to note that the Greeks were known for their search for deeper knowledge. The discipline Philosophy, which is translated as the love of wisdom, originated from the Greeks. We could also recall St. Paul mentioning that the Jews demand signs while the Greeks search for wisdom (1Cor. 1:22). Furthermore, the Greeks in Athens did not believe Paul when he talked about the resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:32).
The Greeks in the narrative could have heard a lot about Jesus and sought to see the type of person he could be and engage him in some fundamental questions like rising from the dead. By the way, he raised Lazarus from the dead in the previous Chapter (11:44), and news about him spread (John 12: 17).
What are you seeking to see in life?
For the most part, we pass through life searching for various things. This could be part of what makes us human; the curiosity and desire to know. However, every search must be purposeful and meaningful to our lives. Why would you spend your time running after things or individuals who would not add an inch of value to you?
We must ask ourselves two important questions and give befitting answers: “what are am I seeking to find in life and why?” We often know what we seek but lack good reasons; this is where the “why” comes in. I was once counseling someone addicted to pornography, and when I asked the question, “why do you constantly seek to see pornography, the individual could not give any reason.
If you do not have meaningful reasons for the things you ardently seek after in life, you might as well stop bothering about them because it makes no sense chasing after the wind when there are better things to do with your time and your life.
Have you seen the need to seek the Lord? If yes, why? What do you wish to see? The Greeks in the Gospel passage could have had an intellectual reason for seeking to see Jesus, and our Lord gave them a spiritual explanation about his person and mission for which they had no response. What is your reason?
Some people sincerely seek to see the Lord, but in the wrong places. While you need people to assist you in the journey to see the Lord, they should not become the endpoint of your search. Philip and Andrew took the Greeks to Jesus, not to themselves; they were messengers, but Jesus Christ remains the message.
Another problem is that some people seek to see the Lord in the building. I once asked a man why he prefers to go to a church miles away from his house though there is one next block, and he said that the one he attends is more beautiful. Could it be that his reason for seeking to see the Lord is all about external beauty?
No matter how rich and comfortable you might be in life, you are still poor if you do not seek Lord. Our Lord Jesus Christ advised that we should seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and other things would be added to us (Matt. 6:33).
The best place to search for God is not in any of God’s messengers nor the building but our hearts. God says in the Book of the prophet Jeremiah (29:13), you will seek me and find me if you seek me with all your hearts. It is the heart that seeks the Lord, not the brain or mere emotions.
The imprint of God is already in your heart, as we see in Jeremiah’s prophecy (31:31-34). We only need to activate it. God created you with a strong magnet, namely your mind, and what we commit to our minds comes to reality. Did Jesus not say seek and you shall find (Matthew 7:7).
If you seek to see the right things in life, commit your heart to it, and you shall get it. Do not let the time it takes discourage you. Many people came for the Passover, but only some Greeks desired to see Jesus, and they found him. Did you know that there was nobody sincerely sought to see Jesus in the Gospels that failed to see him from the woman with the issue of blood, through Bartimaeus the blind man to Zacchaeus the tax collector?
You will surely find the Lord this season and beyond in your plans and your aspirations, and in your family and all that relates to you seek Him with all you heart. God bless you.
Separation could be a very painful experience. Hearts are often broken when people part ways due to the death of loved ones, when a meaningful relationship ends, or when people move on for any reason at all. Those who serve prison terms attest that the most painful part of their situation is the confinement that separates them from their families and friends.
Exile experience entails the voluntary or forced separation from one’s usual location or residence to a foreign or strange place. One fact is clear, behind every exile, there is captivity. The experience of the people of Judah and their banishment to Babylon gives us some ideas.
There is usually a reason for an exile. In the case of the people of Judah in the last chapter of the Second Book of the Chronicles (36: 14-16; 19-23), their successive kings and leaders offended God by practicing various kinds of abominations which included the pollution of the temple in Jerusalem. Today, we understand that we represent this temple as St. Paul tells us (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
As a result of the people’s abominable actions, and after several warnings, God’s anger came upon them without remedy. The Babylonians laid siege on Jerusalem. They destroyed the temple, tore down the walls, and finally took the people to exile for seventy years until God directed King Cyrus to set them free to rebuild their city.
The Two Forms of Exile
From the narrative of the experience of the people of Israel, we learn that there are two forms of exile: physical and spiritual. We must note that they are congenially connected. For instance, physical exile could be the consequence of a spiritual exile, like in the example of the people of Judah.
The first recorded exile in the scriptures was not the first deportation to Babylon but Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1f). From the story, we understand that they disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit following the devil’s suggestion represented by the serpent. Here we realize that their physical disconnection from the Garden was because they disobeyed God, which was a spiritual default.
Sin has a way of taking us to exile. Spiritual exile refers to the captivity of the soul by sin. You are on a spiritual exile when you disconnect from God and focus on your selfish desires and ambitions or fall into the traps of the devil whose program is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10a).
The story of the prodigal son (Luke15:11-32) is a typical demonstration of spiritual exile. We could recall that the second son asked for his share of the father’s possessions, and getting it, he travels to a distant country where he spent everything in a life of dissipation. The distant country represents estrangement and deportation to the region of destruction, in order words, a spiritual exile.
Moving Forward: Breaking from Spiritual Exile
Think about your life; you could be in exile. Are you where you are supposed to be in life? Exile means being in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. Any life lived without God is an exile project site.
Maybe you are constantly getting things wrong in your work, relationships, and life in general. You could be in exile, and you need help. The good news is that God cares about you even when everything and everyone fails you (Psalm 27:10). After seventy years, God made the pagan king Cyrus set the people of Judah free to return and rebuild their city.
God is thinking about you, and His thoughts are of peace, a future, and hope (Jer. 29:11). You shall come out from your spiritual exile and obtain your liberation; your exile would turn into exultation. Psalm (126:1-2) says it would seem like a dream and your mouth would be filled with laughter. This is the will of God for you, the same mercy and compassion that made Him send His so that whoever believes would gain eternal life (John 3:16)
There would be the need for you to make a conscious effort to undo your past mistakes that led you to the exile experience in the first place. What you do in exile determines if you would stay on or be released. From the prodigal son, we learn the value of coming to our senses; that may be what you need to do now to save yourself from spiritual exile.
As we continue this Lenten journey, let us pay attention to God’s words and make use of the opportunity we have now to retrace our steps and receive liberation from the exilic regions confronting us.
God bless you, and have a blessed week ahead.
When was the last time you had a thorough house cleaning where you had to reach under the beds and cabinets to remove pieces of dirt that may be hanging in there for months or even years? When was the last time you checked through your pantry and refrigerator to remove spoilt or expired food items? You may like to scan through your stuff and see what needs to go and what deserves to stay; we learn every day.
You would agree that thorough cleaning or discarding unnecessary things from the house could produce a revitalizing and refreshing ambiance. Moreover, you would soon discover that you have more space than the cluttering experience you had before.
In John’s Gospel (2:13-25), our Lord Jesus Christ enters the temple in Jerusalem to clean and tidy up the place from the mess done by people conducting business in the temple.
The narrative tells us that he made a whip out of cords and drove them out and spilling the coins of the money-changers and overturning their tables; he says, “take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
The Significance of the Temple Cleansing
What our Lord did has moral and spiritual implications beyond the mere act of driving the merchants away from the temple. It was usual practice for people to buy the animals they need for sacrifice from the temple. Foreigners and visitors who come to Jerusalem would also exchange their currencies to buy things from the temple merchants.
There is a profound moral and spiritual side to what Jesus did in the temple. First, the temple is a place of prayer, not a business center. Though the merchants were conducting business to aid the temple activities, they could have been greedy about it. Our Lord Jesus could see through their cunning marketplace mentality, which includes lies and cheating. No wonder he says stop making my father’s house a marketplace.
On the spiritual level, the temple refers to every one of us. St. Paul tells us in the First Letter to the Corinthians (3:16-17) that we are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in us. So, if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy the person, for God’s temple is Holy and that we are.
From the spiritual perspective, Jesus entered the lives of the people and discovered how they have messed up God’s temple by disregarding the rules of conduct, also known as the Commandment, that we see in the Book of Exodus (20:1-17). The animals represent sins in their numerous sizes and shapes that have become commercial commodities with destructive exchange rates.
Steps to Spiritual House Cleansing
The activity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple leaves us with some productive steps for the cleansing of God’s temple, which we are.
Identifying the mess in our “temples.”
Like in our homes, most of us have no idea that we have so much mess, especially in the hidden and dark corners. Often, we focus on the outer areas presuming that everywhere is clean. When Jesus, our Lord who is light, entered the temple, he revealed the hidden and the dark regions with all sorts of mess. To clean up our lives which is the temple of God, we need to take the time, bend low, and unveil those dark corners. Remember that nothing could be hidden forever (Mark 4:22).
Condemning the evil not Commending
Sometimes we see the evil but end up giving excuses instead of condemning them. Some of us have become professional perfectionists to the point of convincing ourselves and others that our wrongdoings are right in the light of certain conditions according to our selfish evaluations. Our Lord Jesus was straightforward in condemning the ungodly activities in the temple.
Overturning the Tables!
Notice that our Lord Jesus Christ did not waste time acting on the situation. He drove the merchants out and overturned their tables. Inactivity, which is a product of procrastination, is one of the stumbling blocks of our Christian life and growth. Some people would identify the mess, condemn it but would fail to act immediately.
Often, we think about cleansing ourselves later, and it never comes. Overturning the tables involves an intentional and committed effort to retrace our steps and do things that would be more pleasing to God. Often, we think that our sins are too old to be confessed. The mess in your house does not get better if it gets old. The Book of Isaiah (59:1-2) tells us that unconfessed sins hinder prayers, and the Psalmist (Ps.66:18) says, if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have heard me.
Moving Forward: Changing our Marketplace Mentality
The marketplace mentality represents excessive self-seeking. It involves thinking about what would be good for oneself now; it is all about material profit and gains at the expense of our eternity. Life is too short; it is even shorter and more unpredictable with all the things happening around us.
It would not profit anyone to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of one’s soul (Mark 8:36). As we sanitize our hands daily, let us not forget to sanitize the temple of God, that is our souls. The Lenten season is ripe enough for us to reflect on how we are keeping God’s temple clean.
God bless you and have a rewarding week ahead.
Did you know that more than 90% of those who go to the gym intend to transform the way they look? Of course, when you see someone committed to working out, you can tell because the physical figure speaks for itself. However, we must acknowledge that before one loses weight, the individual must give up some things, including fats. The saying comes true here, “you have to lose something to gain something.”
How would you feel if an authority you respect, and revere so much comes around to ask you to give up something that you value so much? You might be stuck between loyalty for the authority and your love for what you value so much. Would you be ready to let go of something very precious to secure a relationship?
Abraham found himself in a situation that reflects the description above. For twenty-five years, Abraham waited for the fulfilment of God’s promise of a son that would sustain the reality of a multitude that would come from his loins. When finally, the son, Isaac, showed up, God commanded him to offer him as a sacrifice. How about that?
From our human perspective, it may not make sense that someone should give up what one has been expecting for years, but God’s packaging is different. In the divine mechanics, the operational principle is that you lose to gain, and in giving, you receive.
When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God knew that it was a painful thing to do because of the values of Isaac. God said, “Take your Son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the Land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I point out to you.” You can see here that God made it even more emotional, “your only one…whom you love”.
Simply up, God was asking Abraham to give up Isaac. Surprisingly, Abraham did not ask any questions, just like the time God asked him to leave his father’s house and his homeland to a place he would show him (Gen. 12:1f). When you understand that God cannot take you to the place where His grace will not be sufficient you, would not question His authority when He speaks.
Jesus Christ: God’s Offering (Isaac) to Humanity
God showed the example of giving up what is most precious to oneself in the person and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom the scriptures call the only begotten Son of God (John 1:18; 3:16, and 1John 4:9). Like Abraham but more than him, God was ready and did to give up his only begotten Son in whom He is well pleased.
On his part, our Lord Jesus Christ accepted to be offered up as a sacrifice for the atonement of our sins on the cross. Did you know that the cry: “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), could have been the same cry of Isaac as Abraham held him down to offer him up to God on that mountain in Moriah?
Giving Up Your “Isaac”
We all have our different “Isaacs” that come in various shapes and sizes. Our “Isaacs” represent those things, people, events, or places that make our world go round. They could be what characterizes our comfort zones. They could be helpful in various ways. But hear this truth, anything you have that is more important to you than God is not good for you; it could also ruin your life.
The Lenten season is timely enough for us to give up the Isaacs contending with our spiritual growth and development. When we say that you need to lose something to get something, we mean that nothing would change until you decide to change.
The transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ we read in Mark’s Gospel (9:2-10) is a message of transformative change that comes from the willingness to change by giving up some things. Have you wondered why the transfiguration could only happen at the mountain top? Our Lord Jesus Christ and the three disciples needed to change their position to get the disposition for the transfiguration. It was not an accident.
Think about anything or anyone preventing your ascent to your mountain of transfiguration; that could be a limitation for you; give it up. Sometimes we erroneously think that when we give up certain things, we lose out, and life becomes boring. We instead have a lot to gain and even more. When Peter wanted to know the reward of those who gave up everything to follow the Lord, Jesus replies and says that they would gain hundredfold in this age and the age to come (Mark 10:28-30).
As we continue our spiritual work-out this Lenten period, let us try to concentrate on those areas of our lives that are greatly distorted by sinful habits by wilfully offering them up to the Lord. We need that transfiguration encounter that would make us experience Jesus in a new. Like Peter, may we desire to stay in that radiance and pitch our tents with the Lord forever.
God bless you, and have a blessed week.