There is a story about a boy who loves to play with his friend next door under a tree at the back of their house. One day his dad informs him that he would cut down the tree because for three years no fruit has come from it. The little boy is hurt, and he shares the bad news with his friend next door, and they both cry.
Next day, he breaks his piggy bank and goes to buy a bushel of apples and with the help of his friend, he ties the apples on the tree. Next morning his father sees the tree with apples and calling on his wife he says, “honey I don’t know how this is possible; suddenly the barren tree has apples on it, and the most amazing thing is that it is an orange tree!” The little boy was trying to preserve his play station, namely, the tree.
A world without trees would be a disaster to human beings, animals, and the environment. The changes we are having in the world today are not unconnected with the increase in deforestation which involves the massive and often unnecessary cutting of trees. To explore the importance of trees here would take the entire space for this reflection. However, a concise presentation would help us to have a foreground.
Trees produce fruits, but that is a fraction of what we get from trees. In the process of manufacturing their food through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide (C02) in the environment and release oxygen (02) which humans and animals need to survive. Trees also protect the environment from wind, erosion, and also have aesthetic values.
We depend on trees for woods which we convert to firewood, charcoal, all kinds of papers, all forms of house fittings and furniture, boats, wine corks, and carvings. Tress also produce liquids for maple syrup, chewing gum, cosmetics, crayons, paints, and soap. Dye and some medicines also come from the bark of some trees.
In the Gospel today (Luke 13:1-9), our Lord Jesus Christ tells a parable about the barren fig tree. The owner of the fig tree comes searching for fruits on it over three years but found none, and he threatens to cut it down instead of taking allowing it to up the soil. However, the gardener begs the owner to give the tree one more year of intensive care and afterwards he can cut it if still bears no fruits.
Though Jesus did not give an immediate explanation of the parable, it is, however, it is clear that the tree represents all of us. Furthermore, Jesus Christ represents the gardener who not only advocates (1 John 2:1) and mediates (1 Tim. 2:5) for us but also nourishes us with the word of God and healing (Matt. 95-36), and with his body and blood (Matt. 26:26-29). Finally, the owner refers to God the father our creator.
The Barrenness Leading to Fruitlessness?
It is very worrisome to discover that for three years the fig tree was unable to bear fruits. The number “three” in biblical numerology refers to completeness. With regards to the fig tree, it got the full attention it needed with all the enabling nutrients. It is, therefore, crucial to know why the fig tree remained barren since it had all that is required.
The best way to discover what is happening to the tree is to examine its base and roots. The problem cannot be from the trunk, the branches, and the leaves but the roots. For the roots of a tree to derive nourishment from the soil, they are expected to be open and receptive to what the soil provides.
It is evident that we are like the fig tree in the vineyard of God the Father. Here, we have an able gardener; our Lord Jesus Christ who is constantly feeding us with the word of God and with his body and blood that nourish our souls. The challenge is our readiness to open our hearts to receive all that our Lord is offering and to use them for fruit bearing.
Moving Forward: Bearing the Lenten Fruit of Repentance
Among other things, the Lenten Season invites us to true repentance. The parable in the Gospel today sets out to show that God is giving us time to repent following the intervention of the gardener to allow the fig tree for one more year.
Earlier in the Gospel, some people approach Jesus to tell him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of the sacrifice. Responding to them, Jesus makes it clear that they are not greater sinners because of their tragic death nor are those who were killed by the tower at Siloam greater sinners. He concludes by saying to them “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Barrenness and the resultant fruitlessness are indications of sin. In the parable, our Lord is telling us to repent, or we risk elimination from the vineyard of the Lord. The Greek word in the narrative is “metanoia” which means a change of heart. God is, therefore, asking us to change our heart through an intense and conscious renewal of our roots not the decoration of the branches like the little boy did in our opening story to save the tree.
We need to return to God as the Israelites did after four hundred years of their slavery in Egypt, and God responded to them through Moses via the theophany of the Burning Bush as we saw in the First Reading (Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15). The Burning Bush shows the ever-present (I AM) burning love of God that is waiting for us this Lenten Season. Our responsorial Psalm says, “the Lord is kind and mercy.” Yes, He is waiting for us to turning back and become fruitful and productive.
The tree had one year to become productive; we have had years ahead of us to achieve our “metanoia” and come out from the slavery of sin. Now have a very fitting time to accomplish this and may we not allow it to elude us. God is interested in spiritual fruits not in barren religious trees. May we move from barrenness to essential fruitfulness to the glory of God and for our salvation. Amen. God bless you.
Mountain climbing is typically a very tasking activity with a lot of physical, mental, and emotional demands. Between May 10 and 11, 1996, about eight people lost their lives while trying to make it to the top of the highest peak in the world in Nepal. The mishap eventually got the name, “the Mount Everest Disaster.” Most people who succeed to touch down after scaling those heights tell tales of exhaustion, various degrees of injury, hypothermia, frostbite, reduced visibility, hypoxia, and other horrible experiences.
The Gospel Reading (Luke 9:28b-36) tells us that Jesus Christ took three of the apostles to the mountain to pray. One may like to know why he selected the trio of Peter, James, and John excluding others. The answer is evident in their activities within the group. Peter has already received the key after confessing through the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Luke 9:20; Matt. 16:16-19). On the part of James and John, they showed their ambition to sit at the right and left hands of Jesus in his glory. It only fitted that they experience that glory for which they were ready to give their lives (Mark 10: 35-40).
On reaching the mountaintop and at the point of prayer, our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured before the three apostles. His face changed in appearance, and his clothing became dazzling white. Furthermore, two biblical figures, Moses and Elijah, appeared and were conversing with Jesus. The sight was very overwhelming for the three apostles, and Peter speaks requesting that he builds three tents for Jesus and the two celestial visitors, but then the impressive sight ends before he could conclude his request.
Climbing the Mountain vs. Our Lenten Journey
The ascent to the mountain starts with the conscious disengagement from the base of the mountain. To disengage, one needs to leave certain things behind to ascend with ease. In the case of our Lord Jesus Christ and his three companions, they left the other disciples and possibly the crowd at the base of the mountain to reach up to the peak of the mountain.
Summarily, to climb the mountain, one must give up the pleasures and comforts of the ground level. The Lenten Season is closely related to climbing a mountain. We are invited to give up those things that delimit our journey especially sin. Before the transfiguration event, Jesus did instruct that whoever wants to be his disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23).
A common aphorism has it that “the journey is more important than the destination.” The statement means that without a worthwhile journey the destination would be wishful thinking. On account of this, we often wish people a “safe journey” because it precedes the arrival hence the way you travel determines how you would arrive.
On this journey, there is a need for focus while watching every step we take. One of the best pieces of advice from mountain climbers says, “you need to take one step at a time and be sure of where you want to put the next step.” Barry Finlay says that every mountain top is within reach if you keep climbing.
Transfiguration means Change
Most mountain climbers have a common thing to say, “it is a transforming experience!” Transformation, in turn, means a thorough change. Beyond the change of a physical position from the lower level to the upper level, mountain climbing brings about a transforming difference in the life of the climber.
The Gospel Reading relates the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ before the apostles while he prays at the mountaintop. Our Lenten journey would be useless if we do not experience a transfiguration from the disfiguration of sin. During these forty days, the Lord invites us to continue the journey with him from the desert of temptation last Sunday to the mountain of transfiguration.
The journey may appear crooked, winding and even dangerous but the glory is waiting for us at the peak; we need to stay in the climbing mode and never lose hope. In the Second Reading (Phil. 3:20-4:1), St. Paul tells us that the goal of this journey is to change our lowly body to conform with the glorified body of our Lord Jesus Christ and we look forward to this at the Easter.
Moving Forward: Conquer Yourself not the Mountain
When one succeeds in climbing and coming down from a mountain, the individual conquers oneself not the mountain. While the mountain remains the same, those who climb the mountain come down with transforming experiences and stories like Peter, James, and John could recall in the transfiguration mountain.
In the course of our Lenten Journey, we need to allow God to walk through us just as the fire of God passed through the pieces of sacrifice that Abram laid out for God in the First Reading (Gen.15:5-12, 17-18). May this journey bring unfailing divine transformation and elevation into our lives. God bless you.
Once upon a time, the devil enters a church during the service. His appearance causes a rumble in the church as people scamper and disperse from various directions including the officiating ministers. In no time, the church is empty of people except one man who sits at the back of the church. The devil comes to the man and asks why he is not afraid of him like the others and the man replies and says to him, “I have been living with your sister for 48 years, so it makes no difference meeting you today”.
The short story is indeed funny, but what we quickly learn from the story is that one of the strategies of the devil is to scare us and push us into wrongdoing (scampering and dispersing from God). St. Peter says that he comes like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The devouring here is not physical but spiritual and involves nudging us into disobedience and sin.
Jesus Christ and the Tempter
The Gospel Reading today (Luke 4:1-13) begins by relating to us that after the spirit-filled baptism at the Jordan, our Lord Jesus Christ was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert for a period forty days where he faced three-fold temptations by the devil after the period of prayer and fasting.
It will be essential for us to note here that Jesus was under the leading of the Holy Spirit and not any material or human drive. Furthermore, the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit could not shield him from the temptation of the devil. Moreover, the devil comes to him at the end of his forty-day fasting when one could presume it is all quiet and peaceful. Furthermore, the temptation comes shortly before the Lord begins his public ministry.
A Brief on the Person of the Tempter
Think of any person that is highly intelligent, thoroughly evil, slimy, deceptive, wicked, vindictive, and hypocritical; that is the devil. The Bible has many names for him, accuser (Rev. 12:10), adversary (1 Pet. 5:8), enemy (Matt. 13:39), evil one (Matt. 13:19), father of lies (John 8:44), murderer (John 8:44), thief, killer, and destroyer (John 10:10a), unclean spirit (Matt. 12:43), and others.
“If you are the Son of God, command this Stone to Become Bread.”
The first temptation of our Jesus Christ pertains to his immediate need, namely food. Remember that he was disembarking from a forty-day fast from food. It is also instructive to note that the devil starts by using a challenging statement that strikes on the identity of the Lord, “if you are the Son of God.” The devil often strikes by distorting the truth or raising doubts in our minds about what we know or believe.
Responding to the first temptation, our Lord directs him to the word of God in Deuteronomy (8:3) which says, “one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Incidentally, that chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy talks about God’s instructions to the Israelites on the fortieth and last year of their wandering in the wilderness.
We learn from our Lord’s response that you don’t argue nor bargain with the devil. The only way to respond is to refer to the word of God. We could recall and appreciate St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians (2 Cor.10:4), where he says that the weapons of our warfare are not human but have divine power to destroy strongholds and refute arguments and every obstacle that rises against the knowledge of God. The word of God is a potent weapon against the devil’s machinations.
I shall give You all this Power and Glory…If You Worship Me
In the second temptation, the devil takes our Lord up and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. He goes on to promise that he would give all of them to Jesus Christ if he bows down to worship him.
Here again, we see a deceptive move by the devil to fault our Lord. Temptations would always come with the promise of a benefit or gain. The devil’s gifts come with a condition and a lot of hidden charges. Furthermore, if there is someone who does not like to share that would be the devil. And to think of it that he would hand over all his kingdoms to anyone is a blatant lie.
Again, to the second temptation, our Lord responds with the word of God, “you shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Deut.6:13). Notice that the devil will not give up when he fails the first time. Moreover, the “benefit” of the second temptation seems to be more attractive than the first one.
If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down .…He will command his angels concerning, You to Guide You….
Again, the devil comes using his usual tact of challenging the identity of Jesus Christ, namely, “the Son of God.” Here the devil wanted Jesus to presume God’s protective love using a famous biblical text from the Book of Psalms (91:11-12). It is hilarious that the devil did not extend the quote up to verse 13 where it says, “you will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” The reason is evident because the verse is against him; the devil.
On this temptation, the devil provides a scriptural text, and our Lord responds with another text which shows a context, “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Every text in the bible leverages a context; otherwise, it becomes a pretext. Notice here that the devil came three times which in biblical understanding indicates completion. Here it means that our Lord faced thorough temptation, but the devil could not tamper him.
Moving Forward: Overcoming the Tempters Strategies
We all face one temptation or the other at various points in life. Life without temptation is an illusion because temptation is a significant part of our fallen nature and evident in our fallen world. Temptation comes when we experience the enticement to do something that is contrary to the will of God. Temptations come in many ways to make us revolt against God and please the devil.
Within the inauguration of our forty-day Lenten journey, there is the need for us to be aware of the following strategies of the devil to tempt us to sin.
As we continue to the march into Lenten Season, may God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:9) remain with us and assist us to pass through the trials and ascend into triumph with our Lord Jesus Christ who overcame the temper’s machinations. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
Have a fabulous week ahead.
The return of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of the narratives in the Gospel that speaks of repentance after an episode of wandering in the region of sin and disobedience. In the parable we learn that the father was hopefully looking out and waiting for the son to return from the distant country and seeing him from a distance, he runs towards him to welcome him and he goes further to restore his position in the household.
The word return has two basic meanings, to bring something or someone back to the right place, and to get a profit, yield, income or gain. These two meanings aptly resonate with the message of this Ash Wednesday which discloses God’s call for our return to Him.
Where did we Go and What have we Lost?
The First Reading today (Joel 2:12-18) begins with an invitation from God which says:
Return to me with your whole heart with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.
One typically returns from somewhere to another place. From the passage, we understand that those who are receiving the message took a leave from God’s presence and wandered away. Their destination was the region sin and consequent disconnection from God. When we commit sin and stay in it, we take leave from God and stay far away from Him.
There are consequences that trail one’s departure from God; in fact, leaving God is the same as losing Him. In the event of our estrangement from God, we lost His protective love and mercy. To be without God is not helpful to our existence as our Lord Jesus Christ would say, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He knows that our estrangement would lead us to total annihilation beyond the present life and for this reason, God calls for a total return of all the people both young and old, priests, ministers, and indeed everyone.
The Ash and our Return to God
The ash is the result of committing anything to fire. From this description, we understand that ash indicates the vanity of human life and all the activities within it (Ecclesiastes 1:2ff). In the most passage in the Bible, people sat on ash or sprinkled it on their heads to indicate penitence and sorrow for sin (Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Daniel 9:3: Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13).
During the ceremony of receiving the ash, the priests or the ministers would say one of the following: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Three important verbs in the two statements are, “Remember, Repent, and Believe.” We often forget the necessary things and remember the unnecessary ones. The ceremony challenges us to remember that no matter how long we live on earth our life is still short and we shall end up as dust.
The next instructional prayer tells us to repent and to believe in the Gospel. As we march into the Lenten Season, the message of repentance would be repeated especially from the oracle of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:4) and the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 13:3). Repentance challenges us to repose our faith in God which entails belief in God and confession. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans (10:9) that if you confess that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Moving Forward: Living the Lenten Life
After receiving the ash, the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 6: 1-6, 16-18), challenges us to live the Lenten life through the introduction of the three pillars of Lent, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The elucidation of these pillars of the Lenten Season helps us to understand that the season makes an expedient demand from us. We are invited to excel in charity (Luke 6:38). When we give, especially to those who are in need we become extensions of the hands of God who is always giving to us. Our charity, however, should not be materials for the public announcement; otherwise, we lose our heavenly reward.
Prayer is a very key and recommended activity for us this season. We cannot have a relationship with God without prayers. Our prayer should not be occasional, St. Paul says “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). Furthermore, our prayer should not just be for some petitions, that is for needs but for everything including thanksgiving to God (Phil. 4:6-7).
Finally, the Season invites us to practice fasting and abstinence. The need to fast is basically to mortify the body and elevate the spirit. In his letter to the Galatians (5:16-17), St. Paul tells us that the flesh is at war with the spirit and there is a need for us to live in the spirit and not to gratify the desires of the flesh. Fasting and abstinence help us at this moment to pay attention to the soul by denying our flesh those pleasures that are unhelpful to our spiritual growth.
As we answer the call to RETURN may we continuously keep our eyes on the need to Remember, Repent and Believe and may the three pillars of the Lenten Season, Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting help us to have a rewarding journey through the season.
God bless you and have a beautiful Lenten Season.
A famous quote with a little controversy over its originator says, “watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions for they become your habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. And watch your character for they become your destiny”.
One of the things that differentiate us from animals is our ability to speak with clarity and logical reasoning. We use speech to communicate our thoughts and feelings. In the First Reading today (Sirach 27:4-7), the writer tells us that as the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so does one’s speech disclose what is on the person’s mind and the passage goes on to instruct that it is wrong to praise someone before he (she) speaks.
It Starts in Our Thoughts
While addressing the crowds in the Gospel of Matthew (15:11-20), our Lord Jesus Christ declares that it is not what goes inside of a person that defiles the individual but what comes out from the heart where evil thoughts get their formation. The mouth, in turn, serves to let out the thoughts in words. From this description, we understand that the words that come out from our mouths are verbal expressions of our thoughts.
The description above helps us to understand the importance of actively monitoring what goes into our thoughts mostly from the external senses and how they influence our thoughts. If we keep the doors of our minds open for all kinds of distortions, then our thoughts would be filled with obnoxious things that would, in turn, form the basis of our speeches and actions.
Words are Powerful
From the story of the creation in the Book of Genesis, we learn that God created the world through verbal declarations, for instance, the Book of Genesis (1:3) says, “Then God said, let there be light, and there was light.” There is power in the words we speak; they can help or hinder, encourage or discourage, brighten or darken. The Book of Proverbs (12:6) says, “the words of the wicked are a deadly ambush, but the speech of the upright delivers them.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ relates how our words would determine our fate before God when he mentions that on the day of judgment you will give an account of every careless word you utter. He goes on to say that by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12:36-37). To guard against unhelpful words, St. Paul gives the following advice to the Ephesians (4:29): “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful to build up as there is a need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
Action Speaks Louder than Words
In the Gospel of Matthew (21:28-31) our Lord presents an interesting parable to demonstrate the importance of action over mere words. The parable speaks of a man who had two sons. He goes to the first and asks him to go and work in the vineyard, and he says he would but later changed his mind. The second son did not agree to go but changed his mind and went. Among the two the one who accomplished the will of the father would be the second son who gave a negative response but later complied with affirmative action.
While the words we use are powerful, our actions could be more powerful. Action results when we dramatize our words. It is like saying “I will help you” and making it happen by helping the person. We often hear God demands actions from us beyond mere words. The First Letter of John (1 John 3:18) says, “little children, let us not love in words or talk but in deeds and truth.
Moving Forward: Mind the Plank in Your Eye!
Sometimes, we have the false feeling that we are better than others and we do not need any form of growth and improvement. It is on account of this faulty thinking that our Lord in the Gospel today (Luke 6:39-45), maintains that we notice the splinter in our brother’s eye but do not perceive the wooden beam (plank) in our eyes. This happens when we are quick to blame, criticize, judge and deride other people while making ourselves “saints” and unimpeachable. From our “plank-studded eyes” we don’t lie, steal, cheat, gossip, nor hate. It is always “the others” not “us”. Note this very well, judging others does not define who they are, it defines who you are!
Life is not about making us appearing good while making others look bad. Life should be more about what God thinks about us. By its fruit, every tree is known. Good trees bear good fruits, and bad trees bear bad fruits. You cannot give what you don’t have!
Instead of wasting time pointing out the mistakes and misdeeds of other people, let us try to focus on our lives; especially on our thoughts to remove those evil thoughts, that produce offensive words, actions, habits, and characters in our lives. There is a constant need to examine and re-examine ourselves to remove the wooden beams that block us from critical self-examination.
May the Lord bless His words in our hearts, and may a fabulous week ahead be our portion. God bless you.
In my country Nigeria, there is a famous axiom in the broken English which says, “do me, I do you, God, no go vex!” In the formal English language, this would mean “if I pay you back with the same evil God would not be angry.” Everywhere in the world, various legal systems have predetermined punishments for the offences people commit against each other like murder, manslaughter, defamation, insults, and others. It seems that nature supports retaliation as a balancing factor in the melody of existence.
The First Reading (1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,12-13, 22-23), we learn about King Saul’s relentless hunt for the life of David. He pursues him as far as the desert of Ziph with three thousand picked men from Israel. As the search unfolds, the predator became a prey as David and his military assistant Abishai meet Saul and Abner his commander sleeping away at a vulnerable point.
Abishai, David’s assistant, offers to kill Saul with one thrust of the spear, but David would not allow anyone to harm nor lay hands on Saul; the Lord’s anointed. Standing on a remote hilltop across the place Saul and Abner lay, David wakes them up and shows them the spear and jug he collected from Saul’s head as indications that he had the opportunity to kill him as retaliation for all the evil plots against him. Consequently, David returned kindness for wickedness, he gave love in exchange for hatred. He overcame evil with good.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 6:27-38), our Lord continues the sermon on the plain (level ground) with some instructions that are not as plain as the location as he begins with the command to love one’s enemies and to bless those who curse us. Other instructions under the love for hate standard include non-retaliation and non-violence, unconditional kindness, mercifulness, and forgiveness, refraining from judging people and unfettered charity.
Looking at David’s benevolent reaction to King Saul who was out to kill him and our Lord’s instructions today in the Gospel, we notice what may seem like an “aberration” in the logic of human actions and reactions. However, God’s ways are indeed different from our ways, and his thoughts are different from our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
In God’s ways and thoughts, the good should prevail over evil. In the Book of Proverbs (17:13), God says, “if anyone returns evil for good, evil will never leave his house.” In his letter to the Romans (12:17-21), St. Paul instructs that we should not repay evil for evil, but we should be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. He ends by admonishing that we should not allow evil to overcome us, but we should strive to overcome evil with good.
We live in an age and day in which paying back is a norm and returning evil for evil lies within the scope of social justice. However, the word of God today tells us to go beyond the social norm and to aim towards what God wants from us. In the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel, we should love our enemies though this may sound senseless for “any right-thinking person.”
In God’s design, however, it is sensible to love without limits even those who are out to kill us. We could recall the visit and the forgiveness late Saint Pope John Paul II granted to Mehmet Ali Ağca, the Turkish assassin who shot and injured the late Roman Pontiff on May 13, 1981, in Rome.
You might be at a stage in your life where you might be hurting over something or someone and planning to retaliate or revenge. You might be “right” because you are not at fault. However, take a little time to think through what our Lord is telling us today:
As we march into a new week, let us continue to keep our eye on the Lord’s timeless instructions today as we also reflect on David’s rare act of mercy towards the one who wanted him dead by any means necessary. Keep in mind also that our God is kind and merciful to us and if He should keep a record of our failings, who will survive? (Psalm 130:3).
Have a graceful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
Once upon a time, a boy was taking a walk with his grandfather through a park, and suddenly they come to a little bridge with a stream beneath meaning to cross over to the other side. Sensing that the little boy would be scared because of the shaky bridge, the grandpa says to the boy “come on! Joe hold my hand!” The boy replies and says to him, “grandpa you hold my hand instead!”. “What’s the difference?” The grandfather cuts in and turning to him the boy says, “well grandpa, there is a big difference. If I hold your hand and something happens, and I slip, I may let go of your hand. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go!” What an expression of trust!
Trust is one word we hear very often from parents, teachers, preachers, politicians, doctors, lawyers and marketers of goods and services. There is so much talk about trust, but we trust only to see ourselves in the trash. I have seen people who say they don’t trust anyone because of one experience or the other. Some people trusted their spouses and got the worst hit in their lives. Family and friends have betrayed some people, and they ask, “who can be trusted?”
Trust Brings Blessings
In the First Reading today (Jeremiah 17:5-8) we hear God making a very profound statement which among other things indicates that curse is on anyone who trusts in human beings, seek strength in the flesh, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. On the contrary, the oracle of the Lord states that blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. The prophecy gives more description of the two individuals. While the person who trust in human beings would be like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, the one who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted beside the waters that enjoy a steady supply of water even in the seasons of drought.
In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 6:17, 20-26), we hear our Lord’s beatitudes where he ascribes “blessedness” to individuals with various spiritual and moral aptitudes. The individuals that are mentioned in the Lord’s enlistment in the beatitudes share one thing in common, and that is “trust in God.” It takes trust to go through poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, and insults and still cling unto God.
In life, we always choose as to where we put our trust and where we put your trust determines how far you can go in life. You may have numerous reasons for no servicing the virtue of your trust in your life. It could be because you lost your spouse, child, a close relative or a relationship you cherished. Yes, things happen, and there would always be one challenge or the other, that is life.
In all these things and more, a man called Job still trusted in God and exclaimed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). For this reason, God tells us to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) and He knows the end of your life from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Your trust could turn things around to blessings.
From your human calculation, the pitfalls in your life may be unreasonable. God often allows us to go through the University of adversity, where troubles are teachers and problems are professors. The Book of Proverbs (3:5) advises us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not to lean on our understanding. Your understanding may tell you that you can do it by yourself, that something is wrong with you or that God hates you, your knowledge may tell you that you are incapable! No, God loves you, and you need to trust Him.
As we march into a new week, there is an urgent need for us to revamp the level of your trust in God. Remember, when you stop trusting in God, you start rusting. Have a beautiful and a trust-full week ahead.
February 14th remains a notably remarkable date in the world conventionally known as Valentine’s day, St. Valentine’s day or more colloquially Val’s day. On this day most people seek after who would be their “Val” or “lover”. There seem to be so much craze around the world because February is 14th.
This craze had for a long time turned out to be a business opportunity for many to the extent that February 14th just like December 25th has been highly commercialized. Within a period of twenty-four hours most people lose their cool in an effort to ritualize what they cannot grasp it’s attendant reasons and values. Sometimes I sit and ponder if love that I know is seasonal (as some people would say it is the season of love) or February 14th bound.
There is no universally homogenous history of Valentine’s Day. What we…
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Do you know why some treasures are called precious stones (like a diamond, Sapphire, and Emerald) and precious metals (like gold, silver, and platinum)? They are found underneath the earth and to get them one must dig deep into specific rocks and soils. We consider some animals special because they are rarely seen around our living spaces but deep in the wild. If there is a tree that stands still through all the seasons of the year, know for sure that the roots are deep into the soil.
In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 5:1-11), we learn about the call of Simon Peter and his partners from fishers of fish to fishers of men, and foremost followers of Jesus Christ. The narrative reveals that a crowd was listening to our Lord preaching by the lake of Gennesaret and seeing two boats with the fishermen occupants washing their nets he requested for Peter’s boat as a provisional pulpit for his preaching.
At the end to the preaching, our Lord asked Simon to put into the deep and lower the nets for a catch. He replies and tells our Lord that they worked all night and caught nothing but at his command, he would lower the nets. When they put the nets into the deep, they had a huge catch to the extent that the nets were tearing, and they needed help from their partners.
Simon Peter could not contain the miracle and thus asked Jesus Christ our Lord to depart from him for he is a sinful man, but the Lord’s says to him “do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men”. Thereafter Simon Peter and others left everything and followed him.
Laboring Without the Lord is a Shallow Enterprise
The word deep refers to something that extends from the surface reaching down. In another sense, it refers to an extreme, intense, and thorough measure. The opposite of deep is shallow or superficial and when we compare the two words, we discover that deep is mostly positive while shallow falls to the negative side. For example, we can differentiate between a deep conversation and a shallow one.
Life could be deep or shallow depending on the way and manner we live it. A shallow life is a life without the active presence of Christ. The word of God according to the prophet Isaiah (29:13) expresses shallow life very well where it says:
Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.
The prophet Ezekiel (33:31), talks about the shallow people as those who come, sit and hear the word of God but refuse to do them. In the Gospel of Luke (6:48-49), our Lord Jesus Christ uses the image of building a house with a foundation and without foundation to describe a deep-rooted life versus a shallow life in God
From the event at the Lake, Simon Peter and his fishing partners labored through the night with all their tested and trusted fishing skills yet they were unable to catch a single fish. However, when our Lord Jesus Christ appeared the next day and asked them to put their nets into the deep, they had a great catch. With the Lord, we can do more but without him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
We see a similar situation with the encounter Isaiah had in the temple. The encounter with the glory of God in the temple, made Isaiah confess his shallowness just like Simon Peter would say, “depart from me for I am a sinful man”. When the angel touched Isaiah’s lips the charcoal he was renewed and equipped to go on the mission. And when Peter confessed his sinfulness, he was picked to become a disciple of the Lord.
Our life endeavors are meaningful and fulfilling only when we have God and obey His commands just as Simon did in the passage.
Moving Forward: Put Out into the Deep
Why do we stay on the superficial when we could aim deep? How deep you go determines how far you can go for anything in life. In the Gospel, we see Simon Peter and his partners washing their nets after a fruitless effort throughout the night. Washing their nets is a sign of giving up; they were done for the day. However, when Jesus appears, he lets them know that it is not yet over until God says it is over. What they needed to do was to put out into the deep as the Lord commanded them.
There is something more than what you might be seeing or experiencing in your life now and unless you go deeper you may not get higher. Let us also remember that our successes do not depend solely on our efforts but more on God’s presence in our lives and our readiness to follow him like Simon Peter and his companions who left everything and followed him.
Have a lovely Sunday and a fabulous week ahead. Remember to put out to the deep for a great catch. God bless you.
Rejection is a negative attitude of turning someone or something away or refusing to let in. The pain of rejection could frustrate and make someone look worthless. Have you ever experienced rejection that often leads to a total ejection? You may like to know the encounters some notable individuals had with the reality of rejection:
In the Gospel narrative today (Luke 4:31-36), our Lord Jesus Christ visits his home town Nazareth for the first time after the beginning of his ministry around the regions of Galilee. What ought to be a grand reception of their own turned out to be a rejection and even an attempted murder. The examples of people who faced rejection at some points in their lives show that they were striving towards some personal goals, but in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ, he was rejected not for his gain but for bringing the good news and salvation to his people.
Going through the narrative intently, we understand that our Lord read the prophecy of Isaiah which contains the manifesto his ministry and concludes by acknowledging the fulfilment of scripture in their hearing. The people were more concerned about who said it than what is said, “the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
In the defective minds of the Nazarenes, the son of the carpenter cannot save them with the good news of liberation and restoration (Luke 4:18). For them, nothing good could come out of their town Nazareth (John 1:46). In their estimation, if there should be anything right, it should not come from the son of Mary, the humble lady without lots of material means.
Our Lord did not spare the people by remarking how their familiarity with his background is a hindrance to their faith and blessings from God. Our Lord’s reprisal infuriated them because they could not stand the truth and they drove him out of the town and tried to hurl him off the cliff, but he walked away through the midst of them.
The Rejection of Jesus is the Rejection of Love
When the people of Nazareth drove Jesus Christ away from their town, they were spiritually ejecting and rejection God who is love (1 John 4:8). Our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s gift of love to us (John 3:16). The rejection was not just about the son of the carpenter or the son of Mary but more of the rejection of God’s invaluable gift to humanity.
In the Second Reading (1 Cor. 12:31; 13:1-13), St. Paul talks about the nature and character of love. Among other things, he mentions that love bears all things, endures all things and love never ends. When the people of Nazareth rejected God’s love through our Lord Jesus Christ, God did not withdraw his love but extended it to the people around Capernaum where our Lord continued his ministry.
Are You Rejecting Jesus Christ?
It would be difficult to hear anyone in the Church answer “yes” to this question consequently; we would likely hear a resounding “no”! But on a deeper level of reflection, we can discover that we reject our Lord Jesus Christ consciously and unconsciously when we fall into sin.
We reject Jesus Christ when we give hatred to others instead of love. We reject Jesus Christ when we close our minds and hearts to the commandments of God. We reject Jesus Christ when we plan and execute evil and fail to do good. If we at this point repeat the question “are you rejecting Jesus Christ? What answer would you give?
The opposite of rejection is acceptance. God is inviting us today to reappraise how we accept and return His unfailing love for us. Furthermore, there is the need for us to examine how we accept the good news through commitment and active participation in the celebration of the Word and the Sacraments.
We need to rise beyond the name “Christians” and thrive to live the Christian life. The Christian life consists of total acceptance and purposeful choice of doing the will of God in season and out of season. The Christian life also involves defending our faith even when we are confronted by trials knowing that He who knew us before we were formed in our mother’s womb would protect us from the siege of those who fight against us as the First Reading (Jer. 1:4-5,19-19) promises.
Have a beautiful Sunday and a gracious week ahead.