There is usually a purpose behind every visit, especially when a prominent personality is coming to a place. It is common to hear about a president or governor coming to a city or town for one reason or the other. Journalists and news reporters would often dig through to find the underlying causes for such visits and relate the same to people through the media. In short, there is usually a reason behind every visit whatsoever; even “no reason” is itself a reason.
The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we anticipate with the preparatory facility of the Advent period, is for a reason. What is that? Our Lord Jesus Christ is not coming for thirty-three years paid vacation on earth. Instead, he is coming to take away the guilt and punishment for our sins and transgressions. He accomplished that through his teachings, suffering, death, and resurrection.
Among the numerous themes in the Readings today, the subject of repentance in the Gospel Reading (Matt. 3:1-12) from the oracle of John the Baptist catches the attention of this reflection. John shows up in the desert of Judea, saying, “repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He further ascribes to himself the passage from the prophet Isaiah that talks about a voice crying out in the desert, asking people to prepare the way of the Lord and to make his paths straight.
The theme of repentance does not appeal to most people because some feel that a preacher would make them feel bad about themselves, and some still feel beaten up or judged. If anyone feels that way, then that is a sign that the individual needs repentance.
Before we go into a more profound reflection on repentance, there would be a need for us to discard what we could call the perfectionist mentality. The perfectionist mentality gives us the false feeling that we don’t sin. Instead, it tells us that we only make small mistakes caused by someone or something out there
This perfectionist mentality is an illusion that is depriving a lot of Christians of the privilege of acknowledging their sinfulness and the opportunity of receiving God’s forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation.
The Nature and Power of Repentance
There is power in repentance, but it takes a reflective mind to discover it. From the gospel passage today, John the Baptist started by calling for repentance as a precondition to receiving the Kingdom of God, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, nobody would be fit for the Kingdom of God without repentance. If we do a little research, we would see that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us a preview of what happens in heaven when someone on earth repents, (Luke 15:7):
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The passage above makes us understand that heaven endorses the repentance that happens here on earth. By the way, the earth is the only place that repentance can take place; there is no repentance in heaven nor hell.
At this point, we need to understand or review our understanding of repentance as a very important spiritual exercise. The word repentance goes back to the Greek word Metanoia, which means to change one’s mind or heart. In the Hebrew language, the word that translates repentance is Teshuvah, which means to turn back or to make a U-turn.
In our daily lives, we often change our minds about certain things. They could relate to what we want to eat, what we want to buy, or where we want to go. We also turn back or back off from people, places, and events, especially when we sense danger or something unsettling.
Moving Forward: Advent without Repentance has no Advantage
Preparing the way for the Lord calls for a total renovation of our lives, and this can only happen when we take the route of repentance. The Advent season will have no advantage for us if we do not change our minds about the things we do and do not do, and if we do not turn around or make a desirable U-turn.
The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-30) could give us a more illustrative example here. When the young man had exhausted his resources in the distant country, he suddenly comes to his senses (to himself). Here, we identify the moment of changing the mind, and following this change, he decides to turn around and go back to his father.
True repentance cannot happen if we do not accept that we sin. The First Letter of John (1 John 1:8) says that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. The Book of Ecclesiastes (7:20) says that there is no righteous person who does good and never sins. According to St. Paul, we all are sinners running short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
The acceptance of our sinfulness would precede the feeling of sorrow for our sins and the intentional changing of our minds and turning back to God. If you take a reflective look into your life, you would discover that there are things that need to change. Often, we think that other people need the change, while in the real sense, we are the ones that need to restructure and repent.
As we march through this second week of Advent of this liturgical year, let us allow the word of God to speak to our hearts. Let us change our minds and turn around to God so that we can be on a dependable platform when he comes to us during this season of preparation for Christmas. Have blessed Second Sunday of Advent.
A family that lives along a hurricane hotspot in Florida decides to do an emergency evacuation drill to let everyone in the family know what to do and not to do when there is an emergency alert. It was a bit of fun and anxiety as everyone scramble to grab what they need and escape through a ladder by the window and jump into their van after receiving a simulated emergency signal.
Reviewing their general response to the emergency alert, they discovered that some of them left important things behind and took what was not needed. For instance, their dad left his wallet containing his credit cards, driver’s license, and other essential items and took his shaver instead. Their mom took her expensive make-up set but forgot the bag containing all the vital family documents in her care. One of the boys was interested in his skateboard and left his pair of prescription glasses. However, nobody forgot their mobile phones as it has recently become a part of the human body for most people.
One month after the emergency evacuation drill, the family wakes up to a real emergency alert on a fast-moving hurricane heading to their area. Everyone acted fast, leveraging the practice they had in the previous month. Arriving at a safe place outside their city, they stop to check what they grabbed and what they left behind. And it was clear that they picked all the necessary things; one could conclude that they were watchful and prepared for the hurricane. Success often comes when preparation meets opportunity.
The Advent Season invites us to stand firmly on the platform of watchfulness and preparation, not for a deathly hurricane but for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent is all about being vigilant and preparing to welcome our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas. Advent is thus a reaffirmation of God’s demand for preparation. The divine due process tells us about the need for preparation before any activity; in fact, everyone and everything God uses would necessarily pass through the route of preparation.
Before the creation of first human beings, God prepared a garden with edible fruits for their wellbeing (Genesis 1:29). Before the destruction of the world, God prepared Noah to take up the task of saving some humans and animals (Genesis 6:11ff). During the walk in the desert, God would continuously ask Moses to prepare the people before a divine visitation (Exodus 19:10-15). David tells us in the Book of Psalm (23:5a) that God prepares a table before him in the presence of his enemies.
The First Reading today (Isaiah 2:1-5) gives us a preview of what the coming of the Lord would yield in our lives. Mountains are very significant in the bible. Most divine encounters happened on a mountain, for instance, the receiving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus19&20) and the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13).
The Mountain of the Lord’s house refers to divine presence and authority. Put in another way, it relates to God’s kingdom. In the passage, we read the following, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.” This tells us that there are competing entities that would, however, not match the kingdom of God. Furthermore, the passage reminds us of a line in the Lord’s prayer which says, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
The Advent period prods us to set our minds on the on-coming kingdom of God, which the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ would activate. The passage invites us to pay attention to the Word of God so that He would instruct us in His ways and that we may also walk in his paths and his light. Here we have a snapshot of what the advent demands from us.
Watchfulness happens when there is light
The Second Reading (Romans 13:11-14), and the Gospel Reading (Matthew 24:37-44) bring us back to the importance of watchful preparation. In the Second Reading, St. Paul announces that the night is over and that we should throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Often, when people desire to sleep, they turn off the lights; in fact, lights-out is a way of inviting sleep. On the other hand, turning on the lights indicates that the sleeping time is up.
One cannot achieve proper watchfulness in the dark; you would need light to see. The message in the Second Reading is that as much as we need to be watchful, we should make sure that our light is shining. Our light shines through our detachment from sin and disobedience to God. Our Lord Jesus Christ shows the connection between light and good deeds where he says, “let your light shine before others so that seeing your good works, they may give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Moving Forward with Watchful Preparation
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 24:37-44), our Lord Jesus Christ makes a connection between watchfulness and preparation. He uses the story of Noah to illustrate the importance of watchful preparation. At the time, as Noah was watchfully preparing for the flood, the men and women of his time were asleep in the darkness of worldly pleasure until the flood came and carried them away.
Staying awake involves making the proper and necessary preparations; otherwise, it would be useless doing so. One could be awake and do nothing, but anyone who is awake and prepared would do better.
In life, the way you prepare determines the extent you could go. You are as good as how prepared you are; things don’t just happen; there is always some preparation following the process. Preparation is one of the principles of success. The Book of Proverb (24:27) says prepare before you build. Real success is not usually by chance; it is by preparation.
To have a dependable Advent season and with the call for watchful preparation, there would be the need for us to focus on the following preparation tip questions:
Have a graceful First Sunday of Advent, and may God increase your blessings.
The following dialogue transpired between Pilate and our Lord Jesus Christ inside the praetorium early morning before the crucifixion.
Pilate: (Entering the praetorium again, summoned Jesus, and asked him): Are you the King of the Jews?
Jesus: Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?
Pilate: I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?
Jesus: My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.
Pilate: So, you are a king?
Jesus: You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Our Lord Jesus Christ began the commissioning of the apostles to spread the good news by saying, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18).
In the Second Reading today (Colossians 1:12-20), St. Paul gives us a biography of our Lord Jesus:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.
All these references bring our minds to the reality of the universal Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate today. Pope Pius XI proposed and instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925. The feast came at a time when the world was becoming increasingly secular and dispassionate about the authority of Christ with the rising of dictatorship among world leaders.
Through the encyclical Quas Primas, Pope Pius wanted to achieve three things with the feast of Christ the King:
Jesus Christ, A King Unlike Others
We can appreciate the Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ more when we understand the nature and character of his Kingship. In the dialogue with Pilate at the beginning of this reflection, our Lord made it clear that his kingdom is not of this world. In the Gospel (Luke 23:35-43), the good thief on the right hand of the crucified Lord begged him to remember him in his kingdom and responding to him our Lord assures him that he would be with him in his kingdom.
Kings are born in palaces, but our Lord Jesus Christ, the Kings of kings, was born in a manger meant for little animals (Luke 2:7). Kings of the world sleep in cozy beds, but Jesus Christ, the humble King of glory, had nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20). Earthly kings have people who serve and even die for them, but our King and Savior, Jesus Christ, came to serve and to laid down his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). Kings are known for their pride and exuberance. However, our Lord Jesus Christ was humble even unto death (Phil 2:8). All other kings die no matter how long they live on earth, but our Lord Jesus is the only King that won victory over death (1 Cor. 15:57), and he would never die again (Romans 6:9).
Moving Forward: Enjoying the Benefits of the Kingship of Jesus Christ
The Second Reading relates how the Father has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son in who we have redemption and forgiveness of sin.
One of the expressions of the power of the evil one in the world is the prevalence of darkness. Spiritually, darkness is the absence of light, and the absence of light entails the lack of the loving presence of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John (8:12), he tells us that he is the light of the world, and whoever follows him will not walk in darkness. With Jesus Christ as our King, we depart from darkness and walk and live in the light.
The Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ leaves us with the hope of a better place after the changes and challenges of the present life. Here we could connect with the thief on the right hand of the Lord, who got an eleventh-hour rescue from the damnation of hell. Moreover, as co-heirs, we shall reign eternally with our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Tim.2:12).
As we celebrate the Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ, it would be worthwhile for us to make efforts to dethrone all the contending kings and kingdoms in our lives. These may come in the form of sin and toxic habits and lifestyles. May the King of Kings always reign consistently in our lives! God bless you.
There is an interesting story by Ernest Hemingway with the title “The End of Something.” It tells the story of a very busy lumber town called Horton’s Bay. The town is always agog with activities from morning to evening as the timber mill site work non-stop. One fateful day, the owners of the factory decided to move all the machines and workers to a new location. Suddenly, the former busy landscape became ghostly and silent as all other activities come to a dead end. Consequently, the town becomes deserted with no sign of the usual hustle and bustle.
The story goes on to narrate how two young lovers come to the town but could not recognize it at all. Only litters of sawdust heaps are visible in the open ruin. As they sail through the side of the lake facing Horton’s Bay in a boat, they recall with pity how…
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Walking along the ocean shore in Barbados during the summertime and enjoying the beautiful scenery with the warm tropical sun, I learned some life lessons that would live with me for a long time. One of my major takeaways is from the rushing ocean current that often comes with so much force and speed as it heads towards the shore, but suddenly it dies down, and there is calmness.
The intermittent ocean current tells me that nothing is permanent in this earthly existence. Beauty is just for a moment; it would soon fade or become obsolete. The physical strength you have would wane with time. Wealth and riches dwindle as time progresses. What about human life? The Book of Psalms (103:15-16) answers this when it says:
As for man, his days are like grass; it flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
Furthermore, the Book of Job (14:1-2), adds, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.
Life is precious, and we all tend to do all in our power to preserve life to the optimal level. I was once at the 96th birthday of a matriarch, and when she was responding to the guests at the surprise birthday set up by her great-grandchildren, she started by asking God to keep her alive to celebrate more years. That was not a bad prayer; however, we expected words of thanksgiving to God for the life and health so far.
One of the best things you can wish anyone is a long life; in fact, it is the most famous prayers in the world, followed by prosperity. On the other hand, the worst thing you can wish anyone is a death wish.
An armed man once entered a church in the middle of the service and facing the congregation; he asked those who are ready to die for Jesus Christ to stand and raise their hands while those who wouldn’t wish to die for the Lord should run away from the Church. The entire congregation moved except the minister, and a few elderly ones and the armed man turns and says to the minister, “preach on sir, these are the real Christians!”
Dying to Live
The First Reading today (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14), tells us about the seven brothers and their mother. They were arrested and tortured to death successively following the orders of the pagan king, Antiochus, who wanted them to denounce their faith in God by eating swine flesh. The spectacular thing about their death was their mother’s encouragement and their unwavering faith in God’s saving power that would lead them to everlasting life.
The narrative shows that their faith in God’s promise of life after the earthly life helped them to remain steadfast in their resolve to give up their lives. Before his gruesome death, the second brother says this to the King, “you accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us to LIVE AGAIN forever. It is for his law that we are dying”. The fourth brother on his part says that it is his choice to die at the hands of men with the HOPE of being raised by God.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 20:27-38), some Sadducees come to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask his opinion about resurrection using a weird story about seven brothers who died successively but were married to the same woman. They wanted to know whose wife she would become at the time of resurrection.
Our Lord answers them by first indicating that at the time of the resurrection, people do not engage in marriage; neither do they die because they become like angels. Here our Lord Jesus Christ gives us an idea about life after the earthly life. The first thing we learn is that worldly concerns like marriage and death do not have relevance. Next, he indicates that the resurrected souls would become like angels and would be children of God. The basic fact about angels is that they are spiritual beings, and they exist only to do the will of God.
Moving Forward: The Best Life is Beyond the Earth
What is the best form of life? Life without stress and setbacks? Sure, nobody likes to go through stress and setbacks; however, they are part of our life on earth. The beauty of life is living in accordance with the will of God and not about having the best of the material comforts of the world.
On the first day of November, we celebrated the solemnity of All the Saints, which means all our departed brothers and sisters who are now enjoying life after this earthly life. If we go by the description of our Lord Jesus Christ, they are now like angels and have become eternally, the children of God.
The life after this earthly existence is not a right we have as Christians; it is a reward for our steadfast love for God, especially as we strive to defend our faith in God. Often when people die, we mourn and cry because we would miss them. However, we often do not consider if they would receive the reward of rising to life following their faith and faithfulness to God.
At the graveside of Lazarus, our Lord Jesus Christ responding to Martha says, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). It is our faith that life is not ended at death but transformed. For this reason, St. Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:1) that when our earthly tent is destroyed, we have a building not made by human hand in heaven.
The liturgy of the word today invites us to focus on life beyond earthly life. To achieve this, there would be a need for us to be open to the Lord’s strengthening in everything like St. Paul said in the Second Reading (2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5). The divine strengthening would, in turn, assist us in resisting sin and evil like the seven Maccabean brothers and their mother even at the cost of our earthly lives.
As we continue our journey of faith, let us keep our eye on the glorious life that would never end or be destroyed by anything. Have a beautiful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
Stories are powerful teaching tools. Any attentive reader of the Gospels would notice that our Lord Jesus Christ would often use stories in the form of parables to convey essential messages because they are easy to recall. When you remember a story, you would not forget the message. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. An ideal storyline has a hero (or protagonist), who might start as a victim of the circumstances created by a villain who appears to dominate at first but ends up badly.
We are beginning this reflection by referring to the power of stories because the life of every one of us is a story, and we are co-authors with God. While God sets the scene of the story, which we cannot control, we make the choices about the characters that would play the lead role in the various stages in the story. So, we primarily write our story leveraging the choices we make in life. Everyday constitutes a new page, and each year represents a chapter. The last chapter concludes our existence on earth.
The Gospel Reading today (Luke 19:1-10) tells us about a significant scene in the story of Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector who shows up when our Lord Jesus Christ was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. He appears for one reason; To See Jesus. He could have heard about the revolutionary religious teacher in the region, and he wanted to see him. He could be wondering how Jesus was able to convince his colleague, Matthew, to leave the lucrative tax business (Matt. 9:9).
However, two obstacles stand on his way. One is personal to him; his smallness and the other is external, the large crowd. Did he give up? Nope. He heads towards a sycamore along the way Jesus Christ would pass, and sitting on that spot, our Lord Jesus meets him and graciously requests to be his guest. We shall be looking at the two obstacles on the way of Zacchaeus as he strives To See Jesus.
The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was short in stature. The latter description shows that Zacchaeus possesses an attribute that is fundamentally limiting. It would be beneficial to our reflection to understand this shortness beyond the physical. Often, we carry with us attitudes and dispositions that limit our view and perception of the essential values we need in our lives, including God. Hence, we have moral, mental, and spiritual shortness in addition to the physical.
Most times, you may turn out to be your worst enemy. Those times when you feel that you are too small to get to a certain point. Those moments when all you see is failure instead of success, and when you believe in “I can’t” more than “I can.” The highest imprisonment is the one you give yourselves. These go back to the mindset. The choices you make in life determine how you direct the story of your life either as a victim or a hero.
The Crowd Effect
The highest gathering of people so far in history has been in the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India, which features more than 120 million people in two months. The crowd stands as a great limitation to seeing, moving, and hearing. There are numerous instances in the bible were the crowd constituted a hindrance.
God prohibits following the crowd to do wrong (Ex. 23:2). John the Baptist called the crowds brood of vipers (Luke 3:7). The crowd accused our Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate (Mark 15:8-15). Woman with the issue of blood had to struggle through the crowd to touch the garment of Jesus (Luke 8:42-43). The crowd hushed Bartimaeus while he was calling out to the Lord for mercy (Mark 10:48).
Overcoming the Self and the Crowd and Climbing the Tree of Salvation
The narrative about Zacchaeus would have been ineffectual if he gave up in the face of his self-limitations and the obstacle from the crowd. Zacchaeus did not accept the accident of his dwarfism nor the discouraging wall of the crowd as he heads towards the sycamore tree that stands along the path our Lord was going pass.
The first lesson we could learn from Zacchaeus is the ability to look beyond the current situation of our life. There is a need for us to strive towards that which lies ahead always. Overcoming limitations is a choice you make. Zacchaeus could have given up and returned to his office, but his hunger to see our Lord Jesus Christ made him beat both his self-limitation and the barricade of the crowd.
The sycamore tree is very vital in this narrative. Zacchaeus’ instant surveillance aided him to locate the sycamore tree at a distance, and his preview of the procession revealed to him that Jesus Christ would pass through that route. We could call this geographical awareness, but it has spiritual resonance for us.
The sycamore tree with Zacchaeus on it turns out to be an attractive billboard that caught the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the point of climbing the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus’ stature and the obstacles of the crowd became irrelevant as out Lord stops to converse with the wee little man in the presence of the crowd that posed a barrier for him earlier. There was an instant reversal of the situation.
The high point of the dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and Zacchaeus was our Lord’s disclosure of his intention to stay in his house, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house”; sounds like an obligated self-invitation. Remember that Zacchaeus set out to seek the Lord, and the Lord found him. The word of God says that those who seek me will find me if they seek me with all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).
Note that the crowd followed Zacchaeus to his house and still tried to dissuade him but refused to be intimidated. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not only come into the house of Zacchaeus but also into his soul. Our Lord’s transformed Zacchaeus as he promises to give half of his possession to the poor, and with the other half pay those, he extorted four times over; that means with interest and more.
Moving Forward and Rewriting our Story like Zacchaeus
We all share in the story of Zacchaeus in one way or the other. Sometimes we contend with various self-limiting factors that could be physical, behavioral, moral, or spiritual. At some other moments, we battle with the crowd effect, which could come in the form of people and events around us that retard us from reaching out to the Lord, who is ever ready to go into our hearts to renew us from our sinfulness. The First Reading (Wisdom 11:22-12:2) tells us among other things that God loves us and would spare us because we belong to Him
One of the great privileges we have in scripting our life story is that God gives us a pencil with an eraser so that we can erase and rewrite our story before a chapter ends. Zacchaeus was apt to change the narrative of his life by overcoming his self-limitation and the crowd effect.
You can do the same for your life. Your current situation can only define you if you choose. The difference between where you are and where you intend to be is what you do. Furthermore, it takes focus and commitment, like in the case of Zacchaeus, for you to get there. Do not allow the following things to limit you:
Your present condition. Nick Vujicic was born without limbs, but he is one of the best authors and motivational speakers of his time. Remember that no circumstance has the right to stay forever with you.
The opinion of the crowd. In the route of your life, you will encounter a lot of “nay-sayers” who would deter you and even stop you from attaining the height you wish to reach. They would only win when you give.
Your Past. The past is gone and sticking to it brings depression. Let the past go so that you can embrace what lies ahead. For Zacchaeus, his small stature and the crowd became the things of the past as he runs to the sycamore tree.
Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
During our minor seminary days, late coming to any activity was (and is still) a great offence. Once the prayer commences in the chapel, for instance, those outside are considered late and would receive adequate punishment. One day, I was just stepping onto the threshold of the Chapel alongside other junior seminarians when the signal for the commencement of the prayer came. We were stopped just at the threshold where there was an inscription “Domus Dei et Porta Caeli” which means “House of God and gate of heaven”.
We were asked to move to one side and behind us were others who had not reached the threshold at all, and they have been invited to move to another side. After a while, one of the auxiliaries (prefects) pleaded with his colleague to allow us to enter into the chapel since we were not as late as the lot behind us…
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Is there really heaven; the perfect place of eternal happiness? What is life like in heaven from dawn to dusk? How large is the place and how many (many) mansions are really there as our Lord mentioned in the Gospel of John (14:2-3)? Do people there do sports and play games? What do people there eat? People say that those in heaven keep singing and praising God will they not get tired and bored? These and similar imaginative questions are in the minds of many, and of course, some imaginative answers crop up because nobody on earth can claim to have comprehensive knowledge about heaven.
It will be fitting today to ask ourselves what we think about heaven, the place every well-meaning Christian should be aspiring to go after the short time we have on this earth. As a child, I had the idea of heaven as a place you…
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Have you ever considered yourself more privileged than others? Have you ever been in a group where you see yourself as being in the wrong place because you perceive that nobody in the group measures up to your class, level of education, political views, exposure, or even your religious belief system? In short, have you ever seen yourself superior to others because of the simple fact of having a different identity?
If you have a “yes” answer to any of the above questions, you may be guilty of the pharisaic syndrome. In the Gospel today (Luke 18:9-14), our Lord Jesus Christ tells a contrasting parable that addresses those who ride on the wings righteousness while despising others. Two men, a Pharisee, and a tax collector go up to pray at the temple area. The Pharisee takes a prominent position and prays to himself (not to God).
The Pharisee starts his self-praise prayer by thanking God for being different from the rest of humanity who are greedy, dishonest, and adulterous. Next, he contrasts himself from the tax collector with his religious practices of fasting and paying of tithes. On the other hand, the tax collector standing at a lowly position and without even raising his eyes to heaven beats his breast, asking God to be merciful to him for his sins.
Our Lord concludes the parable by remarking that the tax collector went home justified, unlike the Pharisee, who was prideful in his prayers. Furthermore, he states that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee and his Pharisaic Syndrome
The Pharisees represent an elitist sect within the Jewish religion that maintains strict observance of the written laws and the tradition of the elders. They are remarkable for creating barriers between themselves and others who do not belong to their sect. In some places in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ refers to them as hypocrites (Luke 11:37-44; Matt.15:1-9; Matt. 23:23-24).
The Pharisaic syndrome consists of a double standard of living. The name “hypocrite” is from the Greek “hypokrites,” which means a stage actor, dissimulator, or pretender. Therefore, a hypocrite lives a life that contradicts the real facts of the person’s life. From the analysis of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Pharisees fit into the structure of hypocrisy. They pretend to be righteous and holy in the presence of people, but inwardly they live a contrary life unknown to the public.
The Pharisee in the parable comes to the temple to make a pretentious show of piety to spite other people. The presence of the tax collector fuelled his hypocritical ambient as he sets standards of virtue and religious devotion to make the tax collector feel inferior and unworthy. Notice that what he offered was not a prayer because nobody prays to himself. He was merely narcissistic.
The Tax Collector and Sinner
Tax collectors at the time of Jesus worked for the Roman government in all the regions under the empire. It was also a common knowledge among the Jews that they extort money from the poor masses (Luke 3:13). Hence people see them as sinners (Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:30). Zacchaeus would confirm this theory during his encounter with Jesus Christ when he resolved that he would repay everyone he defrauded four times as much (Luke 19:8).
The tax collector did not come to the temple with the same disposition as the Pharisee. The Pharisee went as an intact spotless religious enthusiast, but the tax collector came as a broken, dirty sinner. However, at the end of their prayers, they switched places. The Pharisee went home broken and inadequate because he did not pray to God. On the other hand, the tax collector went home whole and healed because he had a transforming encounter with God.
Notice also that the tax collector did not pay attention to the arrogant pretension of the Pharisee; in fact, he was not looking, he refused to be distracted and focused on praying to God. His prayer was brief and straight to the point, “God be merciful to me a sinner”. Often, we allow the obsessive drama most people display around us in the church to distract us. There is a need for us to focus on God, not on people.
The central virtue of the tax collector which our Lord Jesus Christ extolls is his humility. It is impossible to offer a sincere prayer to God without humility; God commands humility before we could engage ourselves in prayer (2 Chron.7:14; 1 Pet. 5:8). Humility helps us to recognize our inadequacy before God while acknowledging His sufficiency. The First Reading today (Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18) tells us, among other things, that “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds.”
In life, do not allow what people say or do change whom you ought to be before God. In the narrative, the tax collector refused to copy the bad example of the Pharisee, and he would not allow himself to be intimidated by his self-praise. He instead remained humble and focused before God, and He answered him with divine forgiveness and peace.
We learn from the misdeed of the Pharisee that it is wrong to judge people because we are different from them. Often, being different from other people does not make you better than them. Humility helps us to accept what we are and allow others to be who they are. Like in the case of the two, there would always be a result of every action. Outwardly, the Pharisee thought he was in excellent standing, but in God’s presence, he was taking the least position while the tax collector who comes in humility received divine exaltation.
There would be the need for us to examine our lives to discover the hidden symptoms of the Pharisaic syndrome and pray earnestly to God for the grace for total liberation.
Watch out for these Pharisaic Syndrome
Have a beautiful Sunday, and a glorious week ahead. May the grace of God abide with you always as you submit to Him in humility.