LOVE THINGS: HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.
On the 14th of April 1912 the greatest maritime tragedy in sailing history occurred with the R.M.S Titanic. The sea vessel was the largest at the time with state of the art accompaniments which included aboard gymnasium, swimming pool, restaurants and park. The passengers in the epoch-making voyage were the exclusively rich at the time who wanted to be reckoned with the first voyage of one of the best from White Star Line and few poor and lucky emigrants to North America who got free tickets. In all, there were more than 2,224 passengers.
With sixteen watertight compartments in a 1/6 mile long hull, the captain Edward John Smith made a pre-voyage boast that “not even God can sink the Ship”.(Of course God does not sink ships he rather saves them). The Titanic left Southampton to New York for her first sail on the 10th of April 1912. While screen playing the story as a movie, James Cameron created two characters that made the movie Titanic to get universal acclaim. Hence as the Ship began her journey, fate brought about the meeting of two young people who later became love birds. Rose was of the super-rich class and was by family arrangement to marry a man from another rich family while Jack was one of the poor lucky emigrants heading to North America to search for better living. As the interaction between Rose and Jack grew, they came to connect and eventually fell in love.
An hour before midnight on the 14th of April 1912, amidst a starry moonless night the Titanic collided with an iceberg which the crew noticed late in the midst of late night merriment. The formidable Ship broke into severally pieces while letting in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean water to engulf the Titanic. Unfortunately, rescue came a bit late and there were insufficient lifeboats. Those in the first class were evacuated first which made it possible for Kate to have the option to escape death leaving Jack behind but she could not. She preferred to go through it all with Jack. They struggled together to survive the raging freezing ocean water. At last there was just a platform left for them to hold unto. Rose clung unto it on top while Jack had his entire body inside the grisly cold water. He kept on encouraging Rose to hold and never to give up. Before a rescue could come, Jack was entirely frozen, drowned and died. Rose was rescued.
While recounting what happened that night after many years as an old woman Rose said that she could only remember that a young man, out of love that she could not describe, gave up his life so that she could live.
In the book of Daniel Chapter three we are presented with the story of three young Jewish boys who were at the service of king Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Time came when Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue and made it a rule that everybody must bow down and worship it or face being thrown into a burning furnace. Everyone agreed to this but these three friends: Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to give worship to the golden statue. Consequently they were threatened with the burning furnace and they said this to the king;
“Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power then He will. But even if he doesn’t, your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god and we will not bow down to the golden statue that you have set up” (Dan.3: 16-18).
Later they were thrown into fire but instead of being burnt God sent an angel to make the fire cool and refreshing. Hence inside the fire they were praising and worshipping God.
Anyone reading thus far could be wondering why I had taken time to tell two stories that seem to be unconnected. They are actually deeply connected and both are love stories; love things. In the first story we saw love expressed between two human beings to the extent that one had to let go his life so that the other could live. In the second story, the three faithful friends loved God so much that they were ready to die for His sake. I prefer this approach because the world is yet to get a unified definition of love. The lesson as to what love is all about began early with the numerous instructions given by God to the Israelites; they seem not to get it even when God said: “Listen O Israel the Lord your God is one God you must love the Lord your God with all your mind and all your heart” (Deut. 6:4). In Leviticus (19:18) they are also told: “You must love your neighbor as yourself”.
Part of the reason why love as a phenomenon seems to be hard to define is that it is another name for God and God is not easy to define or describe. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “whoever does not love does not know God for God is love”. No wonder then St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:7) said that love conquers all things; this means that everything is subject to love which is God. In the gospel reading today (Mark 12:28-34) one of the scribes came to Jesus and wanted to know which of the commandments was the first. The man could be representing the men and women of his time (and of our time too) who were confused as to what could be the most important of the commandments. We all know from Exodus 20 that God gave ten commandments. But the Jewish religious authorities broke down these into about 613 rules. There were rules everywhere for almost everything. This man wanted Jesus Christ to give a summary of them all and there could not have been a better summary than the one he gave using the love of God and neighbour as the parameter. Obviously every worthwhile rule has basis on the love of God and neighbour; if you like our duties to God and our duties to our fellow human beings!
Love strictly seen is the seed of every good thing. Love is the reason why Jesus Christ came into the world (Jn 3:16), love is the reason why he preached and worked miracles (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Love is the reason why he went to the cross to die (Rom 5:8). Love is the reason for our salvation. Love answers all questions! Love is the only thing that can decide our fate after leaving this world. Love is a seed which every right thinking Christian must always sow.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the two dimensional expression of love: to God and to our fellow human beings. In any case it will be pertinent to examine how we can achieve these. The love of God is not achieved by saying it: “I love God”. It begins first from knowledge of God. In Hosea 4:6 God says that “My people perish for lack of knowledge!” In our Catechism when answering why God made us we begin by saying that: “He made us to know, love Him, and serve Him….” It is very clear and undisputable that you cannot love what you do not know! That could be fantasy, lust or infatuation. From knowledge and communication, you connect that is the due process to love. Love seeks to express itself in selfless giving; an example is what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us. A selfish person cannot love effectively because his/her self interest will always block the way to reaching out to others.
To love is not optional as most of us think. It is a commandment which carries a lot of consequences. In John (13:34) our Lord Jesus Christ said: “I give you a new commandment Love one another as I have loved you”. It also identifies who we are: “If you love one another everyone will know that you are my disciple” (John 13:35). Love is not based on conditions or conveniences. For some people their love is seasonal: the season of abundance; when things are going fine. The litmus test for love is at critical times like the one Rose and Jack experienced at the Titanic and the situation Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego had while being marched to the burning furnace.
Today our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the assignment to examine our love quotient. Do we love by mouth, by writings and text messages or do we practice and actualize love by our selflessness!
Happy Sunday and blessed week ahead!