On Friday, March 23, 2018, LT. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, a French Military Police officer, traded places with a hostage during a police standoff with a gunman at a supermarket in Paris. The following day, March 24, the eve of the Passion Sunday, the officer died because of the injuries he sustained during the gun battle; the hostage survived the attack. The heroic act attracted the attention of Pope Francis who described the heroic action as a desire to protect people following the officer’s understanding of sacrifice as a practising Catholic.
This story resonates with the essential mentality of the good shepherd in the Gospel Reading today (Jn.10:11-18), the laying down of life for the sheep (John 10:11). The Easter season we are celebrating is the fruit of the self-giving sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life for the forgiveness of our sins (Gal. 1:4). The fundamental difference between the owner of the sheep and a hired hand is that the owner pledges his life for the sheep, but the hired hand runs away in the face of challenges (John 10:12-13).
Col. Arnaud followed the example of Christ by dying so that someone he did not know personally could live. What a powerful way to serve the people with love. Before his passion and death, our Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “there is no greater love than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). To be a shepherd, one needs to entirely be at the service of the sheep even to the cost of the shepherd’s life.
When we hear about shepherds, we often think about the priests and religious, and we are right to feel that way. However, all the baptized who share in the royal priesthood of Christ are called to be shepherds at various level. When you are performing your duty as a parent (dad or mom), you are shepherding. When there are students you are leading formally or informally; you are a shepherd. Whenever and wherever people look up to you for anything, you are a shepherd; to whom much is given much is expected (Luke 12:48).
Laying down your life must not always follow the route of Arnaud in our opening story. Life is very precious, laying down your life could mean giving up something that is very precious to you for the benefit of the sheep. It could be dropping your ego to become humble and patient. It could be letting go that anger and resentment when you are derided or even insulted. The vocation to be a shepherd is not jolly ride. Often you don’t get 100% compliance from the sheep; some would often wander away, and the good shepherd seeks out the lost sheep (Luke 15:4)
The problem with some shepherds in our day and age is the hired-hand mentality. This idea has to do with the emphasis on “what is in there for me?” or “what would I benefit from this job?” When we think of shepherding as a job, we focus on benefit, but when we accept it as a vocation, it becomes a service emanating from the love for the sheep.
The sheep, on the other hand, should complement the work of the shepherd; in fact, a good shepherd with bad sheep is a disaster. One of the fundamental obligations of the sheep is to listen and obey the instructions of the good shepherd. In the Gospel of John (10:27) our Lord says, the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. Often, we blame and berate our shepherds, but we fail to think about our attitude to their vocation and the contribution towards their goals.
Today, we remind ourselves that the Lord is our shepherd, that means He is in control of everything about us, but that depends on the extent we allow Him. God would not force Himself on us. Instead, He is available as our provider and provision (Gen. 22:14), He is our protector and protection (Psalm 91:1ff), He leads us through the right path (Psalm 23:3). For these reasons, we shall not lack (Psalm 23:1) because His goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives (Psalm 23:6).
As we celebrate the Good Shepherd Sunday, let us remember to pray for shepherds after God’s heart who would receive the unction to function in God’s vineyard. We also pray to become good shepherds and good sheep at any level we find ourselves. Have a great Sunday and a pleasant week ahead.
Once upon a time, a certain king makes an open request challenging all the artists in his kingdom to compete for a prize on a painting that would correctly represent peace. Many people enrolled, and there were many pictures. The king takes his time to eliminate the submissions until two beautiful paintings were remaining. They were both very outstanding; one shows a lake surrounded by exotic mountains and green vegetation. It looked beautiful and peaceful, and everyone admired it. The second was also magnificent as it showed a quiet mountainside and river, but the sky shows a raging storm and the environment looked troubled.
When it was time for the king to make his choice, it surprised everyone that he settled for the second picture and his son asked him the rationale behind his preference for the second picture that shows a raging storm instead of the first that showed all calmness. Replying the king requested for the painting he asked his son to look at it more closely. When the son did, he discovered a bird settling peacefully in its nest somewhere in a tiny opening on the rocks despite the raging storm. And the king says to his son; peace is not the absence of storm or any other kind of physical disturbances, it is about remaining calm and hopeful amid all those troubles.
As the king in the narrative indicated, peace is not the absence of environmental noise or external disturbances; it is instead an inner calmness that rests on a hopeful future; peace has to do with internal tranquillity even when the whole world seems to be tearing apart. Peace is not what you buy with money; you instead earn it through the right ordering of your inner self. Many poor people have peace, and some so many wealthy people are in “pieces.”
The unsettling experience of the arrest, passion, and death of our Lord Jesus Christ could have left his disciples in great trauma. The scriptures made us understand that the sheep will scatter when they strike the shepherd (Zech. 13:7, Matt. 26:31). We could also recall that before his passion and death our Lord said:
The hour is coming. Indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have PEACE. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world. (John 16:32-33).
For fear of the Jews, the disciples were often staying in secured places (John 20: 19; 26). To confirm that all these indicate absence of peace in their lives, the first statement of our Lord when he appeared to them says, “peace be unto you” (John 20:19); and he would do this at other times he appeared after his resurrection including in the Gospel of today (Luke 24:35-48).
It is interesting to hear Peter in the First Reading (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19), decry the attitude of those who denied our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of Pilate when he had decided to release him. The theme of denial here also reminds us of Peter’s denial of our Lord not just once but three times (John 18:15-27). One could begin to wonder, “what differentiates Peter’s denial and that of the people at Gabbatha before Pilate?” And the answer could be found in what each of them did afterwards, for Peter it was repentance (Luke 22:61-62), but for the people especially the high priests and Sadducees, it was renewed efforts to stop the message of the resurrection (Acts 3, 4, and 5).
The theme of repentance followed the testimonies about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. After the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost, the people were cut to their hearts, and they asked, “what shall we do?” And Peter tells them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that their sins will be forgiven, and they will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 37-38).
There would be no peace without repentance. Repentance means to change one’s mind (Exo. 32:14). To repent of sin means to change one’s mind about committing sin and deciding to do right. Peace is the state of mind not the condition of the environment. For us to have peace we need to change our mind, we need to repent. We need to change our mind on the way we think about others; we need to change our mind in the way we relate to others, we need to change our minds on our attitudes before we can have peace.
The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ brought peace to us. It means that we should not be afraid of the “Jews.” The Jews here represent all those challenges that face us in life. The Jews represent all the obstacles on our way to holiness. Jews represent all the mistakes of our past. When our Lord said, “Peace be unto you” he was saying to them the storm is over, the trouble is over. There is nothing that qualifies to stress at this point in your life which the peace of the resurrection cannot overcome. The word of God says that the peace of Christ surpasses all understanding. That means it is a supernatural fruit; actually, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
As we continue to celebrate the resurrection, let us not allow anything nor anyone to take away your “Alleluia.” The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ is your right and heritage as a child of the resurrection. You only need to repent; change your mind, and the glory of God will forever abide with you. May the Peace of the Lord be with you always and have a peaceful week ahead,
“Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6)
From December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016, the Holy Roman Catholic Church observed the Year of Mercy which featured special prayers and gatherings in various places highlighting the profundity of God’s mercy. During the closing gathering which also featured the ceremony of the closing of the Holy Door of Mercy, Pope Francis announced that the closing of the Holy Door does not entail the closing of the door of reconciliation and God’s mercy. In other words, the door of divine mercy is still open to those who are ready and willing to make a spiritual entrance.
What is divine mercy? One could answer that it means God’s compassion and withdrawal of the punishment we deserve from Him because of our sins. One could also ask why God is merciful? God is merciful because He cannot help but be merciful; it is in His nature. Put in another way mercy is another name for God (Psalm 103:8). The letter to the Hebrews (4:16), tells us that the throne of God consists of grace and mercy. While calling on God after falling into sin, David referred to God as full of mercy and compassion (Psalm 51:1).
There is the need for us to differentiate between forgiveness and mercy before we can appreciate what divine mercy entails. To forgive is to overcome anger or resentment over someone’s failing. Mercy, on the other hand, is more profound than forgiveness, and it means withdrawing all the punishment that is due to an offence. Have you wondered why our Lord Jesus Christ did not add mercy in the Lord’s prayer but only forgiveness (Matt. 6:9-13)? Have you wondered why our Lord had to stop when the blind Bartimaeus called out saying “Jesus Son of David have MERCY on me” (Mark 10: 47). We can see the distinction and as well as the connection between forgiveness and mercy while our Lord Jesus Christ was hanging on the cross. The account of Luke (23:34) tells us that our Lord said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” If forgiveness were enough, then the death of our Lord would have been unnecessary.
Beyond forgiveness, humanity needed the mercy of God, and that was why at 3.pm on that fateful Friday we know as “Good,” our Lord said. “it is finished” (John 19:30); and bowing his head, he died. That was the point humanity received God’s mercy, that means our debt was paid, and our punishment was taken away (Isaiah 53:5). Divine mercy means that though we deserve to receive punishment, our punishment was taken away by God through His Son. The sin was so intense, but God already forgave us (Psalm 86:5), however, the punishment due to our sin was still pending. One of the punishment was that the gate of heaven was shut against humanity and only the mercy of God through His Son could open the gate of heaven for us. John (3:13) tells us that nobody has gone to heaven except the one who came down from heaven and that is our Lord Jesus Christ, whom St. Paul refers to as the firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:18).
God is the Father of mercy (2 Cor. 1:3-4), and his mercy never ends (Lam. 3:22-23). He is still ready to grant you mercy when you approach His throne of mercy. God’s mercy shows that he wants us to move forward to a better future (Jer. 29:11). The mercy of God indicates God’s love for us (John 3:16). The mercy of God shows that God wants us to have peace as our Lord Jesus Christ indicated when he appeared to the apostles, “peace be unto you” (John 20:21). The mercy of God shows that God wants us back (Jeremiah 15:19).
When we receive God’s mercy, He expects us to extend mercy to others. The mercy of God comes to us and should flow through us. In the Book of Genesis (12:3) God said that He would bless Abraham so that he could be a blessing to others. If God, our Father, is merciful we should be merciful children of our Father. If we expect mercy from God, we should also be ready to grant mercy to others. In the beatitudes, our Lord Jesus Christ says, “blessed are the merciful and they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
As we celebrate the Divine Mercy Sunday, let us use the opportunity Christ opened for us through his resurrection from the dead to open our heart for God’s mercy. It is also vital that we extend mercy to those who deserve our punishment in various ways just as we qualify to received God’s punishment but in lieu, receive His mercy.
Have a rewarding Divine Mercy Sunday.
He is Lord, He is Lord!
He is risen from the dead and he is Lord!
Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord.
He is King, he is King!
He will draw all nations to him, he is King;
and the time shall be when the world shall sing
that Jesus Christ is King!
He is Life, he is Life!
He has died to set us free and he is Life;
and he calls us all to live evermore,
for Jesus Christ is Life.
Easter is God’s answer to the questions about Good Friday. Easter completes the story of the Good Friday. The story of Easter confirms the power of God; Easter fulfils the declaration of our Lord Jesus Christ, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it” (John 2:19). The Easter narrative makes our Lord Jesus Christ the only person to make an appointment beyond the grave and kept it. The resurrection tells us that God has a vision which nobody, including the devil, can kill. Don’t allow anyone to destroy your vision.
We shall begin the reflection of Easter by talking about death generally and particularly the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. This approach might seem a weird thing to do on Easter day, but it is fitting to speak of the rising in the context of the dying.
One of the best definitions of death sees it as the separation of the three components of the human person; spirit, soul, and body. In the case of our Lord Jesus Christ, at that point when he paid the price for our sins, his spirit went back to the Father; “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). On the other hand, his soul went down to Hades to minister to the souls there (1 Pet. 3:19-20). Only the body lies in the tomb. On the day of resurrection (early morning) on the third day, the spirit and soul returned to the body and at that instant, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Son of the Eternal Father rose from the dead; he overpowered all the physical and spiritual restrictions and barriers.
The word resurrection comes from the Greek word “anastasis” which means to “raise up” or “to stand up again.” At the resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ who was once standing but was brought down by death rose up again and never again to go down. By the fact of rising from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the following:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
This is the season for your rising. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ opens the door for you to rise.
Alleluia! He is risen! Let us open ourselves to the victorious power of the resurrection from this moment onwards and the difference will amaze us.
Have a wonderful Easter celebration.
What is “good” about this Friday?
What is “good” about this Friday?
What is “good” about this Friday?
What is “good” about this Friday?
What is “good” about this Friday?
What is “good” about this Friday?
What is “good” about this Friday?
One of the great messages from the Good Friday ceremony is the power of suffering. Someone once remarked that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” We often run away from suffering, and that is why many people are unsuccessful and unfortunate in life. Suffering is like exercising to get through with a task. The success of a team in a sporting event does not come on the day of the competition. The success goes back to the tough times of practising, the mistakes and retakes, the sleepless nights, and other challenging situations.
Our redemption was not a walk in the park. Why did God allow his Son to come down to us being like us in all things except sin (Heb. 4:15)? Why did God let His Son to suffer and to die to purchase our freedom from sin? That would tell us that our redemption is precious, and our sin was too profound. The suffering you may be going through now cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed soon (1 Cor. 2:9). Stay tuned!
As a child, one of the scariest places I dreaded to go with my parents when I become ill was the hospital. The phobia was not because of the smell of different kinds of medications nor the morgue which most children fear, but the injections which the nurses administered with long needles that go right into the buttocks to deposit the curative liquids. During those times, my parents would encourage me to go with them to the hospital and assure me that there might be no injection (but there would always be) and if there happens to be any, it won’t hurt (but they always hurt).
In my little mind, I thought my parents were heartless and wicked for allowing me to go through such pains. But I was wrong; they were showing their love and care for me because the pain of the injections would bring the gain of good health. Maybe if they spared the pain of the needles, I could have died from some complications; may God bless my mum and rest the soul of my dad.
Today, we celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The purpose of the entrance was for our Lord to suffer the mockery of the devil, the brutality of men and even the abandonment of his heavenly Father as St. Paul would tell us, that God did not spare his son but offered him up for us all (Romans 8:32). Our Lord Jesus Christ confirmed this on the cross when he exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
The triumphant entry into Jerusalem is an ironical narrative with the depth of meanings. “Why did our Lord Jesus make that entry a carnival-like parade; why did he need a donkey and a colt (urgently) at the same time; why all the “noise” about the Son of David and why the Hosanna?”
Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem today was not the first time, but it was at a special time and of a different kind; triumphant. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego joyfully marched into the heart of fire; our Lord joyfully entered the city at the hour close to his suffering and death. He entered triumphantly to disclose the joyful and triumphant end of his journey; he was celebrating the end from the beginning as God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
Jesus Christ, our Lord, was looking at the value and purpose of the journey which would be the triumph over sin and death (1 Cor. 15:53-55; Col.2:15). In life, we often face various kinds of challenging situations and most times we cry and break our heads over what is prevailing in our lives, and we fail to look beyond the present to see what lies ahead of us. The situations we face in our lives should not define us. The passion and death could not define our Lord Jesus Christ because there would be a rising from the dead.
The donkey and the colt represent our sinful souls tied to the tree of sin which reminds us of the tree at the middle of the garden in the book of Genesis where the first sin of disobedience was committed (Gen.3:3). The donkey and colt represent all of us, Adam and Eve, male and female, old and young, we have all sinned, and our Lord is going to suffer and die for us, and it is fitting that we should go with him triumphantly into the Jerusalem to celebrate our freedom in advance.
Hosanna is an Aramaic word which could translate as praise or adoration. It is however not addressed to just anyone but to someone who could deliver or save. That is why they had to link it to “Son of David” which means messiah and messiah means savior. That was why the Blind Bartimaeus could cry and say, “Son of David have mercy on me” (Mark 10:48), in other words, he said. “savior, have mercy on me.”
Today, the door of the Holy week is open for us to march with the Lord to his suffering and death as we look forward to the resurrection. I wouldn’t know what your disposition has been since the beginning of Lent. Would you say, “yes it has been a great experience for me” or would you have regrets?
These few days could make a significant change in your life. The week will become as holy as you make it be. Have a great Palm Sunday and a rewarding Holy Week.
One problem with most Christians is the senseless search for God in different churches, prayer houses and among self-made “men and women” of God. These “wonder-workers” end up draining them financially and giving them false hope for riches and wealth; they would acquire without working, testimonies without a test, and Easter Sunday with a Good Friday. Unfortunately, we don’t see this religious harlotry among people of other religions against whom some of us claim superiority. Often, we look for things we already have in the wrong places and does that make any sense?
In the First Reading today (Jer.31:31-34), we hear Jeremiah giving the divine oracle after the religious reforms by king Josiah who began to rule when he was only eight years old. God decided to forgive the sins of the people after the years of their estrangement from Him. Furthermore, He promised to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah:
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord, All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me says the Lord.
In the past, God made a covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai through Moses his servant. Afterward, the people were reminded each time about what God said. In fact, the public reading of the commandment was a regular ritual in the Synagogue. In the new covenant, God decided to put the law into our hearts, like software could be downloaded and activated on a computer. What is more interesting also is that the knowledge of God is engraved in our hearts.
God speaks to us in our hearts though His voice may not be as loud as most of the contending voices around us. The voice of God is present when our right and certain consciences trouble us over our actions and inactions. The voice of God speaks to us when we have that gentle push in our hearts to give up evil and do good. The knowledge of God in us often urges us to drop sin and take the route of righteousness. However, the decision to do all these depends on us.
The highpoint of the Gospel narrative today (John 12:20-33) is the search for Jesus by some Greeks who approached Philip, and Andrew to assist them to have access to meet our Lord Jesus Christ. This would be the second time that the Gentiles would seek to see the Lord. The first was the wise men from the east during the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Matt 2:1-12). The question we could ask is “why the search for Jesus?” It will be proper for us to explore the previous events and they include the death of Lazarus and the miracle of his rising the dead, the plan to kill him (Lazarus), and our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
One could say that the story of Jesus was widespread. Consequently, the Greeks who had come for the festival (the Passover) could have heard about the events and were curious, like every average Greek (Acts 17:20), to know more about the Lord and especially concerning the meaning of the rising from the dead to life. We know that the Greeks have a hard time believing in the resurrection as their encounter with Paul at Athens could attest (Acts 17:16-33).
We did not hear the Greeks ask our Lord any question when Andrew and Philip brought them, but the Gospel narrative says, “Jesus answered them…” (John 12:23). It is only rational to ask what question was he answering? Our Lord was answering the question in their hearts as he could see through them. The Gospel of John (2:24-25), tells us that he knows what is in everyone and there are other instances where he could read the heart of people (Matt. 12:25; 22:18; Luke 6:8; 11:17; 16:15).
Our Lord’s instruction to the Greek was about his on-coming suffering, death, and resurrection;
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
In the hearts of the Greeks, Jesus should preserve his life and live it to the full, but our Lord answers and says to them,
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
The Greeks wished they could also serve the Lord, but they questioned how they could abandon everything and become his followers and the Lord answers and says to them,
“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”
The Gospel narrative did not give us the names of the Greeks who came searching for Jesus. In a sense, we are the new Greeks who are searching for Jesus Christ. The question is, “where do we search for the Lord?” They met Philip and Andrew who took them to the Lord, not to themselves. Today we have many “Philips” and “Andrews” who are making themselves “saviors” instead of directing people to the Savior.
The liturgy of this Sunday invites us to continue the search for Jesus Christ but to do so in our hearts where God has left the imprint of His commandment and salvific knowledge and where we can find Him. The search for Jesus in our hearts this season encourages us to do away with sin, to listen to the word of God and not to count on the sufferings of the moment but on the glory that lies ahead.
May you find the Lord in your hearts and get to know Him more intimately and obey Him more steadfastly. Have a great Sunday and a beautiful week ahead.
In a particular diocese, the bishop gets a report about a visionary who was attracting a lot of attention following her claim of receiving messages directly from our Lord Jesus Christ. After receiving a number seemingly credible and incredible reports, the bishop decides to pay an unscheduled visit to the visionary. After hearing her stories, the bishop was still in doubt and tells her that whenever the Lord appears to her again, she should ask him to say to her the sins he (the bishop) confessed the last time he went for confessions and the visionary accepted.
One week later, the bishop receives a phone call from the visionary indicating that the Lord visited her, and she remembered to ask the question. The bishop was shocked because he thought that the visionary would never call because he was in doubt about her claims and gave her a difficult task. However, he rushes down to see the visionary with one of his priests who just concluded a doctoral study in the Scriptures in Rome. When they arrived, the bishop decided to have a private discussion with the visionary because it would be about his sins.
When they were by themselves, the bishop was curious to know what the Lord said to the visionary about his sins, and he was a bit nervous. “What did the Lord say about the sins I confessed during my last confession?” The bishop asked with his voice shaking slightly. The visionary looking at him directly in the eyes responds saying,
The Lord says that he cannot remember any of your sins because his merciful love is so powerful that it cleared all the sins away when you confessed, and there is no remembrance of them anymore. However, he said that he would be happy if you don’t commit those sins again.
The bishop was confused and overwhelmed at the same time. The prelate thanks the visionary and promises to return after making some consultations. While they were driving back the bishop shares the encounter with the priest who accompanied him to see the visionary and the priest says to the bishop, “she is absolutely right.” “How would God not remember the sins I confessed, is He no longer the all-knowing God?” The bishop asked. The priest now goes scriptural to convince the bishop. He gives the following quotations to the bishop.
God is more interested in our glorious future than in our unproductive past. From the answer of the visionary to the bishop, we understand that God is not concerned about our past sins and mistake, but He needs us to become better going forward.
The First Reading (2 Chron. 36:14-16, 19-23) tells us how all the people of Israel, without exception, offended God by adding infidelity to infidelity. God gave them time to turn back, but they refused and even revolted against His messengers, and this brought about the Babylonian captivity or exile. After many years, God’s merciful love goes in search of the people and through a pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, the survivors among people received the grace of restoration to the promised land.
We are all sinners (Eccles. 7:20; Romans 3:23), we often fail to be faithful to God though He remains faithful because he cannot deny His own self (2 Tim. 12:13). Despite our sins, God is continually looking out for us like he did to the people of Israel and He is ready to have us back if only we could turn back to Him (Jer. 15:19). St. Paul explains to us in the Second Reading (Eph. 2:4-10) that our reconciliation and salvation is by the grace of God; though we were dead in our transgressions, God brought us back and saved us by His grace.
God does not want us to die for our sins. The incarnation is a proof of God’s desire for our salvation. The Gospel Reading (John 3:14-21), tells us among other things that God sent His Son (leveraging on his love) so that the world might be saved through him. But there is a clause for our salvation, and that is our belief “everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Belief refers to our faith in God’s merciful love to forgive our sins and wipe them off completely. Often, we tie ourselves to our past sins even when we have confessed them. Some people allow their past sins to limit them from making a saintly future. The message of today tells us that God does not count nor remember our confessed past. God does not deal with us according to our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10); David asked: “If God should remember and count our guilt, who can stand?” (Psalm 130:3).
The Fourth Sunday of Lent invites us to rejoice because God’s merciful love is available to us after our episodes of sinfulness. There is today an invitation for us to return to God and enjoy the grace of His merciful love. This season of Lent is timely enough to undertake the journey back to our loving and compassionate Father.
Let us bear in mind that God does not remember our past sins, but he is anticipating our return to Him like the loving father of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 20). Today is a good day for you to return to God and receive His merciful love. Have a great Sunday and a graceful week ahead.
As a child, I once listened to a priest tell a story about what happened to one woman in an open market. It was on a First Saturday of the month when Catholic Mothers in Nigeria usually attend a special mass dedicated to them in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and they wear their beautiful Catholic Mother’s uniforms. The activities of the First Saturday, which includes a general meeting, usually take the most part of the day and some women would proceed to their different tasks from the Church after the activities without going home to pull their uniforms.
On this fateful day, the woman in the story headed to the market from the Church to sell her goods when another woman appears in the Catholic Mother’s uniform and greets her in the usual way “praise be to Jesus!” and the woman answers enthusiastically “honor to Mary!”. With that greeting and the identification by her uniform, the woman responded immediately to a request from her fellow Catholic Mother to give her some money to settle a customer as she promises to bring back the money quickly. Without asking further questions about her location in the busy open market, the woman obliged her, and that was the last time she ever saw her. It was later that she discovered that some people disguise as Catholic Mothers on such days and defraud unsuspecting people who consider them to be genuine Catholic Mothers.
In the Gospel Reading today (John 2: 13-25), we learn that our Lord Jesus Christ found people transacting business in the temple area and making a whip from cords he drives them away and says to them, “Take these out of here and stop making my father’s house a marketplace.” Our Lord’s reaction to the temple merchants leaves us with a lot of lessons and instructions for this Third Sunday of Lent.
First, we need to understand why people go to the market. The overarching reason would be to buy the things one needs to satisfy a desire or to sell what one has, to make a profit. However, some people go to the market neither to buy nor to sell. Some go to the market to steal, like the woman in our story while others come for other reasons. Underneath these reasons, there is always a personal goal or selfish intent. To achieve these, the marketplace breeds with unhealthy competition, lies, dishonesty, deception, antagonism, envy, quarreling, fighting and selfishness.
What prompted our Lord to chase the merchants away from the temple area couldn’t be about what they were selling because people buy those animals for offering in the temple like the dedication of a male child (Luke 2:22-24). There is a possibility that our Lord, who could see their hearts, discovered their contrary dispositions over the trade which includes the vices above and more. When he said take these things out of here he was not just refereeing to the physical animals, but to the spiritual animals in their hearts.
Today, we have many people in the church with even worse market-place and the house of trade mentality and dispositions. Is our Church free from people who are here to compete? Is our Church free from lies, dishonesty, quarreling, fighting, envy, antagonism, and selfishness? If our Lord would do what he did in the past in our day and age, he would use something stronger and more efficient than cords and whips. Today our Lord is still telling us “take these things out of here, remove the marketplace mentality from my house.” God tells us in the Oracle of Isaiah (1:16b), remove your wrongdoings from my sight.
The Church often runs below the divine expectations because people pay more attention to their marketplace mentality than they do to the word of God. The marketplace mentality takes us away from the commandments of God as the First Reading tells us (Exodus 20:1-17) while directing us to the commandments of the marketplace. Every commandment of God has a parallel opposition from the marketplace commandment.
Today, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves why we are here and what we are doing in the house of God. Are you here to show your face to people or to encounter God? Are you here to fight, hate, and compete or to forgive, love and encourage one another with fraternal kindness? Are you here so that people would see you and praise you or are you here to worship God in spirit and in truth; the kind of worship that pleases God (John 4:24)?
As we march into this third week of Lent, it is crucial for us to search ourselves and drop all the marketplace dispositions we may have adopted and acquired consciously or unconsciously. The season of Lent provides us with the framework for this essential self-assessment. May God help us to drop all our marketplace (house of trade) mentalities and take up the God’s House mentality that would help us to pay more attention to God’s commandment which is a helpful guide to our salvation. Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.
Some time ago, a friend called to tell me about a confusing situation that required him to make a quick decision. A medical diagnosis of his only son indicated a malignant meningioma which is a delicate brain tumor and the doctors were considering an open brain surgery with a 55% chance of survival for the nine-year-old boy. I could hear him crying and asking God, “why would you allow me to pass through this test?”. “There you go!” I interrupted him. “You are passing through a test; you are not stuck in it. Take the 55% chance, sign the medical papers, and God will make it a 100%!” chance. I could hear him say a strong “Amen” to my exhortation which sounded like a prayer. Long story cut short, sometime after the surgery, he came visiting with the little boy, and nobody could ever guess that he was ever an inpatient at Mount Sinai Hospital. The test became a testimony.
Have you ever been in a situation where there seem to be no better alternatives? Have ever been in a case where it appears that the whole world would be crashing upon your head and nothing seems to serve as a remedy? Have you ever passed through a test? Abraham was in that situation. After waiting for twenty-five years for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son from his wife Sarah, God calls him and makes the most unexpected request:
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 (mountain) that I will point out to you.
YOUR TEST WILL COME FROM YOUR ISAAC
From the narrative, God described Isaac very well to demonstrate the connection and affection Abraham has for him; “…your only one, whom you love.” For us, Isaac represents everything that is so precious and dear to us. Isaac represents anything that appeals to us as a treasure. Your Isaac is where your heart is (Matt. 6:21).
The message of today tells us that our test would come from our Isaac. Your test cannot come from anything that does not appeal to you. The Lenten call for repentance, fasting, and abstinence relates to giving up our Isaac. God is inviting us this season to give up the numerous Isaacs in our lives. Often, we think that when we give up our Isaac, life will become tasteless and bitter. Sometimes we believe that our Isaac determines our future and without our Isaac, we shall become nothing. That is false!
Your Isaac could be those actions and thoughts that have become so habitual to you that you seem to be helpless and hopeless without them. It could be a person or thing to whom you have this attachment that is threatening your relationship with God. It could be a place you like to visit that stops your visit to God; it could be anything that stands in opposition to your spiritual moral, and even psychological well-being.
Life is all about our decision. In the case of Abraham, he made up his mind to sacrifice his Isaac, and he was not joking about it because he made all the physical arrangement for a holocaust (burnt sacrifice) to God, represented by the altar, wood, fire, and knife. He did not know that the test was heading to testimony, but he believed in the one who gave the instructions; faith does not ask how? He had to let go, and God provided; he gave up his Isaac with faith, and God gave him back his Isaac with a blessing. He passed through the test and received the testimony!
Years past it was Abraham, our father in faith and his son Isaac. Today it is you and your Isaac. We all have our Isaacs, and this is the time to give them up so that our Lenten journey would become fruitful.
In the Gospel today, we read about the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor with Peter, James, and John as witnesses. The journey to the mountaintop represents our Lenten journey. They left the crowd at the foot of the mountain and headed to the clouds at the top of the mountain. Lent is the spiritual journey that is leading us to a glorious end. The journey might be rough, do not be discouraged it will lead us to a magnificent encounter and like Peter, we would say, “it is wonderful for us to be here.”
In several places in the Bible, we could see God having encounters with people on the mountain. The First Reading recalls the experience of Abraham with God on one of the heights at Moriah. We could see numerous mountain encounters with Moses (Exodus 19:3ff; 33:18-23; 34:28), Elijah (1 Kings 18:41-46), and our Lord Jesus Christ who taught severally on the mountain and transfigured, died, and ascended from a mountain. Climbing a mountain is equivalent to letting go or giving up some things because mountain climbers go light.
As we journey still farther into the Lenten season, let us ask God to help us to give up the contending Isaacs in our lives to be able to reach the heights with him at the end of the season. May God bless your Lenten journey and have a splendid week ahead.