There are moments in our lives when we have so many questions about things, but we get little or no corresponding answers. There are moments when it seems that all our efforts to get to a precise balance switch over to the reverse; the more we push, the more we get a push-back. You may have had a rock-bottom experience in your finances, marriage, and relationship. It could even be physical, mental, or spiritual challenges that make you defenseless. You know those moments when you are not sure of the next line of action.
An attentive look at the First Reading today (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4) shows that the suppliant was in the exact situation we examined above. Hear part his painful lines again:
How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?
This excerpt shows the deep frustration and hopelessness of the person in the eye of the frustrating moment. From the lines, we understand that the individual in question has been crying out to God for assistance, but no help seems to be in view. It may not be out of place to ask why he was not able to get help from God. The possible answer to the question is evident in God’s reply to him and part of which would preoccupy us in what follows.
The Just Shall Live by Faith
Many people spend much time in prayer, but very few exercise the faith they have in the course of their prayer. Responding to the suppliant in the First Reading, God first dismisses the idea that He would not listen by stating that He would not disappoint, and even if he delays, it is worth the wait. Going further, He says that the just (righteous) shall live by faith.
God’s response clearly shows that the person praying to God in the passage has faith issues. Here we understand that being just or righteous does not automatically translate to faith; in fact, your faith would show forth your righteousness like the case of Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).
The one praying to God in the passage from the First Reading had every good quality and intention but faith. If he had faith, he would not complain that God would not listen to him because God answers even before we finish praying (Isaiah 65:24). If the suppliant had faith, he would have known that he needs to be patient and wait for the Lord to act (Psalm 37:7) and that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).
At this point, it would be worthwhile for us to define faith for clarity. Faith is not an assumption or a feeling as most people think. Faith is essentially a supernatural gift we have from God, which enables us, when we use it, to believe without looking for verifications. The famous oxymoronic passage from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that faith is the assurance of the things we are hoping for and the evidence of things we cannot see (Hebrew 11:1).
Use Your Faith; You Don’t Need an Increment
In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 17:5-10), we see the apostles coming together to our Lord Jesus Christ to make a joint request, and that is “increase our faith.” Here, they acknowledge that they have faith, but they feel that what they have is not enough. Notice that this question comes after the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the instruction about leading others to sin and forgiving offenders as often as they ask for forgiveness.
To their request for increment in their faith, our Lord tells them that if they have faith like the size of a mustard seed, they could tell a mulberry tree to relocate to the sea, and it would happen. Here, our Lord Jesus Christ tries to tell them that what they need is quality-based faith, not quantity-dependent. Furthermore, they need to put their faith into action no matter little it could be.
Moving Forward in Faith
If the Christian life is hardware, faith would be one of its powerful software. St. Paul was right to name faith as one of the three things that would last (1 Cor. 13:13). We need faith to worship God rightly, and as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “it is impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:6).
Often, we ride on the wings of doubt and fear more than that of faith. We ride on the wings of faith when we trust in the power of God and not leaning on our understanding (Prov. 3:5). We ride on the wings of faith when we leave every situation in God’s hands so that we can see God’s hands in everything. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real, but with FAITH, we Forward All Issue To Heaven. Faith would not make things easy; it would instead make all things possible through the power of him who can do exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine (Eph.320).
Have a beautiful Sunday and a lovely week ahead.
What is the purpose of your life on earth? To this question, there could be many answers as there are many people with diverse mindsets and value systems. For the epicureans (those who believe in worldly pleasure), the purpose of life consists of eating and drinking and indulging in sensual pleasures. According to the Bible, their maxim runs thus, “let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” (Isaiah 22:13; 1 Cor.15:32).
We see the trend of epicureanism running through the liturgy of the Word today. In the First Reading (Amos 6:1a, 4-7), God pronounces woe to the complacent in Zion who indulge in mundane luxury leveraging food, drink, best oils, exotic music, and material comfort.
Why did God call them “the complacent?” The complacent is someone who exudes the feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction and is often careless about what the future holds, especially the potential dangers. A perfect example of a materially complacent individual in the Bible would be the rich fool who, after recording a vast harvest complacently says to his soul “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12:19).
The Poor Lazarus and the Rich Epicurean
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is one of the famous passages we have in the Gospels. According to the parable, there was an unnamed rich man who had everything going for him and would feast daily. At his door lay Lazarus, a poor sick man who would gladly eat the scraps from the rich man’s table, but nobody would offer him anything. The only help he could get was from dogs who come around to lick his sores.
Afterward, both the rich man and Lazarus go the way of mortals; namely, the route of death. While money could buy so many things in life, it cannot stop death when it finally comes. Death is open to everyone; the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the good and the bad.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man helps us to understand that there is another life after this earthly existence. Pay attention to what happened when they passed. Lazarus is the first to die, and there was no mention of a funeral, but his soul was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
Note well that while he was on earth, nobody could come close to him except the dogs. But on his way to the Afterlife, he had the privilege of having angels transport him to heaven and bring him to the bosom of Abraham. Being at the bosom of Abraham, the father of faith shows his patience and trust in God despite his condition on earth. He believed that his condition would not be his conclusion.
On the other hand, the rich man dies, and unlike Lazarus, he receives an elaborate and befitting funeral. However, there is no mention of angels taking him, and he did not go to the bosom of Abraham. He instead finds himself in a place of torment and scarcity where he could not get as little as a drop of water. At this point, the poor Lazarus becomes eternally rich while the wealthy epicurean becomes perpetually miserable.
Moving forward, the rich man sees Lazarus enjoying at the bosom of Abraham while he languishes in scarcity Notice that the rich man could recognize Lazarus at this point, but he did not pay attention to him on earth. Furthermore, his two requests for a drop of water from the tip Lazarus’ finger and to have him go back to the world to warn his five brothers did not receive positive answers; why? His prayers are useless in that location because he had the opportunity on earth to make a difference, but he could not.
Moving Forward: Preparing for the Afterlife
The rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth, and Lazarus did not find himself in a glorious Afterlife because he was poor and sick. The difference between the two individuals and what determined their respective rewards was their attitude and disposition to what they had or what they did not have. Attitude is the key to our success or failure in life.
The rich man’s attitude shows that he takes material wealth and worldly pleasure as the end and purpose of life. For him, life is all about how much you could eat and drink, what you can wear and how flamboyant one could be. The rich man did not realize that life is not all about eating and drinking but justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans14:17). St. Paul adds that we should not destroy the work of God on account of food (Romans 14:20).
Lazarus, on the other hand, made it to the bosom of Abraham in heaven because he allowed the love of God to overwhelm him while being patient and having total trust in God. Notice that he didn’t grumble nor complain against the rich man; he had hope in God that he would receive divine elevation at the end of his earthly struggles.
The message today invites us not to put our trust and hope on riches even when they increase (Psalm 62:10). Complacency on riches would deprive us of eternal bliss like the rich man. Finally, St. Paul tells us to consider whatever that is true, honorable, just, holy, lovable, of good repute, virtuous, and anything worthy of praise.
As we step into a new week, let us pay attention to the eternal realities instead of material concerns that would deprive us of everlasting happiness in heaven. Let us be apt enough to make choices for the things that would help us rather than the ones that would harm us in the Afterlife. God bless you!
Once upon a time, a king comes across a poor but happy peasant man and his family while taking a walk outside his palace. The king kept wondering why every one of them looked joyful though they live in abject poverty. After some days, the king decides to pass that way again, and this time the family was having so much fun as they play around laughing and jumping around.
Coming back to the palace, the king asks one of his advisors to explain to him why the peasant and his family live in peace and joy despite their poverty. Responding, the advisor tells the king that they do not belong to the “99 club”, “what’s the 99 club?” the king inquires, and the advisor begs him to spare 99 gold coins, and in few weeks he would understand what it means.
Getting the bag of 99 gold coins, the advisor drops it at the door of the peasant man at night while everyone was asleep. In the morning, the man sees the bag and opening it he finds gold coins and joyfully counting he records 99 gold coins. For a moment, he starts to think that one coin is missing, “how could it be 99 coins, not 100”? He thought. Recounting the bag of coins several times could still not make a difference in the figure.
For the first time in a long while, the peasant loses his joy and becomes irritable. He calls his family together not to share the pleasure of getting a miraculous bag of 99 gold coins but to ask if anyone, by any chance, saw one gold coin. When he could not get a definite answer, the joy in the family started to dwindle. Passing the areas after one week with the advisor the king could not see that joy, he saw earlier. Responding to the king, the advisor tells him that the peasant had joined the 99 club as he is desperately looking for one gold coin when he has 99 of them he could enjoy with his family.
Between God and Mammon
In the Gospel today (Luke 16:10-13), Our Lord Jesus Christ ends the instruction on the right use of wealth by leaving his disciples to choose between God and mammon as much as nobody can conveniently serve two masters. Notice here that our Lord calls mammon a master, and we know that master stands for a person who has power over another; in fact, a master holds a relationship of control over the one who is under him.
God needs no introduction; He is the creator, owner of the universe, and the whole of creation and everything seats under Him, including mammon. God is, indeed, the source of our being. Addressing the Greeks in the Areopagus St. Paul maintains that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In the testimony of St. John about the Word who is God (John 1: 3) he says, “all things were made through him, and without him was made nothing that has been made.”
Mammon comes from the Greek word, mammonas which means money or material wealth. Money is a good thing as it could solve a lot of problems; in fact, the Book of Ecclesiastes (10:19) says that money answers all things. However, there is another angle which tells us that the love of money is evil; in fact, the root of all evil. Some eager for money have strayed from the faith and have involved themselves in many troubles (1 Tim. 6:10). Notice here that the love of money is the ROOT of all evil, not the FRUIT. The fruit is what we see, but the root lies beneath, and we don’t easily see the root.
The real reason why most people rise very early in the morning to work and come back late tired and exhausted is the desire to generate money that could serve some material needs which includes food, clothing, and shelter among others. Most People go into businesses and other endeavors because of the income they could generate from them.
Generally, the bible does not condemn working to generate income; in fact, the Psalmist says that you shall eat by the labor of your hands and all shall go well with you (Psalm 128:2). Again St. Paul says that whoever does not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). What God detest is when we place work and income above Him or when we neglect social justice and morality in our pursuit for money like the prophet Amos (8:4-7) mentioned in the First Reading today.
Moving Forward: Money is not everything, but God is!
Materialism is one of the major obstacles to our spiritual growth and development because it turns our attention from God and keeps our focus on what we can get and how much we can hold. Life is not all about what we can get than what we can give. In giving we increase; the Word of God says that blessed are the hands that give than the one that takes (Acts 20:35).
It is not uncommon to hear most people talk about pursuing money. The reality is that if you set out to go after money, you will never get enough. The real key to wealth is to embrace your passion, and with that you make impact, and the impact would drive income.
The real Master we must follow always is God because He is the source of our resources. Our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that those who righteously seek God would have other things, including material wealth, added unto them (Mathew 6:33). As we march into a new week, let us try to reappraise our Christian commitment and stand with God as the ideal master of our lives.
Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead. God bless you!
Have you ever lost anything that is very precious to you; just anything? There are some legendary stories about lost items that were found after so many years. A Georgian resident, Burton Maugans lost his wallet while water-skiing and the same wallet was found after twenty-four years by the shore in North Carolina with his driver’s license and other ids intact. Years ago, a professor ordered an old book, and it turned out to be the same book he lost four years earlier.
There are other stories of people who got missing and were found after many years when their families and friends had presumed that they were dead. The experience of losing our possessions probably starts from childhood. You could remember those times you misplace your toys or other tiny properties, and you cry and want the entire world to stand still until you find them. The joy of finding lost things often transcends the pain of losing them.
To sin is to Get Lost
One of the destructive effects of sin is that it cuts us away from God (Isaiah 59:2). Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel of John that when we are cut off from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). The First Reading (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14), narrates the dialogue between Moses and God on Mount Sinai where God tells Moses about His displeasure over the sins of the people and His plan to blot them out entirely and raise another nation through him.
God was telling Moses that the people strayed from Him due to their evil mind and obduracy. To stray is another way of saying that they got lost by following the desires of their hearts, namely, making a molten calf and worshipping it. Reacting to God’s decision to wipe away the people, Moses pleads and reminds Him of His oath of abundant blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 15:1-32), our Lord reacts to the complaint of the Pharisees and the Scribes about his closeness to tax collectors and sinners; in fact, they said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Typical of our Lord Jesus Christ, he appeals to the power of parables to give them a great answer, in this case, he rolls out three interconnected parables that dwell on the theme of lost and found.
The first parable talks about a single sheep straying from a fold of a hundred sheep and how the shepherd left the ninety-nine in the desert to look for the lost one. The story can only make sense to us when we see it as a parable, not a real event because leaving ninety-nine sheep in the desert to look for one strayed one appears preposterous. From the illustrative point of view, what is essential is the lost sheep that needs rescue.
In the second parable, our Lord talks about a woman with ten coins losing one and how she would light a lamp and search the house carefully until she finds it. The more exciting part of it is that calls her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her over the lost and found coin.
The woman could be a widow and childless as there were no indications of husband and children. Furthermore, the money appears to be very important to her as she couldn’t wait till dawn to look for it. Finding it, she could not keep quiet; in fact, her neighbors and friends had to lose some sleep to rejoice with her. Our Lord’s concluded this parable by linking the event to how heavens rejoice when the lost (sinner) is found.
While the first two parables talk about an animal and an inanimate object, respectively, the third parable talks about a lost human being. While in the first two parables the owners go in search for them, in the parable of the lost son (also known as the prodigal son), the lost person comes back on his own and makes himself available to be found after coming to his senses.
We are like the Lost Sons
For the everyday reader of third parable in Gospel today, there seems to be one lost son, but an active reading would show that the parable is also about the older son who became lost when his brother was found.
The parable tells us that the younger son comes to his father to ask for his share of his estate. His father was not dead, and he could only have a share if it appears on the father’s will. The younger son’s request was totally out of order. Contrary to everyone’s expectation, the father did not resist; he divided all he had into two and gave him one part and getting his things together; he travels to a distant country.
The country is called distant or far (as some other translations would say) because it represents a disconnection with the father. To be in a distant country is to be lost and nothings subsist in a distant country. The Book of Proverbs (21:16) says that a man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead. The latter explains the plight of the younger son as the distant country goes into recession, famine, and hunger.
The turning point was when the younger son comes to his senses and decides to go back to his father and apologize for his mistakes and misdeeds. It was on his way back that his father sighted him and runs to welcome him back to his house and goes further to restore his lost status and privileges.
However, the flip side of the narrative shows that the older son was not happy that his lost brother was found, so he decides to stay away from the return-party in honor of his missing brother that was found. At this point the older son switched places with his brother; the lost was found, and the one who was not missing got lost.
The parables point to the fact that sin takes us away from God; we become lost when we make wrong decisions and choices that disconnect us from God and take us to a “distant country.” They also tell us that God is continuously in search for us as He does not take pleasure in the death of the lost (Ezekiel 33:11).
The second point of the third parable is that we could sin not only by outright commission like the younger son but also by some prideful attitudes like that of the older son. If we take a closer look at the words and actions of the elder son, we will discover that he already judged and condemned his younger his brother. The last thing he would like to hear is that his lost brother is found alive and would regain what he lost by his disconnection from the father.
As we march into the new week we are invited to come to our senses like the younger son and to find our way back towards the Father as He would receive us to Himself and restore all we have lost by straying away. Furthermore, we are invited to pay attention to our attitude to others whom we tag as unrighteous. Often our disposition in our so-called righteousness could make us worse than those we label as sinners.
God bless you and have a blessed week ahead.
On one occasion while in the seminary, I was traveling from Owerri southeast Nigeria to visit one of my sisters in Abuja, northcentral Nigeria. Arriving at the bus terminal, I met a lady with two young boys clad in their school uniforms. The lady coming to me asked if I was traveling on the bus that was about to depart, and I answered in affirmation. Then she said, “can I ask for a favor?” I nodded, and she asked if I could kindly keep an eye on the two boys (her kids) as they were traveling back to school for the first time by themselves and she felt like handing them over to someone, and she thought I could help.
Fast forwarding, I accepted the lady’s request, and she was overjoyed when I introduced myself as a catholic seminarian, and the kids were returning to Loyola College, a catholic school in Abuja. One thing that touched me and doubled as the reason for this story was her final words to her kids before kissing them goodbye. She said to them, “follow him (that is me) and do whatever he tells you throughout the journey.” Like a typical Nigerian mother, she repeated the instruction three times while pulling the lower part of her ears with both hands for emphasis.
Reflecting on that event in the context of the Gospel Reading today (Luke 14:25-33), it strikes me that the greats crowds were merely traveling with Jesus and not committing to becoming followers of the Lord. For the latter reason, our Lord turns to them and says, “if anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Co-travellers Vs. Disciples
Each time we travel, we meet other people traveling on the same route as us. Often, the only relationship we have with them is that of being on the same bus, car, ship, airline, etc. At the end of that journey, we may not meet most of them again. On the contrary, when we have family, friends, or colleagues with us, we tend to share a relationship of support and dependence during the duration of the journey.
In the opening story of this reflection, one would observe that the two young students had many co-travelers in the bus, but through the counsel of their mom, they could look up to me and follow my instructions throughout the journey. On the way to Jerusalem, our Lord had lots of co-travelers or crowds, but he insists on making it clear that there is something more precious than being a co-traveler.
Discipleship is all about Detachment and Commitment to the Lord
It is most regrettable that some Christians are mere co-travelers instead of committed disciples. Our Lord made it clear that anyone who wants to follow him must go through a process which involves detachment from self and close relations (1 Cor. 7:29-31), carrying one’s cross, building up oneself (Jude 1:20), and being battle-ready (Eph. 6:11-17).
When our Lord says, one should hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and one’s own life he meant that we should love them less compared to our love for God which should be more. Our Lord’s message is very appropriate for us in our day and age, where most of us prefer the things of the world to heavenly values. St. James would advise us that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).
Carrying our cross every day to follow the Lord calls for commitment and consistency in our Christian life. Christianity is not just a religion; it is a way of life and living the Christian life without the cross is like making a caricature of the redemptive event of the Lord at Calvary. The cross is not a conclusion of our life but the gateway to our glorious crown in heaven. St. Paul tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
As we march into a new week, let us remember that it is not enough to travel with the Lord amid the vast crowd. He wants us to identify ourselves as committed disciples by our avowed detachment, the conscientious building of our faith in love and the courage to fight the battle with the confidence that He who started a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). God bless you!
Humility is central to all the virtues, just as pride is the heartbeat of all vices. To be humble means to be modest in all things by keeping to one’s position and not seeing oneself as better than others. According to C.S, Lewis humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.
Richard Paul Evans, in his book “The Tower,” tells the story of a young man who wanted to become the greatest in his community. To achieve his intention, he builds a wooden tower reaching towards the skies and sitting there; he would be looking down on everyone. One day a bird comes around to tell him that there is an older woman in the community who is higher than him and everyone is going to see her.
The young man descends from his wooden tower and sets out to search for the older woman only to see that what she does is to feed a flock of birds and people come all over to see her. The woman later tells the young man that greatness is not about being above others but by lifting them. Jesse Jackson would support this in his statement that says, “never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” Mother Teresa did not achieve greatness through some prideful performances but her humble service to the poorest in the slums of Calcutta.
Humility: Keeping to your God-given Position
The First Reading today (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29) begins with the instruction to conduct our affairs with humility much as God favors the humble. Humility, according to the passage, restricts us from seeking after things that are beyond us.
Furthermore, in the Gospel Reading today (Luke 14:1, 7-14), our Lord Jesus Christ reinforces the discourse on humility with the parable of a wedding banquet where people scramble for places of honor. The irony is that those who aspire to rise to places of honor would face the humiliation of demotion to lower seat while those who sought for lowly positions would be upgraded to higher positions, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). St. Paul tells us that through humility our Lord Jesus Christ was exalted and given the name above every name such that every knee bends and every tongue confesses at the mention of his name (Phil. 2:6-11).
The back story to the parable is our Lord’s careful observance of how people were scrambling for positions of honor at a dinner in the home of one of the leading Pharisees. People who struggle for positions have one common thing in mind, and that is the desire to be above others and lead the parade; in other words, it is the struggle for supremacy which intimately connects to pride.
Pride takes us away from God, but humility brings us closer to Him. St. James makes it more explicit, quoting the Book of Proverbs (3:34) when he says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). True worshippers of God are typically humble because one needs to bend very low to jump higher.
Moving Forward: There is no Spiritual Growth without Humility
The Book of Genesis tells us that God created the man from the soil of the earth and breathed upon him, and he became a living being (Genesis 2: 7). The Latin root of the word soil is “humus,” and from that root, we have the word “human” as well as the word “humility.” Looking at this etymology very carefully, we understand that God not only created us from the soil but also wants us to keep our lives as lowly as the soil base.
Notice again that after fashioning the man from the soil, he was lifeless until God breathed on him. Here, we understand that our lives amount to nothing without God. For the fact that we depend on God’s provision of the air, we continuously need for survival should be enough to move us to humble submission to Him.
Humility is key to our communication and connection with God; it is the quickest route to the heart of God. If pride goes before a fall, then upliftment comes after humility. The liturgy of the word today invites us to reappraise our humility quotient. There is a critical need to think about ourselves less. We need to restrain ourselves from the undue projection of ourselves while degrading others.
Life is not just about us and what we want. Humility is priceless and godly. It helps us to pray well, love more profoundly, and to serve with joy. The best thing you can do for yourself today is to resolve to pull down the walls of pride and to follow the route of humility though it may not be as rosy and secure as the lofty but destructive steps of pride.
May we end this reflection with St. Paul’s instruction to the Philippians (2:3), “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourself.” Have a glorious Sunday and a graceful week ahead.
Why are some people more successful in life than others? Some people may say it takes determination, others would talk about hard work, and still, others would mention thinking and acting outside the box. These are beautiful answers. However, Al Tomsik would say that success involves tons of discipline. What then, is discipline?
Discipline as a verb refers to the way of training people to observe some rules and codes of conduct. It could sometimes involve using punishment to correct someone, but that is not the goal. The purpose of discipline is to make someone to comply with rules and regulations which would potentially benefit the life of the individual.
Without discipline, life would be a harvest of chaos as it involves the right ordering of persons. Discipline could be self-dependant when it requires a conscious personal effort to live one’s life in compliance with some social and moral norms. In his First Letter to the Corinthians (9:27), St. Paul mentions that he disciplines his body to keep it under control.
Discipline could also come from parents and teachers. The Book of Proverbs (13:24), says that those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them. St. Paul advises the fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instructions of the Lord. Teachers and coaches apply discipline by making their students do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they want in life.
Divine Discipline at the Service of Salvation
At this point, our attention turns to divine discipline; in other words, the correction and training that comes from God. The Second Reading today (Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13) quoting the Book of Proverbs (3:11-12) tells us that we should not disdain the discipline of the Lord because He disciplines whom he loves. We encounter the same statement from the Books Revelation (3:19) where the Lord speaking in the first person says, “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”
From the Lord’s statement above we begin to understand the saving power of divine discipline. Divine discipline refines us as raw gold gets refinement after passing through fire. The First Reading today (Isaiah 66: 18-21) tells us that God knows our works and our thoughts. Through God’s pervading knowledge and refinement, he sets apart some of us to come into His service as priests and Levites.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 13:22-30), an unnamed person on our Lord’s route to Jerusalem asked if only a few people would be saved. Our Lord’s answer to this question has everything to do with discipline, “strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Why? To enter through a narrow gate would require that one repackages oneself; otherwise, the entrance would be difficult. Repackaging, in this sense, means openness to both self and divine discipline.
Moving Forward: The Disciplined shall Enter!
A closer look at the later part of the Gospel shows that those who refrain from the needful divine discipline would not gain entrance into the heavenly banquet after the master of the house (the Lord) rises to lock the door. Here we notice that God gives us time to enter through the narrow gate; in fact, He sits and waits for us to repackage ourselves for entrance.
When the door closes, the narrative tells us that those who are excluded would knock and beg using familiarity with the Lord as an argument to gain entrance. Contrary to their expectation, the Lord would deny knowing them nor where they come from; in fact, he would even call them evildoers.
We learn from the Gospel passage today that those who would enter God’s abode would be those who strive to go through the route of discipline by entering through the narrow gate. Entrance through the narrow gate would entail humility because those who humbly themselves would be exalted (Matt. 23:12b).
Those times when you go through episodes of sickness, loss of a job, relationship breakdown, and other forms of afflictions could translate to your season of divine discipline. At those moments of disappointments, instability and weakness do not give up. Remember God’s consoling words to St. Paul at the prime of his session of divine discipline, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
As we march into a new week, may we strive to be docile to the Lord’s discipline by walking with him wherever he leads us. The road and gate may be narrow, but the destination would be eternally comforting. Have a blessed Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
There lived in an ancient Chinese kingdom wise and amiable king. As he was getting old and sickly, he started to worry about who would succeed him as he had no child. One day, he invites a select group of young men from various locations in the kingdom to the palace. Giving each of them a peculiar seed, he tells them to return to the palace after one year so that he could evaluate who groomed the best plant from his seed and who would succeed him as the king.
After three months Wei, who happens to be among the group, could not see any sign of life from the seed as kept watering it and exposing the plant container to sunlight. Checking on the other young men, he observed that their seeds were growing into magnificent plants, and some were even developing bright flowers.
Wei thought about giving up, but his mon tells him to keep up with watering the seed and hope for the best. Ten months after, Wei did not see any sign of growth, but he would not give up as he continued to water the seed and doing all he could to provide the best conditions for possible germination.
Soon it was the twelfth month and the day of the king’s assessment dawns. Wei stood at a hidden side of the palace watching as other young men arrive with their colorful plants. The king later arrives at the venue and begins to inspect the plants. Coming to Wei, he sees an empty pot and inquires from him what happened. Replying, Wei, almost in tears, tells the king that he did all he could to water the seed and expose it to sunlight, but no success.
After listening to him, the king turns to everyone and pointing to Wei; he says, “Behold your new king. I gave all of you boiled seeds to plant, but he is the only one that planted it, the rest of you exchanged theirs with other seeds. Wei is the only one that qualifies to rule the kingdom after me for his honesty and integrity”.
According to Thomas Jefferson, honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. Honesty is a virtue that often functions in provoking the minds of the dishonest. In the First Reading (Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10), the prophet Jeremiah faces push backs from the princes of the kingdom because of his distinguishable honesty and integrity with the word of God. He preferred to die than to conform to the pattern of the time, which involves hiding the truth and telling king Zedekiah all he needed to hear.
The Lord’s Version of Peace vs. the Peace of the World
The Gospel today (Luke 12:49-53) presents a very worrisome situation as our Lord Jesus Christ declares, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” In another place he says, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…”
One would marvel at these statements as they seem to contradict the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth. The prophecy of Isaiah (9:6) tells us, among other things that Jesus Christ, who is the subject of the oracle, is the Prince of peace. At his birth, the nativity angels sang, “Glory to God on high and peace to people on earth” (Luke 2:14). Rising from the dead and visiting the apostles behind locked doors, the risen Lord greeting says to them twice, “peace be with” (John 20:19-21).
On a more profound reflection, one would discover that there is no contradiction in what our Lord said in the Gospel today compared to the passages on peace we have above. We find the key to understanding the Lord’s version of peace in the Gospel of John (14:27b), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives”.
From the above, we discover that the peace our Lord Jesus Christ gives is different from that of the world. The peace of the world is all about conformity to what people want and political correctness. The peace of the world is a respecter of ranks and positions like the one the princes wish to Jeremiah to profess.
Moving Forward: Receiving the Lord’s Fire of Division
Lord’s fire will bring division between those who would accept the message and values of the kingdom of God and those who would refrain from receiving them. Our Lord starts his reflection on the potential division arising from the message of the Gospel beginning in the family, which is the basic unit of the society.
The Gospel today invites us to be intentional about where we need to stand like Jeremiah, who took a stand despite the threat to his life. The book of Sirach (2:1) tells us that every decision to serve the Lord would come with readiness for an ordeal. In the Second Reading today (Heb. 12:1-4), the writer tells us to persevere in the race keeping our eyes fixed on our Lord Jesus Christ and like Jeremiah, he can send an Ebed-Melech to rescue us from the pit of destruction.
Like Wei in our opening story, we need to have an honest grip on the truth even when our position is contrary to the rest of the people. Our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us today that we need to swim against the current, and that was what he accomplished for us on the cross. Our faith in God should be able to challenge both family and societal norms. And we always need to make our stand clear.
May God’s supportive grace be with you always as you stand the test of your faith like Jeremiah. Have a beautiful week ahead.
Let me tell you the story of the empty chair. A priest comes to see a very sick senior man after receiving a call from his daughter for a visit. Entering the room, the priest sees an empty chair beside the man’s bed, and he says, “Oh, you know about my visit, and you even have a chair ready for me?” Replying, the sick man tells the priest to close the door and come closer.
Leaning forward, the sick man tells the priest that the chair is not for him but God’s chair. He explains saying that he has always doubted the power of prayer until one of his friends tells him that he should pray with faith believing that God is as close as someone sitting beside him and listening.
The sick man concludes by saying that he has come to believe not just that his friend said it because he feels the presence of God on that chair each time he prays to Him. He further adds that he is always careful not to be laud when he talks to God on the chair because his daughter would think that his sickness is getting to his head.
The priest could hardly say anything in response to the man’s overwhelming narrative about the empty chair, in his mind, he thought, “I think I should do more about my faith.”
After that, the priest said the prayer for the sick over him and encouraged him to continue his interaction with God on the empty chair. Two days after, the daughter calls the priest to tell him that his dad passed, but one thing she could not understand was why he chose to die leaning on that chair in his room. But the priest could tell!
Today, the readings draw our attention to the virtues of faith and faithfulness. For a very long time, most Christian teachers, Bible scholars, and theologians confuse these interrelated terms by ascribing the same meaning to them. Faith is not the same as faithfulness, but they complement each other to form a perfect Christian life.
Faith is not Faithfulness
The eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews serves as one of the significant resources for the explanation of faith in the Bible. The Second Reading today (Heb. 11:1-2,8-19) begins by giving us a beautiful definition, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” The passage describes what faith entails with Abraham, who followed God, not knowing the final destination. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that faith is a gift from God; a supernatural virtue infused by him (CCC. 153). When we have faith, we believe before we understand not the other way.
Faithfulness, on the other hand, is our faith response to God in obedience. It means adherence to God’s direction. If we should go back to Abraham, we understand that he believed God when He asked him to leave his father’s house to a place God would show him though he did not know the location. (Genesis 12:1 ff). Going further, Abraham accepts God’s directive to sacrifice his son Issac; at this point, Abraham shows his faithfulness; in other words, he expressed in concrete action the faith he has in God.
Furthermore, faithfulness relates closely to doing the right thing as opposed to the wrong thing. The Book of Deuteronomy (32:4) says that God is faithful and does no wrong.
Moving from Faith to Faithfulness
If we liken faith to the computer software, faithfulness should be the hardware, and both are essential for optimal functioning. We have already mentioned that faith is a supernatural gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Faithfulness, on the other hand, is the fruit the Holy Spirit in our lives building on the faith we have (Galatian 5:22). God wants us to move from faith to faithfulness because He is faithful (1 Cor.1:9). Put in another way; God wants us to make our faith actionable.
While the Second Reading makes references to the faith of Abraham and the other patriarchs, in the Gospel Reading (Luke 12:32-48), our Lord Jesus Christ tells us about faithfulness using the analogy of servants who await their master’s return from a wedding and ready to open the door when he knocks. Explaining the parable further after the question of Peter, our Lord makes it clear that the faithful servant is the one whom the master finds active when he returns; the one who adheres and obeys.
From our Lord’s instruction, we understand that our faithfulness confirms our faith. It is not enough to answer a Christian; it is also essential for us to practice the Christian life. We often profess faith in God, but when we face critical times, we lose the consciousness of our faithfulness to him. St. Paul says, “ If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful for He cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13).
The parable of the servants waiting for the return of master helps us to understand that our titles and positions would become irrelevant if we do not respond to the call to be faithful. It is clear from the narrative that our faith should go beyond our emotional exclamations and show itself in how we respond to God. St. James was right when he mentions that faith without good works is dead (James 2:14-26). We could also say that faith without faithfulness is inadequate in the Christian life.
As we march into a new week, let us continue to look forward to the grace of God to assist us in the constant growth in our faith and faithfulness to God. God is still searching for faithful men and women (Psalm 12:1; Prov. 20:6). May God bless you and grant you abundant blessings in the week ahead.
One of the weirdest and scariest pieces of belonging I have seen in someone’s home is a gorgeous coffin. When I asked why he has a coffin in that part of his house that leads to his bedroom, he says to me, “Father, that coffin is for my funeral. It reminds me daily that it would be the only property in this house that would go with me to the grave. I see it when I go out and when I come back to my bedroom, and it also reminds me that nothing matters on earth!”
Unlike the man in the opening of our reflection, we often think less of the end of earthly life as we allow many things to overwhelm us in our struggle for material success. In the First Reading today (Eccles. 1:2; 2:21-23), the Preacher tells us that all things (physical struggles) are reducible to vanity as people labor till death only to leave their wealth for others who did not work for them.
The Gospel Reading (Luke 12:13-21) would form the base of our reflection. The narrative tells us that an unnamed man in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” It would be helpful for us to look back at what our Lord Jesus Christ was saying to the crowd before this startling question.
At the beginning of the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke when the crowd gathered by their thousands, our Lord speaks first to his disciples and warns them to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He further points out that everything hidden would come to light. The next teaching talks about being fearless in the face of persecutions and being able to defend one’s faith against all the odds. He ends by encouraging boldness and reliance on the help of the Holy Spirit.
Looking at the topics preceding the question from the man in the crowd, one would wonder what was going on in his mind. It could be that his brother was a disciple of Jesus or someone in that crowd. The man may have thought that he has the best opportunity to confront his elder brother leveraging the presence of our Lord at that location. In another way, the man was telling Jesus to abuse his power as a spiritual teacher to arbitrate over family property. His request has nothing to do with our Lord’s teaching, so, he brings up an unconnected topic which turns out to be an opportunity for our Lord to confront his inner struggles and to instruct everyone else.
Answering the man, our Lord starts by telling him that he is neither the judge nor the arbitrator of their property; in order words, his question has no eternal or salvific value. Going further, he says to the crowd, which includes the man, “take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Our Lord’s answer shows us that the man in the crowd was struggling with an obsession with material wealth, and the parable that follows confirms this assertion.
In the parable, our Lord talks about a farmer who had a bountiful harvest which outran his storage facility and he asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?”. Here we have a simple question but let us examine the answer he gives. “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” There I shall store all my grain and other goods, and I shall say to myself. Now, as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry”.
From the monologue of the prosperous farmer, we see the wisdom of his question as well as the foolishness of his answer, which became his final decision. Often in life, we ask this question, “what shall I do” however, like this rich man we become foolish by our choice of answer and what we do afterward. We shall examine the three defaults of the rich man that made him a fool in the estimation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
His Greedy Attitude
The word greed also means covetousness, and it refers to an excessive and unsatisfying desire for material wealth or gain. The powerhouse of greed is selfishness or self-centredness. It is often easy to dictate selfish people when they speak because of their constant reference to self. In the short monologue, we could see the rich fool making references to self about fifteen times. Notice that he did not think about his family, neighbors, friends, and those who are not as successful him. It was all about what he wants, feels, and what would give him happiness.
Selfishness, which is the same as self-seeking is contrary to the word of God. St. Paul tells the Corinthians in his First Letter that no one should seek their good, but the good of others (1 Cor. 10:24). St. John makes it more practical in his First Letter when he asks how the love of God could subsist in anyone who has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them. Finally, St. Paul’s letter to the Romans says that there will be anger and wrath against the selfish (Romans 2:8).
The attitude of Ingratitude to God
There is a clear-cut attitude of thanklessness in the life of the rich fool in the Gospel today. The rich man could have been wise enough to ask, like David, “How can I repay the Lord for His goodness to me” (Psalm 116:12). Instead of focusing on the Lord God who provides the seed for sowing (2 Cor.9:10) and the rain (Matt. 5:45), he turns to himself believing that it is all about his efforts; the size of his barn and not the size of God’s providence.
In the story of the rich fool, we cannot identify any instance of gratitude to God; rather, he has fantasies about himself being at ease and having lifetime merriment. How could he be at ease without the endorsement of his creator? Often, we think we own ourselves, and we forget that someone knows our end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
The rich fool could not remember or did not know that thanksgiving should follow every experience of divine multiplication. The attitude of gratitude is what God demands from us. Psalm (50:14) says, “Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High. In the Gospel of Luke (17:13-18), our Lord Jesus Christ praises the Samaritan among the Ten Lepers for the simple fact of coming back to say, “thank you.” St. Paul tells the Ephesians (5:20) to give thanks to God in all things.
Moving Forward: Going Beyond Riches and Reaching Out
The rich man was foolish because he could not reach out beyond himself. Nothing matters so much in this world that should make us lose our eternal gains. In one of his outstanding teachings, our Lord asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
Life is not all about how much we are making or how much we have saved. The question should be how grateful we are for what we have and how do we reach out to God and humanity. We are living in a wealthy world where 1 in 9 people, that is about 795 million people, go to bed daily without food, yet tons of food items go into the garbage. The rich man in the Gospel didn’t need to pull down his barns because he already had enough, and the excess would have been for others. St. Paul says when we have more than enough, we should abound in good works (2 Cor. 9:8). The book of Proverbs (11:25) says that a generous person would be enriched, whoever waters others would be watered.
As we march into the new week, let us keep in mind that the coffin could be the only property of ours that would accompany us to the grave and that all we have would no longer be ours when we die. May we then strive to store up eternal treasure not earthly barns by reaching out to others and God in gratitude for His unfathomable blessings. God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.