Once upon a time, a king hired a gardener who was very dutiful and provided the king with fresh juicy fruits from the garden every morning. One fateful day, the gardener brought some red cherries to the king and tasting one, the king who was in a bad mood felt it was sour and threw it on the gardener in anger and it hit him in the face. Turning to the king and smiling respectfully, the gardener said: “God is merciful”. The king was a bit confused why the gardener could not show any sign of displeasure and why he said “God is merciful.
The king asked the gardener to explain why he appeared unhurt and what made him say that God is merciful. He replied and said that he wanted to bring big pineapples and coconuts but later changed his mind to bring the small cherries first. He believed that it was the mercy of God that made him not to bring a larger fruit because it could have hurt more.
God is indeed merciful. In fact, the book of Lamentations (3:22-23) say that the steadfastness of God never ceases and His mercy never ends for they are new every morning. Pope Francis was right when he declared that God’s name is MERCY. Without divine mercy, our lives would become messy. What is the nature of divine mercy and how is it relevant to us as we celebrate the Divine Mercy Sunday?
Our lives rest on the platform of divine mercy. Creation itself is an expression of God’s love. God created the world out of nothing (materially speaking), but spiritually creation is a product of God’s love. When humanity failed in Adam, God demonstrated His justice which brought about the eviction of our first parents from Paradise. However, God’s love went after us through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection brought divine mercy to us.
The history of our salvation is rooted on divine mercy:
Divine mercy should challenge us to be merciful to one another just as our heavenly Father is merciful to each of us (Luke 6:36). Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us also that God will be merciful to those who are merciful (Matt. 5:7). The apostle James (2:13) expand more on this teaching when he writes that judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.
One of the key sicknesses of our world is the lack of mercy starting from our families. Little things degenerate into huge fights fought with deep bitterness and resentment. Mercy has gone on vacation in most families with people barely managing and tolerating themselves instead of celebration one another. Communities are divided into various factions because mercy has not legroom. Nations are in turmoil because people are deficient of the milk of kindness and mercy.
We are encouraged to look forward to and pray for divine mercy. God loves us more and attends to us when we come to Him asking mercy. David was not shy to say: “ Have mercy on me oh God in your compassion” (Psalm 51:1). The blind man Bartimaeus shouted it: “Jesus Son of David have mercy on me” (Mark 10: 47). Today, we are also challenged to become channels of mercy for everyone we meet in the journey of life; especially those who hurt us. The deeper the hurt the greater the flow of mercy. As we celebrate God’s divine mercy, let us continue to expand the borders of mercy wherever we go; today God is giving you a new name; Mercy.
Have a wonderful celebration and a great mercy-full week ahead.
Visiting the graveyard is not usually an attractive exercise because it presents an eerie and unsettling atmosphere that reminds one of the realities of death and dying. It could only be someone who is out of touch with mental and spiritual sanity that would like to loiter and lounge around the tombs (Mark 5:1-5). People go to the graveyard to pray and bury the dead. Today, the Gospel narrative presents one of the most unusual reasons for a visit to the cemetery; just to see the tomb very early in the morning when one could see scarcely one’s palms.
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 28:1-10) tells us about Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb very early in the morning with the other Mary (it is probable that she is the mother of Cleopas) to see the grave. Could it be that they forgot what it looked like? (We can’t say from the narrative).
Furthermore, coming very early in the morning to the tomb gives a sign of urgency. We could infer from the story that the early morning tomb visitors slept briefly, or did not sleep at all through the night. However, we need to make it clear here that they were not interested in the tomb but the one inside the tomb. Moreover, there was no better day for them to come but at the wee hours of the THIRD DAY.
Here we could identify the duo as women of faith. They came early on the third day because they believed in the words of our Lord: “Destroy this temple, and on the third day I will raise it up (John 2:19)”. They trusted and accepted the word of our Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (9:22):
“The Son of Man must suffer many things, He said. “He must be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Leaving their families very early that morning of the first day to visit the tomb reminds us of the call to discipleship which involves “leaving everything and following him” (Luke 5:11, 28). We need to leave everything and follow the Lord if we must find meaning in life. Those who follow the Lord never miss their way.
These two women came to witness the live resurrection of our Lord Jesus; though they came few minutes after the actual rising. They did believe that the tomb cannot hold the Lord. They believed that the darkness of Good Friday would give way to the light of Easter. The trusted in the power of the resurrection.
Coming to the site of our Lord’s burial they saw an empty tomb; what does this disclose to us? The Lord has risen from the dead, and our faith is meaningful; we have something to preach and believe (1 Cor.15:14-18). The tomb is empty because the risen Lord has set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). The tomb is empty because God has delivered us from darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His beloved son.
The tomb is empty because we are now a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart to declare the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1Pet.2:9). The tomb could not stop him. The empty tomb declares that our lives have been redeemed and purified from the works of darkness and sin (Titus 2:14). The empty tomb reminds us of our Lord’s self-emptying (Phil. 2:7) which brought about our in-filling with good things (Psalm 107:9).
The empty tomb demonstrates the empty works of the devil and his promises. The empty tomb shows that without God in our lives we are cut off and can do nothing (John 15:5). The empty tomb shows that the words of our Lord on the Cross is real: “it is finished” (John 19:30). That means he has paid our debts and we do not owe anymore. So, as he said to the women (Matt.28:10), the Lord is telling us today “do not to be afraid.”
A critical mind would wonder why the angel at the graveyard and our Lord Jesus Christ himself could send the women to inform the disciples to meet him up in Galilee. “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.” Why Galilee as a location for meeting the risen Lord?
Galilee is very central in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. The visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary announcing the coming of the Savior through the Virgin birth took place in Nazareth; the most insignificant towns in Galilee “where no good thing could come” (John 1:43-46). Most of the apostles got their vocation around the Galilee region including the fishermen that became fishers of men (Matt.4:18-22). Most of the outstanding teachings and miracles of our Lord took place in Galilee. In fact, Galilee could be said to be the maternal home of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, the need to anchor the resurrection narrative where the story began.
Going to Galilee has to do with going back to the roots to bear witness and testify to the fact and power of the resurrection. This witnessing is what we see Peter doing in the First Reading today. In his testimony, he began by tracing the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ back to Galilee where he went about doing good, healing those oppressed by the devil and God was with him.
In Galilee, it will become evident that the one whom they knew very well and who eventually died on the cross and was buried; has risen. In Galilee, it will become very lucid that the one who changed water into wine (John 2:1-11) has come back from the dead to life.
Today we are invited to enter our own Galilee of testimony. We should be able to bear witness to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, not just by words but also by our actions. We are challenged by this invitation to Galilee to live a resurrected life.
We are all called today to head to Galilee to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus not just by physical feasting but by our spiritual communion with the Lord. For this reason, St. Paul enjoys us in the Second Reading (Col.3:1-4) that if we are raised with Christ, we should seek what is above, where Christ is sea1ted at the right hand of God.
May the resurrection of our Lord bring about the emptying of our physical and spiritual burdens. May the resurrection of our Lord open the doorway to our Galilee of witnessing by our words and actions.
Happy Easter and may the days ahead become steps towards your elevation.
Have you ever experienced an urgent need or a situation that does not give room for an alternative approach or plan “B”? If you have not, you may be temporarily lucky. Due to our human limitations, we often fall into some needful situations that often overwhelm us. However, some needs are material while others are spiritual and more important. In the ceremony of the Palm Sunday, we shall see our Lord expressing an urgent need for a donkey and a colt to convey him to Jerusalem. Why did he make the specific request of these beasts of burden en route the site of his passion and death?
Today is the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. We have arrived at the doorway to the Holy Week. The ceremony of today begins with our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This entry is a very special one, and we are invited to reflect deeply on the events that preceded this entry into Jerusalem and how they relate to us and this holy season.
From the Gospel Reading at the opening ceremony (Matt. 21:1-11), we learn that our Lord made a very specific and unusual request for a donkey (also known ass) and a colt from a specific village near Bethphage. Notably, the donkey and the colt were tied to a tree. The instruction is that the two disciples that were sent should untie them and bring them urgently to him.
The donkey could be an older version of the colt and they represent the old and the young at least physically. Spiritually, the donkey and the colt stand for the souls of both the old and the young that are tied to the tree of sin. The tree in the narrative represents the tree at the middle of the garden in the Book of Genesis (3:3). Our lord’s journey into Jerusalem is to tie our sins to the tree of redemption; the Cross. We could also see the donkey and the colt as reminiscent of Adam and Eve who erred at that the Eden tree and whose disobedience would receive attention at the tree of Calvary.
Our Lord’s journey into Jerusalem on a donkey shows that he came to carry our burden, exemplified by the action of the beasts of burden (donkey) moving our Lord into the city of Jerusalem which is the location of his passion and death. Of course, we know that donkeys are only used to carry loads not human beings. This confirms our Lord’s invitation (Matt. 11:28):
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
This entry into Jerusalem would not be triumphant without the donkey, and the colt and that was why our Lord could place a note of urgency on them. Drawing from the narrative, our Lord’s passion requires the urgent need of our souls for which the Cross stands at Calvary. The entry was joyful though the mission is painful (the passion). The joyous entry shows our Lord’s love and urgent need to save our souls. He was joyfully looking at the victory over death.
Our Lord triumphantly moved to Jerusalem from Bethphage riding on a donkey. In the same way, but more significantly, he would carry our souls triumphantly from the darkness of sin into the light of divine forgiveness and liberation. (Col.1:13). The passion of the Lord is nothing compared to the redemption it will produce at the dawn of Easter.
Another important lesson today is the reverse reaction of the crowd towards our Lord. The crowd that shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” at the triumphant entry would be the same crowd that would say “crucify him” during the trial and judgment at Gabbatha. This reverse action is representative of our relationship with God. We often agree to walk with the Lord at one point and another point we deny him and even “crucify him” by our sins and disobedience.
With the event of today, we have entered the week of passion. The Lord having entered triumphantly into Jerusalem is now carrying the burden of our souls to the Cross of Calvary where we shall have our liberation by his death and resurrection.
May we continue the procession from the entry into Jerusalem to the entry into his passion death and resurrection. May we not repeat the actions of Peter who denied his master (John 18:15-27). May we not repeat the actions of Judas who betrayed the Lord (Luke 22:48). May we not repeat condemning actions of Pilate and the authorities (John 18:28-40). And may we not like most the disciples, abandon the Lord during his Passion (Mark 14:50). May we rather like the Blessed Virgin Mary and few others stay close to him at the foot of the Cross at his death hour (John 19: 25-26) so that we can also rise with him.
I wish you a passionate Palm Sunday.
Suddenly Emeka was knocked down by something invisible to our eyes. He was foaming at the mouth, and his eyes grew pale as he stiffens. He was jerking while turning rhythmically from one cardinal point to the other. Nobody could shout or speak; it was as if we were all muted by some remote controller with our eyes wide open and our mouths forming large “Os.” It was a woman who was passing by that gave a loud shout that unmuted our fixated dumbness. “This is convulsion” The woman screamed, and people within earshot came running to our makeshift soccer field where Emeka was keeping one of the goal posts before his sudden episode.
It was my first time of experiencing someone “dying, ” and it was scary. I had to live with the memory for a long time as a child. More people emerged on the scene with various “first aid” or “instant support” materials like palm oil, onions, fresh peppers, balms, kernel oil, spices, spoons, and many other things.
The effort to save the life of Emeka engaged everyone. But he was not getting better; he was dying! Someone suggested a visit to a hospital, but the majority said it was not hospital affair. After a while, one woman emerged and was welcomed with some sighs of relief by those who knew her in the street. She appeared to be an authority in dealing with convulsion cases.
The first thing the woman did was to ask everybody to back off. She picked up Emeka like a baby and placing him on her lap she started to deal with the situation with exceptional expertise and dexterity. After a few minutes, Emeka sneezed thrice and got up and started smiling. Everyone rejoiced. “This could be a miracle. Emeka was dying a few moments ago, but now he has risen and even smiling”, my little mind indulged.
Death is a significant part of our humanity. It is not unusual to hear about death and about people dying but rising from the dead is not a common phenomenon. In the Bible, we have stories from both testaments about people coming back to life after death through some divine interventions.
Elijah and Elisha brought people back to life through their prayers to God (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37). Our Lord Jesus Christ raised Jarius’ daughter to life (Luke 8: 41-42, 49-56) as well as the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). However, the raising of Lazarus to life is not only peculiar (he was dead for four days and was decomposing), it is also filled with a lot of lessons that are relevant to the mission of Christ as well as to our lives as Christians, especially in the context of the Lenten season.
We shall study the highlights in the narrative of Lazarus’ illness, death and being raised to life while applying them to our lives in line with the other readings of this Sunday.
The Gospel Reading began by telling us that Lazarus was ill but we do not know the details of his illness. We understand illness as a disease of body or mind. In this situation, Lazarus could have suffered from a very severe disease that defied every medical assistance; that could explain why the family sought the attention of our Lord. He learns from a messenger that the one he loves is ill and in response, he says that the illness is not unto death.
We can also understand this illness in our context as being cut off from God (John 15:5). Being separated from God is another way of saying that we are living in sin. Sin creates a barrier between us and God (Is. 59:2). We all are ill in one way or the other (Romans 3:23). Our illnesses need the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ whose healing power surpasses all others.
We pray that our illness like that of Lazarus not lead us to death. Some illnesses (sin) could lead to death, and other do not result in death (1 John 5:16) especially when we call the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ like the family of Lazarus did in the Gospel Reading today.
Death is the cessation of all life functions in a body. Spiritually it is a total disconnection from God. Lazarus eventually died (though physically) despite all the efforts made to save him from dying which included the invitation of Jesus Christ. The narrative tells us that our Lord stayed back where he was for two days after the news of his friend’s illness. Ordinarily one would expect him to leave everything and head to Bethany.
God’s time is what we call delay in human terms. With God, there is nothing like delay. What we call delay does not amount to denial before God. God’s plan happens at His own time. That is why we are asked to be strong and wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14).
The reason for our Lord’s “delay” could be seen from the earlier statement he made: “this illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” If he had gone earlier, that glory would not have come. Some things that happen in your lives are meant for the glory of God; so relax!
This will be one of the few places our Lord will explicitly weep. In the Gospel of Luke (19:14), he wept over Jerusalem because the souls that are lost there. During the crucifixion, we heard that he cried out with a loud voice when he said “My God! My God why has thou forsaken me” (Matt.27:26).
The tears of the Lord were not just because of the death of his friend, after all, he was going to raise him to life. Jesus wept for our sins that inexorably lead us to death. Jesus wept for our lack of faith which Martha and Mary expressed when they said: “Lord if you were here your friend, would not have died.” To demonstrate this, our Lord said to Martha “do you believe?” In other words, “where is your faith.” Jesus, our Lord, is still weeping at every moment of our episode of sin and lack of faith in him.
Lazarus was dead for four days before our Lord came. In the words of Martha, there was a possible stench in the tomb. Now the tomb points to more than a place of burial. In fact, we have many tombs confronting us in life in the form of frustrating experiences that hedge us in. But the greatest tomb is that of sin. Our Lord came to liberate us not only from sin but its tomb; its mortal entanglement.
From the tomb of Lazarus, we learn that sin not only brings about death it also imprisons us in some damnable tomb. The tomb of Lazarus points to the tomb of our Lord Jesus. While Lazarus needed our Lord to raise him from his tomb, our Lord rose by the divine power he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Lazarus stayed four days indicating to the fact that he is rising in human frailty; to die again. But our Lord rose from the tomb on the third day on the wings of his divinity unto immortality.
The tomb of Lazarus reflects the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the tomb of Lazarus mortal life was restored but at the tomb of our Lord Jesus eternal life was restored. At the tomb of Lazarus, a man rose to die again. At the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man rose not to die again.
After the stone that was used to close the tomb was removed at the direction of our Lord, he invited Lazarus to come out, and he came out. We are also being called this season to get out from our various tombs. The dead man came back to life. However, it seemed from the narrative that he hopped out of the tomb because he was still in the death clothing. Hence our Lord commanded: “untie him let him go!”
This scene is very significant. When our Lord rose from the dead, he did not need anyone to untie him though a shroud covered his body. This shows the difference between the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus by his power. There was no need for help, unlike Lazarus who needed some assistance.
Lazarus represents all us who need to be set free from so many sinful accessories in our lives. We notice that it was not our Lord himself that untied Lazarus. This untying reminds us that our Lord appointed some people to set free those who are tied up by the devil and sin. In the Gospel of Matthew (18:18), he says: “whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.”
The untying of Lazarus in a sense reminds us of the sacrament of penance through which we are set free from sin through the words and actions of the priest who represents Christ (John 20:23).
Today, we see a glimpse of the resurrection which is the story of Easter. We have an assurance from the liturgy of the word today that there will be a rising for us in our situations. We are called upon to recognize the fact that sin can kill and hedge us into its tomb but that the power of our Lord Jesus Christ can raise us up.
The prophecy of Ezekiel in the First Reading tells us that God will put His Spirit in us that we may live. In the Second Reading St. Paul tells the Romans (8:8-11) that the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies. As we step closer to the celebration of the paschal mystery, let us prepare our minds and our hearts for the cleansing power of God who will raise us up and establish us once more.
Have a great and rewarding week.
“For the Lord, does not see as man sees for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.!” (1 Sam. 16:7b).
One of the worst human impairments is the failure to see or more bluntly put blindness. We all like to see or desires to see things around us and even beyond us; we are in fact committed “seers.” We could recall that one of our brothers in faith, Thomas the apostle, insisted that unless he sees the pierced hands and side of the risen Lord, he would not believe the Easter story of resurrection (John 20:25). Hence the enduring statement “seeing is believing.” However, with God, the reverse is the case “believing is seeing.”
This fourth Sunday of Lent also called laetare (rejoice) Sunday introduces us to a distinction between human sight and divine insight. Put in another way; we are set to know that beyond the physical sight there is a divine insight which is the enduring vision of reality.
In the First Reading (1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a), God sent Samuel to anoint another king in place of Saul. Why? Saul was made a king to lead the people of Israel when they asked for a king to lead them like other tribes. (1 Sam.10:17-25). God rejected Saul when he disobeyed God on a very important instruction of destroying the Amalekites and sparing nothing; human or animal (1 Sam 15:1ff). The quick lesson here is that nobody is indispensable before God. Disobedience could cost us divine appointments.
Samuel went to the house of Jesse as God directed him, but he walked into the household with a human sight. Somewhere I read that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor.5:7). The consequence of walking by human sight was that Samuel mistook Eliab, the tall and handsome son of Jesse, as the one God has appointed to replace Saul. All the other sons of Jesse could not pass for the new king. But God’s divine insight was beyond the sight of Samuel and his host Jesse, who seemed to have forgotten that he has another son who was at his duty post away from home.
God’s ways are strictly different from our ways, and his thoughts are above human thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9); we can also add that is sight is different from our sight. While Samuel was looking at the physical features, God was looking at the spiritual deposits. While Samuel was walking by sight, God was walking by insight.
The visiting man of God waited until David returned from his duty post and anointed him in the presence of his father and his brothers. There is a divine assurance in your life today that God’s favors will seek after you and wait for you. It does not matter how long it takes and wherever you are. Your blessings will still come to you.
In the Gospel Reading today (John 9:1-41) our Lord Jesus Christ healed a man that was born blind. First, there was an argument over the man’s situation; whether it was because of his sins or those of his parents. Our Lord’s answer to the puzzle may have shocked everyone. Simply put, the man’s blindness was to give glory to God (that the works of God might be visible through him).
The description of the man’s situation tells us that some of our challenges and problems exist to glorify God. Yes! It means that the situation will end to the glory and praise of God and the events that followed the healing showed this very well.
We did not hear the unnamed beggar asked out Lord for help like the blind Bartimaeus did (Mark 10:46-52). Approaching him, our Lord mixed his saliva with sand and formed clay that he smeared on the blind man’s eyes and asked him to go and wash at the pool of Siloam. He did, and he regained his sight.
We have amazing details in the healing of the man. The mixture of sand and saliva appear strange to us. And going to wash at the pool like Elisha told Naaman, the Syrian army commander (2 Kings 5:10ff) adds more drama to the on-going theatrics. Furthermore, the narrative tells us about the reaction of the people especially the Pharisees who questioned the healing because it happened on a Sabbath. They even went to the extent of inviting the parents of the man to ascertain if he was truly blind from the cradle.
The entire narrative still points to our theme “human sight and the power of divine insight.” With their human sight, the Pharisees could not see the hand work of God in restoring physical sight to a man born blind. With their human sight, they were more concerned with physical verifications and facts. Despite their natural sight, they were still myopic; nay blind.
The man was born without sight but not without insight; in other words faith. First, he trusted and obeyed our Lord to go to the pool of Siloam to bathe. Some other person would have questioned the instruction. Second, he stood his ground to defend both his healing and the healer. When he was asked about his opinion about the man who healed him (whom he never saw physically at that moment) he said that he is a prophet. He went from being a blind street beggar to a being a faithful and sight-full evangelist and a defender of the good news.
From the ending dialogue our Lord had with the Pharisees, understand that as the blind beggar was receiving his sight the Pharisees, who considered themselves as having sight, became blind. The very words of our Lord Jesus Christ say: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
Beyond our physical sight, there is a need for us to have divine insight. Divine insight helps us to see things from God’s point of view. Divine insight helps us to appreciate God instead of asking for physical and biological verifications. Divine insight helps us to see beyond physical features and to discover divine deposits even in the small “Davids” around us. Divine insight helps us not to judge by outward appearance but to connect with the inner divine eye.
The best way for us to walk by divine insight is to allow God to be our shepherd as the responsorial psalm says. When the Lord is our Shepherd, He will lead us in the right paths with His divine insight. As St. Paul mentioned in the Second Reading (Eph.5:8-14) we shall be exposed to the light of Christ, and everything will become visible.
As we launch into this fourth week of Lent, may the abiding presence of God lead us from our perverted human sight into a more brilliant divine insight. May no physical attraction or attributes lead us away from seeing the real things with the spiritual insight that comes from God. Have a great week ahead.
“God, where are you?” This was the question that was repeatedly dropping from the lips of a certain widow who lost three of her kids in a carnage while they were returning from school. A motorist suddenly lost control and rammed into the defenseless children who were holding each other and waiting for the right time to cross the busy road.
You may be asking the same question looking at your finances, relationship, marriage, job, education, plans, aspirations, and other things. Perhaps you have committed your situation to God in prayer, but no answer seems to be coming. You may have given up finally; you are in doubt if God exists?. You are not alone, but you have a message from this reflection.
The people of Israel asked this question in the wilderness as the First Reading today tells us (Exodus 17:3-7). Let us quickly point out the fact that the question came from their wilderness location. Geographically, the wilderness is a desolate and inhospitable place. Wilderness in this context represents a region of lack and needfulness.
The wilderness experience was so frustrating that the Israelites lost their cool and started to chide Moses for making them leave Egypt. They suddenly forgot that Egypt was torture and bondage for them. They suddenly forgot what God did to bring them out from the land of Egypt (Exodus 7-14). We are often like the people of Israel. We often forget all the good things we have received from God when we face one challenge or the other.
It is important to note that the people of Israel were rebelling against God, not Moses. Moses was God’s messenger and servant. The accusatory question they asked finally confirmed their frame of mind: “is the Lord in our midst or not?” This question is banal and amounts to an insult. Through Moses, God responded by giving them fresh water to soothe their thirst and those of their livestock. For their unfaithfulness, God remained faithful because He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13). For their challenge, God gave them a chance. For their sin, God gave them mercy and forgiveness. For their lack, God supplied all their needs (Phil.4:19). For their trouble, God gave them peace (Phil. 4:7).
We ask the same question as the people of Israel when we have a disconnection from God; when we get lost in some wilderness like the woman in the Gospel of today (John 4:5-42). The unnamed woman in the Gospel shares some characteristics with the Israelites:
In the long discussion, our Lord had with the woman we understand that she came to draw water from Jacob’s well by noon time. Our Lord Jesus Christ was already there, and he requested water from her. She gave some religious and cultural reasons why she would not give water to our Lord Jesus Christ.
From the narrative, we can see that she, like the people of Israel, is stuck with the same question: “is the Lord in our midst or not?” Her pattern of life does not present her as someone who is actively waiting for the Lord to come; though she is aware of the coming of the Messiah at some point per the books, it does not have a personal impact on her private life.
Her life was thirsty not necessarily for the water from the well but for the eternal water; the one that quenches our soul’s thirst for God like a dry, weary land without water (Psalm 63:1).
The woman at the well presents most of us who mistake spiritual thirst for physical thirst. She represents most of us who are going about with “jars of water” looking for temporal water while there is an eternal water that will forever quench our thirst there before us. She represents most of us who are still asking the question: “is the Lord with us or not?”
Are you still in confusion whether God is in our midst or not? There is a challenge of faith here. In the Second Reading (Romans 5:1-2,5-8) St. Paul tells us among other things that faith justifies us when we have peace with God through Jesus Christ. My dear your faith will never fail you. Faith favors the faithful followers.
A good time does not indicate God’s presence and a bad time, the absence of God. God’s presence is constant and unchanging. The problem is that we are often not with God. We depart from God when we embark on the journey into sin. We deviate from God when we, like the Israelites, lose our focus and blame God for our failures.
Now is the time for us to depart from the wilderness of quarreling and testing God and enter the region of trust and obedience to God. The time for that transition is today. The response to the Psalms says If you hear his voice, harden not your heart.
May this third Sunday of Lent enrich you with dependable graces to rise from despair to deep faith in God who is constantly with you in all the circumstances of your life. Have a graceful Sunday and more graces.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr made the above speech a day before he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel downtown Memphis. One of the highlights of Dr. King’s speech is the image of being at the mountaintop where he could see the promised land (of freedom) though he could not enter it as he rightly predicted.
Mountains are typically huge and imposing highlands. They are often difficult to climb because the climbing demands energy, determination, and resilience. Those who have been to the mountaintop could attest to its superlative picturesque. It also provides an overview of the world below; it feels like being next door to the heavens.
Mountain is a very symbolic biblical image. Most divine encounters took place on a mountain. The following could serve as backgrounds to our reflection:
The Gospel Reading today (Matt.17:1-9), tells us about the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ which took place on a mountain and before three of his apostles, Peter, James, and John. Transfiguration means a change in the figure; that means the figure of our Lord Jesus Christ changed and became dazzlingly white in the presence of the apostles. As the event was going on, Moses and Elijah appeared and had a quick discussion with our Lord Jesus Christ. Bewildered by the event, Simon Peter exclaims “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”.
The two “celestial” visitors at that the Mount of Transfiguration share vital characteristics with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Building our mountaintop tents
The ever-spontaneous Simon Peter offered to build three tents for our Lord and the two visitors at the transfiguration site. The account of Luke (9:33) added that he did not know what he was saying. This comment by St. Luke does not mean that Simon Peter’s comment was banal, it means rather that something motivated his utterance. We can see a similar thing when he declared in the preceding chapter that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt.16:17).
The mention of three tents is symbolic in the narrative. A tent in biblical term means a shelter, dwelling or a place of refuge. Th book of Psalms (91: 1) says “Whoever dwells in the shelter (tent) of the Most will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
The season of Lent challenges us to make three productive tents following the transfiguration utterance of Simon Peter. We are invited to erect the tent of prayer, almsgiving and fasting/abstinence. When we commit ourselves to prayer, we build a tent of communication with God, when we undertake works of charity, we build a tent of love, and when we commit ourselves to fasting and abstinence, we also build a tent of self-denial and long suffering.
As we march into the Second Sunday of Lent, we are invited to leave the foot of the mountain to the mountaintop where the building of the tents will take place. Like Abram in the First Reading (Gen.12:1-4a), we are expected to move away from our familiar and comfort zones to the height of transfiguration. St Paul tells us in the Second Reading (2 Tim.1:8b-10) that this saving call from God makes us holy and acceptable to Him.
God can only bless and make us great if we accept and activate the invitation to move like Abram from the region of nothingness to the region of something else. At the end of this season would you be able to answer a beloved son or daughter of God in whom He is well pleased?
I wish you a mountaintop experience and have a great week ahead as you build the three tents of the season.
Once upon a time, a young adult came to consult with me over some biblical issue that she considered confusing. She asked the following questions among others: “why did God allow Adam and Eve to sin?” “Didn’t He know (as all-knowing God) that the serpent would come to tempt Eve and why could He not have stopped that snake?”
In my answer, I explained to her that God had already given them an instruction:
You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die. (Gen.2:16b-17).
Furthermore, I explained to her that God gave them free will to choose either to eat or not to eat; to obey or not to obey. If God had intervened at that time the serpent was prodding Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, then free will would not have played any role.
The phenomenon of temptation is a facility that is open to everyone that has attained the age of reason. It is the urge, incitement or inclination to sin; we can also see it as a test of our ability to resist the invitation to sin. In order words, temptation precedes every sin.
To be tempted, there must be an agreement between the senses and the mind. A Temptation becomes sin when the mind accepts it. The mind is the central processor in every human being with reason; it is a very powerful determinant of our lives. Temptations appeal to the senses and urge the mind to accept the invitation. Let us examine this description from the narrative of the First Reading today (Gen. 2:7-9;3:1-7).
The first temptation site is the garden of Eden. Eve was by herself when suddenly the serpent appeared and opened up a prodding conversation. Somewhere I read that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” There is truth in that assertion. If we could recall, David’s temptation came when he was idling away around the palace towers while the Israelites were at war. It was at the idle moment that his eyes caught a woman taking her bath (2 Sam.11:1ff).
The talking serpent asked Eve tricky question: “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” From the last time we checked, God told them to eat the fruits of all the trees apart from the one at the middle of the garden. Often temptations come to us in the form of open-ended questions that may raise confusions in our minds.
While Eve was trying to explain the divine instructions, the serpent invited her to take a closer look at the fruit. At the sight of it, her mind accepted the offer of the serpent who claimed that they would not die if they ate the fruit. The serpent knew that God meant spiritual death which is the separation from God but Eve could have thought about physical death. Moreover, the serpent told her that their eyes would open to know good and evil.
The sense of sight is a very powerful inlet for temptation. We all like to see and seeing could turn us on or off. In this case, Eve was highly attracted by what she saw, and she went ahead to touch and taste; sin was committed and sealed. The same thing happened with Adam, he saw, took and ate. Someone asked me some time ago: “what could have happened if Adam refused to ate the forbidden fruit after Eve had eaten”? We can leave the answer to this to our individual imaginations.
The temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of today (Matt.4:1-11), discloses the highest form of temptation. The devil went beyond limits to tempt the Second Person of the Trinity, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords and the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Ancient of Days.
The threefold temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrate to us that nobody is beyond temptation. Furthermore, they help us to learn the tactics of the devil when he wants to lure us into sin. From them also we learn how to handle temptations or put in another way, how to resist the devil.
The devil can only tempt you with what you need. From the temptations, we discover three basic needs that could become channels of temptations for us.We shall pay attention to then chronologically as they are presented in the Gospel today.
1.Command these stones to become loaves of bread if you are the Son of God.
That our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God is not a subject for debate. The devil challenges you to sin by presenting a false picture of your position. He was hungry, and the devil wanted him to perform magic not a miracle for his immediate need. Our Lord Jesus Christ multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish for the hungry crowd, not for himself. (Matt. 14: 15-21 and John 6: 4-13). Most of the things we want are not what we need. The devil knows we need some physical provisions and thus uses them as luring gifts to enslave us. Materialism is the devil’s point of sale (pos).
2.If you are the Son of God throw yourself down for it is written He will command his angels concerning you.
The second temptation insists on the Sonship position of our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the devil wanted our Lord to take the promises of God for granted. When God promised protection in Psalm 91, He did not ask us to presume His protection and plunge ourselves into some risky behavior. Somewhere I read that a pastor asked his members to drink rat poison while assuring them that by God’s power none of them would die. He quoted Mark (16:17-18) where the signs that will follow believers included picking scorpions and drinking poison but remaining unhurt. After few days many of those who took the solution died.
The devil did not ask our Lord to jump up but to throw himself down. He knew that belongs to the down region and wanted our Lord to go down with him. We can recall from the book of Revelation (12: 9) that he was thrown down from heaven.
3. All these (kingdoms of the earth) I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.
Beyond temptation, this is an insult! Can you imagine our Lord Jesus Christ bowing to worship the devil? The devil’s kingdom has no real glories. They are citadels of darkness and sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to undo the powers of those kingdoms. St. Peter tells us that he has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The devil would always give a false promise as bait to lead us into sin.
Our theme for reflection says that we should resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). To do this, we are expected to submit ourselves to totally to the will of God. To submit ourselves to God means considering God first before doing anything as our Lord Jesus Christ did during the temptation episode. The devil has a mission which our Lord Jesus Christ spelt out very well in the Gospel of John (10:10a) “to steal, kill and destroy.” St. Peter enjoins us not the give him any opportunity (Eph.4:27) because he is always looking for one to devour (1 Pet 5:8).
Temptations would always come to confront us in various times, places occasions, and seasons. Let us remember the words of St. Paul in the Second Reading (Romans 5:12-19) today: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Though you may face temptations, resist the devil, and he will flee from you; do not be tampered!
Have a happy Sunday and a gracious week ahead.
Considering a world without worry is a weird wish. In my line of duty as a priest, I have met someone whom I can describe as an anxiety factory. She is worried about just anything you can possible name under the earth. When it is hot she is worried, when it is cold she is worried, she worries every day about her children some of whom are parents and even grandparents. When the night is too calm, she is worried, when it is noisy more worry comes. She is worried about on-coming celebrations as if nobody would be alive to celebrate them; I often think that she worries more than worry itself.
Worry seems to be an indispensable part of our human reality. We often claim that we are not worried and even tell people not to worry, but the reality is that we often waste under the weight of worry. However, various people have different degrees of worry; some people worry less while others worry more. Whichever way, the reality is that worry does not empty tomorrow of its trouble, but it saps today of its energy. Worry is a worthless work!
There is always a reason to worry. It could be because of lack, an obstacle or because of some conflicting realities. The consolatory words of the First Reading today (Isaiah 49:14-15) presents an example of a worrisome situation anchored on a feeling of abandonment. The opening words read: “Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
Historically, the statement addresses those who survived the exilic experience and who were worried about their situation. In the thoughts of the Israelites, God had totally abandoned them. They lacked divine presence, provision, and protection. While they were losing hope, God speaks to them through the prophet Isaiah assuring them of His presence, provision, protection, and compassion. In fact, God uses the imagery of a mother and child to drive home the point:
“Can a woman forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
Often, our worry reflects the instance above. We worry when we feel abandoned, we worry when we feel deprived, and we have reason to worry in such situations. However, the important question we should ask ourselves is this: “how does our worry benefit us?”
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt.6:24-34) Our Lord advises us not to worry about our material comforts: food, drink, housing, clothing, etc. He further asks a crucial question: “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Matt.6:27).
Many people have met their sudden deaths while swimming in the ocean of worry and the problem remains. Worry blinds us from seeing things from the right perspective. Worry retards us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Worry limits us from our goals, and finally, it separates us from God because we become untrusting, hopeless, and faithless.
Worry is a profound expression of our lack of faith, and it is offensive to God to lack faith (Heb.11:6). When we worry, we tell God how big our problems are instead of doing the opposite (telling our problems how big our God is). When we worry, we focus on fear instead of focusing on faith (Matt. 14:30). When we worry, we plan for failure instead of planning for success. Worry diminishes us. The word of God says that worry weighs a person down (Prov. 12:25).
The reflection of this Sunday is a purposeful engagement with the phenomenon of worry. What practical steps could we take to combat the worry factor in our lives since there is hardly any aspect of life that is bereft of worry? Or how can we reduce our worry quotient?
Seek after heavenly realities (Matt.6:33). In the Gospel reading we understand that the elements of worry are entirely material facts: food, drink, clothing, and others. When we worry about these things (like Martha), we lose the better part (Luke 10:41). Our Lord made it clear that when we should seek after the kingdom of heaven, all other (material) things will become ours. God knows how to take care of His own.
Seek after faith in God (Mark 11:22). Faith not only moves a mountain (Matt. 17:20) it also moves God. Faith gives us unseen certainties and hopeful assurances (Heb. 11:1ff) and thus removes worry and fear from us.
Pray and keep praying (Luke 18:1). Often we turn our prayer time into worry time; that is a colossal waste. St. Paul advises us not to worry about anything but to pray about everything (Phil 4:6).
Avoid negative people and situations. The people you flock with and the situations you put yourself determines a lot about your life. Somewhere I read that “a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov.27:17). If your close friends have high-worry-quotients, be ready to become a worry machine.
Seek the brighter side of every circumstance. Somewhere I read that every cloud has a silver lining and that is true. The word of God says that cry may endure at night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). No matter how bad it is, the storm will be over soon; don’t worry!
Be patient and wait on God to act (Psalm 37:7). Do not worry; God has His own time. God told Abraham, “Nothing is too wonderful for God in due season I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Gen.18:14). Do not worry, be patient and wait for your due season.
Add humor to your life; it is short: Often when we are too rigid with life. We worry and fret over so many things that we do not have time to recreate. Somewhere I read that God laughs (Psalm 2:4). The Book of Proverbs (17:22) says: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
As we march into a new week, may our lives be renewed and removed from the destructive hands of worry. Stop worrying and start Worthing.
On July 7, 2005, London City experienced the worst single terrorist attack to take place in the Great Britain. The summer train (tube) carnage claimed more than fifty lives and left many others injured. Among the victims was the beautiful daughter of a vibrant Bristol preacher, Julie Nicholson. Her daughter Jenny, a musician, was on her way to work when Mohammed Sidique Khan detonated the bomb in the underground train.
A few weeks earlier, Rev. Nicholson was preaching insistently on forgiveness and reconciliation at a Church in Bristol where she was a vicar. After the incidence, her congregation and indeed everyone who knew her expected her to voice out words of forgiveness to the person who killed her daughter. It was shocking to all to hear Rev. Julie say that she will never forgive. In fact, few months after she resigned from her position as a vicar and preacher saying that she does not have the moral strength to preach about forgiveness when she is bearing a hurt in her heart that she cannot let go. Ten years after, in 2015, she said the following to the Telegraph:
“Can I forgive them for what they did? No, I cannot. And I don’t wish to. I said in the early weeks and still now say the name of my daughter’s murderer, Mohammed Sidique Khan, every day.”
During the fight for the emancipation of blacks in America and the campaign for equality, Rev. Martin Luther King Jnr was in and out jail for his freedom utterances. In one of his essays from jail, “Love your enemies,” he made the following legendary statements:
To our most bitter opponents, we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you.
There is a universal misconception of love. What most people call love is not close to that theological virtue. Love is not lust nor a feeling that is liable to expire. St. Paul tells us that love is eternal. Somewhere I read that love is blind but that is not true. Love sees but does not judge. One musician puts it this way:
Love doesn’t ask why
It speaks from the heart
And never explains
Don’t you know that
Love doesn’t think twice
It can come all at once
Or whisper from a distance (Celine Dion).
We might see sense in loving our neighbors as ourselves but to love our enemies? Does that make sense to anyone here? If love means making a sacrifice for another person and the individual’s welfare, then loving your enemy means going the extra mile for his or her good. Love and loving are both a challenge and a chance for every person. Love is not a feeling as we said earlier; it is an action. The word of God tells us (John 3:16) that “God so loved the world that He SENT (action) his only son.” Further, John (3:17) tells us that: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to SAVE (action) the world through Him. On his part, our Lord declares: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
An important question that requires an answer in this reflection is “who is the enemy that needs to be loved?” Obviously, some people have more enemies than others just like some have more friends than others.
An enemy could be the person that hurts you in various ways, by words and actions, slightly or grievously. An enemy could be the individual who has become an obstacle to your success. An enemy could be the one who wants you dead the next minute. All these enemies and more need to be loved not tolerated nor endured. How possible is that from our human perspective unaided by grace?
There are still practical situations related to loving one’s enemy for which we are asked to love. For instance, how easy would it be for a Tutsi to love a Hutu after the Rwandan bloodbath that is courteously called genocide today? How could a black South African love a white South African after the dehumanizing experience of apartheid? How could a child love the enemies and murderers of his / her parents?
Consider this, whenever we sin we are disconnected from God and become His “enemies” (James 4:4), but His love for us does not go extinct (Romans 5:7-10). He keeps looking out for us with his love as the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). On the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ showed love to his executioners (enemies) when he tearfully prayed for them: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?” Don’t you think that those enemies of yours do not know what they are doing and need your love?
Today’s message of love is a very tough one; it is at the same time the only way. To bring the message closer to us, we are encouraged to love without limits. Your enemy deserves more love and compassion from you than anyone else. To love is not a choice; it is rather a grave instruction. In the Gospel of John (13:34-35), our Lord Jesus presents a new framework for love as he says:
I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.
From the passage above, we learn that love is a normative prescription for our Christian life. Furthermore, it gives those who embrace it an identity “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
“How can you love your enemies?”
As we march into the new week, let your minds and heart be built upon love and especially love for our human enemies.
Have a great week and make sure you release your love to someone whom you think does not deserve it; that is what God is demanding from you today.