Once upon a time, a train engineer by name Larry was sent by his company to work in a certain busy train station at the heart of a town. While he was on his way to work on the first day of the contract, he saw a hungry looking old beggar in the midst of the fast moving crowd of hundreds of people. He noticed the despair on the face of the man and stopped to give him some money. It was then that he discovered that he forgot his wallet at his lodging and all he could do was to smile at him and asked him how he was doing. The old man managed to smile back at him and nodded and Larry wished him a great day and left to work.
The next day Larry saw the man again and wished him a great day but not without dropping some money into his beggar’s cup. Every day while on his way to work, Larry would stop to say a word or two to the man and often gave him something for a meal. One day and that was the last day of Larry’s engagement at the station, he came to the man to tell him that he would not be seeing him again as he was going back to his main location. The man thanked Larry for his kindness and requested if he could spare a little time to listen to him. Larry agreed.
The old man told Larry that he has not always been a beggar. He told him that he was in a Care Home that was run by a Charity but unfortunately, the Home had to close down because of funding. His wife had died many years ago and his only child had also left home unceremoniously and left no trace after a big quarrel he had with him. He mentioned also that someone gave him an address of someone in a certain city who could lead him to his son for a possible reunion.
Since he had no money to travel that distance, he decided to beg and raise some money for transport. The old man told Larry that nobody paid attention to him among the thousands of people he met at the station until he came along that day with the smile and those kind words that brightened his life. The old man went on to say that Larry’s words and kindness infected other people and now he had saved enough money to get him to the address he was going to.
Larry was deeply touched by the old man’s story and after a brief reflective silence, he asked the man the name of his son and the old man said “James Lloyd” and added that he heard that he is now an engineer. Hearing this Larry exclaimed “James Lloyd! That is my boss, I report to him every day and I even told him about this old beggar friend of mine!” Larry later took the old man, Mr. Lloyd Adams, to his son Engr. James Lloyd and what a great reunion it was!
There could be many moral lessons from this story but I wish to single out the fact of the POWER OF SPOKEN WORDS. The old man recalled that it was Larry’s smiles and kind words that brightened his life at that point when nobody cared. Let us imagine that on the contrary, Larry had said to the old man: “you old fool get out of my way and go get a life!” The old man would have received more frustration atop the one he was having already.
The words we speak do really have incredible powers. They can build or bulldoze. They can help or hinder. They can provoke or pacify. They can make or mar. Words are like tools they could be used to assembly or to dismember. In the book of Proverbs (18:21), we read: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”. Based on this St. Paul advised the Ephesians (4:29) thus: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
If human verbalizations could be powerful how much more the unstained word of God. There is actually a creative force in the word of God. From the inception of the world, we are told in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis that God created out of His spoken words. “And God SAID…Let there be….and there was..!” The letter to the Hebrews (11:3) corroborated this by asserting that it is an act of faith that we believe that the world was made from God’s spoken words.
In the First Reading today (Jeremiah 38:4-6.8-10), we read about the bitter experience of the Prophet Jeremiah on account of the word of God he spoke of the people and their situation. It is very important here to state that God’s word is not always about blessings, success, progress, and breakthrough. The word of God deals with the situation as it is.
Jeremiah told the people the word of God concerning the impending fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the King of Babylon. Instead of accepting the oracle of the prophet and seeking divine counsel, the officials of the city ganged up against Jeremiah and convinced Zedekiah the king to have Jeremiah thrown into his son’s cistern because he did not tell them what they wanted to hear. There is a difference between what people want to hear and what God wishes to say to the people.
It is regrettable that the king granted the officials their request and Jeremiah was thrown into the well with mud inside. However, God used an Ethiopian Eunuch, Ebed-Melech to rescue Jeremiah. One could see that Zedekiah showed himself a typical character that acts before thinking or one that acts by impulse.
It is important to note that after being rescued from the cistern, Jeremiah did not change a single letter of the word of God he gave earlier. The true word of God does not entertain compromise. It is not a respecter of wealth and royalty. The word of God does not entertain fleeting and passing changes (Luke 21:33).
In the Gospel of today (Luke 12:49-53), our Lord Jesus Christ released some prophetic utterances that are generally unsettling. He specifically mentioned that he came to cast fire upon the earth and wished that it were already kindled. Furthermore, he spoke about a peculiar kind of baptism he is desirous to receive. Finally, he mentioned that he did not come to bring peace upon the earth but division starting from the family relationships. Three important facts are therefore notable here and we shall be examining them closely.
- The casting of fire upon the earth: Fire is a great symbol in the bible. In the first place, it is used severally to depict the presence of God. Moses encountered God at the burning bush (Ex.3:2). After leaving Egypt, God led the people of Israel by means of a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). God answered Elijah by fire (1 Kings 18:24). Jeremiah tells us that the word of God is like fire (Jer.23:29) and the letter to the Hebrews tells us that God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).
Fire is also seen in the bible from another point of view as an instrument divine of judgement. Adam and Eve were driven away from the Garden by angels bearing flaming swords. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone (Gen.19:24). Isaiah (66:16) tells us that God will execute judgement by means of fire. Hell is described as a place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43) and the rich man who was dispassionate to Lazarus suffered in the flames (Luke 16:24).
By casting fire upon the earth, our Lord Jesus Christ was unleashing as it were the unlimited power of the word of God upon the earth. This will bring about divine visitation that will have double effects of salvation and damnation, justification and judgement.
2.The peculiar kind of baptism: The Greek root of the word baptism is baptizo and it means to dip, immerse or submerge. Literally, it could be understood as being buried and raised up again. So when our Lord was talking about a kind of baptism he urgently needs to have he was referring to his passion, death and eventually his resurrection. St. Paul made this clearer in his letter to the Roman (6:3-4) where he said:
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
- Division, not peace: The word peace in Hebrew is rendered as shalom and it means total or complete well-being. However, there is another sense wherein peace can be used and it denotes tolerance, compromise or if you like the absence of conflict. We could understand this better when we read the Gospel of John (14:27a) where our Lord said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
From the above, we can understand what our Lord meant when he told his listeners in the Gospel not to suppose that he was coming to bring peace (compromise) but division. This means that the word of God is not meant to bring compromise but a positive division between those who will accept it and those who will not and this will begin from the family which the basic unit of the human society as well as the root of all good and evil.
When we take an active look into our world today, we will still discover that the word of God which is a two-edged sword (Heb.4:12) is still progressively setting apart the sheep from the goat (Matt. 25:31-46). The word of God is meant to guide and lead us to in life’s journey (Psalm 119:105). This light will help us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us as St paul indicated in the Second Reading (Heb.12:1-4). This race will lead us to eternal salvation which we need even if it entails giving up our lives like the martyrs whom Paul referred to as a great cloud of witnesses.
Armed with the message of today, let us launch into the coming week with our eyes on the word of God which is spirit and life (John 6:63). We end with this instruction from the book of Proverbs (4:20-22):
My child be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings, Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your hearts. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.
Have a great Sunday and an awesome week ahead.
One response to “THE UNLIMITED POWER OF GOD’S WORD. HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.”
Lord Jesus Christ, create an enabling environment for your word