Life consists of two vital points, namely, the beginning and the ending. Most of us are conversant with the age-long expression by Buddha that says, “everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that, and all will be well.” All our activities on earth naturally cascade into the beginning and ending time framework. The Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1ff) had these essential points about life in mind when it says that there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens.
This last but one Sunday of the liturgical year invites us to pause and ponder on what constitutes the end of the world beyond the many claims and predictions from various religious and secular quarters about the final dismissal of earthly existence.
In the First Reading (Daniel 12:1-3), the apocalyptic prophecy of Daniel tells us about the vision of the end of the world. According to his account, a time of great distress would precede the events leading to the end when there would be a separation of the wise from the unwise in other words, the final judgment.
In the Gospel Reading this Sunday (Mark 13:24-32), our Lord presents a vivid picture of the end of time. Among other things, he tells us that before the Son of Man comes to gather the elect from the earth, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
These phenomenal and cataclysmic changes of the heavenly bodies relate to the time of distress in the vision of Daniel, and they could frighten one’s imagination. Consequently, there is a natural curiosity about the exact time when all these unusual things would happen to forestall surprises.
The worry and fret about the imminent end of the world may not be unconnected with part of our Lord’s statement in the Gospel today which says, “I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Our Lord’s declaration here transcends every generation hence, “this generation” refers to every generation that receives the message. Therefore, our Lord was parabolic in the statement.
The last part of the Gospel today goes further to explain the earlier statement about “this generation.” The concluding part of the Gospel says, “but of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If the end of time is known only to God the Father why do so many people follow the misleading messages of some many people and religious sects you propose end time dates?
The above statement is a clear indication that we gain nothing by searching for the time and day the world would end because the information is beyond human insight and knowledge. Instead of pummelling ourselves over the end of the time calendar, our Lord invites us to be open to learning not only from the fig tree but also from the things happening around us.
St. Paul was the first to confront this situation during the nascent stage of the Christian faith among the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:1-11). According to the apostle Paul, the day would come like a thief in the night, that is when nobody is expecting it. Consequently, he urged the Thessalonians to stay awake in the light of good living instead of walking in the darkness of sin and being caught unawares.
None of us witnessed the beginning of the world, and it makes no sense being overly curious about how it would end and the exact time. The most needful worry should be the nature of our relationship with God now, not when God would decide to click the eschatological button.
Just as every story has a beginning and an ending, the same is with our individual lives. Our lives started with God and ought to end with Him and at the designated time. A more productive reflection at this time should revolve around the question, “where will I spend my eternity?”. At some point in his ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ raised the question, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36). In another place, he recommends that we should seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and every other thing will be added to us (Matt. 6:33).
The liturgy of this Sunday invites us to take a moment out of our busy schedules and mundane distractions to reflect on the end of our lives, not the end of the world which would happen when God decides. For every one of us, the world ends when our lives cease. If you are reading this reflection, it means that your life has not stopped and you have all the divine graces to make your end a deserving and glorious one.
Have a beautiful Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
The story of Austine Perine from Birmingham Alabama would give you chills. The four-year-old African American boy was watching Animal Planet with his father when a mother Panda abandons her cub and walks away. Austin dad quickly remarks that the cub would become homeless. Austin was moved with pity for the cub when he learns from the dad that being homeless means not having a home to stay and not receiving the care of a dad and mom.
On a later date, Austin’s dad, TJ Perine takes him to a homeless shelter in the city at his request to see what it means to be homeless. When Austin saw people looking hungry and tired, he asked his dad if they could give them Burger King chicken sandwich. His father did not prepare for that, but he couldn’t but responded to Austin’s recommendation to feed the homeless.
After that, Austin requested that the parents convert the money for his toys to buying chicken sandwiches for the homeless. Every week, the superhero who is also known as “President Austin,” would dress up in a blue top and pants with a red cape and visit the homeless to hand them food and would always say to them “remember to show love.” Soon he became phenomenal in the city and later in the country. Soon the Austins started getting support from people and organizations including $1,000 monthly allowance from Burger King to feed the homeless every week.
Last Sunday, our Lord told us that the First Commandment is Love of God and our neighbor. The liturgy of this Sunday uses the narrative of two widows from the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate the love of neighbor and God in action through the virtue of giving.
The First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) tells us about the encounter between Elijah and a widow at Zarephath. The background is that there was famine in the city following Elijah’s declaration of the word of God that there would be neither dew nor rain except by the word of God.
When the famine started, God asked Elijah to move to the Wadi Cherith where ravens fed him, and he drank from the wadi. However, the wadi dried up after a while, and God asked Elijah to go Zarephath to meet with a poor widow who would provide for him.
Elijah met the widow by the gate of the city where she was gathering sticks, and he requested for water. While she was about to get the water, he asked for a bit of bread, but the widow tells him that she had nothing baked and she was gathering the sticks to bake the handful of flour in her jar and a little oil for herself and her child to eat and wait for death. Elijah encourages her to bake the bread and bring to him while assuring her that neither the jar of flour nor the jug of oil would finish until God sends rain to the earth.
The Gospel Reading (Mark 12:38-44) tells us about a widow whom our Lord identified as a generous giver because she donated to the treasury, two small coins (the equivalent of few cents). In the words of our Lord Jesus, the poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. While the others contributed from their surplus wealth, from her poverty, the widow contributed all she had.
From the story of Austin Perine, through the narratives of the widows, we could locate one common denominator, and that is the willingness to give or put in another way, the Giving Might. In the First Reading, the widow was very willing to fulfill the initial request of Elijah for a cup of water without questioning his identity or giving excuses with the prevailing drought. Furthermore, she did not argue about the possibility of receiving the miracle of flour and oil after giving out the little she had.
In the Gospel Reading, the widow decided to give God all she had. The passage did not tell us why she had to do that, but her reason could not be far from her faith in God and the willingness to give all. Notice that her contribution goes in line with the instruction on loving God with everything that is available to us.
The giving might makes the story of the widow more profound. We are living in a society where the acquisition and the hoarding of wealth have become norms. People move from being rich to being super-rich and mega-rich, but they make no efforts to reach out to others. Giving is one of the essential characteristics of God. God is a giver, and we are invited to replicate God by becoming givers.
In the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving occupies a strategic place. In the Gospel of Luke (6:37), our Lord says give and there will gifts for you, a full measure pressed down running over will be put into your lap. We saw this happening with the widow in the First Reading. In the Gospel of Matthew (6:1-4) our Lord tells us not to practice our giving to get the attention of people as the hypocrites do in the Synagogues and the streets for public recognition. He goes on to recommend that one’s right hand should not know what the left hand is doing while practising giving.
In the Gospel today, the widow did not give her last two coins to attract people’s attention, there was nothing physically attractive about her little donation. However, the widow’s mites were attractive to God because of the might of her giving. In God’s weighing balance, what matters is not the quantity of what one gives but the heart that gives. Generous people give from their hearts not from their wealth. For this reason, St. Paul says that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), not a cheerful gift.
We hear people talk about their widow’s mite while making donations. Sometimes those donations are but very insignificant fractions of what they have. Such people should be talking about relating to the widow’s giving might more than her mite because they often have more than mites.
All we have are gifts from God. When we give, we are only trying to appreciate God with what he has given to us. In one of his implosive praises to God, David says (I Chron. 29:12, 14):
Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. But who am I, and what is my people that we should be able to make freewill offering? For all things come from you and of your own have we given you.
Giving is not a suggestion it is instead a religious injunction. The book of Proverbs (19:17) tells us that whoever is generous lends to the Lord and He will repay the person for his deeds. Our judgment before God would depend on our giving ability especially to those in need. (Matt. 25:31ff).
As we reflect on the rare acts of the widows in the liturgy of today, let us try to adopt their giving might as a guiding principle. How devoted are you to give your time, talent, and treasure assist in the work of God and to show some love to someone like Austin Perine?
I wish you a lovely Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
Some time ago, I met a young man who confessed to me that he does not believe that love exists. While I was not surprised at his daring conviction, I was interested to know his story. According to his sad tale, he was hoping to marry a lady whom he loved so much and sponsored through her nursing school. However, one month after her graduation, she broke up with him and got engaged to someone he considered a close friend. The young man ended his narrative by maintaining that love is an illusion.
Many people would probably connect with the young man’s story and may also support the view that love does not exist. However, it may be fitting for us to give love a perspective before disputing or accepting the man’s conviction.
Love has defied all attempts towards a unified definition. Consequently, most people define it as it fits their perceptions. For someone like the young man, love is about returning the favor with a corresponding favor on the platform of feelings. For others still, love is fondness or attachment to something or someone, but these are subject to radical changes and love by biblical explication does not change or end (1 Cor. 13:8).
Love became the topic of the reflection for this Sunday by default and not by design. In the Gospel Reading (Mark 12:28b-34), a Scribe comes to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask him a very ambiguous question: “which is the first of all the commandments.” The question coming from a Scribe (a professional theologian of the time) would require more than a casual answer.
We all know about the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), but not most of us know that there was a total of 613 commandments in the Old Testament Jewish tradition. A total of 248 disclose things that people should do, while 365 show the things that people should not do. Now when the Scribe asked Jesus about the first of all the commandment, he was referring to the whole of the 613 commandments, and that makes the question ambiguous.
As demanding as the question was, our Lord gives the Scribe a double-barrelled answer with profound theological depth. Our Lord says to the Scribe, the first is this: “Hear O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Furthermore, our Lord says the second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is fascinating to see that our Lord answers by appealing to two core passages from the Old Testament that talk about love. The first comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5) which also constitutes part of the Shema, that is the Jewish daily prayer. The Second comes from the book of Leviticus (19:18).
What our Lord accomplished in answer to the question of the Scribe was to summarize the whole commandments with a common denominator; namely, love. Looking at the Ten Commandments very carefully, we could see that it is divided between our duties to God and our responsibilities to others. So, our Lord’s answer to the Scribe indicates that love provides the platform for obeying the commandments. In fact, without love it is impossible to follow any of the commandments but what is love?
The Love Definition
We still need to situate love by way of definition or better understanding. Most Musicians, fiction writers, and filmmakers give people various versions of the meaning of love that most people now have wrong impressions.
Love is a verb, not just a noun. Love is not just what you feel or say it is what you do unconditionally for the benefit of another. Our Lord Jesus Christ says that there is no greater love than one’s decision to die for one’s friends (John 15:13). That is what our Lord accomplished for us on the cross. The self-giving sacrifice of the cross.
Love then is about giving and doing so unconditionally without expecting any favor in return like the young man in our opening.
The Command to Love God
To love God as human beings appear impracticable using our visual dependencies. God is Spirit, and St John says those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
In the command to love God, the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5) says with all your heart, soul, and strength and our Lord Jesus Christ in answer to the Scribe used his editorial license to add “ with all your mind.” To love God is not what one could do with only one aspect of oneself; it is instead a total engagement nothing is left behind. When we love God with those four fundamental components of our being nothing is left behind. What our Lord is telling us here is to give back to God all we received from him.
Our Lord’s inclusion of mind in the command is very instructive as he was encountering a generation with a growing emphasis on reason or the intellect over faith. Loving God with all our mind is an invitation to us to submit our rationality to divinity. We don’t need to see reason or give reason to love. The lyrics of a secular songs says: “love doesn’t ask why, speaks from the heart, never explains, don’t know that love doesn’t think twice, it can come all at once or whispers from a distance.”
The Command to Love, your Neighbor
Your neighbor is not just the person living next door to you but anyone you can touch positively anytime and anywhere. Our Lord explained the nature and character of neighborliness in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Loving your neighbor means going beyond yourself and recognizing the needs of others. We are familiar with the golden rule which says, “do unto others as you would want them to do to you” (Matt. 7:12). But some of us may not be familiar with the platinum rule which is an inspiration from the golden that says, “do unto others as they would like to be treated.”
Our Lord gave a double-barrelled answer to the Scribe’s single question to demonstrate that the Love of God is closely connected to the love of one’s neighbor. St. John says that those who say “I love God” but hate their brothers and sisters are liars because love should start from the one we see before going over to the unseen (1 John 4:20).
To love is not a suggestion nor an option; it is a commandment. Towards the end of the earthly ministry, our Lord leaves his disciples with a new commandment to love one another as he loves them and by that sharing of love everyone will know that they are his disciples. That instruction is still valid for us today. Our world is in urgent need of love in the sacrificial sense of the word. Real love is not self-seeking nor a lucrative enterprise.
Our judgment before the throne of God would not be on how often we prayed nor how long we stayed in the Church but on how far our love reached out to others (Matt. 25:31-46). The only thing we should owe others including our enemies is love (Romans 13:8).
May the steadfast Love of God that never ends (Lam. 3:22) renew our commitment to love Him always and to extend that same love to our neighbors. Have a blessed Sunday and glorious week ahead.
There is a story about a man who was traveling on a train with his 16 years old son. Looking out from the window the boy was so intrigued and would comment on everything including the moving clouds, the trees, vehicles, and people. He was so excited and loud that the people sitting around felt uncomfortable. One man could not hold it any longer and asked the dad if the boy was alright to which the dad replied and said that the boy just got his sight back after a successful surgery and he is excited that he could see after so many years of blindness.
Those who could use their eyes may not know what it means to live without eyes which is like being in perpetual darkness. If you sometimes worry about how people are looking at you when you are not looking, then you can imagine the worry in the mind of a blind person about every eye out there.
The Gospel today (Mark 10: 46-52), presents one of the numerous encounters our Lord had on his way to Jerusalem through Jericho. Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd when a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, made an unusual appearance that compelled our Lord to put his journey on hold.
The blind man heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, and he began to CRY OUT saying JESUS, SON OF DAVID, HAVE PITY ON ME. The crowd tried to stop him, but he cried out even more. At that point, our Lord stopped and asked him to come. THROWING ASIDE his cloak he comes to Jesus, and he asked him, “what you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Master, I WANT TO SEE.” And Jesus says to him, “go your way; your FAITH has saved you and immediately he received his sight and followed the Lord.
The narrative of the blind man Bartimaeus leaves us with a lot of lessons. In fact, in the blind man Bartimaeus we discover an apt fulfillment of the mission of the Messiah.
Crying out, “Son of David Have Mercy on me.”
When Jesus referred to Bartimaeus as someone that is saved by faith we need to ask why? The answer could be found in his reaction when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing. Note well that he heard “Jesus of Nazareth” but when crying out, he says, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me.”
God will always listen to those who cry out to Him. The word of God says, “this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his trouble” (Psalm 34:6). Bartimaeus’ faith moved him to cry out not just to Jesus of Nazareth but to the Son of David which is the title of the Messiah (Matt. 1:1; Matt 21:9).
Defying the Crowd
In most narrative in the Gospels, it is common to see the crowd. The crowd would continuously be a potential obstacle. For instance, the woman who wanted to touch the garment of Jesus to receive healing from her hemorrhages (Mark 5:27) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9) had to contend with the crowd.
In the narrative, the crowd wanted to stop Bartimaeus from crying out to the Lord, but he responded by reflecting Psalm 77:1 which says. “I cry aloud to God. Aloud to God that He may hear me”. Notice that it was when he ignored the hushing of the crowd and cried out more than our Lord stopped and invited him and when the Lord invited him the crowd turned around to encourage him to meet the Lord. Do not allow the crowd to set the pace for your life.
Throwing Aside the Cloak
Notice that before Bartimaeus goes to meet the Lord, he had to discard his cloak which covers him from the external elements. If he were still wrapped in that cloak, it would have been difficult for him to reach out to the Lord.
St. Paul advised that we lay aside the old self (Eph. 4:22). The cloak represents those things that give us comfort but hinders us from reaching out to the Lord. We all have various cloaks in our lives that we need to throw aside. They represent those unnecessary comfort zones in our lives that keep us in darkness and spiritual blindness.
“I want to See.”
God wants us to be specific in our supplications. Bartimaeus was both a blind man and a beggar. These dispositions open two potential needs: alms and healing. So, when our Lord said, “what do you want me to do for you? He pleaded to regain his sight, “Master I want to see.”
Giving sight to the blind occupies a primary place in the manifesto of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18). Bartimaeus prefigures this liberation from darkness into light as the prophet Isaiah (9:2) remarked, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
The request of Bartimaeus to see again recalls to us the message in the First Reading (Jer.31:7-9) which tells us that God will bring back and console the blind and the lame from where they have been dispersed by fate. We may claim to have our physical sight, but spiritually we could be groping in darkness. This may be the time to approach the Lord to see again.
“Go Your Way.” He Followed the Lord
When Bartimaeus declared his intention for the restoration of his sight our Lord tells him to go his way for his faith had saved him. The instruction “go your way” leaves the blind man with the choice to go wherever his chooses. From the narrative, however, we understand that he followed the Lord.
Following the Lord is a decision that shows appreciation and commitment. Many people would go their selfish ways like the nine out of the ten lepers the Lord cured (Luke 17:11-19). On his part, Bartimaeus sees the way of the Lord as the best way ever. When you receive favors from the Lord, what do you do?
Are you still sitting by the roadside of life while the Lord passes by every day? Now is the time to rise like Bartimaeus. There is the need to defy the hushing command of the crowd. Now is the time to put aside those cloaks that tend to limit us from reaching out to the Lord for our deliverance from our spiritual blindness. We all need a Bartimaeus experience and today is just proper.
May God bless you and grant you His unfailing graces.
During our primary school days in Nigeria years ago, the last day of the academic term is usually spectacular because “holidays are coming” as we would often sing and more significantly, teachers announce grades publicly. On such days, it is normal to see some successful children rejoicing, and one could also see others crying because they could not measure up to the tops or because they made the bottom of the class list.
The inclination to be first or more celebrated than others seems to be a significant part of our human nature and nurture. The world itself runs on competitive tracks that is why we hear about First, Second, and Third World countries. In competitive sports like the soccer world cup, only one winner emerges. In the classrooms, teachers measure intelligence through the grades they give to the students in their tests and examinations, though some people would argue that examinations may not be the ultimate tests of knowledge.
Furthermore, we attach the word BEST or GREAT to people, events, places, and things to show how exclusively important they are to us more than others. We often desire to be the first, and the most outstanding, but we often lack the requisite knowledge on how to achieve real and enduring greatness. Most motivational speakers would usually tell people to dream big and aim at the best, but only few would remind them about starting small or humble beginnings.
In the Gospel Reading today (Mark 10:35-45), the sons of Zebedee, James and John approach our Lord Jesus Christ for a very delicate and direct request. They asked if they could sit one at his right and the other at his left in his GLORY, that is after his suffering and death.
Our Lord answers by asking them if they would be able to drink the cup that he is to drink and the baptism he is to receive, and they agreed. He further tells them that though, they may be able to drink the cup and receive the baptism, the positions at his right and left are not for him to apportion as God exclusively reserved them for specific individuals.
The request of James and John infuriated the other ten apostles as they became angry with the Zebedee sons for their rapaciousness and greed. Sensing the rising tension, our Lord summons the twelve for a quick instruction. Summarily, he tells them that among the Gentiles those in authority lord it over those under them, but that should not be the case among them.
Our Lord further tells them that whoever wishes to be first among them should be the servant (slave) of all just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
The boldness of James and John in the narrative is very striking. They were looking beyond the present to the future. In their calculation, the resurrection would bring about a glorious time, and since there are twelve of them, there could be a struggle about the position of deputies to the Lord in his glory. James and John felt that it would be a smart move to sign up for those positions before they become contentious and following the rhythms of their ambitions, the right and left positions should be for them; the Zebedees.
Notice that James and John were ready to drink the cup and receive the baptism. The cup refers to suffering. We could recall that during his agony in the garden, our Lord prayed about the cup he was to drink (Matt. 26:39). The word Baptism comes from the Greek “Baptizo” which means to immerse which relates to being buried. James and John were not scared about the suffering. Instead, they were more concerned about the glory.
The Tiny Humble Steps to Greatness
The Sons of Zebedee believed that they could attain greatness via smartness but from the Lord’s instructions, greatness is attainable through “smallness” which entails service to others. In his letter to the Philippians (2:6-9), St. Paul writes the following about our Lord Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.
From the above timeless description, we learn that humility goes before greatness. Furthermore, humility includes the readiness to accept suffering for the benefit of others. The First Reading (Isaiah 53:10-11) tells us about the suffering servant of God (pre-figuring our Lord Jesus Christ) whose suffering justified many.
To achieve greatness, a humble beginning is a vital key. Most great persons and establishments in the world started small. Abraham, the father of great nations, began with years of childlessness. Moses, the great leader of the people of Israel, barely survived as a baby. The savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ was born on a manger meant for young animals and bore the identity of Nazareth where nothing good could come (John 1:46).
The first horseless carrier that brought the inspiration for motor vehicles could only travel one kilometer per hour. It is a well-known story that one of the greatest electronic companies in the world, Apple, started in a garage. In life, you need to stoop to conquer and to jump higher you need to bend lower.
In our day and age, we still have people seeking various leadership positions not for the sake of serving the need of others but for self-aggrandizement and the pleasure of their respective households. Any Leadership that does not serve the people is tyranny.
Are we not repeating and multiplying the selfish ambition of the sons of Zebedee who sought the positions in Christ’s glory as a form of victory over the other apostles? There will be a need for us to understand leadership as a humble service to others. The Centurion who approached our Lord Jesus Christ to ask for the healing of his servant (Matt 8: 5-13), remains a ponderable example of leadership through service.
As we encounter the Lord today in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember to take those tiny humble steps that would lead us to the glorious positions God has prepared for us not the ones we want. Have a great Sunday and a beautiful week ahead.
A wealthy woman in her late eighties lived by herself in a mansion next to a community with people living in abject poverty. Her closest friend was her cat, and she loved her so much and would even buy her gold necklaces. At some point, the woman became very ill, and before she passed, she bequeathed all her wealth to her cat to the amazement of everyone.
In the records, the woman directed the executor of her Will to put the cat under the care of two paid nannies. However, after one month, the cat died as she could not survive the death of her owner. After an intense deliberation between the woman’s attorney and the mayor of the city, they agreed to use her wealth to develop the poor community next to her mansion. Sad for the wealthy woman but joy for the impoverished community she neglected during her lifetime.
At the point of death, we cease to be in charge of our wealth, in fact, we become “poor” because nothing goes with us. There is a story about a couple who promised each other to fulfill their wishes at death depending on who goes first. The wife tells her husband to put her jewelry box in the coffin if she dies before him. The man on his part relates that all his money in the bank should go into the coffin if he dies before her. After some years, the man passed, and during the funeral, the wife writes a check in his name and drops it into the coffin before his internment in the cemetery.
In the Gospel Reading of this Sunday (Mark 10:17-30), we read about a rich man who runs up to Jesus as he was setting out on a journey. Catching up with our Lord he kneels and asks, “good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? Our Lord replies by first discarding the appellation good as an exclusive reserve for God and goes further to check his status with the commandments.
The rich man replies and says that he has always been obedient to the commandments from his youth. Our Lord looks at him loved him and told him, “you lack one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The rich man’s face fell at these words, and he goes away sad because he had many possessions.
We have a lot to chew from the narrative. First, let us look at the personality of the rich man. We see him running to catch up with Jesus Christ with a sense of urgency. Meeting our Lord, it is surprising to discover that he wanted an answer to a question about how to gain eternal life. We could also recall that he knelt and called Jesus good master. It is not hard in the narrative to see that the rich man in question has all the details civility, reverence of good manners but all these cannot replace love and charity to others especially the poor. Good manners may not presuppose a good soul.
On the issue of observing the commandments, the rich man was excellent; from his youth, he kept all the commandments. The narrative tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Our Lord looked beyond his face to his heart and loved it. But he lacked charity to other which is a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom of God. Whatever we do or fails to do to others we do or fail to do to Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:40,45).
If we pay closer attention to the narrative, we will discover that the rich man’s good manners and reverence changed when our Lord encouraged him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor and come to follow him. We learn that his face fell at those words and he walked away not only from the Lord but also from challenge to do charity, from discipleship and ultimately from inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
The reaction of the rich man to our Lord’s instruction shows that he is under the enslavement of his possessions and lacks the wisdom on the right use of material wealth. The First Reading today tells us that riches are nothing in comparison to wisdom (Wisdom 7:7-11) just as the Psalmist says that in his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beasts that are destroyed (Psalm 49:20).
You Lack One Thing!
A lack is the absence of an essential value that should be present. The rich man was apparently in lack. The void in him prompted him to run to our Lord Jesus Christ. He was aware of his lack but wanted to look for a shortcut to eternal life. Despite his wealth, he was in poverty because he lacked the wisdom to practice charity.
At this point, it would be very fitting to examine our lives to know where we are lacking. You may be lacking in charity like the rich man; it could be your inability to forgive and let go or any other kind of lack. What do you lack?
The accurate measure of wealth does not depend on how much we have but, on our readiness, to give to others. Whatever wealth we have is a gracious gift from God. St. Peter instructs that as generous distributors of God’s manifold grace, we should put our gifts at the service one another; each in the measure he or she has received (1 Pet. 4:10).
Gaur Gopal Das once said that some people are so poor that the only thing they have is money; there is more to life than money, he adds. This statement relates to the poverty of the rich which builds on the lack of charity and insensitivity to the plight of the poor.
In life, people don’t care about how much you know, but they would like to know how much you care and according to Winston Churchill, we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. The rich man missed an opportunity to obtain heavenly life because he wanted to preserve his earthly living. Today, we are invited to seek the kingdom of God, and its righteousness and all other things will become ours (Matt. 6:33).
As we move out from the Church today, may we try to accomplish what the rich man failed to do due to his poverty of wisdom. Have a beautiful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead. God bless you!
We are living in a world that shows a division between two opposing realities, namely, the original and the distorted, the authentic and the inauthentic, the real and the fake. Unfortunately, the distorted, inauthentic, and fake seem to thrive more than the original, authentic, and real because they appear cheap and attractive for, instance fake news sell more than the real news as people often believe lies more than the truth.
Today in the Gospel (Mark 10:2-16), our Lord Jesus Christ takes time to explain God’s original plan for marriage which is like differentiating the authentic from the inauthentic, the original from the distorted. Our Lord’s priceless instruction on marriage started after the Pharisees asked him (as a test) if it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife.
The question was a test because the Pharisees already know the answer as they answered correctly when our Lord inquired from them what Moses commanded. According to them, Moses permitted a man to write a bill of divorce to his wife to dismiss her for any reason at all even if it baseless. Our Lord further explains to them that Moses permitted them to do so because of the hardness of their hearts.
Going further, our Lord redirected their minds to God’s original plan before the distortion of that original plan due to their hardness of heart. What does the hardness of heart imply? It describes extreme disobedience to God, for instance, Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not let the people of Israel leave Egypt (Exodus 8:19; 9:7). It is further a sign of being insensitive (Deut. 15:7), and St. Paul sees it as a sign of ignorance (Eph. 4:18).
The central point of the narrative and which is of great interest to this reflection is God’s original plan for marriage. While answering the Pharisees, Jesus says,
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to the wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.
The instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ above begins by saying from the beginning of creation; God made them male and female. The word “beginning” comes in here for a purpose. God is the beginning which also means the First (Rev. 1:8; 22:13; Isaiah 44:6, 48:12). Here we understand that God is the author of marriage. Furthermore, in His plan, the marital union should be between a male and a female.
At what point did God conceive the idea of marriage? If we read the first account of creation in the Book of Genesis very attentively, we will discover that God designed marriage when He decided to create humanity. Let us examine the passage (Gen. 1:26-27) for clarity:
Then God said, let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let THEM have dominion…. So, God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; MALE and FEMALE He created them. God blessed them and said be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion….
From this first account of creation, we understand that when God created humankind, He had marriage in mind and to accomplish that He created male and female and ordered them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.
It is also important to note that God created them in his image and likeness. The image and likeness of God we can strongly relate with to is God as Trinity. In the Trinity, we have one God but three persons, not three Gods. In marriage we have a male and female coming together to become one flesh. Our Lord made a strong emphasis when he says, “they are not two but one flesh.”
From the Second account of creation, we learn that God created Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed on him and he became a living being. However, God discovered that the man was lonely and decided to give him a SUITABLE partner; some translations would say a fitting helper and others would say a helper as his partner.
In line with the idea of making a suitable provision for the man, God formed animals from the ground and brought them to the man to see what he would call each of them, but none was SUITABLE judging from the names he was calling them. We relate to persons and things according to the names we give them, and there is power in a name.
When God saw that the man could not find a suitable helper in all the animals, He had to devise another way to help the man. God is always in the business of thinking about our needs. From the side of the man, God extracted one of the ribs and fashioned the woman. At first sight of the woman, Adam said, this ONE (among others) is, at last, the bone of my bone the flesh of my she shall be called a woman because she is from man.
Here, we see that the name the man chose for the woman indicates that they share a common origin, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” The quick lesson we learn from the episode of creating the woman out of the man is that marriage is all about sharing and when couples stop sharing they start shattering.
In God’s Original Plan
In God’s original plan, the married couple becomes one flesh because they are no longer two but one. The idea of divorce is contrary to God’s plan which intends to make the marital union inseparable as the union found in the community of the three persons in one God.
In our world today, most marriages are not running within God’s original plan as many ideologies and patterns go contrary to the divine values for marriage. Consequently, we have people jumping in and out of marriages unions as if they are boarding and disembarking from aeroplanes.
The most problems in marriage arise due to the absence of God in the union. God is the originator of marriage and to run it without Him is suicidal. The most significant lack in any marriage is the absence of God. In God’s original plan, the clause about leaving father and mother entails leaving everything of the past as father and mother represent every aspect of our lives from conception to the point of entering the marital vocation.
Marriage is not a bed of roses neither is it a landscape of thorns. Sometimes are good and other times could not be so good. Good health could face the challenges of sicknesses; death could even happen at some point. What you give in your marriage is what you receive. Adam gave his bone and flesh and got it back.
What you bring to your marriage is more important than what you expect; give your best, and the best would come to you. St. Paul explains this very well in his details about marriage best practices in his letter of the Ephesians (5: 21-33).
There is no doubt that marriage is under severe attack and the easiest way to destroy the world is to destroy marriages and families. Everyone is challenged to add value to marriage and save the family and the world. Focus on these three Ps; prayer, patience, and peace and the devil will run away from your marriage.
Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.
Once upon a time, a black man was entering a music concert that was strictly by invitation. The attendant at the entrance could not allow him to enter even when he showed his invitation as he needed to verify if it was the real one. Upon verification, the attendant discovers that it was not just authentic but also indicates that the man has access to the VIP which has a reservation for only six persons.
The attendant reluctantly allowed the black man in while wondering in his mind how he was able to get a special invitation for an all-white concert. Entering the concert hall and walking towards the VIP seating, people kept staring at the man and whispering to each other. At the VIP, the other five special invitees who were all white felt very uncomfortable, and one even dared to walk up to him to tell him that the stand is reserved for some special people, the man did not reply but only showed him the VIP invitation card.
Before the formal opening of the concert, the organizer, a well-known singer, comes out to make a special speech. Towards the end of the address, he remarks that the show is dedicated to a man who doubles as his music coach and foster father. The man who adopted him and brought him to North America when his parents passed in a motor accident in Europe. Pointing at the black man, he says, “here is the reason why the world knows me, he does not look like one of us, but he produced one of us.” As the black walked up to the stage, the ovation was high, and many people were in tears.
You don’t need to be Catholic like me to go to heaven and I don’t have to be like you to become relevant in life. Diversity is part of the beauty of life, and we do not choose it. Therefore, it is a gift from God. If we take a reflective look at the time of creation, we could see that God had diversity in mind as he made different living creatures. And when God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), He created another human being that is biologically different from the man following His program of diversity.
The First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) we learn that after Moses appointed seventy elders to assist him, God took some of the spirit on Moses and bestowed it on the seventy elders and they prophesied. Now, the turning point of the narrative is that two of the elders who were not in the assembly with the rest when they prophesied also prophesied in the camp. When a young man saw Eldad and Medad prophesying, he runs to tell Moses about it, and Joshua suggested that he stops them.
The passage tells us that they were seventy on the list and God had decided to share Moses’ spirit on them without conditions. From the human point of view, only those present in the assembly should receive God’s spirit and thus have the legitimacy to prophesy. The question the young man did not ask was “what prompted them to prophesy in the camp and at the exact time the others were prophesying in the gathering?” The young man seemed to be telling God that he made a mistake by reaching out to those who went out from the gathering; those who ceased to be one of them!
We see a similar situation in the Gospel Reading today (Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48) where John reports to Jesus that they saw someone driving out demons in his name and they TRIED to stop him because he was not one of them. Here we see the “not one of us” mentality playing out very profoundly. Notice that they tried to stop the man, but they could not just like Joshua in the First Reading could not get Moses to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying in the camp. Nobody can stop whatever God has put in motion; don’t even try.
Moses and our Lord Jesus Christ give similar responses to their respective reporters. Moses says he would wish that all the people were prophets and besides he has no control over the spirit that the Lord bestowed upon them. On the other hand, our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that no one who performs mighty deed in his name can at the same time speak ill of him; hence whoever that is not against him is for him.
We live in a world that is inundated by imaginary dividing lines between those who belong and those who do not, between the insiders and the outsiders, between the rich and the poor and other trends of distinctions. There is a difference between diversity and discrimination. Diversity is a divine gift, but discrimination is a human convention borne out of ignorance, arrogance, and insecurity.
God’s invitation to us as his children is inclusive and not exclusive. Because of this premise, we are invited to discard all those things that set us up as ingroups and outgroups. That you are not like me does not make you better than me or the other way around. Christianity is an inclusive invitation to all people irrespective of culture and geography to share God love for humanity through the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Moses and our Lord Jesus anticipated inclusive Christianity following their respective responses. In another place, our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that he has other sheep which belongs to another sheepfold (John 10:16). God has the ultimate judgment, and we have no right to say who does it better than other or we run the risk of repeating the mistakes of the insensitive rich in the Second Reading today ( James 5:1-6), who discriminate against the poor but who would experience impending miseries. As we march into this Sunday, may we continue to discard all the lines of segregation that make us feel better and more privileged than others.
One of the most intriguing stories ever told about an extreme experience of tests and trials is about a rich and upright man who lost his ten children, servants, houses, livestock, and all his investments in one day. In addition to all the misfortunes, he was afflicted with horrible skin sores. His wife encouraged him to curse God and die while his friends persuaded him to accept his fate as a pay-back for his sins. It is important to note here that the man was going through trials to prove his uprightness, but his wife and his friends did not have such knowledge. It is wrong to judge people when we do not know their entire story.
Instead of giving up and cursing God or blaming himself for no reason, Job exclaims, “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). Beyond his tests and trials, the story of Job ended in praises as God restored his fortunes more than what he had before (Joh 42: 10).
There are times when people go through hard tests and trials that could be challenging and devastating. To suffer for one’s mistakes is relatable but to go through some crucibles for no crime could be disturbing, and that happens to be the background of the First Reading today (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20). The passage tells us about the plot by the wicked to beset an unnamed just one, that is the innocent person because he would not support evil. One thing that comes out very well in the plot is the plan to PUT HIM TO THE TEST and TRY HIS PATIENCE.
Somewhere I read that a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor. In life, we become what we are by going through it. Sometimes, God would allow tests and trials to come our way to gauge our faith and trust in him. God tested Abraham’s faith through a long period of childlessness even when God had promised to make him the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:4-6). God also allowed Satan to pummel Job with several calamities to prove a point about Job’s unwavering faith and trust. This explains Paul’s statement to Timothy that anyone who wants to live a godly life would be tested (2 Tim. 3:12).
Moving Forward When Tests and Trials Come!
In life, we often face a lot of things that come around to put us to the test and try our patience. They come through various people and events in our lives. “How do you react to those tests and trials in your life?” Often, we complain and blame everyone including God and forget one crucial thing; putting our trust in Him. Even those plotting against the innocent confirmed that according to his own words, God would take care of him. Do you equally believe that God can take care of you in the tests and trials of the moment?
For every trial, we need to be patient and put our total trust in God, not on our understanding (Prov. 3:5). In the Gospel Reading today (Mark 9:30-37), our Lord Jesus Christ tells his disciples that he would be handed over to men and they will kill him, but he would rise after three days. Our Lord’s exhortation summarizes the fact that every test or trial would always come to an end, primarily if we rely on God to uphold our lives. The human persecutions and trials would eventually give way to God’s triumphant exaltation.
As we enter the new week, let us open our minds and hearts to accept the tests and trials that may confront us with the exemplary humility of a child as our Lord Jesus Christ recommended in the Gospel narrative today. With God helping us, the tests and trials in our lives will lead us to discover the best versions of ourselves. May God bless His words and presence in our hearts while granting us a renewed commitment to Him in our life’s journey. Have a beautiful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
Death by firing squad is a popular way of dispensing capital punishment to criminals in some countries in the world. In Indonesia, the penalty for a drug crime is by firing squad. According to the Emirate law capital punishment is only by firing squad. In the United States, death by firing squad is rare. However, Ronnie Lee Gardner, a dangerous criminal, and murderer in the mid-80s was executed by firing squad in Utah in June 2010, making it the last official death punishment with bullets within the Union.
Just as firing squad represents a way to punish criminals in our day and age, at the time of our Lord Jesus Christ crucifixion was the route for public criminals within the purview of the Roman law. We, at this point, understand why Peter, in the Gospel of today (Mark 8:27-35) could take our Lord Jesus Christ aside to rebuke him for saying that he would be arrested and killed after the manner of a criminal.
Earlier in the Gospel narrative, our Lord Jesus made an identity analysis about himself by asking his disciples who people say he is. From the answers, we discover that the people see him as a prophet by linking him with John the Baptist, Elijah and other prophets. Furthermore, he tries to know their view and Peter says, “You are the Christ.” A perfect answer indeed! The name Christ is from the Greek Christos which means anointed one, and it is the title for the Messiah whom the people have been anticipating (John 1:41).
With the revelatory identification by Simon Peter, Jesus begins to teach his disciples about the suffering he would undergo and even about his death and resurrection. Peter’s “intervention” to stop our Lord from going the way of suffering shows the limitation of his knowledge about the Christ he proclaimed earlier. He wanted Jesus to be the Christ but not to go the path of the Christ which involves suffering and death. He wanted him to be the Christ but without the cross.
Get Behind Me Satan!
The Lord’s answer to Peter, “get behind me Satan” shows that his idea was not in consonance with the plan of God. It is vital for us to note in the dialogue that Peter spoke but the reply went to Satan. It is only Satan that would encourage you to take a position and do nothing, to wish for heaven and not work for it. Do we not often accept Satan’s suggestions when we despise those little crosses that would help us to cross over to a better life?
Satan’s suggestive intervention did not stop with Peter. He is still sticking around telling us to get the crown without the cross, to answer Christians with the living the Christian life. We could also notice in the narrative that Satan comes to Jesus through one who is close to him, namely, Peter. Satan could come to us through people and events that are very close to us. Notice also that Satan (speaking through Peter) did not comment on the glory of the resurrection but only on the suffering and death. Like our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to stand on our feet and tell Satan to go behind us because that is where he belongs
Often, we think that being a Christian relieves us from all forms of sufferings. We see the cross only as a symbol of suffering. We need to take a more reflective look at the cross. It is a plus sign that would potentially add value to our lives. The cross is also a ladder that could help us to climb over a lot of hurdles in our lives. A cross-less Christ is a caricature just like Christianity without the cross is a cartoon.
The cross is thus the symbol of our Christian life. Beyond wearing it around our necks and getting it as a tattoo, there is a need for us to make the cross real in our lives. In the First Reading (Isaiah 50:4c-9), the prophet assures us of God’s divine help when we go through the torturous moments and confrontations of life. Do not become hopeless when you go through the difficulties of life they often represent the practical demonstration of your faith as St. James tells us in the Second Reading (James 2:14-18).
As we go through life, may we like our Lord Jesus Christ accept our crosses and carry them. Your cross could be your family, your vocation, your spouse, your children, relations, friends and colleagues even yourself. Remember that without the cross, the crown would be an illusion just like the suffering of Christ brought about our salvation. God bless you.