Fr Bonnie's Reflections

“BE OPEN”: GOING THE EPHPHATHA WAY! HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Year B) Rev. Fr. Boniface N. Anusiem Ph.D.

 

ephphathaOnce upon a time, I was at the entrance of a Church exchanging greetings with people after the mass when an older woman walks up to me looking apologetic. While holding my hand in the manner of salutation, she tells me in a rather thunderous voice that she thought I gave a beautiful homily from her observation, but she could not hear anything because she had completely lost the ability to hear. I could not say anything to her because she would not hear me either, so I kept nodding with empathetic affirmation until she says goodbye and leaves.

Talking and hearing are very vital in our daily interactions. We cannot imagine a world without ears and mouths; that would change the whole dynamics of communication and comprehension. Hearing, talking, including seeing, and walking are so essential to life that those who do not have them are considered to have an impairment or disability. In the First Reading (Isaiah 35:4-7a), we hear the oracle of the prophet declaring God’s promise of restoration and recompense to those who are suffering from these misfortunes.

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 7:31-37), our Lord Jesus Christ heals a deaf man who also had a speech impediment. The connection between the First Reading and the Gospel Reading is the same as the connection between a promise and its fulfillment. At the beginning of his ministry, we heard our Lord Jesus Christ declaring his manifesto when he says, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”, (Luke 4:18-19).

The Gospel narrative about the healing of the deaf and dumb man leaves us with a lot of lessons about openness which forms the central theme of our reflection today.

Openness to help others.

The Gospel begins with some people bringing a deaf and dumb man to Jesus and begging him to lay his hand on him. The action of the unnamed people is an indication of goodwill and charity, moreover, bringing anyone to Jesus is the noblest and precious gift we can give. The Gospel of Luke (5:17-39) presents a similar scenario where some people had to remove the roof of a house to lower down a paralyzed man to where Jesus was preaching in a crowded room so that he could heal him. Let us learn to be open to helping others.

Openness to leave the crowd.

  Responding to the people’s request, our Lord Jesus Christ takes the man away from the crowd. The crowd here stands for all the hindering spiritual, moral, even physical elements around us. The deaf and dumb man was open to the invitation to leave the crowd, and that was the first step to his healing. Many of us are still suffering from the overwhelming sway of the crowd with all the noise in the world today from both the social and conventional media. There is the need for us to be open to allow the Lord to take us away from the crowd so that we can experience that special touch that would transform us to become committed hearers and to proclaim His name.

Openness to break barriers.

When Jesus Christ accepted to heal the deaf and dumb man, he broke the unjustifiable barrier between the able and the disabled; he bridged the gap between the well and the unwell. St. James reinforces this in the Second Reading (James 2:1-5) where he instructs that there should be no partiality among us as we adhere to the faith in Jesus Christ. We need to break the social, economic, political and religious barriers that confront us.

Openness to the healing touch of the Lord.

 If we pay attention to the ritual that accompanied the healing of the deaf and dumb man we could see the man’s willingness and compliance to the healing process. In the narrative, we learn that our Lord had to put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting he touches his tongue with saliva and says ephphatha, which is, “be opened.” During this process, the man remains open and accepting. We need to be open to the healing touch of the word God to our ears and His touch on our mouths in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Openness to being open.

The call for openness has become very imperative in our day and age as people clamor for transparency and docility both in the State and in the Church. Openness to being open requires us to listen with profound charity and speak with clarity. If we pay attention to the healing process, we could see that our Lord opened the ears before the mouth. The priority that the ears received during the healing tells us about the importance of listening more than talking; that could be why God gave us two ears and one mouth. This Openness should start with our families; among couples, children, relations, and friends.

We are in the season of ephphatha as we receive the invitation be open to God who is calling us to leave the crowd and save our souls. He has set before us an open door which nobody can close (Rev. 3:8). May continue to withdraw from the crowd and move closer to our Lord Jesus whose healing fingers would evangelize our ears and our mouths. Have a beautiful Sunday and a glorious week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.      

FROM OBSERVANCE TO PRACTICE: EXPLORING THE BENEFITS OF OBEDIENCE TO THE COMMANDMENTS Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Rev. Fr. Boniface N. Anusiem Ph.D

Obedience our gift to God

Once upon a time, I boarded an Uber from an airport to a conference. I was surprised to see that the driver was not on her seat belt. I felt very uneasy because I could not think of driving without my seat belt. When I asked why she was not using the safety device, she tells me about her dislike for seat belts, and, in my mind, I imagined that she dislikes her life too. I was still trying to convince her about the safety benefits of using a seat belt when she starts to adjust her seat belt in haste and looking ahead I could see cops on the road flagging down cars and directing them to a detour at a road maintenance spot. She was afraid of being caught and punished for breaking a driving law, so she adjusted her seat belt.

Most people fear the law and the reason is not far-fetched because it often punishes defaulters. However, the ideal purpose of the law is not to punish but to regulate, guide, and protect those who are subject to its prescriptions. We could, therefore, define the law as a set of rules that govern the actions of those who are subject to its promulgation. There is hardly any aspect of life that is not controlled by some set of rules. Humans, animals, and plants exist by responding to both natural and conventional laws.

In the First Reading today (Deut. 4:1-2, 6-8), Moses tells the people of Israel to observe (without addition or subtraction) the statues and decrees he was giving them so that they could live and enter to possess the land that God is giving to them. Furthermore, he tells them that paying attention to the commandments would increase their worth among the nations around them.

From the instructions of Moses to the people, we understand that there are benefits that accrue from obedience to the law. The benefits include longevity and possession of the promised land insofar there is obedience to the statues and decrees without alterations. Often, we desire the destination, but we don’t want to go through the journey. In the context under review, the goal is the promised land, but the mission involves paying attention to the ordinances.

In the Second Reading (James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27), the apostle takes the matter further by instructing that action should animate the observance of the law, “be doers of the word, not hearers only.” Christianity is a way of life, not just a religion; it is a verb, not just a noun. No doubt, there are many Christians in the world but how many are practising the Christian life? I don’t mean appearing in the church on Sunday! Indeed, most us, Christians, could recite the ten commandments of by heart but how often do these commandments resonate with our daily lives? St. James is challenging us to go beyond observance and make practical applications from what we learn and know.

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), our Lord Jesus Christ takes the instructions of James further by making a more explicit distinction between religious observance and spiritual life. Some detractors from among the Pharisees quizzed him about the negligence of the ritual of the washing of hands before meals by the apostles which potentially makes them unclean. Our Lord takes time to establish that it is what comes out of our hearts that could make or unmake us not the cleanliness of the physical hands nor the food we eat.

Often, we judge people by their appearances and make conclusions from what we see. Purity is not a result of how we appear or how meticulous we follow religious rites. Contrary to what most of us think, purity is a product of the inner part of us, our hearts. It is wrong for us to judge people where we met them because that may not be their destination; we should not even judge at all (Matt. 7:1-5) as the Pharisees would often do.

Moving Forward: Observe and Practice!

In the Second Reading today, St. James tells us that the religion that is pure and undefiled before God involves care for the orphans and widows in their affliction (that is charity) and keeping oneself unstained by the world (that is conscious avoidance of sin).

From the outlook of the apostle James, we understand that there is a religion that is impure and defiled which, from his analysis, would include insensitivity to the needy and relapse into sin. Now, we need to ask ourselves this question individually, “what kind of religion am I practising? As we celebrate the Holy Eucharist today,  we need to examine how our Christian life is aminated beyond ritual and traditional observances and seek to fulfil the heart of the law which is love for God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40).

Have a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE POWER OF CHOICE! Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

THE POWER OF CHOICE

Once upon a time, a man was waiting to board a flight with his son when the little boy saw another child with a bar of chocolate and wanted his father to buy one for him. They had few minutes to board, and the man takes him to a nearby shop but tells him to choose the one he likes as they need to meet up with the boarding. For more than five minutes, the boy was running around picking one bar of chocolate and dropping it for another as each seems better than the others. When it was clear they were going to miss their flight if the boy continued to sway from one bar of chocolate to another, the man grabs the boy and drags him along despite his cries. The boy could not make a choice, but they had to catch their up with their flight.

The late former United Nation’s Secretary General, Kofi Annan, once said, “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there”. Choice-making characterizes life. You must choose to take a chance before your life could change; failure to make a choice is even a choice itself like in the case of the boy who wanted a bar of chocolate in our opening story.

In the First Reading today (Joshua 24:1-2; 15-18), Joshua challenges the Israelites at Shechem to make a choice of whom they wish to serve. By this convocation, we understand that God did not withhold the gift of free will from us even after the colossal disobedience of Adam and Eve (Gen.3:1-18). Joshua’s declaration tells us about God’s patience with us even when we are disobedient. Joshua’s narrative here shows us that God cares about us (Psalm 27:10) and He desires our salvation and gives us the opportunity to make reliable choices.

In the passage, Joshua makes his own choice first before giving the people the opportunity to respond. We could say that Joshua led the people by a personal example, his choice reads, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15). The effect of his choice is evident in the people’s response: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord, for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, out of a state of slavery”. (Joshua 24:16,18).

In the Gospel Reading today (John 6:60-69), our Lord Jesus Christ wraps up his teaching on the Eucharist by challenging his hearers to choose to accept his doctrine that leads to life or leave it for a damnable fate. Like Joshua, he takes time to explain to them why they need to make a choice and where it would lead them. As a matter of choice, many people could not accept his teaching and left him.

In the Second Reading (Eph.5:21-32), St. Paul extends the gospel of choice- making to the family. Love and submission are the choices we make, and there is no better foundation for choice-making than in our families. Marriage and family life would become what we choose to sow as seeds. When you sow love, you reap love, but if you sow hatred you reap it as a fruit and the same happens with submission. There is every truth in the saying that “you cannot eat your cake and have it.” You cannot wish for a delightful family when you cannot add positive value. A good family is a choice you make jointly as members.

Moving Forward: Choose Between The New Way and The Former Way

The same invitation to make a choice is open to us today. We hear people say, “it is a free world,” that is true. However, we are also invited to make responsible choices in the so-called free world as our choices determine our chances and the changes we experience in life. When Jesus Christ challenged the apostles to choose as the other people were leaving him and going back to their former way of life, Peter replying on behalf of others says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”.

In the First Reading and the Gospel, Joshua and our Lord Jesus Christ propose new ways to their respective audiences while leaving them to choose. Change, like this reflection indicated earlier, is a consequence of choice-making. Our undue attachments to various ways of living often make it difficult for us to accept some new and helpful realities that life open for us. Albert Einstein did define insanity as doing the same thing the same way all the time and expecting a different result.

We have come to the season of responsible choice-making. There is the need for us to remember that whenever we make a choice, we also choose the consequences. There are many options in life, but we need to go for the optimal option. What choice would you be making today in your personal life, in your family, in your relationship with others, and ultimately in your Christian life journey with God? Would you like Peter, and the others make the right, and responsible choice by sticking with the Lord who has the message of eternal life and without whom no option is tenable. Have a beautiful Sunday and a pleasant week ahead as you choose wisely and responsibly.

Fr. Bonnie.

COME AND EAT! RESPONDING TO WISDOM’S INVITATION HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D

seder-plate-2

In my native community in West Africa (Nigeria), the phrase “come and eat” is a special invitation that goes beyond the immediate participation in a meal. It shows care, goodwill, charity, friendship, and communion. Anyone who eats alone would be considered selfish, uncaring, and even wicked; in fact, there is a saying that goes, “if you eat alone, you die alone.” Consequently, part of the socialization pedagogy for a child includes the instruction on how to extend invitations to others before eating even when it is evident that the invitee may not partake but would always show appreciation for the invitation.

Today in the First Reading (Prov. 9:1-6), we hear Wisdom (personalized) inviting people to her house that is set up in seven columns to come and partake in a rich table of food and wine. Looking closely at the invitation, one could see that some clauses are attached to the call, “let whoever is SIMPLE turn in here.” Further down, the invitation instructs the invitees thus, “Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

Wisdom seems to take the identity of a mother who possesses impressive culinary expertise with the dressing of food and mixing of wine. The inclusion of maidens in the narrative shows that she prepared a large banquet. A pertinent question at this point could be who this Wisdom is? The identity of Wisdom in most passages in the bible especially in the book of Proverbs has been a point of debate by scholars, but that is not the focus of this reflection.

The Gospel of today (John 6:51-58), continues and concludes the dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and the people who wanted a repeat of the miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish. During the interlocution, our Lord promises them another kind of bread, the living bread that came down from heaven that gives eternal life, and which is also his body.

The Jews could not accept this as they quarreled among themselves how they could become “human flesh eaters.” But that is the only route to the real life; “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53).

The unchanging observation one could make is that there is a connection between the invitation by Wisdom in the First Reading and our Lord’s invitation in the Gospel Reading to the people to partake of the living bread that came from heaven. The house of Wisdom points to the Church, and the seven columns of the house could signify the seven sacraments of the Church with the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist constituting the center and summit of the Church’s life and ministry.

Responding to the Invitation

For every invitation, two expectations are implied, a positive or a negative response. For instance, when our Lord invited the people to come and eat his body and drink his blood many of his followers could not accept the invitation and even stopped following him (John 6: 60; 66). Not every call receives a positive response; also for a positive response, the invitee needs to fulfill some preconditions.

  • Be Simple-minded. Simplicity is another way of describing purity. In the beatitudes, our Lord Jesus Christ says that blessed are the pure in heart (simple-minded) and they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Within the invitation of Wisdom in the First Reading, she says, let the simple turn in, that is, the pure in heart. Sin is the root of the complications and impurity of the soul. If you are coming to partake, do not repeat the mistake of Judas (John 13:27), come rather with a simple heart, and you will enjoy the sacred meal.

 

  • Stop the quarreling in you. The Gospel Readings tells us that the people quarreled among themselves when he mentions to them that his body is the living bread that came down from heaven. This quarreling is still happening in our minds as we often struggle with believing or not believing in the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also quarrel among ourselves and even disagree with the Lord’s invitation.

 

  • Understanding the Lord’s Will. Understanding is fundamental in every relationship. The invitation to come and eat will become more meaningful if we understand why we should eat and drink. In the Gospel Reading, our Lord explains that whoever eats his body and drinks his blood will have eternal life; this is the will of God for us. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20), encourages us to seek this understand while removing the mask of ignorance from our lives.

 

  • Extend the Invitation to Others. Part of the response to the invitation to come and eat requires that we extend the invitation to others. If we go to St. John’s account of the call of the apostles, we could recall that after Andrew responded to the call of Jesus Christ, the living bread, he invited his brother Peter to come and see the Messiah as he had seen ( John 2:39-42).

 

What is your Decision Today?

The choice you make shapes your life. The Lord is still saying to us “come and eat”! The liturgy of this Sunday is encouraging us to respond to the Lord’s invitation by our resolution to be simple-hearted, eschewing all manners of internal and external quarrelings and being docile to understand and accept the will of God.

As we reflect on the message today, may our encounter with the Lord, the living bread, bring to life all the dying elements in our spiritual life and bring that amazing transformation and renewal in our lives. “Come and eat!” The Lord is still calling make a choice today!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

DO NOT GIVE UP: JESUS CHRIST IS THE VIATICUM FOR YOUR LIFE’S JOURNEY: HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

bread for the journey

Life is not as fair and soothing as we often wish or plan. There are times when we face dissipating challenges that push us to the point of losing all the last traces of hope. Most people face tough moments in their families; there are cases of depreciating health conditions. Some people confront severe relationship breakdown and while others face real attacks from both known and unknown enemies. When you find yourself in the middle of some physical, moral or spiritual turbulence, what line of action do you take? Lose it, and give up or hang in and faith it?

Elijah had his own “fair” share of tribulations as the First Reading (1 Kings 19:4-8) relates to us. The prophet was running for his life after the victory of God over Baal and the killing of the 450 prophets who serve at the cult of the idol. Jezebel, the wife of the king who was the principal sponsor of Baal worship in Israel, wanted Elijah dead at all cost. The prophet escapes and commences a forty-day walk to Mount Horeb to have an audience with God.

After a day’s journey in the wilderness, Elijah was tired and was giving up and, in his desperation, he prays for death saying, “this is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers”. God answers him by sending an angel to give him bread and water twice and afterwards; he was able to do the forty-day walk to Mount Horeb. One fact we should keep at the back of our minds in the narrative is that Elijah became tired after a day’s journey in the wilderness, but when God fed him, he was able to make the rest of the forty-day journey without getting tired. When God intervenes in our lives, we achieve more than we can imagine.

Often, we encounter the same daunting experience as Elijah when we face various forms of “Jezebels and wilderness” in our lives. At some points, we want to give up and even pray for death, and the simple reason is that we do not give God a chance in our lives. Elijah was troubled, he prayed, and he also waited on God for an answer, and God answered him.

In our journey of life, we need divine viaticum. For the sake of clarity, viaticum stands for provision for the journey. That is exactly what God does when we put our trust in Him; He provides for us in our journey of life. God cannot give us a vision without a corresponding provision. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians (9:8), St. Paul says, that God is able to provide us with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work.

In Gospel Reading today (John 6:41-51), we continue the dialogue between Jesus and the people who were searching for him a day after the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish. Last Sunday we heard Jesus telling them that he would give them the kind of bread that would fill them forever instead of the perishable bread they wanted. Today, our Lord sums up his instruction by telling them that he is the living bread that came down from heaven and whoever eats him will live forever.

The people who were searching for Jesus Christ have something in common with Elijah, they were on a journey, and they needed sustenance for the journey. Elijah’s mission was to Mount Horeb, but with the people searching for Jesus Christ, the journey translates to the journey to eternal life. While God is concerned about our daily life provision (Matt.6:11), He is more interested about our eternal life which involves knowing Him and Jesus Christ, the Son whom He sent (John 17:3) and who gives us His body and blood as food for the journey of life.

Jesus is our viaticum for the journey of life, and we have the full expression of the totality of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The last part of our Lord’s statement today says, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the word” (John 6:51). The narrative of the last supper tells us that our Lord took a loaf of bread and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying this is my body which is given for you. He did the same with a chalice of wine after giving thanks he said, this is my blood which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:19-20).

What form of relationship and connection do you have with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the narrative of your journey in life? When you have distress in your journey like Elijah, do you still remember that you have an enduring viaticum? Do you seek out the bread that gives eternal life or are you concerned about what you could have for the short term? When you face challenges, do remember to come to Him for a few moments of adoration in the blessed sacrament?

As we march into a new week, may we resolve to seek the Lord not just to fix our immediate material needs but to give our souls the food for eternal life. Remember that Jesus Christ is your viaticum in the journey of life.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

BEYOND OUR GRUMBLING AND SEARCHING FOR A SIGN: THE LORD STILL SUPPLIES ALL OUR NEEDS HOMILY FOR THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

GOD GUIDES AND PROVIDES

On March 19, 1945, something very unusual happened in a town called Namba in Angola. The community was undergoing a severe famine after a whole year without rain. The wife of the director of a small SDA mission in the community encouraged the people to fast and pray for divine intervention following the experience of hunger and drought. After the third day of prayer, a little girl of about five comes home with a handful of white coriander-like substance. Her parents bewildered by the strange thing queries her about what she was holding, and she says that some European men she met asked her to eat because God has heard their prayer.

When the family followed her to where she met the Europeans, they could not see anyone. Instead, the entire place was covered by the substance which tasted like honey and wafer. It was at this point that the community realized that they had manna from heaven. Fast forwarding, every Wednesday, and Friday, the people would get manna. Remarkably after the destruction of the mission house at the manna field during the Angolan civil war, the manna stopped falling. But when it was reconstructed in 2010 the rain on manna continued till date and it has become a pilgrimage and research location. No doubt God is still in the business of supplying needs (Phil 4:19), not just wants.

There is nobody without needs even the wealthiest people in the world could still be in need though they may have all they wanted in life and may not even know they need something. Needs are often beyond our immediate grasp that is why they are needs anyways. In the First Reading (Exo.16:2-4, 12-15), we see the people Israel expressing their need for food, but they do so in a very nasty way by grumbling against Moses and Aaron who represent God

In their desperate need for food, they wished they could stay back in the bondage of Egypt where they had enough to eat. The people of Israel forgot the mighty deed of God on their behalf as their need for food shielded them from remembering that the one who divided the red sea and brought them to safety could also supply their need. God responds to their grumbling by providing them with a menu which consists of bread (manna) and meat (quails).

Are we not often like the people of Israel, quick to complain about our current struggles while forgetting the great successes we receive from God. Often, we see the challenges but have no faith in the chances. We see the darkness of the night but have no confidence in the sunlight of the dawn.

Last Sunday our Lord Jesus Christ multiplied five barley loaves of bread and two fish to feed more than five thousand people. In the Gospel of today (6:24-35), those who enjoyed the meal the previous day and more came searching for Jesus Christ. It was a desperate search as they hired boats to get to the other side of the sea of Capernaum to make sure they get him.

The people were looking for Jesus because they wanted more bread. There is always a motivation for every action. On the 16th Sunday of this liturgical year, we encountered people who were searching for Jesus Christ because of their hunger for spiritual shepherding. This Sunday, the search changes to the quest for a miracle and correctly, they wanted more multiplication of bread.

Our Lord tries to redirect their minds by telling them to work for the food that endures forever not the one that perishes. The instruction implies that they should expend the same time and energy to search for the eternal food instead of the one that would fill the stomach for a short time. The people were bent on getting bread for the moment, and they insist for a sign while quoting the miracle of the manna in the desert.

Moving Forward!

Most of us represent these miracle searchers as we continuously search for short-term fixes and immediate answers to current challenges; we seem to think less about eternal life which should be the greatest miracle in the final analysis of our earthly lives. Most people who attend prayer houses and run after men and women of God are searching for miracles and not for God. We are living in a world where people prefer signs to the real thing. The multiplication of the five barley loaves and two fish is a sign that God can increase and enlarge us if we put out trust in him.

We should not restrict our search for God to our bodily needs but to the wellbeing of our souls. A renewed way of searching for God would emerge when we put away the old self and put on the new self as St. Paul indicated in the Second Reading (Eph. 4:17, 20-24).  

As we march into a new week, may we pay more attention to eternal values than temporary satisfaction. Those who had enough to eat became hungry the following day. God is still in the business of supplying all our needs (Phil 4:19). He knows what we need even before we ask (Matt. 6:8). We should, therefore, search for God not because we are in need but because we need Him, and He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

May God bless you as you search for the eternal food and place your faith in God without grumbling against God over your temporal needs. Have a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

GIVE, MULTIPLY, AND SHARE! HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

SHARE

If you die today what would you be leaving behind? I don’t mean money or any other material possession; I mean for what would people remember you? Would someone somewhere say, this man or woman amazingly touched my life? Would someone spare a tear for you because you gave him or her a reason to live?

The ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ could be said to be that of touching and transforming lives. He preached the word of God to the hungry souls, he healed the sick, he raised the dead and, in the Gospel, today (John 6:1-15 ), Jesus sets out to feed a multitude (five thousand men, excluding women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish. For Jesus Christ, it was all about multiplying and sharing for both the spiritual and the physical needs of the people.

The Background

The Gospel Reading today has a serial connection with the Gospel of last Sunday which tells about the return of the apostles from their mission and how a multitude of people came in search of Jesus and the apostles. The pilgrimage to Jesus Christ was so overwhelming that the apostles had no time to eat as they set out attending to the spiritual needs of the people.

Last Sunday, our Lord Jesus Christ saw them as sheep without a shepherd, and he sets out teaching them many things. After feeding them with the food of the soul, he discovers this Sunday again that they are like a famished herd of sheep and he decides to supply them with solid food to nourish the body. The First Reading (2 Kings 4:42-44) tells us about the feeding of a hundred prophets with twenty barley loaves through the prayers of Elisha the prophet.

Philip, Andrew, The Boy with Bread and Fish, and the man from Baal-Shalisha

To feed a crowd of people in the magnitude of five thousand and more today would require the efforts of several fast food outlets put together with extremely efficient waiters. In this context, however, they had nothing, and Jesus says to Philip, “where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” But this was a test as the narrative tells us as Jesus knew what he was going to do.

Philip gives an honest answer by stating that two hundred days’ salary would still be insufficient to give them a little food. Philip’s answer indicates that they could not feed the crowd. Philip failed the Lord’s test which is the test of faith, the test of believing that there could be a possibility in the face of impossibility. Philip only needed to say “Lord, we can have more than enough, just tell us what to do.”

As the test was going on Andrew, who seems to be a close friend of Philip, enters the discussion with a faith-inspiring suggestion, “there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Andrew represents faith and hope amid hopelessness and faithlessness. Andrew was right; God does not need so much to do so much; He instead needs something from you no matter how little (Mark 11:22).

At this point, we turn to the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish. The Gospel writers did not tell us the name of the boy in question which is very instructive for us in this reflection. Names are significant in all the stories in the Bible, and when we do not have a name attached to a character, it means that there is a potential moral or spiritual engagement with the reader. In this instance, the boy represents all of us.

The most exciting thing about the boy is his willingness to give away his five barley loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, but the desire of the unnamed boy to share his bread and fish made it timely. More than five thousand people ate and had enough because someone in that crowd was willing to share.

The miracle of the multiplication could happen because a little boy made a selfless donation. It is vital for us to know that the boy in question did not give because he was expecting the miracle of multiplication. His willingness to let go of what he had for a useful purpose, and from that donation, everyone had enough.

The donation of the five barley loaves and two fish in the Gospel Reading resonates with the gift of twenty barley loaves from a man from Baal-Shalishah to Elisha.  The gift turned out to be an excellent meal for a hundred prophets when the prophet Elisha prayed for divine multiplication. Again, we learn here that giving leads to multiplication and extends to sharing.

Lessons on Giving, Multiplication, and Sharing

The greatest enemy you may often confront in life is “yourself.” We are often overwhelmed by the “self” that we think little about others. Our excessive emphasis on ourselves is part of the failure of our spiritual growth. Giving is one of the ways of getting out of ourselves and reaching out to others.

The secret of giving is that it increases the giver (Prov. 11:24). Luke 6:38 says, “give and IT will be given to you. A good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap…” A pertinent question one could ask is, “what is the “IT” that would be given to the giver?” The answer is simple, what the giver gives would be multiplied. In another place, the Bible tells us that givers never lack (Prov. 28:27).

Moving Forward

The message today is not really about the power of God to perform miracles in our lives; every day is a miracle from God, and we are living testimonies of divine miracles. The core of today’s message is about compassionate giving and sharing. There is an invitation to us to follow the examples of our merciful Savior, Jesus Christ and the charitable giving of the boy with the five loaves of bread and two fish and the man from Baal-Shalishah.

Why do we have so much poverty in a wealthy world?  Notwithstanding the effort to eradicate extreme poverty according to one of the millennium development goals of United Nations Organization, about 800 million people are still living in abject poverty. We need more people with loaves of bread and fish; the world is in dire need of more men from Baal-Shahanshah to share the resources of the world, mainly by feeding the hungry.

Do you prefer to send your left over to the bin or to share it with those who have nothing to eat? Often what we refer to as waste could be wealth to someone somewhere. After the miracle of feeding the five thousand, there was no waste. The twelve baskets of bread and fish that remained after the meal served the need of others who were not present on the site of the multiplication.

As we reflect on the message of this Sunday, may we resolve to become givers and sharers as we potentially experience divine multiplication. Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SEARCH FOR THE SELFLESS SHEPHERD. HOMILY FOR THE 16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

JESUS AND A LAMB 2

There are two types of people in the world, the SELFISH and the SELFLESS. Selfish people cannot hide for a long time because everything would end up being about themselves, how they feel, what they want, how they see things, what they think, and all the other indications of the self. On the other hand, there are the few selfless folks whom people often regard as being stupid because they always consider others first. The selfless are always looking out for what would be of benefit to others and could even go with nothing so that others could have something.

Reflecting on the Gospel Reading of last Sunday (Mark 6:7-13), one could see another (hidden) reason our Lord Jesus Christ instructed the apostles not to carry provisions for their mission. From our opening statements, we could see that he wanted them to go through the route of selflessness by discarding personal effects that could potentially trap them into selfishness. The apostles were asked to drop the burden of material possessions so that they could think less about themselves and focus more on their mission.

The Gospel Reading this Sunday (Mark 6:30-34) narrates the return of the apostles from their “take-nothing-for-the-journey” mission. They did excellent work as their reports demonstrate and sensing that they were tired, our Lord Jesus encourages them to take a vacation to a quiet place. However, they could not as people were coming and going in great number. Even attempting an escape with a boat to a deserted place was not possible as the people hastened to their destination on foot before they could arrive.

What could be the cause of this unstoppable search for Jesus Christ and the apostles? We could find the answer to this question in the character of the mission of the twelve. Their missionary work among the people in the various towns and villages was so effectual that the people wanted more. The people encountered messengers that differ from the ones they had. The people met messengers without interest in material things as they did not travel with anything apart from their walking sticks and sandals. The people met shepherds who were interested in gathering the sheep than in scattering them.

The people could go in search of Jesus Christ and the apostles because they could see the difference between them and their conventional selfish and arrogant shepherds who would instead wound than heal them. The people could go in search of shepherds who would instead unite than divide them. The search for Jesus and the apostles confirms the narrative of the First Reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6), where God says that He will gather the remnant of His flock and appoint dependable shepherds that would replace the deceitful ones.

The people were looking for the real shepherds, and as our Lord Jesus Christ puts it, they were like sheep without a shepherd which is another way of saying that they had incompetent and selfish shepherds. Their shepherds failed them, and consequently, they could go out looking for the real ones that would satisfy their spiritual hunger.

David’s description of God as a shepherd in the responsorial psalm (Psalm 23) gives us a perfect picture of the ideal engagement of a true shepherd with the sheep. The true shepherd provides, protects, and preserves the sheep. God is looking for shepherds that would give those leadership qualities for the well-being of the sheep.

Moving Forward!

The message today is for both shepherds and the sheep; in other words, for every one of us. God is looking for committed shepherds who would gather the sheep from their dispersion. God is looking for shepherds who would provide for the flock not draining them with material demands in exchange for spiritual support especially the “miracle galore” of our day and age. God is searching for shepherds who would lead the sheep on the right path, not those that mislead them into destructive routes.

Shepherds are invited by the instructions of the First Reading to live up to their vocation. The idea of detachment from material provisions as our Lord Jesus Christ prescribed for the apostles would help shepherds to become selfless and focus on the needs of the sheep. In the Gospel narrative, we read that the apostles had no time to eat; that means the zeal for God consumed them (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17).

On the part of the sheep, there would be the need to keep up the sincere search for the Lord. The word of God assures us that those who search for the Lord, with their hearts, would find Him (Jer. 29:13). The real search for God does not entertain excuses; distance does not pose a barrier. Like the people in the Gospel Reading, the committed sheep go beyond powers to search for the Lord, and the found him just as he promised that when we seek, we shall find (Matt.7:7).

As we celebrate the Word and the Sacrament today, let us resolve to become committed shepherds and sheep of God who is the ideal shepherd. May God’s unfailing graces remain with us as we place all our hope and trust in Him. Have an awesome Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

DISCOVERING THE DIVINE PURPOSE AND WILL. HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

HIS PURPOSE

You are not an accident; your life is not just an event without a plan or direction. Your current situation is not the definition of who you are. If you look around, you could see the clouds (blue and white alike) hanging up there in the skies. You could also see the sun, the moon or the stars depending on where you are, and your time zone. What about the mountains, hills, oceans, rivers, streams, the flowers, and trees? You could see human beings and animals with their respective dispositions exuding life. Don’t forget that there would be a morning after the night just as one season goes before another.

The rhythm and dynamics of the universe indicate the presence of an expert planner, an unbeatable architect, and an author and finisher per excellence. The universe gives us an obvious idea that there is an eternal ordering of these things and events and someone is in charge. Forget the claims of the big bang theory (not the movie), which is the scientific explanation that the universe started about 13.7 billion years ago from the explosion from a single tiny super-force point.

God is the creator and maker of all things and not a sudden big bang. God created the world out of His irreprehensible will and purpose. Consequently, everything in the world exists for a divine purpose. In the Second Reading Today (Ephesians 1:3-14), St. Paul tells us among other things that God not only blessed us with every spiritual blessing, But He also chose us before the foundation of the world. This goes back to what God says in the book of Jeremiah (1:15), “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you a prophet to the nations.” In another place we read (Jer. 29:11), “for I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

The primary lesson from the Second Reading today and by extension, the other Readings is the fact of the divine will and purpose for us. The will and purpose of God include His destined love for us through which we gain adoption, redemption, forgiveness of our sins, and riches of His grace which he lavished upon us. However, we are required to respond to God’s purpose by proclaiming His glory and working towards our salvation which is the height of God’s purpose for our lives.

In the First Reading (Amos 7:12-15), we read about the distinction between human purpose and divine purpose in the ministry of two men. Amaziah was a priest at Bethel, and from his opening statement, he functions by proclaiming the praises of the king. Hence, his purpose lies in the royal courts. The presence of the prophet Amos made him uncomfortable because he saw a competition instead of a companion.

Amos, on the other hand, represents a typical example of an honest response to divine purpose. As he relates to Amaziah, he had no prophetic background. He was instead a shepherd and a dresser of the sycamore tree and was only responding to God’s purposeful design to proclaim His word among His people.

We could, from the narrative in the First Reading, ask ourselves where we belong; the camp of Amaziah or Amos? One is fulfilling the purpose of man, and the other is performing the divine purpose. We fulfill the purpose of man when we struggle to make impressions to get the approval of people especially those in authority. We attempt to achieve the purpose of man when we see competition instead of companionship in the work of God. On the other hand, we take the route of Amos, the divine purpose, when we rely on God for direction and proclaim His praises to His glory and for our sanctification.

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 6:7-13), our Lord Jesus Christ gives more clarity to divine purpose in the context of sending the twelve on their first apostolic work. During the commissioning, he asks them not to carry physical provisions except a walking stick and their sandals, why? First, God will provide for them (Gen. 22:8). For every divine purpose, there is a divine vision, and provision. In the journey of life, there is the need for us always to remember that God is marching with us and our human provisions could become prohibitions. Hence, the need for us to depend on God. St Paul would say to the Romans (8:28), we know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those he has called according to His purpose.

The second part of the narrative urges them to go along with a walking stick and a pair of sandals. Walking stick would remind us of the staff of Moses. During the encounter at the burning bush, God asks Moses, “what do you have in your hand” (Exodus 4:2), and he says a stick and God says him to drop it on the ground and it turns to a serpent. God later asked him to take it by the tail, and it switches back to a stick. If we read further, we could see that the stick was instrumental to many wonders including creating a road through the red sea. When we think about how to go through the journey of life, we should remember what we have in our hands and use it; needless to ask what is in our hands because we have lots of potentials from God.

The sandals, on the other hand, disclose the readiness to execute the divine purpose (Eph. 6:15). Taking the sandals along is an indication of the willingness to walk the talk, wearing the sandals is an indication that we are ready to go any length and anywhere to proclaim His name. The sandals show that we have a platform to fulfill the divine purpose.

Moving Forward!

Life without purpose is a disaster. Unfortunately, most people search for their purpose in the wrong places. It is only in God that we can find the full expression of our purpose in life. There is also the need for us to understand that for every purpose there is a process. Joseph, for instance, had a divine purpose, to become a prime minister in Egypt and feed the people of God during the famine and to fulfill that purpose he had to pass through the process of hatred, rejection, and even imprisonment but he did not lose his  “walking stick”; his dreams. He did not also forget his sandals, namely, his readiness to help others.

As we march into a new week, may we like the apostles be ready to go where God’s purpose leads us. May we rely more on divine provision more than the human dependences that could potentially lead us to deficiency. Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

POPULARITY DOES NOT MAKE THE REAL PROPHET. HOMILY FOR THE 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Prophet without honor

Once upon a time, an entertainment company, while organizing a Christmas holiday program signs a contract with a very popular musician to feature in the three-day event. When people learned that the popular musician would be live, tickets sold out. However, a day before the event, the popular musician became very sick and was rushed to the emergency room. It was very late to cancel the contract, and he sends a message to the company regretting his inability to attend but recommends another musician who was not popular with the people.

The news was not suitable for both the organizers and the people who bought tickets. Some people decided not to attend the event following the report of the inability of the popular musician to attend. Fast forwarding into the event, the performance of the unpopular musician takes everyone by storm. As the show progresses, people no longer felt the absence of the popular musician as the stand-in musician takes the event to an entirely new level.

During an interview session with journalists towards the end of the event, the chief director of the entertainment company among other things relates that his greatest learning in the entire process is that popularity does not make a good musician. Hence you don’t need to be popular to be good at what you do. We can apply this instance in the ministry of the prophet; popularity does not make the real prophet.

The liturgy of the word today focuses on the identity and ministry of the prophet. In the First Reading (Ezekiel 2:2-5), the prophet recalls his mission to speak to the people about their rebellion against God so that they would know that a prophet exists among them. In the Second Reading (2 Cor. 12:7-10), St. Paul tells us about the personal weaknesses and limitations of the prophet which for him serves to checkmate the propensity to self-exaltation (boasting). In the Gospel Reading (Mark 6:1-6), we hear the story of the rejection of the greatest prophet, our Lord Jesus Christ, during his first pastoral visit to his hometown, Nazareth.

The disaffection and repudiation that trailed the visit of Jesus Christ to Nazareth have a lot to do with the popularity clause. Simply put, he received rejection because he was not popular among his people as a prophet. The Nazarenes did not see him study under any of known rabbis nor did he enroll in any of the rabbinical schools. Furthermore, his father was a carpenter, and his mother was a simple folk in the village. There was nothing spectacular about his relations either, and the people retained the idea that nothing good could come out of Nazareth (John 1:46). Should we blame the Nazarenes for rejecting Jesus Christ? One could imagine that they were acting within the limits of their knowledge and the word of God says that my people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

In retrospect, Jesus Christ left Nazareth for the desert where he spends forty days in fasting and prayers. He goes as a carpenter; he goes as the son of a humble woman called Mary. He goes as a common Nazarene who was very much like other folks. After the baptism of John and the desert encounter, Jesus comes to Nazareth no longer as a mere citizen of the town, but as the Messiah of the people. He comes to the familiar ground with unfamiliar packages. Jesus comes not as a wood carpenter, but as a spiritual carpenter; he did not come to repair broken tables, chairs, and farm implements, but the broken lives of the people. He comes as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel in the First Reading (2:2-5) about a prophet amid the rebellious people. He comes not only as Jesus but also as the Christ (the anointed one). Our Lord Jesus Christ visited not merely as a member of the community but as its master, teacher, Lord, and savior.

Reflecting on the episode at Nazareth, we could derive lessons from the following high points:

  • Familiarity is a faith killer

The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” is a derivation from the Book of Proverbs (25:17), which says that constant visits to a neighbor’s house could bring weariness and hatred. Familiarity means to have a kind of household closeness to someone or something. The more familiar we get, the more comfortable we become, and that could weaken our active engagement.

The Nazarenes could not connect to the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ because they were familiar with his family background and could not see anything prophetic about the son of the carpenter. Consequently, they could not uphold him in faith. Often, we repeat the mistakes of the Nazarenes in our relationship with God. Does your daily (frequent) encounter with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist facilitate or diminish your faith in His real presence in the sacrament? Do we become so familiar with the priests of God that we lose confidence in the “prophet” in them?

  • Rejection of Christ is the rejection of his blessings

The most pathetic aspect of the Gospel narrative today is the rejection of Jesus Christ by his people. In fact, the text says that they took offense at him. Luke’s (4:16-30) account of the same visit tells us about a more aggressive attempt to kill Jesus Christ, but he eluded them.

The Nazarene rejected Jesus Christ because he was not a famous prophet among them. They refused him because of their familiarity with his background. They rejected him because they could not stand the truth. It could have been a bitter experience for our Lord as he exclaims, “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

The consequence of the rejection of Christ is that he was not able to perform ANY MIGHTY DEED there apart from curing a few sick people. Here we learn that our rejection can limit God’s mighty deed in our lives. We need to accept him in faith before the Lord can function effectively in our lives. Do you receive or reject the Lord at those critical moments in your life? Would the Lord today marvel at your faith or lack of faith like the Nazarenes?

  • Going forward

God is not interested in how popular or unpopular a prophet is. What is essential in our acceptance of the message of the prophet in faith and trust in God not in the prophet. Often we seek God in distant places where we think that popularity brings miracles when we can find around us. The central message of today is the call for us to undo the deeds of the Nazarenes by not allowing the privilege of “God with us” to diminish our reverence, faith, and acceptance of him so that he can perform mighty deeds in our lives.

May the grace of God abide with us as we place all our hope in Him. Have a blessed Sunday and an awesome week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

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