Suddenly Emeka was knocked down by something invisible to our eyes. He was foaming at the mouth, and his eyes grew pale as he stiffens. He was jerking while turning rhythmically from one cardinal point to the other. Nobody could shout or speak; it was as if we were all muted by some remote controller with our eyes wide open and our mouths forming large “Os.” It was a woman who was passing by that gave a loud shout that unmuted our fixated dumbness. “This is convulsion” The woman screamed, and people within earshot came running to our makeshift soccer field where Emeka was keeping one of the goal posts before his sudden episode.
It was my first time of experiencing someone “dying, ” and it was scary. I had to live with the memory for a long time as a child. More people emerged on the scene with various “first aid” or “instant support” materials like palm oil, onions, fresh peppers, balms, kernel oil, spices, spoons, and many other things.
The effort to save the life of Emeka engaged everyone. But he was not getting better; he was dying! Someone suggested a visit to a hospital, but the majority said it was not hospital affair. After a while, one woman emerged and was welcomed with some sighs of relief by those who knew her in the street. She appeared to be an authority in dealing with convulsion cases.
The first thing the woman did was to ask everybody to back off. She picked up Emeka like a baby and placing him on her lap she started to deal with the situation with exceptional expertise and dexterity. After a few minutes, Emeka sneezed thrice and got up and started smiling. Everyone rejoiced. “This could be a miracle. Emeka was dying a few moments ago, but now he has risen and even smiling”, my little mind indulged.
Death is a significant part of our humanity. It is not unusual to hear about death and about people dying but rising from the dead is not a common phenomenon. In the Bible, we have stories from both testaments about people coming back to life after death through some divine interventions.
Elijah and Elisha brought people back to life through their prayers to God (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37). Our Lord Jesus Christ raised Jarius’ daughter to life (Luke 8: 41-42, 49-56) as well as the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). However, the raising of Lazarus to life is not only peculiar (he was dead for four days and was decomposing), it is also filled with a lot of lessons that are relevant to the mission of Christ as well as to our lives as Christians, especially in the context of the Lenten season.
We shall study the highlights in the narrative of Lazarus’ illness, death and being raised to life while applying them to our lives in line with the other readings of this Sunday.
The Gospel Reading began by telling us that Lazarus was ill but we do not know the details of his illness. We understand illness as a disease of body or mind. In this situation, Lazarus could have suffered from a very severe disease that defied every medical assistance; that could explain why the family sought the attention of our Lord. He learns from a messenger that the one he loves is ill and in response, he says that the illness is not unto death.
We can also understand this illness in our context as being cut off from God (John 15:5). Being separated from God is another way of saying that we are living in sin. Sin creates a barrier between us and God (Is. 59:2). We all are ill in one way or the other (Romans 3:23). Our illnesses need the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ whose healing power surpasses all others.
We pray that our illness like that of Lazarus not lead us to death. Some illnesses (sin) could lead to death, and other do not result in death (1 John 5:16) especially when we call the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ like the family of Lazarus did in the Gospel Reading today.
Death is the cessation of all life functions in a body. Spiritually it is a total disconnection from God. Lazarus eventually died (though physically) despite all the efforts made to save him from dying which included the invitation of Jesus Christ. The narrative tells us that our Lord stayed back where he was for two days after the news of his friend’s illness. Ordinarily one would expect him to leave everything and head to Bethany.
God’s time is what we call delay in human terms. With God, there is nothing like delay. What we call delay does not amount to denial before God. God’s plan happens at His own time. That is why we are asked to be strong and wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14).
The reason for our Lord’s “delay” could be seen from the earlier statement he made: “this illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” If he had gone earlier, that glory would not have come. Some things that happen in your lives are meant for the glory of God; so relax!
This will be one of the few places our Lord will explicitly weep. In the Gospel of Luke (19:14), he wept over Jerusalem because the souls that are lost there. During the crucifixion, we heard that he cried out with a loud voice when he said “My God! My God why has thou forsaken me” (Matt.27:26).
The tears of the Lord were not just because of the death of his friend, after all, he was going to raise him to life. Jesus wept for our sins that inexorably lead us to death. Jesus wept for our lack of faith which Martha and Mary expressed when they said: “Lord if you were here your friend, would not have died.” To demonstrate this, our Lord said to Martha “do you believe?” In other words, “where is your faith.” Jesus, our Lord, is still weeping at every moment of our episode of sin and lack of faith in him.
Lazarus was dead for four days before our Lord came. In the words of Martha, there was a possible stench in the tomb. Now the tomb points to more than a place of burial. In fact, we have many tombs confronting us in life in the form of frustrating experiences that hedge us in. But the greatest tomb is that of sin. Our Lord came to liberate us not only from sin but its tomb; its mortal entanglement.
From the tomb of Lazarus, we learn that sin not only brings about death it also imprisons us in some damnable tomb. The tomb of Lazarus points to the tomb of our Lord Jesus. While Lazarus needed our Lord to raise him from his tomb, our Lord rose by the divine power he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Lazarus stayed four days indicating to the fact that he is rising in human frailty; to die again. But our Lord rose from the tomb on the third day on the wings of his divinity unto immortality.
The tomb of Lazarus reflects the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the tomb of Lazarus mortal life was restored but at the tomb of our Lord Jesus eternal life was restored. At the tomb of Lazarus, a man rose to die again. At the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man rose not to die again.
After the stone that was used to close the tomb was removed at the direction of our Lord, he invited Lazarus to come out, and he came out. We are also being called this season to get out from our various tombs. The dead man came back to life. However, it seemed from the narrative that he hopped out of the tomb because he was still in the death clothing. Hence our Lord commanded: “untie him let him go!”
This scene is very significant. When our Lord rose from the dead, he did not need anyone to untie him though a shroud covered his body. This shows the difference between the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus by his power. There was no need for help, unlike Lazarus who needed some assistance.
Lazarus represents all us who need to be set free from so many sinful accessories in our lives. We notice that it was not our Lord himself that untied Lazarus. This untying reminds us that our Lord appointed some people to set free those who are tied up by the devil and sin. In the Gospel of Matthew (18:18), he says: “whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.”
The untying of Lazarus in a sense reminds us of the sacrament of penance through which we are set free from sin through the words and actions of the priest who represents Christ (John 20:23).
Today, we see a glimpse of the resurrection which is the story of Easter. We have an assurance from the liturgy of the word today that there will be a rising for us in our situations. We are called upon to recognize the fact that sin can kill and hedge us into its tomb but that the power of our Lord Jesus Christ can raise us up.
The prophecy of Ezekiel in the First Reading tells us that God will put His Spirit in us that we may live. In the Second Reading St. Paul tells the Romans (8:8-11) that the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies. As we step closer to the celebration of the paschal mystery, let us prepare our minds and our hearts for the cleansing power of God who will raise us up and establish us once more.
Have a great and rewarding week.
“For the Lord, does not see as man sees for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.!” (1 Sam. 16:7b).
One of the worst human impairments is the failure to see or more bluntly put blindness. We all like to see or desires to see things around us and even beyond us; we are in fact committed “seers.” We could recall that one of our brothers in faith, Thomas the apostle, insisted that unless he sees the pierced hands and side of the risen Lord, he would not believe the Easter story of resurrection (John 20:25). Hence the enduring statement “seeing is believing.” However, with God, the reverse is the case “believing is seeing.”
This fourth Sunday of Lent also called laetare (rejoice) Sunday introduces us to a distinction between human sight and divine insight. Put in another way; we are set to know that beyond the physical sight there is a divine insight which is the enduring vision of reality.
In the First Reading (1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a), God sent Samuel to anoint another king in place of Saul. Why? Saul was made a king to lead the people of Israel when they asked for a king to lead them like other tribes. (1 Sam.10:17-25). God rejected Saul when he disobeyed God on a very important instruction of destroying the Amalekites and sparing nothing; human or animal (1 Sam 15:1ff). The quick lesson here is that nobody is indispensable before God. Disobedience could cost us divine appointments.
Samuel went to the house of Jesse as God directed him, but he walked into the household with a human sight. Somewhere I read that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor.5:7). The consequence of walking by human sight was that Samuel mistook Eliab, the tall and handsome son of Jesse, as the one God has appointed to replace Saul. All the other sons of Jesse could not pass for the new king. But God’s divine insight was beyond the sight of Samuel and his host Jesse, who seemed to have forgotten that he has another son who was at his duty post away from home.
God’s ways are strictly different from our ways, and his thoughts are above human thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9); we can also add that is sight is different from our sight. While Samuel was looking at the physical features, God was looking at the spiritual deposits. While Samuel was walking by sight, God was walking by insight.
The visiting man of God waited until David returned from his duty post and anointed him in the presence of his father and his brothers. There is a divine assurance in your life today that God’s favors will seek after you and wait for you. It does not matter how long it takes and wherever you are. Your blessings will still come to you.
In the Gospel Reading today (John 9:1-41) our Lord Jesus Christ healed a man that was born blind. First, there was an argument over the man’s situation; whether it was because of his sins or those of his parents. Our Lord’s answer to the puzzle may have shocked everyone. Simply put, the man’s blindness was to give glory to God (that the works of God might be visible through him).
The description of the man’s situation tells us that some of our challenges and problems exist to glorify God. Yes! It means that the situation will end to the glory and praise of God and the events that followed the healing showed this very well.
We did not hear the unnamed beggar asked out Lord for help like the blind Bartimaeus did (Mark 10:46-52). Approaching him, our Lord mixed his saliva with sand and formed clay that he smeared on the blind man’s eyes and asked him to go and wash at the pool of Siloam. He did, and he regained his sight.
We have amazing details in the healing of the man. The mixture of sand and saliva appear strange to us. And going to wash at the pool like Elisha told Naaman, the Syrian army commander (2 Kings 5:10ff) adds more drama to the on-going theatrics. Furthermore, the narrative tells us about the reaction of the people especially the Pharisees who questioned the healing because it happened on a Sabbath. They even went to the extent of inviting the parents of the man to ascertain if he was truly blind from the cradle.
The entire narrative still points to our theme “human sight and the power of divine insight.” With their human sight, the Pharisees could not see the hand work of God in restoring physical sight to a man born blind. With their human sight, they were more concerned with physical verifications and facts. Despite their natural sight, they were still myopic; nay blind.
The man was born without sight but not without insight; in other words faith. First, he trusted and obeyed our Lord to go to the pool of Siloam to bathe. Some other person would have questioned the instruction. Second, he stood his ground to defend both his healing and the healer. When he was asked about his opinion about the man who healed him (whom he never saw physically at that moment) he said that he is a prophet. He went from being a blind street beggar to a being a faithful and sight-full evangelist and a defender of the good news.
From the ending dialogue our Lord had with the Pharisees, understand that as the blind beggar was receiving his sight the Pharisees, who considered themselves as having sight, became blind. The very words of our Lord Jesus Christ say: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
Beyond our physical sight, there is a need for us to have divine insight. Divine insight helps us to see things from God’s point of view. Divine insight helps us to appreciate God instead of asking for physical and biological verifications. Divine insight helps us to see beyond physical features and to discover divine deposits even in the small “Davids” around us. Divine insight helps us not to judge by outward appearance but to connect with the inner divine eye.
The best way for us to walk by divine insight is to allow God to be our shepherd as the responsorial psalm says. When the Lord is our Shepherd, He will lead us in the right paths with His divine insight. As St. Paul mentioned in the Second Reading (Eph.5:8-14) we shall be exposed to the light of Christ, and everything will become visible.
As we launch into this fourth week of Lent, may the abiding presence of God lead us from our perverted human sight into a more brilliant divine insight. May no physical attraction or attributes lead us away from seeing the real things with the spiritual insight that comes from God. Have a great week ahead.
“God, where are you?” This was the question that was repeatedly dropping from the lips of a certain widow who lost three of her kids in a carnage while they were returning from school. A motorist suddenly lost control and rammed into the defenseless children who were holding each other and waiting for the right time to cross the busy road.
You may be asking the same question looking at your finances, relationship, marriage, job, education, plans, aspirations, and other things. Perhaps you have committed your situation to God in prayer, but no answer seems to be coming. You may have given up finally; you are in doubt if God exists?. You are not alone, but you have a message from this reflection.
The people of Israel asked this question in the wilderness as the First Reading today tells us (Exodus 17:3-7). Let us quickly point out the fact that the question came from their wilderness location. Geographically, the wilderness is a desolate and inhospitable place. Wilderness in this context represents a region of lack and needfulness.
The wilderness experience was so frustrating that the Israelites lost their cool and started to chide Moses for making them leave Egypt. They suddenly forgot that Egypt was torture and bondage for them. They suddenly forgot what God did to bring them out from the land of Egypt (Exodus 7-14). We are often like the people of Israel. We often forget all the good things we have received from God when we face one challenge or the other.
It is important to note that the people of Israel were rebelling against God, not Moses. Moses was God’s messenger and servant. The accusatory question they asked finally confirmed their frame of mind: “is the Lord in our midst or not?” This question is banal and amounts to an insult. Through Moses, God responded by giving them fresh water to soothe their thirst and those of their livestock. For their unfaithfulness, God remained faithful because He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13). For their challenge, God gave them a chance. For their sin, God gave them mercy and forgiveness. For their lack, God supplied all their needs (Phil.4:19). For their trouble, God gave them peace (Phil. 4:7).
We ask the same question as the people of Israel when we have a disconnection from God; when we get lost in some wilderness like the woman in the Gospel of today (John 4:5-42). The unnamed woman in the Gospel shares some characteristics with the Israelites:
In the long discussion, our Lord had with the woman we understand that she came to draw water from Jacob’s well by noon time. Our Lord Jesus Christ was already there, and he requested water from her. She gave some religious and cultural reasons why she would not give water to our Lord Jesus Christ.
From the narrative, we can see that she, like the people of Israel, is stuck with the same question: “is the Lord in our midst or not?” Her pattern of life does not present her as someone who is actively waiting for the Lord to come; though she is aware of the coming of the Messiah at some point per the books, it does not have a personal impact on her private life.
Her life was thirsty not necessarily for the water from the well but for the eternal water; the one that quenches our soul’s thirst for God like a dry, weary land without water (Psalm 63:1).
The woman at the well presents most of us who mistake spiritual thirst for physical thirst. She represents most of us who are going about with “jars of water” looking for temporal water while there is an eternal water that will forever quench our thirst there before us. She represents most of us who are still asking the question: “is the Lord with us or not?”
Are you still in confusion whether God is in our midst or not? There is a challenge of faith here. In the Second Reading (Romans 5:1-2,5-8) St. Paul tells us among other things that faith justifies us when we have peace with God through Jesus Christ. My dear your faith will never fail you. Faith favors the faithful followers.
A good time does not indicate God’s presence and a bad time, the absence of God. God’s presence is constant and unchanging. The problem is that we are often not with God. We depart from God when we embark on the journey into sin. We deviate from God when we, like the Israelites, lose our focus and blame God for our failures.
Now is the time for us to depart from the wilderness of quarreling and testing God and enter the region of trust and obedience to God. The time for that transition is today. The response to the Psalms says If you hear his voice, harden not your heart.
May this third Sunday of Lent enrich you with dependable graces to rise from despair to deep faith in God who is constantly with you in all the circumstances of your life. Have a graceful Sunday and more graces.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr made the above speech a day before he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel downtown Memphis. One of the highlights of Dr. King’s speech is the image of being at the mountaintop where he could see the promised land (of freedom) though he could not enter it as he rightly predicted.
Mountains are typically huge and imposing highlands. They are often difficult to climb because the climbing demands energy, determination, and resilience. Those who have been to the mountaintop could attest to its superlative picturesque. It also provides an overview of the world below; it feels like being next door to the heavens.
Mountain is a very symbolic biblical image. Most divine encounters took place on a mountain. The following could serve as backgrounds to our reflection:
The Gospel Reading today (Matt.17:1-9), tells us about the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ which took place on a mountain and before three of his apostles, Peter, James, and John. Transfiguration means a change in the figure; that means the figure of our Lord Jesus Christ changed and became dazzlingly white in the presence of the apostles. As the event was going on, Moses and Elijah appeared and had a quick discussion with our Lord Jesus Christ. Bewildered by the event, Simon Peter exclaims “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”.
The two “celestial” visitors at that the Mount of Transfiguration share vital characteristics with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Building our mountaintop tents
The ever-spontaneous Simon Peter offered to build three tents for our Lord and the two visitors at the transfiguration site. The account of Luke (9:33) added that he did not know what he was saying. This comment by St. Luke does not mean that Simon Peter’s comment was banal, it means rather that something motivated his utterance. We can see a similar thing when he declared in the preceding chapter that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt.16:17).
The mention of three tents is symbolic in the narrative. A tent in biblical term means a shelter, dwelling or a place of refuge. Th book of Psalms (91: 1) says “Whoever dwells in the shelter (tent) of the Most will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
The season of Lent challenges us to make three productive tents following the transfiguration utterance of Simon Peter. We are invited to erect the tent of prayer, almsgiving and fasting/abstinence. When we commit ourselves to prayer, we build a tent of communication with God, when we undertake works of charity, we build a tent of love, and when we commit ourselves to fasting and abstinence, we also build a tent of self-denial and long suffering.
As we march into the Second Sunday of Lent, we are invited to leave the foot of the mountain to the mountaintop where the building of the tents will take place. Like Abram in the First Reading (Gen.12:1-4a), we are expected to move away from our familiar and comfort zones to the height of transfiguration. St Paul tells us in the Second Reading (2 Tim.1:8b-10) that this saving call from God makes us holy and acceptable to Him.
God can only bless and make us great if we accept and activate the invitation to move like Abram from the region of nothingness to the region of something else. At the end of this season would you be able to answer a beloved son or daughter of God in whom He is well pleased?
I wish you a mountaintop experience and have a great week ahead as you build the three tents of the season.
Once upon a time, a young adult came to consult with me over some biblical issue that she considered confusing. She asked the following questions among others: “why did God allow Adam and Eve to sin?” “Didn’t He know (as all-knowing God) that the serpent would come to tempt Eve and why could He not have stopped that snake?”
In my answer, I explained to her that God had already given them an instruction:
You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die. (Gen.2:16b-17).
Furthermore, I explained to her that God gave them free will to choose either to eat or not to eat; to obey or not to obey. If God had intervened at that time the serpent was prodding Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, then free will would not have played any role.
The phenomenon of temptation is a facility that is open to everyone that has attained the age of reason. It is the urge, incitement or inclination to sin; we can also see it as a test of our ability to resist the invitation to sin. In order words, temptation precedes every sin.
To be tempted, there must be an agreement between the senses and the mind. A Temptation becomes sin when the mind accepts it. The mind is the central processor in every human being with reason; it is a very powerful determinant of our lives. Temptations appeal to the senses and urge the mind to accept the invitation. Let us examine this description from the narrative of the First Reading today (Gen. 2:7-9;3:1-7).
The first temptation site is the garden of Eden. Eve was by herself when suddenly the serpent appeared and opened up a prodding conversation. Somewhere I read that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” There is truth in that assertion. If we could recall, David’s temptation came when he was idling away around the palace towers while the Israelites were at war. It was at the idle moment that his eyes caught a woman taking her bath (2 Sam.11:1ff).
The talking serpent asked Eve tricky question: “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” From the last time we checked, God told them to eat the fruits of all the trees apart from the one at the middle of the garden. Often temptations come to us in the form of open-ended questions that may raise confusions in our minds.
While Eve was trying to explain the divine instructions, the serpent invited her to take a closer look at the fruit. At the sight of it, her mind accepted the offer of the serpent who claimed that they would not die if they ate the fruit. The serpent knew that God meant spiritual death which is the separation from God but Eve could have thought about physical death. Moreover, the serpent told her that their eyes would open to know good and evil.
The sense of sight is a very powerful inlet for temptation. We all like to see and seeing could turn us on or off. In this case, Eve was highly attracted by what she saw, and she went ahead to touch and taste; sin was committed and sealed. The same thing happened with Adam, he saw, took and ate. Someone asked me some time ago: “what could have happened if Adam refused to ate the forbidden fruit after Eve had eaten”? We can leave the answer to this to our individual imaginations.
The temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of today (Matt.4:1-11), discloses the highest form of temptation. The devil went beyond limits to tempt the Second Person of the Trinity, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords and the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Ancient of Days.
The threefold temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrate to us that nobody is beyond temptation. Furthermore, they help us to learn the tactics of the devil when he wants to lure us into sin. From them also we learn how to handle temptations or put in another way, how to resist the devil.
The devil can only tempt you with what you need. From the temptations, we discover three basic needs that could become channels of temptations for us.We shall pay attention to then chronologically as they are presented in the Gospel today.
1.Command these stones to become loaves of bread if you are the Son of God.
That our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God is not a subject for debate. The devil challenges you to sin by presenting a false picture of your position. He was hungry, and the devil wanted him to perform magic not a miracle for his immediate need. Our Lord Jesus Christ multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish for the hungry crowd, not for himself. (Matt. 14: 15-21 and John 6: 4-13). Most of the things we want are not what we need. The devil knows we need some physical provisions and thus uses them as luring gifts to enslave us. Materialism is the devil’s point of sale (pos).
2.If you are the Son of God throw yourself down for it is written He will command his angels concerning you.
The second temptation insists on the Sonship position of our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the devil wanted our Lord to take the promises of God for granted. When God promised protection in Psalm 91, He did not ask us to presume His protection and plunge ourselves into some risky behavior. Somewhere I read that a pastor asked his members to drink rat poison while assuring them that by God’s power none of them would die. He quoted Mark (16:17-18) where the signs that will follow believers included picking scorpions and drinking poison but remaining unhurt. After few days many of those who took the solution died.
The devil did not ask our Lord to jump up but to throw himself down. He knew that belongs to the down region and wanted our Lord to go down with him. We can recall from the book of Revelation (12: 9) that he was thrown down from heaven.
3. All these (kingdoms of the earth) I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.
Beyond temptation, this is an insult! Can you imagine our Lord Jesus Christ bowing to worship the devil? The devil’s kingdom has no real glories. They are citadels of darkness and sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to undo the powers of those kingdoms. St. Peter tells us that he has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The devil would always give a false promise as bait to lead us into sin.
Our theme for reflection says that we should resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). To do this, we are expected to submit ourselves to totally to the will of God. To submit ourselves to God means considering God first before doing anything as our Lord Jesus Christ did during the temptation episode. The devil has a mission which our Lord Jesus Christ spelt out very well in the Gospel of John (10:10a) “to steal, kill and destroy.” St. Peter enjoins us not the give him any opportunity (Eph.4:27) because he is always looking for one to devour (1 Pet 5:8).
Temptations would always come to confront us in various times, places occasions, and seasons. Let us remember the words of St. Paul in the Second Reading (Romans 5:12-19) today: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Though you may face temptations, resist the devil, and he will flee from you; do not be tampered!
Have a happy Sunday and a gracious week ahead.
Considering a world without worry is a weird wish. In my line of duty as a priest, I have met someone whom I can describe as an anxiety factory. She is worried about just anything you can possible name under the earth. When it is hot she is worried, when it is cold she is worried, she worries every day about her children some of whom are parents and even grandparents. When the night is too calm, she is worried, when it is noisy more worry comes. She is worried about on-coming celebrations as if nobody would be alive to celebrate them; I often think that she worries more than worry itself.
Worry seems to be an indispensable part of our human reality. We often claim that we are not worried and even tell people not to worry, but the reality is that we often waste under the weight of worry. However, various people have different degrees of worry; some people worry less while others worry more. Whichever way, the reality is that worry does not empty tomorrow of its trouble, but it saps today of its energy. Worry is a worthless work!
There is always a reason to worry. It could be because of lack, an obstacle or because of some conflicting realities. The consolatory words of the First Reading today (Isaiah 49:14-15) presents an example of a worrisome situation anchored on a feeling of abandonment. The opening words read: “Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
Historically, the statement addresses those who survived the exilic experience and who were worried about their situation. In the thoughts of the Israelites, God had totally abandoned them. They lacked divine presence, provision, and protection. While they were losing hope, God speaks to them through the prophet Isaiah assuring them of His presence, provision, protection, and compassion. In fact, God uses the imagery of a mother and child to drive home the point:
“Can a woman forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
Often, our worry reflects the instance above. We worry when we feel abandoned, we worry when we feel deprived, and we have reason to worry in such situations. However, the important question we should ask ourselves is this: “how does our worry benefit us?”
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt.6:24-34) Our Lord advises us not to worry about our material comforts: food, drink, housing, clothing, etc. He further asks a crucial question: “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Matt.6:27).
Many people have met their sudden deaths while swimming in the ocean of worry and the problem remains. Worry blinds us from seeing things from the right perspective. Worry retards us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Worry limits us from our goals, and finally, it separates us from God because we become untrusting, hopeless, and faithless.
Worry is a profound expression of our lack of faith, and it is offensive to God to lack faith (Heb.11:6). When we worry, we tell God how big our problems are instead of doing the opposite (telling our problems how big our God is). When we worry, we focus on fear instead of focusing on faith (Matt. 14:30). When we worry, we plan for failure instead of planning for success. Worry diminishes us. The word of God says that worry weighs a person down (Prov. 12:25).
The reflection of this Sunday is a purposeful engagement with the phenomenon of worry. What practical steps could we take to combat the worry factor in our lives since there is hardly any aspect of life that is bereft of worry? Or how can we reduce our worry quotient?
Seek after heavenly realities (Matt.6:33). In the Gospel reading we understand that the elements of worry are entirely material facts: food, drink, clothing, and others. When we worry about these things (like Martha), we lose the better part (Luke 10:41). Our Lord made it clear that when we should seek after the kingdom of heaven, all other (material) things will become ours. God knows how to take care of His own.
Seek after faith in God (Mark 11:22). Faith not only moves a mountain (Matt. 17:20) it also moves God. Faith gives us unseen certainties and hopeful assurances (Heb. 11:1ff) and thus removes worry and fear from us.
Pray and keep praying (Luke 18:1). Often we turn our prayer time into worry time; that is a colossal waste. St. Paul advises us not to worry about anything but to pray about everything (Phil 4:6).
Avoid negative people and situations. The people you flock with and the situations you put yourself determines a lot about your life. Somewhere I read that “a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov.27:17). If your close friends have high-worry-quotients, be ready to become a worry machine.
Seek the brighter side of every circumstance. Somewhere I read that every cloud has a silver lining and that is true. The word of God says that cry may endure at night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). No matter how bad it is, the storm will be over soon; don’t worry!
Be patient and wait on God to act (Psalm 37:7). Do not worry; God has His own time. God told Abraham, “Nothing is too wonderful for God in due season I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Gen.18:14). Do not worry, be patient and wait for your due season.
Add humor to your life; it is short: Often when we are too rigid with life. We worry and fret over so many things that we do not have time to recreate. Somewhere I read that God laughs (Psalm 2:4). The Book of Proverbs (17:22) says: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
As we march into a new week, may our lives be renewed and removed from the destructive hands of worry. Stop worrying and start Worthing.
On July 7, 2005, London City experienced the worst single terrorist attack to take place in the Great Britain. The summer train (tube) carnage claimed more than fifty lives and left many others injured. Among the victims was the beautiful daughter of a vibrant Bristol preacher, Julie Nicholson. Her daughter Jenny, a musician, was on her way to work when Mohammed Sidique Khan detonated the bomb in the underground train.
A few weeks earlier, Rev. Nicholson was preaching insistently on forgiveness and reconciliation at a Church in Bristol where she was a vicar. After the incidence, her congregation and indeed everyone who knew her expected her to voice out words of forgiveness to the person who killed her daughter. It was shocking to all to hear Rev. Julie say that she will never forgive. In fact, few months after she resigned from her position as a vicar and preacher saying that she does not have the moral strength to preach about forgiveness when she is bearing a hurt in her heart that she cannot let go. Ten years after, in 2015, she said the following to the Telegraph:
“Can I forgive them for what they did? No, I cannot. And I don’t wish to. I said in the early weeks and still now say the name of my daughter’s murderer, Mohammed Sidique Khan, every day.”
During the fight for the emancipation of blacks in America and the campaign for equality, Rev. Martin Luther King Jnr was in and out jail for his freedom utterances. In one of his essays from jail, “Love your enemies,” he made the following legendary statements:
To our most bitter opponents, we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you.
There is a universal misconception of love. What most people call love is not close to that theological virtue. Love is not lust nor a feeling that is liable to expire. St. Paul tells us that love is eternal. Somewhere I read that love is blind but that is not true. Love sees but does not judge. One musician puts it this way:
Love doesn’t ask why
It speaks from the heart
And never explains
Don’t you know that
Love doesn’t think twice
It can come all at once
Or whisper from a distance (Celine Dion).
We might see sense in loving our neighbors as ourselves but to love our enemies? Does that make sense to anyone here? If love means making a sacrifice for another person and the individual’s welfare, then loving your enemy means going the extra mile for his or her good. Love and loving are both a challenge and a chance for every person. Love is not a feeling as we said earlier; it is an action. The word of God tells us (John 3:16) that “God so loved the world that He SENT (action) his only son.” Further, John (3:17) tells us that: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to SAVE (action) the world through Him. On his part, our Lord declares: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
An important question that requires an answer in this reflection is “who is the enemy that needs to be loved?” Obviously, some people have more enemies than others just like some have more friends than others.
An enemy could be the person that hurts you in various ways, by words and actions, slightly or grievously. An enemy could be the individual who has become an obstacle to your success. An enemy could be the one who wants you dead the next minute. All these enemies and more need to be loved not tolerated nor endured. How possible is that from our human perspective unaided by grace?
There are still practical situations related to loving one’s enemy for which we are asked to love. For instance, how easy would it be for a Tutsi to love a Hutu after the Rwandan bloodbath that is courteously called genocide today? How could a black South African love a white South African after the dehumanizing experience of apartheid? How could a child love the enemies and murderers of his / her parents?
Consider this, whenever we sin we are disconnected from God and become His “enemies” (James 4:4), but His love for us does not go extinct (Romans 5:7-10). He keeps looking out for us with his love as the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). On the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ showed love to his executioners (enemies) when he tearfully prayed for them: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?” Don’t you think that those enemies of yours do not know what they are doing and need your love?
Today’s message of love is a very tough one; it is at the same time the only way. To bring the message closer to us, we are encouraged to love without limits. Your enemy deserves more love and compassion from you than anyone else. To love is not a choice; it is rather a grave instruction. In the Gospel of John (13:34-35), our Lord Jesus presents a new framework for love as he says:
I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.
From the passage above, we learn that love is a normative prescription for our Christian life. Furthermore, it gives those who embrace it an identity “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
“How can you love your enemies?”
As we march into the new week, let your minds and heart be built upon love and especially love for our human enemies.
Have a great week and make sure you release your love to someone whom you think does not deserve it; that is what God is demanding from you today.
In my local African community, it is not uncommon to call someone “ewu” (goat) when the individual does a wrong thing that contradicts a standing social expectation or norm. There are situations when people admit and call themselves “ewu” (goat) when they goof on a situation they should have done something differently. On the contrary, those who keep the law and maintain the societal norms are said to be as wise as “mbe” (tortoise). Laws are often challenging to keep but they serve to make us better in various ways.
The preceding prologue shows that obedience is a product of wisdom; put in another way, it takes wisdom to obey while disobedience is a fruit of foolishness. The difference between the wise and the foolish is their respective ways of evaluating their decisions and actions. The wise person is concerned about the long-term impact and gains while the foolish person is interested in the immediate gain no matter how short it lasts.
In the First Reading, today (Sirach 15:15-20), Jesus ben Sirach tells us to choose between keeping the commandment and obtaining salvation and breaking them to be damned. He explains further by saying that we are free to make a choice between fire and water, life, and death, good and evil. Immediately after this instruction, he tells us that immense is the wisdom of the Lord; hence it takes the wisdom of God to make any choice that will be eternally rewarding for us.
In the Second Reading (1 Cor.2:6-10) St. Paul advances the theme of wisdom by relating it to God’s wisdom which surpasses all other claims to wisdom. According to him this wisdom is hidden and preserved for our glory. It may seem that St. Paul was talking about something very strange. No! He was merely talking about obedience to God’s laws which will lead us to the eternal glory in heaven:
What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard and what has not entered the human heart what God has prepared for those who love him.
Those who love God are those who keep his commandments (John 14:15).
If we go to the Book of Deuteronomy (4:1-9), we will see Moses commanding the people to obedience to the laws as a sure way of entering the promised land. Furthermore, he says “you must observe them diligently, for this will show your WISDOM and discernment to the peoples, who when they hear all these statutes will say, surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people” (4:6). It takes wisdom to listen and to obey!
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 5:17-37) our Lord Jesus Christ undertakes a systematic exposition on various societal issues using the law as a point of departure. In the discussion, he tells the people that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil them. According to him, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the law will pass away. Why and why not? The answer is simply that God’s law is a transcript of His character. Altering the law would mean altering this transcript. Furthermore, God’s law is our manual for life which we see in the scriptures. Following this guide is a wise decision that would ensure eternal life for us.
Our Lord goes beyond what the law states to educate the people on what the law means; if you like, he makes a distinction between theorising and practising the law. He presents four practical instances which show what people were told before and what he is telling us now.
The law on murder:
From the Book of Exodus, we know this as the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:13). God is the giver of life, and nobody is free to take what he or she did not give. According to the law, anyone who willingly kills pays with his (her) life. Our Lord goes beyond physical killing by pointing at the emotional and moral killings going on among the people even up to our time. From him, we learn that anger could be a lethal weapon. Anger goes with bitterness and hate. St. Paul advises us not to allow anger to lead us to sin as it gives the devil a room in our lives (Eph. 4:26-27). Our Lord tells us that it is a more practical observance of the law to let go anger and go for reconciliation. Often, we commit both murder and genocide with our heart though outwardly we may look calm and peaceful.
The law on adultery
We have this divine instruction in the Book of Exodus (20: 14) with a further reinforcement in Exodus 20:17. The people believed (as the law states) that the law punishes only when one physically takes another person’s wife. In our Lord’s instruction, the sin begins from the mind. The sin of adultery starts processing when the mind consents to it; every sin starts from the mind. Wisdom consists in eliminating the thoughts when they come.
The law on divorce
The writ of divorce was recommended by the Mosaic law on the grounds of adultery with the testimony of two males. In that male-dominated culture, most women suffered abuse on this ground, and there was no mention of a man being caught in adultery. In another discourse, our Lord revisited the issue by reminding the people that what God has joined together no person should put asunder. Hence, he maintained the virtue of unity and indissolubility of marriage (Mark 10:9).
The Law on oath-taking
The Israelites were required to fulfil their vows and oaths to God (Num.30:2; Deut.23:21-23). How often do you keep the promises you make to God? On this, our Lord instructs that we should only tell the truth: “yes or no” when it is appropriate.
It takes wisdom to be obedient to God. only wisdom can lead us to God Himself who is the source and summit of wisdom. As you march into the new week, may you be wise in our choices and choose life by obeying God and doing His will. It will be better to enjoy in the long run than to be damned after enjoying for a brief moment.
Have a wisdom-able and obedience-driven week ahead.
Once upon a time, a lady got employment in a particular cold storage company as a supply manager. Soon everyone in the company could identify her as “the smiling woman” who would always stop to greet anyone she meets. At first, people felt that she was pretending to be nice to certain people, but it later became evident that she is as real as her smiles and care.
One day, she went into the cold storage compartment to take stock for the end of the work day, but unfortunately, the metal door closed behind her. When she finished taking the stock, she discovered that she was locked in. All the workers had gone, and she did not enter the vault with her mobile phone; she got stuck!
After three hours of banging the sound proof door without a response, she started to lose hope and hypothermia pervaded her. She gave up! Suddenly she heard a noise at the entrance of the vault, and immediately the door opened, and she cold see the company security stepping in with a flashlight.
The lady survived the incidence; thanks to the security man. When she resumed work after a week off, she approached the security man and asked him to explain to her why he came to the vault at that point, and this is his response:
I have been working for 35 years in this company. All these years no worker stops by my post to greet me in the morning and say goodbye to me at the end of the day like you are doing. For most of the workers I am nothing; I do not exist. But for you, I am a human being who also deserve some attention though I am not a corporate staff. Every day, I look forward to your greetings, it brightens my day in the morning and gives me hope in the evening. When I did not see you in the evening of that day, I became uncomfortable and decided to look around for you, and that was how I found you in the cold vault.
The moral of the story is very clear. The lady became a light for everyone in the company and particularly for the security man through her smiles, greetings, and attention. What could have happened to her if she did not make such an illuminating impression on the security man? What if she was a snub?
The teachings on the moral and spiritual powers of light have preoccupied our reflections since the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). The First Reading today (Isaiah 58: 7-10) tells us among other things that “our light shall break forth like the dawn.” That statement is a consequence of some actions.
The oracle of Isaiah enjoins us to share bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, clothe the naked, turn towards those in need, then our light shall break forth and when we call on God he will answer us and when we cry he would attend to us.
Often we ask God to bless and prosper us just for doing nothing. Before something comes down from heaven something must go up from the earth. Our lives become more meaningful when it shines forth as a light for others. The Responsorial Psalm tells us that the just man is a light in the darkness to the upright. The light in the passage comes from positive lives and desirable actions.
To become a light for others does not consist in using too many flowery languages and persuasive rhetorics. In the Second Reading (1 Cor. 2:1-5) St. Paul maintains that being light shows itself on a demonstration of Spirit and power of God. We do not speak of being the light, but we become the light.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 5: 13-16) our Lord Jesus Christ gives us two important titles that go with so many responsibilities; “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the Light of the world.” Salt and light are two essential commodities we need in our daily lives. Without salt food is tasteless. Salt also has a lot of healing properties, and it can also be useful as a preservative. As the salt of the earth, we are called to add taste, heal and preserve the earth through our Christian values.
Our responsibility as the light of the world is even more demanding. In the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “a city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” This statement shows that all eyes are on us as high placed cities. Often people look up to us to gain moral or spiritual guidance. What messages do we send across to people who see us as their moral or spiritual compass as parents, teachers, guides, superiors and so forth? When the light fails to light what will happen to the city?
Today we are challenged to become the light we wish to see in the world. An old way of saying this would be “do not curse the darkness light a candle.” If every one of us resolved to shine the brightest each of us could, our world would have a greater illumination.
The Gospel Reading talks about lighting a lamp and putting it under a bushel basket. It is a crazy thing to hide a lighted lamp, but that is what most of us do. We hide our lighted lamp when we consciously withdraw love and charity to others (Matt.25:41-46). We hide our lighted lamp when we allow all forms of divisions to wreck our relationship with God and others (Luke 10:27).
On this fifth week in Ordinary time we are invited to light up our lamps and have them sit on stands where everyone would see and appreciate their brilliance. The world is seething in the boiling vat of terrorism, racism, anarchy, hatred, inhumanity and disaffection because people are hiding their lights or do not have lights at all.
Our lights should be our good works and as our Lord Jesus Christ instructs: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
Happy Sunday and have a great week ahead.
“How do you know someone that is blessed?” Put in another way, “what are the indicators of blessedness?” Can we consider laughter and smiles as pointers to blessings? Should we consider wealth and material possessions as determinants of blessings? What about marriage and children, are they signals of blessings. If these and similar material effects are indicative of blessedness then the poor, the suffering, the unmarried (like my kind), the barren and others who are “deprived” in one way or the other cannot be considered in the market place of blessings.
When you take an attentive look into various social media platforms, you will discover that more than 80% of users claim “blessed” with interesting pictures and comments that go in that direction. People are now competing for attention, endorsements and “likes” on Facebook and other social networking sites while projecting images and sounds of happiness even when in reality they are going through fire and brimstone.
Who is the blessed; the loudest person in social or conventional media or the quiet, humble man or woman who may never have the opportunity of public notice? Who is the blessed; the person who says so or the man or woman whom God declares so? Who is the blessed; the one who has material success by human effort or the person whose strength lies in God even when he or she is materially poor?
Today, the Gospel Reading (Matt. 5:1-12a) tells us about one of the most excellent sermons on the mount traditionally known as the Beatitudes. One spectacular reality about the Beatitudes is the repetition of the phrase “blessed are they who….” Or put in another translation, “how happy are they who….”
The people who were in attendance on the Mount of the Beatitudes were paying rapt attention to hear about the type of individuals that count as those who are blessed. We can also imagine that many of them could have expressed amazement to learn that certain people whom they expected to be on the list were not there. They could have waited to hear about the wealthy and healthy, influential personalities of the time, excellent academics, successful merchants, political figures and even the leading religious celebrities of the time (Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees).
Instead of those listed above, our Lord Jesus Christ gives them a shocking profile by mentioning the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the clean (pure) of heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted and insulted. Most of these were the ordinary but pious people of the time. We could recall that our Lord Jesus Christ remarked in the Gospel of Luke (18:25) that it would be easier for a Camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
By the end of the sermon, the testimony of St. Paul in Second Reading (1 Cor. 1:26-31) comes to light:
“God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God”.
Our initial question remains relevant; “who is the blessed?”. The word “blessed” in the Gospel of today comes from the Greek word “Makarios, ” and it means to be supremely happy, favored, well-off or fortunate. The same word was used by Elizabeth when the Blessed Virgin Mary visited her, and she says: “Blesses are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42).
Blessedness is a divine facility and not a human construction. If it comes from God, it is authentic and endures. Blessedness is a favor God gives to those who come to Him and depend on Him. The First Reading today tell us about the qualities of such people. The word of God says they are humble, lowly and obedient to God’s law. When you take an active look at the Beatitudes, you will discover that they recapitulate these three desirable elements.
Now, we can connect with the fact that real blessedness has nothing to do with material prosperity which is by divine estimation very dispensable. Our Lord Jesus Christ has nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20), but that did not diminish his blessedness. True blessedness and happiness consist in our absolute dependence on God, the real source of all blessings and happiness. True blessedness is an eternal attribute. It can lead us to eternal joy. It often comes after pains, suffering, and persecutions. The apostle Peter says (1 Peter 3:14), “if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” St. James (5:11) supports him by saying that blessed are those who have persevered in suffering like Job.
Looking at yourself through the lenses of the Readings this Sunday, would you say you are blessed? Remember that blessings do not leverage primarily on material favors but on a deep relationship with God to the extent that God becomes everything for you (Ephesians.4:6). You are blessed when God is your refuge and your strength (Psalm 46:1) and not any material element. You are blessed when God is your provider and provision (Gen.22:14). You are blessed when you believe that nothing is too hard for God (Jer.32:27). You are blessed when you accept that joy will come in the morning after the tribulations and tears of the night (Psalm 30:5). You are blessed when you put your trust and confidence in God (Jer. 17:7). You are blessed when your life is positively fruitful (Col.1:10).
The good news is that blessing a facility that is open to you even as you hear these words today; humble yourself, come to God, obey His words, and you are on the path of your blessings. Do not be afraid of sufferings, lacks, persecutions, and tribulations; they do not last forever; there must always be the remnants; the happy ones! You can be among them if you make a decision and arise to your blessedness today.
Have a blessed Sunday and more graces in the week ahead.