How would you feel when the traffic light shows the yellow amber after waiting for a long time behind several cars in front of a traffic light? How do you react to an alert or notification that tells you that something good you have been expecting is just around the corner and your story is about to change? In what way would you react when you get a phone call or receive an email that says, “you will get the delivery of your package soon”
Expectations often keep us in the waiting room of life, and at times waiting could be weary and draining. Sometimes, when we wait so long, we experience stress, try to give up or look for unproductive shortcuts to get to our desired destinations. However, our expectations get joyful when we see signs that suggest that we are getting closer to our goals just like in the descriptions in the opening words of this reflection.
The Third Sunday of Advent invites us to rejoice because our expectation of the coming of the Messiah at Christmas would soon meet the desirable fulfillment. In the First Reading, the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-18a) invites us to shout for joy, to be glad, and exult with all our heart because the Lord our God, the mighty savior, is in our midst.
St. Paul continues the theme of joy in the Second Reading (Phil.4:4-7). He begins by asking us to rejoice in the Lord always, and he says that twice making an emphasis on the need for joyfulness even when we are confronted by various challenges that tend to produce anxiety in our lives.
The Fruits of Joy-Full Expectation
The Gospel Reading this Third Sunday of Advent (Luke 3:10-18) presents us with the answer of John the Baptist to the question of the crowds which says, “what should we do?” The question was the crowd’s response to John’s earlier invitation to prepare the way of the Lord through repentance.
Today, we see John’s answer to the question “what shall we do?” in the light of the joyful expectation of the coming of our savior Jesus Christ. Joy is an active divine fruit that produces other virtues. In the context of the joyful expectation of the arrival of our savior, John recommends:
A critical look at the instructions of John the Baptist would remind us of the cardinal virtues which are habits of the mind that are in harmony with reason and the order of nature. In his final instructions to the Philippians (4:8) St. Paul admonishes:
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about all these things.
These are the inevitable accompaniments to our joy-full expectation.
The prophet Nehemiah (8:10b) says, “this is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength”. Joy remains the potent precondition for encountering the Lord in fact, without the joy of the Lord we have no connection with God. We could recall that in the penitential prayer of David after his fall, he begged, “restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit (Psalm 51:12).
Our expectation should d be joyful because the coming of the savior is the joy to the world. Yes, we may be passing through challenges and problems that could make us sad and anxious, but the coming of the Lord would change everything. The Palmist (Ps.30:5) says that weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning; today is that morning of joy. The prophet Isaiah (35:10b) adds that everlasting joy shall be upon our heads and we shall obtain joy and gladness while sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
There is every reason for us to rejoice because those who are sitting in darkness would see a great light (Isaiah 9:2). The crawling caterpillar would soon become a flying butterfly, and nothing would stop the joy of divine liberation in our lives.
May your joy be full as you wait for the birth of the King of kings. May you have an awesome Sunday and a joyful week ahead.
The famous fable about the ant and the grasshopper remains a significant anecdote on the importance of preparation. The ant works hard during the summer, storing up food and building up a safe and warm basement house underneath the soil. The grasshopper, on the other hand, plays around and thinks that the ant is overly enthusiastic and stupid. The winter arrives sooner than usual. The ant is warm and well-fed while the grasshopper starves, freezes and dies in the cold.
Before the deluge that destroyed the world, God enjoined Noah to prepare by building the ark which would protect the different living creatures from the flood. Noah takes time to build the ark while the people in his city laugh at him like the grasshopper would do to the ant (Gen. 6:1ff). Before the people of Israel encountered the majestic presence of God, Moses had to prepare the people for the third day (Gen. 19:15-17).
The world runs on the contingency of preparation whether proximate or immediate. Preparation is essential to life as the foreground to success. We are conversant with the statement that says that failure to prepare is a preparation to fail. Our All-knowing and All-powerful God follow the path of preparation in His dealings with us, for instance, he made the living habitations first before creating the living creatures.
The Liturgy of the Word this Second Sunday of Advent challenges us to get into the preparation mood as the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ approaches. In the First Reading (Baruch 5:1-9), the Prophets Baruch anticipates a time of glorious divine liberation. He goes further to unveil God’s command that would precede the divine liberation: lofty mountain be made low, and the age-old depths and gorges are filled to level ground.
The Gospel Reading (Luke 3:1-6), tells us about the ministry of John the Baptist which consists of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel passage identifies the ministry of John as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah about the voice crying out in the desert saying:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Bringing Down the Lofty Mountains
A mountain is an elevated landscape. Put in another way; a mountain is a natural landform that rises higher than its extended surrounding. There are two ways of understanding a mountain in the Bible. First, it shows a place of divine encounter and a point of protection. Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:3ff), Elijah did on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:11-12), and the psalmist says that those who trust in God are like Mount Zion (Psalm 125:1-2).
Some other places in the Bible identify mountains as obstacles that need to be moved. The book of Job (9:5) tells us that God moves mountains when he overturns them in His anger. In the Gospel of Mark (11:23), our Lord says that anyone with faith can move a mountain (a challenge or obstacle) into the sea.
The description “lofty mountain” in the First Reading is an indication that the mountain has an exaggerated height; that means it is supercilious and arrogant. This description resonates with what sin does in our lives. It takes us to a false height and gives us false security.
We could recall that in one of the temptations, the devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor (Matt. 4:8). The high mountain here is the point of sin and disobedience. Bringing down the lofty mountain means dismantling all the structures of sin in our lives. It means coming down to the level that God had designed for us.
Filling the Valleys
A valley is an extreme opposite for a mountain. It indicates the absence of what should be present; a deficiency. Spiritual valleys represent the potholes and gorges in our lives due to the lack of essential values. Ezekiel talks about the valley of dead dry bones (Ezk. 37:1ff) In the Book of Psalms (23:4), David relates valley with the shadow of death.
Filling that valley would mean bringing back the virtues and values we lost on account of our senseless ties with mundane things. We fill the valleys of our lives after dismantling the lofty mountains and allowing the grace of God to lead us.
This Second Sunday of Advent provides a step forward in our march towards the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is coming to us, and the roadway is our hearts, and we need to make that roadway usable for the advent of the Lord.
In the Second Reading (Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11), St. Paul encourages this roadway reconstruction by increasing in our love, knowledge, discernment of right values and keeping ourselves pure and blameless for the day of Christ. We could further achieve the demands of this invitation to prepare by giving up the old lives and (Eph. 4:22) and taking up the new life (Eph. 4:24).
As we march into the Second Sunday of Advent, may we pay attention to the call for personal preparation beyond the external decorations we set up around us. The ideal preparation is not the Christmas tree nor the images of Santa around our living spaces. The journey is within the heart, and that is where we shall meet the Lord.
Have a beautiful Second Sunday of Advent and keep up with the spirit of committed waiting and preparation for the coming of the Lord.
Life is a recurrent foreground of expectations. It is often impossible to live without some forms of expectations. Pregnant women are called expectant mothers because they are awaiting the birth of their babies. The expectancy theory by Victor Vroom states that we are motivated to act in certain ways because of the of rewards we expect. There is always one form of expectation or the other in our lives, good or not so good, fair or not so fair. In whichever way it goes, hope sustains expectations.
Today, the Church enters her annual season of expectation, namely, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ not just at Christmas but into our lives as we also prepare for his second coming; the Parousia. The advent period opens with the message of future hope beyond the many challenges and unfortunate moments of the past and the present.
In the First Reading today (Jer. 33:14-16), the prophet Jeremiah declares that the days are coming when God will fulfill the promise he made to the house of Israel and Judah about raising for David, a just shoot. In the Gospel Reading (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36), our Lord states that our redemption would come through after the tribulations of those days when frightening things would happen following remarkable changes in the universe.
Hope Sustains and Fulfils Our Expectations
The challenge that goes with expectation is the ability to wait for the fulfillment of what one expects. The virtue of hope comes up at this point. Hope, with faith, and love constitutes the theological virtues (1 Cor. 13:13) which are infused by God as gifts that enable us to act as children of God who would merit eternal life.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, hope helps us to place our trust in Christ’s promises and not to rely on our strength. Hope is not mere positive thinking, it is instead a relationship which involves faithful trust and surrender to God.
We live in an intensely broken world. There are traces and evidence of brokenness around us for instance in marriages, finances, businesses, jobs, relationships, and other areas of life. In all these, we need hope to keep going; without hope, we may not cope.
Our God is a promise keeper. The Book of Joshua (21:45), tells us that all the promises of God to Israel were fulfilled; none failed. In the oracle of the Prophet Isaiah (55:11), God maintains that the word that goes out of His mouth would not return empty but shall accomplish its purpose. According to our Lord Jesus Christ, heaven and earth may pass away, but his words will not pass. (Matt. 24:35).
The advent attitude is that of hopeful waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. The liturgy of this Sunday invites us to look beyond the discomforts and problems could be confronting us now and focus on the glorious future ahead.
Sometimes, we tend to forget that there are lots of opportunities behind most of the obstacles that confront us. Some of us search for shortcuts that end up cutting short our blessings. St. Paul tells us not to be weary in doing good, for at the PROPER TIME we will reap the harvest if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9). We should not be weary at all because he who has promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23).
In the Second Reading today (1 Thess. 3:12-4:2), St. Paul gives us an idea of what we could be doing as we await the fulfillment of God’s promises. In his words, we should increase and abound in love for one another and be blameless in holiness before God at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.
As we march into the advent period, may we always remind ourselves that we are in a holy season that is preparatory to the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts. Have a beautiful celebration and a glorious season of Advent.
In a certain kingdom, kings are appointed to rule for just a year, and they are sent to an Island to stay there for the rest of their lives. Soon it was the end of the rulership of the sitting king, and as the ceremony of departure demands, he makes a tour of the kingdom riding on an elephant and bidding the subjects good-bye with a heavy heart as the kindship was coming to an end.
After marching throughout the kingdom, the king-makers set out to return the king to the Island. On their way back, they met a young man who bravely escaped death from a shipwreck that killed all the passengers and crew. Attracted by his exceptional strength, the king-makers begged him to come along with them to their kingdom to become their king. However, they did not fail to tell him that he would rule for one year after which they would send him to the Island. He agreed!
Two weeks after his coronation, the new king decided to visit the Island without the knowledge of the king-makers. When he arrived with his guards, he discovered that the place was infested with wildlife as wild animals successively killed all the past kings. In the following months, the king set out to clean up the whole Island and to build beautiful palaces using workers from another kingdom. Before long, the Island became a beautiful kingdom.
When the tenure of the king expired, he asked the king-makers for one favor, namely, to allow him to return to the Island by himself while they look for another king and they agreed, and he leaves for his new Kingdom with his guards. His plan was to reign as much as he wanted but after a few years he contacted a strange sickness and passed, and his kingdom crumbled!
Today, the Church celebrates the universal and eternal kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ. Beyond mere presumption, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ has roots in some divine oracles in the Old Testament. In the First Reading (Dan. 7:13-14), the prophet Daniel tells us about his vision concerning the Son of Man receiving an everlasting dominion and kingship from the Ancient One. There is no doubt here that the Son of Man refers to our Lord Jesus Christ who used the same designation for himself about eighty-two times in the entire Bible.
The Gospel Reading (John 18:33b-37), tells us about the kingship dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and Pilate before the latter condemned our Lord to death. In the dialogue, Pilate declared our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Jews and our Lord confirms this kingship as his birthright while also establishing that his kingdom transcends this world, that means it is beyond the Jews and the Jewish landscape.
This reflection would not waste words trying to prove the kingship of Jesus Christ because it is not an issue for empirical verification but an act of faith. The history of the world is replete with stories and descriptions of kings, kingships, and kingdoms. One common denominator about all these stories and reports is that kings and kingdoms rise and fall at some historic moments and the ones that are still standing are destined to decline with time.
Becoming Children of the King and His Kingdom
Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev.19:16), and those who follow him are by implication the children of the King. St. Peter (1 Pet. 2:9) adds that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, set apart that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. St. Paul further instructs that as sons (and daughters), God sent Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So, we are no longer slaves, but sons (and daughters), and therefore, heirs through God (Gal. 4:6-7).
Everywhere in the world, it is not difficult to identify the children of a King because they appear with all the details of royalty. As children of the universal King, our royalty is not carnal. Our royalty is rather divine and shows itself in our faith and right doings. The children of the King of the universe do not conform to this world but are transformed by the renewing of their mind that they may prove what is right and acceptable and the will of God (Romans 12:2).
We cannot answer the children of the King while living as slaves through attachment to things that are offensive to the King. We cannot be the children of the King while making ourselves subjects to smaller kings and their kingdoms. There is a need for us to state clearly who or what stands as the king of our lives.
To whom do you pay homage? In other words, what takes your attention, time, and energy every day? Your answer discloses the identity of your king and kingdom you belong. Somewhere in the Gospels (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13), our Lord Jesus Christ instructs that no one can serve two masters, it is either he hates one and loves the other or be devoted to one or despise the other. Our Lord’s instruction is very relevant to us today as most of us vacillate from one king to the other and from our kingdom to the other.
The liturgy of the feast of Christ the King invites us to give our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lord, our full and undivided focus and attention. To achieve this, we need to flip our minds from our attachment to mundane concerns and fleeting pleasures that distract and dissuade us from God. Finally, may we allow Jesus Christ our Lord and King to reign constantly and consistently in our lives.
Have a joyful celebration of Christ the King and may the coming week open doors of blessings for you!
Life consists of two vital points, namely, the beginning and the ending. Most of us are conversant with the age-long expression by Buddha that says, “everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that, and all will be well.” All our activities on earth naturally cascade into the beginning and ending time framework. The Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1ff) had these essential points about life in mind when it says that there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens.
This last but one Sunday of the liturgical year invites us to pause and ponder on what constitutes the end of the world beyond the many claims and predictions from various religious and secular quarters about the final dismissal of earthly existence.
In the First Reading (Daniel 12:1-3), the apocalyptic prophecy of Daniel tells us about the vision of the end of the world. According to his account, a time of great distress would precede the events leading to the end when there would be a separation of the wise from the unwise in other words, the final judgment.
In the Gospel Reading this Sunday (Mark 13:24-32), our Lord presents a vivid picture of the end of time. Among other things, he tells us that before the Son of Man comes to gather the elect from the earth, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
These phenomenal and cataclysmic changes of the heavenly bodies relate to the time of distress in the vision of Daniel, and they could frighten one’s imagination. Consequently, there is a natural curiosity about the exact time when all these unusual things would happen to forestall surprises.
The worry and fret about the imminent end of the world may not be unconnected with part of our Lord’s statement in the Gospel today which says, “I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Our Lord’s declaration here transcends every generation hence, “this generation” refers to every generation that receives the message. Therefore, our Lord was parabolic in the statement.
The last part of the Gospel today goes further to explain the earlier statement about “this generation.” The concluding part of the Gospel says, “but of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If the end of time is known only to God the Father why do so many people follow the misleading messages of some many people and religious sects you propose end time dates?
The above statement is a clear indication that we gain nothing by searching for the time and day the world would end because the information is beyond human insight and knowledge. Instead of pummelling ourselves over the end of the time calendar, our Lord invites us to be open to learning not only from the fig tree but also from the things happening around us.
St. Paul was the first to confront this situation during the nascent stage of the Christian faith among the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:1-11). According to the apostle Paul, the day would come like a thief in the night, that is when nobody is expecting it. Consequently, he urged the Thessalonians to stay awake in the light of good living instead of walking in the darkness of sin and being caught unawares.
None of us witnessed the beginning of the world, and it makes no sense being overly curious about how it would end and the exact time. The most needful worry should be the nature of our relationship with God now, not when God would decide to click the eschatological button.
Just as every story has a beginning and an ending, the same is with our individual lives. Our lives started with God and ought to end with Him and at the designated time. A more productive reflection at this time should revolve around the question, “where will I spend my eternity?”. At some point in his ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ raised the question, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36). In another place, he recommends that we should seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and every other thing will be added to us (Matt. 6:33).
The liturgy of this Sunday invites us to take a moment out of our busy schedules and mundane distractions to reflect on the end of our lives, not the end of the world which would happen when God decides. For every one of us, the world ends when our lives cease. If you are reading this reflection, it means that your life has not stopped and you have all the divine graces to make your end a deserving and glorious one.
Have a beautiful Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
The story of Austine Perine from Birmingham Alabama would give you chills. The four-year-old African American boy was watching Animal Planet with his father when a mother Panda abandons her cub and walks away. Austin dad quickly remarks that the cub would become homeless. Austin was moved with pity for the cub when he learns from the dad that being homeless means not having a home to stay and not receiving the care of a dad and mom.
On a later date, Austin’s dad, TJ Perine takes him to a homeless shelter in the city at his request to see what it means to be homeless. When Austin saw people looking hungry and tired, he asked his dad if they could give them Burger King chicken sandwich. His father did not prepare for that, but he couldn’t but responded to Austin’s recommendation to feed the homeless.
After that, Austin requested that the parents convert the money for his toys to buying chicken sandwiches for the homeless. Every week, the superhero who is also known as “President Austin,” would dress up in a blue top and pants with a red cape and visit the homeless to hand them food and would always say to them “remember to show love.” Soon he became phenomenal in the city and later in the country. Soon the Austins started getting support from people and organizations including $1,000 monthly allowance from Burger King to feed the homeless every week.
Last Sunday, our Lord told us that the First Commandment is Love of God and our neighbor. The liturgy of this Sunday uses the narrative of two widows from the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate the love of neighbor and God in action through the virtue of giving.
The First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) tells us about the encounter between Elijah and a widow at Zarephath. The background is that there was famine in the city following Elijah’s declaration of the word of God that there would be neither dew nor rain except by the word of God.
When the famine started, God asked Elijah to move to the Wadi Cherith where ravens fed him, and he drank from the wadi. However, the wadi dried up after a while, and God asked Elijah to go Zarephath to meet with a poor widow who would provide for him.
Elijah met the widow by the gate of the city where she was gathering sticks, and he requested for water. While she was about to get the water, he asked for a bit of bread, but the widow tells him that she had nothing baked and she was gathering the sticks to bake the handful of flour in her jar and a little oil for herself and her child to eat and wait for death. Elijah encourages her to bake the bread and bring to him while assuring her that neither the jar of flour nor the jug of oil would finish until God sends rain to the earth.
The Gospel Reading (Mark 12:38-44) tells us about a widow whom our Lord identified as a generous giver because she donated to the treasury, two small coins (the equivalent of few cents). In the words of our Lord Jesus, the poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. While the others contributed from their surplus wealth, from her poverty, the widow contributed all she had.
From the story of Austin Perine, through the narratives of the widows, we could locate one common denominator, and that is the willingness to give or put in another way, the Giving Might. In the First Reading, the widow was very willing to fulfill the initial request of Elijah for a cup of water without questioning his identity or giving excuses with the prevailing drought. Furthermore, she did not argue about the possibility of receiving the miracle of flour and oil after giving out the little she had.
In the Gospel Reading, the widow decided to give God all she had. The passage did not tell us why she had to do that, but her reason could not be far from her faith in God and the willingness to give all. Notice that her contribution goes in line with the instruction on loving God with everything that is available to us.
The giving might makes the story of the widow more profound. We are living in a society where the acquisition and the hoarding of wealth have become norms. People move from being rich to being super-rich and mega-rich, but they make no efforts to reach out to others. Giving is one of the essential characteristics of God. God is a giver, and we are invited to replicate God by becoming givers.
In the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving occupies a strategic place. In the Gospel of Luke (6:37), our Lord says give and there will gifts for you, a full measure pressed down running over will be put into your lap. We saw this happening with the widow in the First Reading. In the Gospel of Matthew (6:1-4) our Lord tells us not to practice our giving to get the attention of people as the hypocrites do in the Synagogues and the streets for public recognition. He goes on to recommend that one’s right hand should not know what the left hand is doing while practising giving.
In the Gospel today, the widow did not give her last two coins to attract people’s attention, there was nothing physically attractive about her little donation. However, the widow’s mites were attractive to God because of the might of her giving. In God’s weighing balance, what matters is not the quantity of what one gives but the heart that gives. Generous people give from their hearts not from their wealth. For this reason, St. Paul says that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), not a cheerful gift.
We hear people talk about their widow’s mite while making donations. Sometimes those donations are but very insignificant fractions of what they have. Such people should be talking about relating to the widow’s giving might more than her mite because they often have more than mites.
All we have are gifts from God. When we give, we are only trying to appreciate God with what he has given to us. In one of his implosive praises to God, David says (I Chron. 29:12, 14):
Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. But who am I, and what is my people that we should be able to make freewill offering? For all things come from you and of your own have we given you.
Giving is not a suggestion it is instead a religious injunction. The book of Proverbs (19:17) tells us that whoever is generous lends to the Lord and He will repay the person for his deeds. Our judgment before God would depend on our giving ability especially to those in need. (Matt. 25:31ff).
As we reflect on the rare acts of the widows in the liturgy of today, let us try to adopt their giving might as a guiding principle. How devoted are you to give your time, talent, and treasure assist in the work of God and to show some love to someone like Austin Perine?
I wish you a lovely Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
Some time ago, I met a young man who confessed to me that he does not believe that love exists. While I was not surprised at his daring conviction, I was interested to know his story. According to his sad tale, he was hoping to marry a lady whom he loved so much and sponsored through her nursing school. However, one month after her graduation, she broke up with him and got engaged to someone he considered a close friend. The young man ended his narrative by maintaining that love is an illusion.
Many people would probably connect with the young man’s story and may also support the view that love does not exist. However, it may be fitting for us to give love a perspective before disputing or accepting the man’s conviction.
Love has defied all attempts towards a unified definition. Consequently, most people define it as it fits their perceptions. For someone like the young man, love is about returning the favor with a corresponding favor on the platform of feelings. For others still, love is fondness or attachment to something or someone, but these are subject to radical changes and love by biblical explication does not change or end (1 Cor. 13:8).
Love became the topic of the reflection for this Sunday by default and not by design. In the Gospel Reading (Mark 12:28b-34), a Scribe comes to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask him a very ambiguous question: “which is the first of all the commandments.” The question coming from a Scribe (a professional theologian of the time) would require more than a casual answer.
We all know about the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), but not most of us know that there was a total of 613 commandments in the Old Testament Jewish tradition. A total of 248 disclose things that people should do, while 365 show the things that people should not do. Now when the Scribe asked Jesus about the first of all the commandment, he was referring to the whole of the 613 commandments, and that makes the question ambiguous.
As demanding as the question was, our Lord gives the Scribe a double-barrelled answer with profound theological depth. Our Lord says to the Scribe, the first is this: “Hear O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Furthermore, our Lord says the second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is fascinating to see that our Lord answers by appealing to two core passages from the Old Testament that talk about love. The first comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5) which also constitutes part of the Shema, that is the Jewish daily prayer. The Second comes from the book of Leviticus (19:18).
What our Lord accomplished in answer to the question of the Scribe was to summarize the whole commandments with a common denominator; namely, love. Looking at the Ten Commandments very carefully, we could see that it is divided between our duties to God and our responsibilities to others. So, our Lord’s answer to the Scribe indicates that love provides the platform for obeying the commandments. In fact, without love it is impossible to follow any of the commandments but what is love?
The Love Definition
We still need to situate love by way of definition or better understanding. Most Musicians, fiction writers, and filmmakers give people various versions of the meaning of love that most people now have wrong impressions.
Love is a verb, not just a noun. Love is not just what you feel or say it is what you do unconditionally for the benefit of another. Our Lord Jesus Christ says that there is no greater love than one’s decision to die for one’s friends (John 15:13). That is what our Lord accomplished for us on the cross. The self-giving sacrifice of the cross.
Love then is about giving and doing so unconditionally without expecting any favor in return like the young man in our opening.
The Command to Love God
To love God as human beings appear impracticable using our visual dependencies. God is Spirit, and St John says those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
In the command to love God, the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5) says with all your heart, soul, and strength and our Lord Jesus Christ in answer to the Scribe used his editorial license to add “ with all your mind.” To love God is not what one could do with only one aspect of oneself; it is instead a total engagement nothing is left behind. When we love God with those four fundamental components of our being nothing is left behind. What our Lord is telling us here is to give back to God all we received from him.
Our Lord’s inclusion of mind in the command is very instructive as he was encountering a generation with a growing emphasis on reason or the intellect over faith. Loving God with all our mind is an invitation to us to submit our rationality to divinity. We don’t need to see reason or give reason to love. The lyrics of a secular songs says: “love doesn’t ask why, speaks from the heart, never explains, don’t know that love doesn’t think twice, it can come all at once or whispers from a distance.”
The Command to Love, your Neighbor
Your neighbor is not just the person living next door to you but anyone you can touch positively anytime and anywhere. Our Lord explained the nature and character of neighborliness in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Loving your neighbor means going beyond yourself and recognizing the needs of others. We are familiar with the golden rule which says, “do unto others as you would want them to do to you” (Matt. 7:12). But some of us may not be familiar with the platinum rule which is an inspiration from the golden that says, “do unto others as they would like to be treated.”
Our Lord gave a double-barrelled answer to the Scribe’s single question to demonstrate that the Love of God is closely connected to the love of one’s neighbor. St. John says that those who say “I love God” but hate their brothers and sisters are liars because love should start from the one we see before going over to the unseen (1 John 4:20).
To love is not a suggestion nor an option; it is a commandment. Towards the end of the earthly ministry, our Lord leaves his disciples with a new commandment to love one another as he loves them and by that sharing of love everyone will know that they are his disciples. That instruction is still valid for us today. Our world is in urgent need of love in the sacrificial sense of the word. Real love is not self-seeking nor a lucrative enterprise.
Our judgment before the throne of God would not be on how often we prayed nor how long we stayed in the Church but on how far our love reached out to others (Matt. 25:31-46). The only thing we should owe others including our enemies is love (Romans 13:8).
May the steadfast Love of God that never ends (Lam. 3:22) renew our commitment to love Him always and to extend that same love to our neighbors. Have a blessed Sunday and glorious week ahead.
There is a story about a man who was traveling on a train with his 16 years old son. Looking out from the window the boy was so intrigued and would comment on everything including the moving clouds, the trees, vehicles, and people. He was so excited and loud that the people sitting around felt uncomfortable. One man could not hold it any longer and asked the dad if the boy was alright to which the dad replied and said that the boy just got his sight back after a successful surgery and he is excited that he could see after so many years of blindness.
Those who could use their eyes may not know what it means to live without eyes which is like being in perpetual darkness. If you sometimes worry about how people are looking at you when you are not looking, then you can imagine the worry in the mind of a blind person about every eye out there.
The Gospel today (Mark 10: 46-52), presents one of the numerous encounters our Lord had on his way to Jerusalem through Jericho. Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd when a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, made an unusual appearance that compelled our Lord to put his journey on hold.
The blind man heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, and he began to CRY OUT saying JESUS, SON OF DAVID, HAVE PITY ON ME. The crowd tried to stop him, but he cried out even more. At that point, our Lord stopped and asked him to come. THROWING ASIDE his cloak he comes to Jesus, and he asked him, “what you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Master, I WANT TO SEE.” And Jesus says to him, “go your way; your FAITH has saved you and immediately he received his sight and followed the Lord.
The narrative of the blind man Bartimaeus leaves us with a lot of lessons. In fact, in the blind man Bartimaeus we discover an apt fulfillment of the mission of the Messiah.
Crying out, “Son of David Have Mercy on me.”
When Jesus referred to Bartimaeus as someone that is saved by faith we need to ask why? The answer could be found in his reaction when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing. Note well that he heard “Jesus of Nazareth” but when crying out, he says, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me.”
God will always listen to those who cry out to Him. The word of God says, “this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his trouble” (Psalm 34:6). Bartimaeus’ faith moved him to cry out not just to Jesus of Nazareth but to the Son of David which is the title of the Messiah (Matt. 1:1; Matt 21:9).
Defying the Crowd
In most narrative in the Gospels, it is common to see the crowd. The crowd would continuously be a potential obstacle. For instance, the woman who wanted to touch the garment of Jesus to receive healing from her hemorrhages (Mark 5:27) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9) had to contend with the crowd.
In the narrative, the crowd wanted to stop Bartimaeus from crying out to the Lord, but he responded by reflecting Psalm 77:1 which says. “I cry aloud to God. Aloud to God that He may hear me”. Notice that it was when he ignored the hushing of the crowd and cried out more than our Lord stopped and invited him and when the Lord invited him the crowd turned around to encourage him to meet the Lord. Do not allow the crowd to set the pace for your life.
Throwing Aside the Cloak
Notice that before Bartimaeus goes to meet the Lord, he had to discard his cloak which covers him from the external elements. If he were still wrapped in that cloak, it would have been difficult for him to reach out to the Lord.
St. Paul advised that we lay aside the old self (Eph. 4:22). The cloak represents those things that give us comfort but hinders us from reaching out to the Lord. We all have various cloaks in our lives that we need to throw aside. They represent those unnecessary comfort zones in our lives that keep us in darkness and spiritual blindness.
“I want to See.”
God wants us to be specific in our supplications. Bartimaeus was both a blind man and a beggar. These dispositions open two potential needs: alms and healing. So, when our Lord said, “what do you want me to do for you? He pleaded to regain his sight, “Master I want to see.”
Giving sight to the blind occupies a primary place in the manifesto of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18). Bartimaeus prefigures this liberation from darkness into light as the prophet Isaiah (9:2) remarked, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
The request of Bartimaeus to see again recalls to us the message in the First Reading (Jer.31:7-9) which tells us that God will bring back and console the blind and the lame from where they have been dispersed by fate. We may claim to have our physical sight, but spiritually we could be groping in darkness. This may be the time to approach the Lord to see again.
“Go Your Way.” He Followed the Lord
When Bartimaeus declared his intention for the restoration of his sight our Lord tells him to go his way for his faith had saved him. The instruction “go your way” leaves the blind man with the choice to go wherever his chooses. From the narrative, however, we understand that he followed the Lord.
Following the Lord is a decision that shows appreciation and commitment. Many people would go their selfish ways like the nine out of the ten lepers the Lord cured (Luke 17:11-19). On his part, Bartimaeus sees the way of the Lord as the best way ever. When you receive favors from the Lord, what do you do?
Are you still sitting by the roadside of life while the Lord passes by every day? Now is the time to rise like Bartimaeus. There is the need to defy the hushing command of the crowd. Now is the time to put aside those cloaks that tend to limit us from reaching out to the Lord for our deliverance from our spiritual blindness. We all need a Bartimaeus experience and today is just proper.
May God bless you and grant you His unfailing graces.
During our primary school days in Nigeria years ago, the last day of the academic term is usually spectacular because “holidays are coming” as we would often sing and more significantly, teachers announce grades publicly. On such days, it is normal to see some successful children rejoicing, and one could also see others crying because they could not measure up to the tops or because they made the bottom of the class list.
The inclination to be first or more celebrated than others seems to be a significant part of our human nature and nurture. The world itself runs on competitive tracks that is why we hear about First, Second, and Third World countries. In competitive sports like the soccer world cup, only one winner emerges. In the classrooms, teachers measure intelligence through the grades they give to the students in their tests and examinations, though some people would argue that examinations may not be the ultimate tests of knowledge.
Furthermore, we attach the word BEST or GREAT to people, events, places, and things to show how exclusively important they are to us more than others. We often desire to be the first, and the most outstanding, but we often lack the requisite knowledge on how to achieve real and enduring greatness. Most motivational speakers would usually tell people to dream big and aim at the best, but only few would remind them about starting small or humble beginnings.
In the Gospel Reading today (Mark 10:35-45), the sons of Zebedee, James and John approach our Lord Jesus Christ for a very delicate and direct request. They asked if they could sit one at his right and the other at his left in his GLORY, that is after his suffering and death.
Our Lord answers by asking them if they would be able to drink the cup that he is to drink and the baptism he is to receive, and they agreed. He further tells them that though, they may be able to drink the cup and receive the baptism, the positions at his right and left are not for him to apportion as God exclusively reserved them for specific individuals.
The request of James and John infuriated the other ten apostles as they became angry with the Zebedee sons for their rapaciousness and greed. Sensing the rising tension, our Lord summons the twelve for a quick instruction. Summarily, he tells them that among the Gentiles those in authority lord it over those under them, but that should not be the case among them.
Our Lord further tells them that whoever wishes to be first among them should be the servant (slave) of all just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
The boldness of James and John in the narrative is very striking. They were looking beyond the present to the future. In their calculation, the resurrection would bring about a glorious time, and since there are twelve of them, there could be a struggle about the position of deputies to the Lord in his glory. James and John felt that it would be a smart move to sign up for those positions before they become contentious and following the rhythms of their ambitions, the right and left positions should be for them; the Zebedees.
Notice that James and John were ready to drink the cup and receive the baptism. The cup refers to suffering. We could recall that during his agony in the garden, our Lord prayed about the cup he was to drink (Matt. 26:39). The word Baptism comes from the Greek “Baptizo” which means to immerse which relates to being buried. James and John were not scared about the suffering. Instead, they were more concerned about the glory.
The Tiny Humble Steps to Greatness
The Sons of Zebedee believed that they could attain greatness via smartness but from the Lord’s instructions, greatness is attainable through “smallness” which entails service to others. In his letter to the Philippians (2:6-9), St. Paul writes the following about our Lord Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.
From the above timeless description, we learn that humility goes before greatness. Furthermore, humility includes the readiness to accept suffering for the benefit of others. The First Reading (Isaiah 53:10-11) tells us about the suffering servant of God (pre-figuring our Lord Jesus Christ) whose suffering justified many.
To achieve greatness, a humble beginning is a vital key. Most great persons and establishments in the world started small. Abraham, the father of great nations, began with years of childlessness. Moses, the great leader of the people of Israel, barely survived as a baby. The savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ was born on a manger meant for young animals and bore the identity of Nazareth where nothing good could come (John 1:46).
The first horseless carrier that brought the inspiration for motor vehicles could only travel one kilometer per hour. It is a well-known story that one of the greatest electronic companies in the world, Apple, started in a garage. In life, you need to stoop to conquer and to jump higher you need to bend lower.
In our day and age, we still have people seeking various leadership positions not for the sake of serving the need of others but for self-aggrandizement and the pleasure of their respective households. Any Leadership that does not serve the people is tyranny.
Are we not repeating and multiplying the selfish ambition of the sons of Zebedee who sought the positions in Christ’s glory as a form of victory over the other apostles? There will be a need for us to understand leadership as a humble service to others. The Centurion who approached our Lord Jesus Christ to ask for the healing of his servant (Matt 8: 5-13), remains a ponderable example of leadership through service.
As we encounter the Lord today in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember to take those tiny humble steps that would lead us to the glorious positions God has prepared for us not the ones we want. Have a great Sunday and a beautiful week ahead.
A wealthy woman in her late eighties lived by herself in a mansion next to a community with people living in abject poverty. Her closest friend was her cat, and she loved her so much and would even buy her gold necklaces. At some point, the woman became very ill, and before she passed, she bequeathed all her wealth to her cat to the amazement of everyone.
In the records, the woman directed the executor of her Will to put the cat under the care of two paid nannies. However, after one month, the cat died as she could not survive the death of her owner. After an intense deliberation between the woman’s attorney and the mayor of the city, they agreed to use her wealth to develop the poor community next to her mansion. Sad for the wealthy woman but joy for the impoverished community she neglected during her lifetime.
At the point of death, we cease to be in charge of our wealth, in fact, we become “poor” because nothing goes with us. There is a story about a couple who promised each other to fulfill their wishes at death depending on who goes first. The wife tells her husband to put her jewelry box in the coffin if she dies before him. The man on his part relates that all his money in the bank should go into the coffin if he dies before her. After some years, the man passed, and during the funeral, the wife writes a check in his name and drops it into the coffin before his internment in the cemetery.
In the Gospel Reading of this Sunday (Mark 10:17-30), we read about a rich man who runs up to Jesus as he was setting out on a journey. Catching up with our Lord he kneels and asks, “good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? Our Lord replies by first discarding the appellation good as an exclusive reserve for God and goes further to check his status with the commandments.
The rich man replies and says that he has always been obedient to the commandments from his youth. Our Lord looks at him loved him and told him, “you lack one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The rich man’s face fell at these words, and he goes away sad because he had many possessions.
We have a lot to chew from the narrative. First, let us look at the personality of the rich man. We see him running to catch up with Jesus Christ with a sense of urgency. Meeting our Lord, it is surprising to discover that he wanted an answer to a question about how to gain eternal life. We could also recall that he knelt and called Jesus good master. It is not hard in the narrative to see that the rich man in question has all the details civility, reverence of good manners but all these cannot replace love and charity to others especially the poor. Good manners may not presuppose a good soul.
On the issue of observing the commandments, the rich man was excellent; from his youth, he kept all the commandments. The narrative tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Our Lord looked beyond his face to his heart and loved it. But he lacked charity to other which is a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom of God. Whatever we do or fails to do to others we do or fail to do to Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:40,45).
If we pay closer attention to the narrative, we will discover that the rich man’s good manners and reverence changed when our Lord encouraged him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor and come to follow him. We learn that his face fell at those words and he walked away not only from the Lord but also from challenge to do charity, from discipleship and ultimately from inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
The reaction of the rich man to our Lord’s instruction shows that he is under the enslavement of his possessions and lacks the wisdom on the right use of material wealth. The First Reading today tells us that riches are nothing in comparison to wisdom (Wisdom 7:7-11) just as the Psalmist says that in his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beasts that are destroyed (Psalm 49:20).
You Lack One Thing!
A lack is the absence of an essential value that should be present. The rich man was apparently in lack. The void in him prompted him to run to our Lord Jesus Christ. He was aware of his lack but wanted to look for a shortcut to eternal life. Despite his wealth, he was in poverty because he lacked the wisdom to practice charity.
At this point, it would be very fitting to examine our lives to know where we are lacking. You may be lacking in charity like the rich man; it could be your inability to forgive and let go or any other kind of lack. What do you lack?
The accurate measure of wealth does not depend on how much we have but, on our readiness, to give to others. Whatever wealth we have is a gracious gift from God. St. Peter instructs that as generous distributors of God’s manifold grace, we should put our gifts at the service one another; each in the measure he or she has received (1 Pet. 4:10).
Gaur Gopal Das once said that some people are so poor that the only thing they have is money; there is more to life than money, he adds. This statement relates to the poverty of the rich which builds on the lack of charity and insensitivity to the plight of the poor.
In life, people don’t care about how much you know, but they would like to know how much you care and according to Winston Churchill, we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. The rich man missed an opportunity to obtain heavenly life because he wanted to preserve his earthly living. Today, we are invited to seek the kingdom of God, and its righteousness and all other things will become ours (Matt. 6:33).
As we move out from the Church today, may we try to accomplish what the rich man failed to do due to his poverty of wisdom. Have a beautiful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead. God bless you!