There is a story about a father who gave his little daughter two dollars on a Thanksgiving Day with the following instruction, “You can do anything you want with one of the dollars, but the other dollar belongs to God.” With so much happiness the little girl ran to a nearby shop to help herself with a bar of chocolate with one dollar. As she was running, she tripped, and one dollar fell into the drainage. She got up immediately and said, “God that one belongs to you go for it!” She continued her journey to buy herself a chocolate bar.
Today, we have a fascinating message about giving to Caesar and giving to God. Giving is one of the three attributes we share with God; the others are forgiving and loving. To give is to let go what should instead be ours to another. There are many things that we could give apart from money and other material things. A very common instruction challenges us to give our three “Ts,” treasure, time, and talent. Beyond these, our giving should be unconditional, that means it should be motivated by love because love is God’s greatest gift to us (John 3:16; 1Cor 13:13).
The Gospel Reading today (Matt.22:15-21), tells us about the joint conspiracy against our Lord Jesus Christ by two extreme groups; the Pharisees (an apparently religious group) and the Herodians (a secular organization). The joint team came to our Lord with an open-closed question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If our Lord says yes, he would be pleasing the Herodians and offend the Pharisees, and the reverse would be the case if he says no.
Cognizant of the plot, our Lord requests for a coin and looking at it he asked them whose inscription was there and they said, that of Caesar, and he says to them: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.” We need to pay attention to our Lord’s response here; he says “repay” that means giving back after receiving. Next, we need to ask: “What are the things that belong to Caesar and what are the things that belong to God?”
REPAYING God and Caesar:
Like we briefly described above, to repay means to give back what one has received either as a loan or by the obligation of reciprocity. If we could ask, “what did God give to the people and what did Caesar give to them that would warrant a repayment?”.
What about Caesar? He was Caesar Tiberius (c.42 B.C- AD 37) who was ruling from Rome through governors appointed at various regions. He had no personal relevance to the life of the people. He was ruling them with an iron hand and was imposing taxes on them. Maybe the only reason to “repay” Caesar was that he paid them with a despotic rule and provided Roman soldiers to punish the people.
What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?
Let us begin with Caesar this time around. His “property” at the time was the Roman Empire which he ruled with the help of governors from various provinces. The governor during the period of our Lord was Pontius Pilate. All the tax money also belonged to him though he only gets a part of it as the tax collectors and the governors also help themselves and send the balance to him. However, history tells us that Caesar Tiberius died sometime in AD 37 which shows that he lost everything that seemed to his possession even the tax monies.
Needless to ask what belongs to God in their particularities. St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1: 16) gives us the following summary:
For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
This, only tells us that everything belongs to God including Caesar Tiberius and all other kings and their kingdoms. God has no beginning nor end; in fact, He is the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13); His reign lasts forever and ever (Psalm 45:6).
Giving to Caesar and Giving to God
We could recall that the question about paying or not paying census taxes to Caesar was an organized attack on our Lord. However, he turns it to a moment of the great lesson by asking them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.
Beyond our analysis about what belongs to Caesar, our Lord was telling them to perform their civic duties but not to neglect their religious obligations. We can see that his answer was a perfect one for the two extreme groups. One imagines that our Lord was telling them, “Be civil but be holy!”
In our day and age, we have so many Caesars that are reshaping our lives to the extent that many of us give to Caesar what belongs to God even after giving to Caesar. Caesar represents all those things that take away the three “Ts” in our relationship with God. Most of us are contending with a lot of Caesars. Your job could become a Caesar, that habit you have formed could be a Caesar, your body could become a Caesar, a human being (man or woman) could be a Caesar unto you. Even your choices, desires, attitudes could be potential Caesars.
Summarily, Caesar represents those things that stand in opposition to us when it comes to our relationship with God. They stand for those things that consume our time and resources to the detriment of what we owe God. There are obviously many Caesars around us and we ought to make an effort to revive and reconsider our dues to God.
As we enter the new week, there is the need for us to search through our lives to identify the Caesars that are robbing our time, talents, and treasures that are due to God. Beyond our physical gifts, the response to the psalm tells us to give the Lord glory and honor and St. Paul in the Second Reading tells us to give thanks to God (1 Thess. 1:1-5b). Above all, the best gift we can give to God is our lives and our souls. We, therefore, conclude this reflection by joining William McDowell to say:
I give myself away (2x)
So You can use me
I give myself away (2x)
So You can use me
Here I am (2x)
Here I stand
Lord, my life is in your hands
Lord, I’m longing to see
Your desires revealed in me (I give myself away)
Take my heart
Take my life
As a living sacrifice
All my dreams all my plans
Lord, I place them in your hands (I give myself away)
Once upon a time, a king takes his only son (the heir apparent) and some of his servants to attend a royal wedding banquet in another kingdom. They were few miles away to the event when the king alights from his chariot and removing his royal garment; he disguises himself to look like a farmer.
The king’s son and the servants were surprised and asked the King what it all meant. Answering, the King tells them not to say anything but only to observe. When they arrived at the palace, the prince and the servants were warmly received and ushered in, but the king (who is now looking like a farmer) was asked to wait for them outside the banquet hall; nobody cared to give him even a cup of water.
After some time, the king went to his chariots and changed into his usual royal garment. He was still on his way back to the banquet hall when someone sees him and alerts the host, and everyone stands as the golden trumpet signals the entry of royalty.
While they were returning to their kingdom after the event, the prince inquired from the king why he had to change his royal outfit initially and why he proceeded to put them back later. Turning to his son, the king says to him: “What did you observe?” The prince tells the king that he observed that when he was dressing like a farmer, nobody could recognize him, but as royalty, he received the highest honor and recognition. The king appreciates his answer and tells him to make sure that he should always keep his royal dignity to gain royal respect because a king without royalty is worthless.
People often address us the way we dress. If you dress well, people will address you well, and the opposite is the case. The hood may not make the monk, but it could identify a monk.
The liturgy of the word this Sunday has a message for us which centers around an invitation to a banquet and dressing correctly for the banquet. Two critical things that precede events are, invitation and dress. These days people dress in uniforms and colors (“aso ebi” in Nigerian parlance).
It will be good for us to understand that the banquet points to the heavenly banquet which is open for everyone and at the same time restricted to those who have the right dress (Rev. 7:14).
The First Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10a) tells us that God is inviting us to a banquet of rich food on a mountain. On that mountain we shall eat freely and have divine remedies: no sorrows, no mourning, no tears, no death, and there will be salvation! What a grand banquet to attend.
Though the attendance to this banquet is free and open for everyone; each person needs to climb up to the mountain. We all know that mountain climbing is physically tasking and spiritually it is even more tasking. The Psalmist once asked, “who can climb the mountain of the Lord who can stand in His presence?” He also answers: “Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies” (Psalm 24:3-4).
In the Gospel Reading (Matt.22:1-14), Our Lord uses the parable of a banquet to describe the Kingdom of God. In the narrative, a king sends invitations to people to attend a sumptuous banquet, but he gets flimsy excuses from them; some even maltreated and killed the servants who brought the good news.
The king did not relent; he sends the servants to get guests from anywhere possible and soon the banquet hall was full. However, the king discovers someone who was invited but was not well dressed. The individual was apprehended and thrown away because his dressing did not match with the occasion. Our Lord concludes the parable with a moral lesson: “many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Kingdom of heaven is a divine facility that is open for everyone, and daily we are invited to come and be part of it. In the narrative, we discover that the King did not give up even when those invited could not honor it. He continued to send more servants to make sure that the banquet is full.
The King seems to understand the value of the banquet more than those he was inviting. God is still sending out invitations to us to come to His banquet through the word of God that we hear daily encouraging us to change our ways and go back to God.
When we come back to God, we should be able to leave the things of the past (Isaiah 43:18). The man who was not well dressed in the narrative represents most of us who answer Christians but do not live the life. Some of us want the new, but they do not wish to cast off the old.
As we enter a new week, let us be conscious of God invitation to us to His eternal banquet. In our day and age, some people are still giving excuses to God: “I am too busy, I do not have time.” Somewhere I read the “BUSY” means “Being Under Satan’s Yoke.” We often forget that our lives come from God and it will be a show of ingratitude not to have time for the giver of life and time.
May God bless you as you accept His invitation today and dress appropriately for the banquet of the Eucharist which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
Once upon a time, a man receives a call from the national shipping inspection office to attend an interview for the post of an inspection manager. He had forgotten about the application he made to the organization seven months earlier and was delighted to receive the invitation.
On the interview day, the CEO tells the man that his resume is impressive and he would want him to work for the organization and would start the coming week. He further informs him that his first assignment would be to clear a ship that would be berthing with some containers of substandard drugs. The CEO adds that he should pass the inspection of the vessel and document it as certified ok!
The man expresses shock and asks the CEO how he could pass a ship with substandard drugs. The CEO responds and tells him that it is a deal and he would profit from it if he accepts. He concludes by advising the man to think about the offer and come back to his office the next day.
At home, the man tells his wife, and she instantly advises him to take the offer and make the extra money which would help them get rich quick and come off their long-time suffering. The man’s best friend also visited him that evening and joined his wife to convince him to take the offer.
The next day, the man comes to see the CEO for feedback. He thanked the CEO for his kindness and the offer. However, he tells him that he would rather forfeit the job offer than living with a guilty conscience for allowing substandard drugs into the country.
The CEO could not believe the man’s bold refusal of both the job offer and the sidekicks. Rising from his seat, he goes to the man and gives him a warm hug with tears in his eyes. The man did not understand why the man could tear up and even hug him for refusing the job offer.
The CEO settles down and tells him that he has been conducting interviews for the past seven months looking for someone who could make a difference, but it has been difficult to get anyone with a good conscience beyond their qualifications. He tells him that he is the last on the list, but has shown that he is the right guy for the job. Nobody can mistake good fruits!
Somewhere I read that: “by their fruits, you shall know them” (Matt. 7:16). Note very well; it is by their fruits not on their face! Things are not often what they seem to be on the face value most of the time.
Going to the Gospel of today (Matt. 21:33-43), we can create a mental picture of the disposition of the tenants when they were receiving the fully equipped vineyard from the landowner on the lease. One could imagine them beaming with smiles. On the other hand, one could also visualize the anger and the hate on their faces when it was time for them to pay for the lease with the fruits of the vineyard.
It will be essential for us to establish at this point that the contention in the parable is the FRUIT of the vineyard; the landowner did not ask for money but fruits. Why were the tenants revolting? The answer is also straightforward; they were unable to bear fruits. We could see the reference to this in the resolution of the narrative:
“He would put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will GIVE HIM THE PRODUCE (fruits) AT THE PROPER TIME.”
An efficient and personal way to continue this reflection is for each one of us to ask: “what am I doing in my vineyard.” Now your vineyard is where you function. There are many vineyards: your family is your vineyard, your office is your vineyard, your workplace is your vineyard, your school is your vineyard, your flock is your vineyard, your job description is your vineyard. We are both tenants and caretakers of these vineyards like the people in the narrative.
Among all the vineyards, the greatest of them is your soul. Today is very proper for us to examine what happens in that vineyard which is God’s gift to each one of us and where He dwells. In the gospel of Matthew (15:11), our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that it is not what goes into a man that kills the man but what comes of the man. The fruits we bear come from within us; they are not external elements.
“What am I doing in my vineyard?” St. Paul answers this question in the Second Reading (Phil.4:6-9) by recommending that we should avoid anxiety, always pray with thanksgiving and keep doing good by paying attention to the following:
As we enter a new week, let us try to focus on our various vineyards to know what we are doing there and how we are doing them. We need to make sure that we excel in producing good fruits because a vineyard is useless when it cannot provide vines. Furthermore, we shall give answers about our vineyards like the tenants. It does not matter how long we try to escape or avoid the demand for fruits. Now is the time to bear the right fruits!
Have an awesome week ahead.
This story goes back to an unknown Monk who lived around 1110 AD:
When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it is hard to change the world, so I tried to change my nation, but I could not.
When I found I couldn’t change my nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town, and I tried to change my family, but I could not.
Now, after all these years, I realize that the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. The impact of my town could have changed the nation, and I could indeed have changed the world.
Parents expect their children to change and become more obedient; children expect their parents to change and become more tolerant, teachers expect their students to change and become more attentive and serious with their work and students expect teachers to change and give them lesser work to do. The government expects the citizens to pay their taxes and become law-abiding, citizens expect the government to change by fulfilling their election promises and providing more amenities.
The list is endless; everyone wants others to change, but only a few are ready to be the change they expect. The monk in our opening story captures the heart of change; it should begin with us; from our minds from the way, we do things, from our ways of life.
In the First Reading (Ezekiel 18:25-28), the oracle of the prophet tells us about the people’s judgment that: “The Lord’s way is not fair!” They were making that comment because they feel that the good they did in the past would suffice for them in their present wickedness; that could only be a human way, not God’s way.
God’s way tells us to be consistent in doing good, and when we, peradventure, falter, we should turn around (change). Hence, the prophet says that God will preserve the life of a wicked person if he changes his way. With God, there is always an opportunity for us to change; in fact, he needs us to change for our good.
In the Gospel (Matt. 21: 28-32), our Lord uses a short narrative to describe to us that change is not what we say but what we do; it is a decision that happens in our minds first before it becomes manifest.
A man tells his two sons to work in his vineyard. One says we would not go and later changes his mind and goes to work. The second promises to work but then changes his mind and did not go. From the story, the two sons made different verbal statements and did different things.
Righteousness does not consist in our oral presentations. Every Easter vigil we renew our baptismal vows to reject sin and the devil but how many of us keep to that. Often, we promise God that we shall become angels if He fulfills some needs for us only for us to forget such promises and continue the way we live.
The message today hinges on positive change because change can also be negative like in the case of the son who promised to go to work fails to move. Change is what we all need in our lives; in fact, most of our problems arise from our inability to embrace changes in our lives beginning from our minds.
If God is inviting us to change then, we should understand that change is significant for us. It was Albert Einstein who says that we cannot be doing the same thing the same way and get a different result; for him it is insanity. If we look closely at most of the biblical events, we could understand that change is recurrent.
Often, we blame the wrong persons and things for our woes. Our problem is mostly “us” and especially our inability to embrace positive changes. We cannot expect the world to change while we remain the same. We need to change the way we see and do things to be able to receive that change we hope:
If we change the way we do things, things will change for us. Today may be the fateful day for you to make that turnaround; that change you have been thinking about in your life. Rise, do it, and you will be blessed.
Have a beautiful Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is destruction (Prov. 14:12).
A good number of us would always want things done in their way. In fact, “wanting it in my way” is one of the leading causes of most interpersonal, group, family, organizational and societal problems. The failure of our first parents (Adam and Eve) consists in their following a way that contradicted God’s way (Genesis 3). The same goes for the builders of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1ff), the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-33;19) and the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
Most people, from politicians to business moguls would do anything possible to see that they have their way. In fact, we often believe that our way is the best and for many, it is either their way or the highway. Unfortunately, some people exhibit this “my way mentality” when they approach God in prayer; they want God to do their will and not the will of God to manifest.
Today, the liturgy of the word begins with the prophet Isaiah, reminding us that God’s ways and thoughts are different from ours. The prophet thus advises us to forsake our crooked ways and thoughts and seek the Lord when we can find Him and when He is still within our reach.
A little insight into what constitutes God’s ways would help us in this reflection. The first thing we need to know is that God’s ways are mysterious; they are not predictable by human calculation, and they are deeper than we can conceive. St. Paul writing to Romans (11:33) says:
“How great are God’s riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways?”
From our human standpoint, God is “unusual” in His ways. Many biblical instances still challenge the minds of many about God’s way of doing things; here are some of them:
In the Gospel of today (Matthew 20:1-16a), our Lord Jesus Christ gives a Kingdom parable that goes forth to show God’s “unusual” ways. A man hires laborers to work in his vineyard at different times of the day. When the time comes for payment, he pays all of them the same amount, even the ones who joined the workforce an hour before the end of the working day.
In our “usual” human way of thinking, the landowner is unfair. But, wait, he is only fulfilling an agreement. The parable not only shows us that God’s ways are different from our ways, but it also tells us that God would always keep His promises to each person irrespective of others.
Furthermore, the parable tells us that God is timeless in His ways. This is unlike our human ways where we count more on the length of time. For God, it is not how long, but how well. In the parable, what is important to the landowner is not the time of joining the workforce (nine-to-five) but the willingness to work no matter the length of time.
Today, we have a very passionate call to reconsider how we cling to our ways at the detriment of God’s ways. Paying attention to God’s ways would be to our advantage. Following or not following God’s ways (thoughts) would bring the following upon us:
As we march into the new week, let us search our hearts to locate and discard those ways that are contrary to God’s ways. Our way of pride, anger, jealousy, unforgiveness, immorality, dishonesty and other vices. On the contrary, let us take up the ways of love, peace forgiveness, kindness and faith in God.
Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
Once upon a time, two good friends set out on a long journey through the desert. On the way, an argument starts between them. One of them strikes the other in the face, and the one who gets the blow did not retaliate nor curse his friend. Instead, he bends down and writes in the sand: “today my best friend hit me in the face.”
After a period of silence, they decide to continue their journey. Later, the two friends come across a river and agree to swim and get some refreshment. The victim of their previous misunderstanding ventures into the deeper side of the river and was drowning and his friend who is a better swimmer, quickly helps him to get out.
Before they proceed on their journey, the one who received help from his friend gets a stone and carefully carves the following words: “today my best friend saved my life.”
At this point, the friend asks him why he wrote the incidence of hitting him on the sand and the gesture of rescuing him on a stone. The friend replies and says that we ought to write the deeds against us on sand so that the wind of forgiveness could blow them away but the good things we should write on a stone so that they stay with us forever.
The moral of this story is very clear; we should forgive and let go the wrongs done to us. However, in our day and age, people do the opposite. They prefer to write the good things on the sand and engrave the slightest offense on hard stones. Today, the Liturgy retains our attention on forgiveness; which is part of the lesson of the previous Sunday.
Before we proceed to reflect on the readings, it will be excellent if we understand the meaning of the word “FORGIVE.” The word is a combination of two words “FOR” and “GIVE” and comes from the Old English “forgiefan” which in turn is a combination of two words “FOR” (completely) and “GIEFAN” (give).
From the preceding, we understand that “to forgive” means “to give completely.” We shall have this “giving completely” at the back of our minds as we reflect on forgiveness in this message.
The First Reading today (Sirach 27:30-28:7) tells us among other things to forgive others so that when we pray our sins will be forgiven. Here we could see the law of retribution and the law of the seed sowing showing clearly. We get whatever we sow; we receive what we give; that means we cannot get what we do not give.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 18:21-35), our Lord uses a parable to provide more insight to Peter’s question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter must have tolerated a terrible brother for a while. Before relating the parable; our Lord tells Peter to forgive not just seven times but seventy-seven times.
“Seventy-seven times?” That could have been Peter’s response. Yes, seventy-seven times means that we should not count the number of times we forgive wrongs. It entails that we should write the wrong done to us on sand so that the ever-present wind of forgiveness could blow them away.
In the parable, which is also a kingdom parable, our Lord talks about the king (master) who FOR-GIVES (completely gives pardon, mercy, and love) his servant who owes him a lot of money. The servant in turn (after gaining his freedom) goes after another servant who owes him just a little. When the master learns about the act, he rearrests the servant and locks him up until he pays the debt he was asked not to pay earlier.
The parable leaves us with some lessons which at the same time answer the question that this reflection poses: ” Why should I for-give”. The servant lost his freedom because he goes out there to confront his fellow servant because of a little debt. He did not stop at physically abusing the one who owes him; he continues to put him in prison.
Back to our question “why should I for-give?”:
As we enter the new week, let us be courageous enough to carry the flag of forgiveness and spread the message wherever we go. Remember to write the wrongs on sand and the good on stone.
Have a great week ahead.
People often quarrel because they do not understand each other. Most times, people don’t understand each because they do not connect, though they might be communicating. People do not connect because they do not care and people do not often care because they fail to love and people do not love most times because they don’t understand that love is not selfish (1 Cor. 13:5) and God is love (1 John 4:8).
Misunderstanding, anger, enmity, disunity, and unforgiveness are contemporary viruses eating up the human society starting from various families. It is thus true that the devil plans to destroy the world starting from various families. If our goodness does not start from our different families then we are not truthful to ourselves; charity begins at home (1 Tim. 5:8).
In the Second Reading of today (Romans 13:8-10), St. Paul tells us to owe nothing to anyone except love because love is the fulfillment of the law. Paul’s exposition on love here reminds us of what our Lord Jesus Christ calls a new commandment and which states:
I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34).
The Gospel Reading presents us with a practical scenario that requires the incarnation of love as it affects the relationship we have with other people. Our Lord gives us a typical description of misunderstanding between two individuals and the possible steps towards a resolution. It is interesting to see in the passage that the victim (the offended) is the one that initiates and pushes the process of reconciliation.
Some people have only two approaches when they have issues with another person; to shut down completely or tell everyone else about it apart from the person in question.
The sincerity of purpose, maturity and above all, love should prod us to seek for a productive interface to settle our issues.
It is important to point out here that dialogue between the two parties should come before a third-party engagement. A thirty-party should be a neutral person who could tell the truth without judging or taking sides.
In our day and age, most individuals who come in as third-parties in conflict situations end up causing more harm and estrangement to the relationship. Being third-party is not a license to insult and disrespect people.
The Church comes in as a community of love when reconciliation fails at both interpersonal and third-party levels. The duty of the Church in this regard is to remind the individuals what the word of God says.
In the manner of the oracle of Ezekiel in the First Reading (Ezekiel 33:7-9), it is the duty of the Church to speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way. Of course, anyone who refuses to accept reconciliation in the two preceding steps could qualify as wicked.
The Church is now speaking to our warring parties and us as we read or listen to this reflection. The message of reconciliation tells us to forgive each other and be open to reconciliation we receive same from God (Luke 6:37).
On the face value, we could assume that our Lord is suggesting that one should give up when a brother refuses to accept reconciliation after many efforts.
To understand what our Lord means by treating him like a Gentile or Tax Collector, we need to go back to the Gospels to rediscover our Lord’s approach to Gentiles and Tax Collectors.
During the dedication of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple Simeon, the Priest declared that our Lord would like a light of the Gentiles and glory of Israel (Luke 2:32). The Samaritan woman, a Gentile, encounters the Lord at the well and emerged a better person (John 4:7ff). The faith of the Syrophoenician woman before our Lord brings about the healing of her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28). One of the ten lepers who returns to thank our Lord after receiving healing was a Gentile (Luke 17:11-19).
With regards to Tax Collectors, Matthew, one of them, receives the call to from our Lord and becomes of the apostles (Matt. 9:9-13). Our Lord Jesus Christ discovered Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector on a tree and brought salvation to his house (Luke 19:1-10).
In all, our Lord shows special love and attention to the Gentiles and Tax Collectors. Going back to the question of treating a brother who refuses reconciliation like a Gentile or Tax Collector, our Lord is saying that we should show them more love.
The concluding part of the Gospel passage tells us what reconciliation and unity can do for us. We receive authority to bind and to loose, we shall agree and pray and get answers because our heavenly father will be in our midst and when He is with us nobody can be against us. (Romans 8:31)
As we march into a new week, let us work towards unity by reconciling our difference and allowing love to guide our steps.
Have a wonderful week ahead.
Once upon a time, a man approaches our Lord Jesus Christ with a complaint that his cross is too heavy and troublesome for him. Our Lord responds by taking him to a house full of crosses of different types and shapes. He asks him to drop the cross he was carrying amid the other crosses and pick another befitting cross.
The man drops his cross and takes his time to look around. He sees big crosses, medium crosses and just one cross that looks smaller than others, and he quickly picks it up. Our Lord asks him if that is his final choice and he says: “yes it feels good and I can bear it.” At this point, our Lord tells him that it was the same cross he had when he entered the house. Your cross is your cross, and God gives you a cross knowing that you can carry it.
In the Gospel Reading of today (Matt. 16:21-27) our Lord Jesus Christ gives us the precondition for discipleship. He begins why describing his “cross” which consists of going to Jerusalem, suffering, and dying. He also added that he would he would rise on the third day.
Peter interrupts our Lord’s exposition of his cross by taking him aside and rebuking him for thinking about taking the cross. Hear Peter: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you”. Peter’s statement implies that our Lord should not go ahead to pay the price for our sins. He is saying “God forbid our redemption through the cross.” This statement could not come from God, and our Lord reply to Peter says it all, “Get behind me Satan.”
It is instructive to learn that the same Peter who professed our Lord last Sunday as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” is today declaring negatively though under a different influence. The devil can speak through the best of us if we give him the opportunity or foothold (Eph. 4:27).
The central point of the narrative which preoccupies us here is our Lord’s instruction after replying sharply to Peter’s rebuke under Satan’s infiltration. He says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Here, we have a profound message that would sustain the rest of our reflection.
A biblical understanding of denial is evident during the arrest of our Lord Jesus Christ when Peter dissociates himself from our Lord Jesus Christ before the rooster crows twice (Matt. 26:69-75). It is easy to deny others but to deny oneself is a difficult thing to do because it means losing our identity and values and who wants to do that?
In the passage, our Lord instructs that whoever wishes to come after him should deny himself. How and to what extent? To deny oneself is a deeper and more extensive way of saying that one should be selfless. In this sense, we are instructed to drop our preconceived values, social status, personal qualities, and other excitable things and focus on our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not by accident that denying of oneself comes before taking up the cross and following Christ according to the chronology of the instruction. It takes humility and self-abasement to take up the cross. With our old selves and ideas, taking the cross would be foolishness. Denying ourselves means discarding the “old us” and adopting a “new us” which involves configuration to Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
We deny ourselves effectively when we drop our objectives, ideas, plans, and desires for what God has for us. We deny ourselves when we anchor on those prayerful words of Jesus Christ at Gethsemane: “Father, let your will happen not my will.” (Luke 22:42).
Whenever we hear about the cross, our minds often run to suffering and remain there. This approach dates to the time of Christ when the Roman government required criminals and public sinners to die on the cross after carrying it to the location of their execution. At that time, the cross represents shame, suffering, and death. Hence, cursed is anyone who dies on the cross (Deut. 21:23).
With the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work using the cross, it gains a new meaning. First, our Lord replaces the curse of the cross with a blessing (Gal. 3:13). Second, the cross opens the way to redemption. Looking at the cross very attentively, we can discover three basic realities.
To follow someone is more than physically moving behind the person in question. It involves taking up the individual’s lifestyles, thought patterns and values. Following Christ means becoming “another Christ” in words and actions.
In the Second Reading (Romans 12:1-2), St. Paul instructs us to follow Christ by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God as well as not conforming to this age but accepting transformation by the renewal of our minds and discerning the perfect will of God.
In the Gospel of Matthew (11:29) our Lord says: “Take my yoke and learn from me….” In other words, our Lord enjoins us to follow him by representing him in our lives. While taking up the cross that brought our salvation, our Lord did not complain. Though he failed three times and had someone help him at some point, he did not give up until the purpose reaches fulfillment.
As we enter into the new week, let us keep our minds on the vocation to deny ourselves, carry the cross and follow our Lord. The journey will not end in suffering rather it would be a triumphant victory through the cross through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our world runs on “who is who.” Put in another way, identity thrives so much in the human society, and that discloses why individuals, corporate bodies, organizations, governments, and nations expend resources and time to build, maintain and rebrand their identities to gain appraisal from people. Only a few of us can deny the fact that we leverage on “good name” and we make efforts to have people say good things about us.
In our day and age employers carry out background checks and ask employees to get recommendations as preconditions for employment. Most intending couples ask questions about each other’s past before they agree to tie the nuptial knots. Most people now look at customer’s reviews on products and services before they let go their hard-earned money. All these checks and balances ball down to the search for identity, “who is who?” put in another way, “who people say you are.”
A little bit of psychology would help our reflection today as we consider the “Johari window” which is a personality awareness model by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the 1950s. The “Johari window” discloses four types of selves or identities we have.
The first shows things about us that other people and we know (open space). The second tells us about the things about us we do not know, but others know (blind spot). The third reveals things about us that we are aware, but others do not know (hidden space). The last window talks about things about us that are unknown to both ourselves and others (unknown space).
Some of us may be wondering why we should go through this analysis to understand the message today, but the reason will become clearer in a short time.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 16:13-20), our Lord Jesus Christ attempts a survey with his disciples on his identity with two interrelated questions: “who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”. Looking at the Johari window, our Lord seems to want to know his blind spot; that is information about him which others know and he “does not know.”
The popular opinion about our Lord Jesus Christ describes him as John the Baptist (the new testament prophet who was killed by Herod), Elijah (the greatest of the Old Testament prophets) or any of the prophets. The blind area identity shows half-truth about our Lord; yes, he is a prophet, but that is not the whole story.
The next question goes directly to the disciples, “you who do you say I am?” Peter’s answer goes this way: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” Looking again at the Johari window, where can we place Peter’s answer?
The mistake the inventors of the Johari window is to exclude God in the fourth window. God knows everything that is why we call Him omniscient (Isaiah 46:10; Psalm 139:1-4). To answer the question Peter speaks about a truth that no human could give except by divine revelation. Hence our Lord says to him: “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father.” The statement of our Lord confirms the fact that God Himself tells whom the Son is using Peter. In order words, whom God says we are is who we are!
Today many people worry and fret over what people say or would say about them. The truth is that we cannot stop people from tagging us and talking about us especially in the negative. Most People will only remember the things you did not do well and name you after such things. I have a message for you today:
It does not matter who people say you are, what matter is God’s affirmations about you. However, God will not just affirm you without your faith and good works (James 2:22) shown in who God is for you. God knows beyond every window in your life. Often, we waste our time and resources trying to make people feel good and confident about us while we worth nothing in God’s estimation.
The message today is a direct call on us for a deeper reassessment of who we are not the impression we give to people or what they feel about us but through a life that glorifies God. Remember life is not all about people’s opinion about you but who God says you are and the position you give God in your life!
Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
Somewhere I read about three disobedient young men. A certain King makes a golden statue and gives a command that everyone in the kingdom must bow and worship the huge image at the sound of the musical ensemble. The penalty for a default is a forced visit to a deathly burning furnace.
The three young men, also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, decide not to obey the command of the king because they cannot worship any other apart from the Almighty God. For their disobedience, they are forced to visit the burning furnace, but to the amazement of all, nothing happens to them. God saves them because of their “positive disobedience.” (See Daniel 3).
Somewhere I also read a story about a woman who wanted justice done in her favor. Unfortunately, the best person who could adjudicate in her case is known to be godless, ruthless and lacks every trace of human affection.
The importunate woman, who is also a widow tries to talk to the judge to assist her, but he refuses. She decides to disobey the rules restraining her from coming to the judge. It takes a while, and the judge finally decides to grant her request because of her positive disobedience. (See Luke 18:1-8).
India got independence from the Britain in 1947. The independence comes following the persistence and positive disobedience (ethical or civil disobedience) of people like Mohandas Gandhi.
Following the British restraint of Indians from collecting and selling salt in their country, Gandhi led about 60,000 Indians on the 240 miles Salt March to the Arabian Sea in 1930. The impact of the civil action results to the emancipation of the people from colonial rule in less than two decades.
Today, the Gospel gives us a typical instance of “positive disobedience” within the dramatic encounter between our Lord Jesus Christ and a Canaanite woman. The woman comes to Jesus Christ and says: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon”. Our Lord ignores her, and the disciples ask our Lord to send her away.
At a time, our Lord stops and tells her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When the woman hears this statement from Jesus, she COMES CLOSER and PAYS HOMAGE (worship) to our Lord and insists by saying: “Lord help me”!
Again, our Lord tells her: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replies and says that even the dogs could eat the scraps from the master’s table. At this point, our Lord praises the woman for her faith and asks her to go in peace for an affirmative answer and her daughter receives healing at that hour.
What do you when someone says “NO” to your request or pretends not to hear when you call? The usual reaction would be to back off with some feelings of regret and even self-pity. When someone refuses to take a “no” for an answer, the individual appears to be disobedient or defiant.
The preceding is what the Canaanite woman did in the narrative. The initial silence of our Lord was enough to make her drop her request, but she decides to “disobey” and bugs our Lord Jesus Christ the more. We learn from the narrative that her “positive disobedience” leads to the answer to her request.
Another way to examine what the Canaanite did is to ask if it right or wrong. In other words, “is it right to pray for the healing of her child or not?” The First Reading (Isaiah 56:1,6-7) among other things gives us this answer:
Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.
On the other hand, St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading (Romans 11:13-15, 29-32) that God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.
Our Canaanite friend was not wrong in her request. In fact, her insistence (positive disobedience) is what God requires of us as a proof of our faith whenever we are facing difficult situations. God wants us to be unrelenting, consistent, and insistent when we approach Him in our prayers.
The Canaanite woman leaves us with some lessons:
The Gospel narrative tells us that she comes closer to the Lord. Coming closer to God is important in our relationship with Him. St. James (4:8) tells us to come near to God, and he would come near to us, and the Book of Psalms (145: 18) says that the Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.
Paying homage means giving great respect and honor to someone publicly. In a religious sense, it means to worship. The Canaanite woman sacrifices the cultural divide between the Jews and the Canaanites and pays homage to the Lord.
Genuine worship demands deep sacrifice which entails giving up something of value for a greater value. Many people today attach so much importance to their material concerns that they have little or no time for God.
Our Lord tells us that everyone who acknowledges him publicly before others, he will also acknowledge before the angels of God (Luke 12:8). Exodus (23:25) says: “worship the Lord your God, and His blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you.
God’s silence is never a denial; it is rather and an invitation to pray more and believe more. The woman believes that our Lord Jesus Christ can heal her child and she could not take a no for an answer. She does not give up even when there are reasons for her to do so which includes our Lord’s silence and the disciples’ rude suggestion of outright eviction.
The Prophet Isaiah says that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength (Is. 40:31). David says that he would be patient and wait for the Lord to act (Psalm 37:7). The Canaanite woman would have missed the chance of obtaining healing for her child if she was not patient with the Lord. Sometimes we need to be a little more patient, and things will turn out well.
The Canaanite woman is not only insistent with her presence, homage, and patience, she also speaks out and answers every statement with a positive submission. There is power in spoken words; our words go a long way to form of lives. The Prophet Isaiah (65:24) says: “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”
As we reflect on the actions of this noble woman of Canaan whose name we do not know, let us adopt the lessons in her experience into our daily struggle with the events and situations that challenge our faith.
Do not give up even when no answer seems to come from the Lord. Last Sunday notice that our Lord calls Peter a man of little faith because he gave up today the Canaanite woman gets the title of a woman of great faith because she held onto her faith knowing that the Lord can help her situation.
May your steadfast grip on the Lord bring graces into your life.