Fr Bonnie's Reflections

WHO IS REALLY RICH? HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B) REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD

WHO IS REALLY RICH?: HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B)

                       Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Phd

 

We may not find it difficult to identify the richest man in the world. According to Forbes as of March 2012 Carlos Slim Helύ of Mexico is the richest man in the world with a net worth of 69 billion US dollars followed closely by Bill Gates with a net worth of 66 billion US dollars as of September 2012. Beyond these the question still remains as to who is really rich?

In a certain town in the Southeastern region of Nigeria, a very rich man died after a protracted illness. It took about six months to prepare for his burial which was expected to be a very huge ceremony with grandiose festivities.

The burial day was more of a carnival than a mournful solemnity. People from different groups and associations the man belonged were clad in radiant outfits and flocked together in solidarity. Before the interment of the great man, as the funeral undertakers were digging the grave, a mad man that was known in the community for his wits came close to the grave and started shouting! Indeed on top of his voice he was lamenting that the funeral undertakers had made a big mistake. The undertakers wanted to ignore him but on a second thought they asked him what it was. Answering he pointed out that the dimensionality of the grave was so small. They asked him why and he went on to say that the grave they had dug won’t be able to accommodate the dead man’s cars, shops, wears, houses and other investments he refused to share with people while he was alive. One of them told him that those things won’t go into the grave with him so there was no need of expanding the grave. With this final answer the mad man walked away disappointed by the fact that the stingy rich man could not be buried with at least one of his cars! For him the stingy rich man ended up amassing so much wealth which other people will eventually share. This is a clear indication that our material wealth and possessions will lose their relevance at death. The question is: “Who is really rich?”

In the gospel reading today (Mark 10:17-30) we have an interesting encounter between our Lord Jesus Christ and a man who was referred to as a rich man. (Luke 18:18 would add ruler to the designation). From the gospel reading today we are told that the man ran up to Jesus while he was setting out on a journey, knelt before him and put this question before him: “Good master what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After instructing him not to refer to him (Jesus) as good, our Lord reminded him that he should keep the known commandments and the man agreed that he had been doing that since his earliest years. Then Jesus looked at him and loved and then said to him: “there is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Upon hearing this, the man’s face felled and he went away sad because he was a man of great wealth.

 

There is need to examine this encounter very closely. We are told that the rich man in question ran to Jesus. This is a typical indication of the urgency in the man’s desire to meet up with Jesus while he was setting out on a journey. Our Lord could stop his journey to give attention to this man who came kneeling before him in humility not minding the fact that he was a man of great wealth. We are told that those who search for the Lord will find him; especially those who do so in humility (Deut.4:29). The Lord will always attend to us when we run up to him not minding other preoccupations. Coming to Jesus the rich man started by calling him good master. At this, Jesus directed his attention to God who alone is good. What Jesus did was to make the man understand that the inquiry he was making was not from the usual masters of their time, but from God who is infinitely good. He wanted to let the man to know that only God is capable of giving the good answer to his question not man.

The man’s question was what he could do to inherit eternal life. The man knew that there is life after this earthly life which is eternal. He had inherited wealth in this world and he was desirous of inheriting eternal life. That was a very positive and commendable desire. Jesus pointed out the conventional commandments and the man asserted that he had kept all of them. And our Lord looked at him and loved him. It is interesting that Jesus loved him. He loved his heart not his face, he loved the worth of his soul and not the weight of his wealth; he loved his earnest desire to inherit eternal life. With that same look our Lord discovered that the man was lacking something in his life. He had done all things well except one thing; charity to the poor. Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor and thus gain eternal treasure in heaven and then follow him.

Going back to the man, his face felled at the words of our Lord that he should sell everything and follow him. This confirms the fact that the man had a deep seated attachment to his wealth. In fact from his reaction, he could not do without those material possessions. Though he was a good man in observing the laws, he was bad in terms of the practice of charity. His treasure was on his wealth and that was where his mind was. The man had faith but no good work to show (Jas.2:17). He received so much but refused to give anything.

The rich man not only walked away from Jesus Christ, he walked away from performing charity, he walked away from the vocation to be a disciple and he finally walked away from eternal life. When the man had gone Jesus told his disciples that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (a small city gate which a camel can enter by kneeling and without load) than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were amazed at what Jesus Christ said because the conventional assumption at the time was that wealth is a blessing from God indicating righteousness (See Psalm 37:25). Seeing how surprised they were and their question: “who can be saved?” He told them that with God all things are possible but not with men. This fact is very true because with God a carpenter can become a captain, with God a bus conductor can become a contractor, with God a driver can become a director, with God a maid can become a madam, with God a poor man can become suddenly rich (Sirach 11:21). Peter came up to inquire about what would be the fate of those who left everything and followed him and he was assured by the Lord that the reward will be full that is hundred fold.

We resemble the rich man in many ways. In fact his name was not given so that we can insert our names. Sometimes we feel that we have done everything well and that we are qualified to go to heaven. Sometimes we assume that being a member of this or that religion, church, denomination or group would qualify to adopt eternal life for us hereafter. Often time we are so comfortable with our material possessions that we walk away from the face of the Lord. We are often overwhelmed by our material wealth that we neither hear nor see the Lord calling us to follow him. We are often blinded by material wealth that we do not see the poor and needy around us. It takes divine direction to see, appreciate and give hand to the poor. A story is told about a priest who brought food for a family known to be so dejected and poor in his parish. After receiving the food from the priest, the mother of the family divided it into two equal parts and walked away from the house! She came back after some minutes with bare hands. The priest who was wondering why she walked away asked her why she divided the food into two and where went to you drop the part she took away. The woman responded: “we have a family living down the street and I thought we could share the food with them because they are as well starving!” The priest could not utter a word as he was overwhelmed by such act of selflessness. Nobody is too poor that he or she cannot give. You are better than someone (be kind enough to give). Someone is better than you (be humble).

This night about 850 million people will go to bed hungry. This actually happens every day yet many of us throw food away into the trash every hour. The wealth in the world generally can make each and every one of us comfortable and happy. The problem is that those who are custodians of wealth are not ready to share. Just recently in Nigeria, the Federal Government released a total sum of N17.6 Billion (aprox. 112 Million dollars) for victims of flood in some states in the country. We are praying and hoping that those who are genuinely affected by the flood receive the money. How often do many rich people ignore the cry and plight of the poor among us and focus on their personal interests and comforts. It takes the wisdom, Knowledge and understanding that comes from God (as the first reading showed) for us to see, appreciate and assist the poor and thus be acceptable to God (Matt. 25:31ff).

May the word of God which is alive and active direct the course of our lives to be able to appreciate and assist the poor among us. The really rich person is one who is wise enough to be God’s hands towards the poor. Today we are called to rewrite the story of the rich man by giving. God actually wants us to give all by giving ourselves to him. That is why we sing: “My life time I will give God my life time. If I give God my life time, he will take care of me…he will never never let me down… I will give God my life time!

Happy Sunday and do have a wonderful week ahead. 

Fr. Bonnie      

WHO IS REALLY RICH?: HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

We may not find it difficult to identify the richest man in the world. According to Forbes as of March 2012 Carlos Slim Helύ of Mexico is the richest man in the world with a net worth of 69 billion US dollars followed closely by Bill Gates with a net worth of 66 billion US dollars as of September 2012. Beyond these the question still remains as to who is really rich?

In a certain town in the Southeastern region of Nigeria, a very rich man died after a protracted illness. It took about six months to prepare for his burial which was expected to be a very huge ceremony with grandiose festivities.

The burial day was more of a carnival than a mournful solemnity. People from different groups and associations the man belonged were clad in radiant outfits and flocked together in solidarity. Before the interment of the great man, as the funeral undertakers were digging the grave, a mad man that was known in the community for his wits came close to the grave and started shouting! Indeed on top of his voice he was lamenting that the funeral undertakers had made a big mistake. The undertakers wanted to ignore him but on a second thought they asked him what it was. Answering he pointed out that the dimensionality of the grave was so small. They asked him why and he went on to say that the grave they had dug won’t be able to accommodate the dead man’s cars, shops, wears, houses and other investments he refused to share with people while he was alive. One of them told him that those things won’t go into the grave with him so there was no need of expanding the grave. With this final answer the mad man walked away disappointed by the fact that the stingy rich man could not be buried with at least one of his cars! For him the stingy rich man ended up amassing so much wealth which other people will eventually share. This is a clear indication that our material wealth and possessions will lose their relevance at death. The question: “is who is really rich?”

In the gospel reading today (Mark 10:17-30) we have an interesting encounter between our Lord Jesus Christ and a man who was referred to as a rich man. (Luke 18:18 would add ruler to the designation). From the gospel reading today we are told that the man ran up to Jesus while he was setting out on a journey, knelt before him and put this question before him: “Good master what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After instructing him not to refer to him (Jesus) as good, our Lord reminded him that he should keep the known commandments and the man agreed that he had been doing that since his earliest years. Then Jesus looked at him and loved and then said to him: “there is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Upon hearing this, the man’s face felled and he went away sad because he was a man of great wealth.

 

There is need to examine this encounter very closely. We are told that the rich man in question ran to Jesus. This is a typical indication of the urgency in the man’s desire to meet up with Jesus while he was setting out on a journey. Our Lord could stop his journey to give attention to this man who came kneeling before him in humility not minding the fact that he was a man of great wealth. We are told that those who search for the Lord will find him; especially those who do so in humility (Deut.4:29). The Lord will always attend to us when we run up to him not minding other preoccupations. Coming to Jesus the rich man started by calling him good master. At this, Jesus directed his attention to God who alone is good. What Jesus did was to make the man understand that the inquiry he was making was not from the usual masters of their time, but from God who is infinitely good. He wanted to let the man to know that only God is capable of giving the good answer to his question not man.

The man’s question was what he could do to inherit eternal life. The man knew that there is life after this earthly life which is eternal. He had inherited wealth in this world and he was desirous of inheriting eternal life. That was a very positive and commendable desire. Jesus pointed out the conventional commandments and the man asserted that he had kept all of them. And our Lord looked at him and loved him. It is interesting that Jesus loved him. He loved his heart not his face, he love the worth of his soul and not the weight of his wealth; he loved his earnest desire to inherit eternal life. With that same look our Lord discovered that the man was lacking something in his life. He had done all things well except one thing; charity to the poor. Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor and thus gain eternal treasure in heaven and then follow him.

Going back to the man, his face felled at the words of our Lord that he should sell everything and follow him. This confirms the fact that the man had a deep seated attachment to his wealth. In fact from his reaction, he could not do without those material possessions. Though he was a good man in observing the laws, he was bad in terms of the practice of charity. His treasure was on his wealth and that was where his mind was. The man had faith but no good work to show (Jas.2:17). He received so much but refused to give anything.

The rich man not only walked away from Jesus Christ, he walked away from performing charity, he walked away from the vocation to be a disciple and he finally walked away from eternal life. When the man had gone Jesus told his disciples that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (a small city gate which a camel can enter by kneeling and without load) than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were amazed at what Jesus Christ said because the conventional assumption at the time was that wealth is a blessing from God indicating righteousness (See Psalm 37:25). Seeing how surprised they were and their question: “who can be saved?” He told them that with God all things are possible but not with men. This fact is very true because with God a carpenter can become a captain, with God a bus conductor can become a contractor, with God a driver can become a director, with God a maid can become a madam, with God a poor man can become suddenly rich (Sirach 11:21). Peter came up to inquire about what would be the fate of those who left everything and followed him and he was assured by the Lord that the reward will be full that is hundred fold.

We resemble the rich man in many ways. In fact his name was not given so that we can insert our names. Sometimes we feel that we have done everything well and that we are qualified to go to heaven. Sometimes we assume that being a member of this or that religion, church, denomination or group would qualify to adopt eternal life for us hereafter. Often time we are so comfortable with our material possessions that we walk away from the face of the Lord. We are often overwhelmed by our material wealth that we neither hear nor see the Lord calling us to follow him. We are often blinded by material wealth that we do not see the poor and needy around us. It takes divine direction to see, appreciate and give hand to the poor. A story is told about a priest who brought food for a family known to be so dejected and poor in his parish. After receiving the food from the priest, the mother of the family divided it into two equal parts and walked away from the house! She came back after some minutes with bare hands. The priest who was wondering why she walked away asked her why she divided the food into two and where went to you drop the part she took away. The woman responded: “we have a family living down the street and I thought we could share the food with them because they are as well starving!” The priest could not utter a word as he was overwhelmed by such act of selflessness. Nobody is too poor that he or she cannot give. You are better than someone (be kind enough to give). Someone is better than you (be humble).

This night about 850 million people will go to bed hungry. This actually happens every day yet many of us throw food away into the trash every hour. The wealth in the world generally can make each and every one of us comfortable and happy. The problem is that those who are custodians of wealth are not ready to share. Just recently in Nigeria, the Federal Government released a total sum of N17.6 Billion (aprox. 112 Million dollars) for victims of flood in some states in the country. We are praying and hoping that those who are genuinely affected by the flood receive the money. How often do many rich people ignore the cry and plight of the poor among us and focus on their personal interests and comforts. It takes the wisdom, Knowledge and understanding that comes from God (as the first reading showed) for us to see, appreciate and assist the poor and thus be acceptable to God (Matt. 25:31ff).

May the word of God which is alive and active direct the course of our lives to be able to appreciate and assist the poor in among us. The really rich person is one who is wise enough to be God’s hands towards the poor. Today we are called to rewrite the story of the rich man by giving. God actually wants us to give all by giving ourselves to him. That is why we sing: “My life time I will give God my life time. If I give God my life time, he will take care of me…he will never never let me down… I will give God my life time!

Happy Sunday and do have a wonderful week ahead.    

Fr. Bonnie    

 

THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE: HOMILY FOR THE 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B) By Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE: HOMILY FOR THE 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B)

                                                                                       By Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

 

This story struck my mind. A Bishop visited a rural parish on one of his numerous pastoral visits. One of the outstanding activities that usually mark such visits included the administering of the Sacrament of Confirmation. During the homily on the Confirmation day, the Bishop decided to ask the candidates questions to know how vast they were in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He picked candidates randomly and asked any question he wished. The final question he asked was: “What is the Sacrament of Matrimony?” He picked one boy to answer the question and the boy said “Matrimony is a place where souls suffer a while for their sins…!” The catechism instructor stood up and was making effort to signal to the boy that he was giving answer to what is Purgatory not Matrimony. The Bishop instantly asked the instructor not to stop the boy because God could be telling the congregation something about Matrimony through the boy’s misplaced answer!

From the narratives of the first reading (Genesis 2:18-24) and the gospel reading (Mark 10:2-16) we are presented with the issue of marriage. It really seems that we could call today “Marriage Sunday”. It is also upon this platform that our reflection is built. From the first reading, it seemed that God made a “mistake” during the creation as he realized after the creation of Man that he (the Man) needed a helpmate. With this realization, God fashioned wild beasts (animals) and birds of heaven and brought them to the Man to see what he could call them. The man gave them names but none could qualify as a helpmate or companion (Gen.2:19-20). We have to look into this passage very well. God actually wanted the Man to give names to the animals and the birds and his choice of name would indicate that he had found or not found companionship in any of them. It happened that after naming them he could not establish companionship with any of them. So God took another step  by making the Man to fall into a deep sleep and from his side he took one of his ribs (that could have been the first surgery ever) and with the rib he had taken from the Man he fashioned another creature  and brought the creature to the Man to name. The Man exclaimed this is at LAST (the final point) the bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. He went further to give the creature a name, which is WOMAN because she was taken out of MAN. That was how the first marriage bond was contracted under divine supervision and direction (no bride price was paid). The Woman was actually taken from the Man hence they were not really two but one!

In the gospel reading our Lord Jesus Christ made emphatic statements about the indissolubility of marriage while fielding questions from the Pharisees who wanted to put him to the test. Their question was “is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?” Put in another way, they were asking: “is it right to divide what God has joined together?” In the Law of Moses (Deut 24:1-4) a man can divorce his wife if he no longer likes her. It could be on the grounds of infidelity which requires at least two witnesses, it could even be as irrelevant as bad cooking or breaking of something in the house. Answering the Pharisees our Lord took them back to the beginning. He said in the beginning (we should remember that God is the beginning) God made them male and female. That means in the mind of God a man and a woman should be joined to form one flesh (note very: “a man and a woman” not: “a man and a man” nor: “a woman and a woman”). He concluded by saying that what God has joined no person should put asunder. I wish to take up the issue of putting asunder. The word asunder (adverb) means torn to pieces, apart, divided. In relation to the biblical usage in this context our Lord is saying that what God has joined nobody should torn to pieces or set apart. What we have not yet understood is that PUTTING ASUNDER can happen in two ways; from inside and from outside. It is from inside when either of the couple or both destroy the union by commission or omission. Asunder can happen from outside when someone or some persons outside the union bring destruction to it by commission or omission.

It is most disheartening that divorce and separation have wrecked many marriages. It has become a common phenomenon in our society as innumerable applications for divorce besiege courthouses on daily basis just as marriage tribunals are getting busier every day. Today people are getting married not for better and for worse but as long as the parties are finding it convenient. Problems and challenges are not strange in marriage unions. Adam and Eve who began this enterprise had their challenge at the time they ate the forbidden fruit and their eventual fall (Genesis 3). This did not set them apart as they went further to live together and to procreate.

In most marriages couples are not living together, they are just staying and existing together. Some marriages at most have lost taste and vitality. Problems arise in marriages because from the outset some married for the wrong reasons or the wrong persons. There is a story about two married women who went out for lunch break. While they were eating one of them discovered that her friend was wearing her wedding ring on the wrong finger and she inquired: “Hey you are wearing your wedding ring on the wrong finger!” The other immediately replied “Yes because I married the wrong man!” It is a fact that marriages are crumbling because those who went into it did so with some motives that have no relationship with love. Love here is not merely based on physical and material attributes (for instance what you see or feel) which are bound to fade. The love that we mean is the one St. Paul took time to examine in 1 Cor 13:1-13. Among other things St. Paul established that love is patient and kind, selfless, truthful, hopeful, it neither is jealous, irritable nor glory in evil things. (4-7).

There is no doubt that some people are in purgatory in the name of marriage as the boy who answered the bishop indicated. As a married man or woman if you cannot find happiness in your home you are in a serious problem. The following points can be helpful to recreate your marriage:

  • Married life should be enjoyed not endured.
  • Married life should be celebrated not tolerated.
  • If there is no TRUST in your marriage it will RUST.
  • If you are not patient in your marriage you will have pain.
  • If you don’t have a common vision you will have common division.
  • If you stop growing together you will start growing apart.
  • If you stop loving you start losing.
  • If you stop praying together you will start perishing together.
  • If you fail to understand yourselves you will not withstand yourselves.
  • I am sorry can solve problems and stop fights.
  • Understand your differences and help each other to grow together.
  • If your marriage has not been blessed that hour has come to do so (do not give the devil an opportunity 1 Pet 5:8).
  • Be careful with the following modern necessary distractions in marriage: friends, television, mobile phones and internet!

Instructions for Men.

  • Love your wives (Col.3:19).
  • Appreciate your wife (her looks, clothes, etc)
  • Look at her face often and call her pet names (women need attention like little children).
  • Buy something for her (even a wrap of candy can change her mood).
  • Make yourself available at home (you are needed at home).
  • Pray and play with your wife and children (a pillow fight does not hurt).

 

 

Instructions for Women

  • Respect your husbands (Col 3:18).
  • Do not be making so many demands (Don’t compare your husband with other men be content with what he has)
  • Minimize talking too much (we know it is your natural gift).
  • Do not form alliance with your kids against your husband (the kids may fight you later).
  • The growth or failure of the marriage is more in your hands (handle with care).

I wish you all a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead as you work towards recreating you marriages.

Fr. Bonnie.

fatherbonny@hotmail.com

INSIDERS VS OUTSIDERS: HOMILY FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). -Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

INSIDERS VS OUTSIDERS: HOMILY FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)

                                                                            -Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

 

There seems to be two sides of almost every reality in our world. Philosophers will call it dualism that is the state of being in two parts; for instance male and female, good and bad, up and down, white and black, body and spirit etc. Each of these parts form what could be called a group.

Grouping is prevalent everywhere; in fact we all belong to one group or another. In fact from the divine arrangement of male and female we find ourselves grouped from birth. As children we begin to form groups of playmates, as youths we form peer groups or circles of friends, as adult we organize ourselves in groups as club or association members. From geographical locations we find ourselves grouped into different communities, villages, tribes and nations. Our religions draft us into different faith groups like Christians and Muslims to mention but two. Our careers and professions also place us into different groups like doctors, clerics, lawyers, engineers, nurses, architects, even beggars, touts, criminals have organized groups. One characteristic group mentality is that those in a given group see those outside the group as less important or weaker. For instance those outside the Military, Police or other paramilitary arms are called civilians (even bloody civilians) to indicate some differences. Globally we are aware that our world is divided into first, second, and third world countries. Generally, to be in a group is to be an Insider and not belonging to a given group makes one an Outsider. Even our sitting arrangement here in the Church divides us into groups whether as family member or as members of the choir, men. women, youths etc.

     We are in short products of various groups with our respective group mentalities, beliefs and dispositions. It is also important to indicate that within a group one can still find other groups and sub groups; it continues down to the level of the individuals in a group.

      We have taken so much time to describe what constitutes a group because the first reading (Numbers 11:25-29) and the first part of the gospel (Mark 9:38-43) tell us about the group phenomenon; that is Insiders and Outsiders factor. God commanded Moses to appoint seventy elders to assist him in leading the people. He was further asked to bring them before Him at the Tent of Meeting. By this appointment of seventy elders a group was formed from among the people; a peculiar group with divine confirmation. At the time they were brought before God two persons among them (Eldad and Medad) were not present. We are not told what brought about their absence. They could have been sick, indisposed, preoccupied or anything. At the Tent of Meeting God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders and they began to prophecy. The turning point of the narrative was that the two elders who were not present at the meeting and who were in the camp joined them to prophecy at the same time. By human judgment they were not supposed to prophecy because they were physically disconnected from the group. We can see this in the effort of a young man who ran to Moses to report the event, as well as Joshua who asked Moses to stop them.

From the first part of the gospel today we encounter a similar episode like what we saw in the first reading. Last Sunday the apostles were arguing about who was the greatest among them. We saw how our Lord summarized greatness for them using the formular of “smallness” and service. Today they seem to drop their individualism and took up group superiority attitude. They saw someone who was not a member of their group casting out devil with the name of Jesus and they tried to stop him because he was not one of them. Obviously they got the same answer that Moses gave to Joshua when he requested that the two elders who were prophesying in the camp be stopped.

From the two readings one can notice one prevailing trend.  From the first reading, the young man who saw the two elders prophesying and Joshua failed to evaluate the content of their prophecy; was it false and destructive or was it in line with what God wanted. The young man saw them prophesying but on what? From the gospel on the other hand, the apostles got the idea that the man was using the right formular to cast out devil (that is in the name of Jesus) but their group attitude blinded them from appreciating that the man was in fact helping them in their work. They failed to ask: “is this man doing a good thing?” “Is he in anyway way helping or hindering our ministry?” Often we are reflective of the attitude of the young man, Joshua and the apostles. We are ready to condemn, discard and expel anyone who is not a member of our group even when the person in question is doing some great and helpful works. This happens in various areas of life. In politics, members of a given party can never see anything good in other parties even when the plans and projects of other parties are for the common good. In religion, in Christianity, in our different Christian groups, among the Clergy and in fact in every conceivable group the same trend runs: “S/he is not one of us, s/he is not a member of our group!” No matter how good you can be if you are, outside your group you may not be accepted because you don’t belong! This is one ugly factor in our society that is creating unjustifiable barriers everywhere. The rich see the poor as outsiders, the rulers see the ruled as outsiders, the fortunate see the less privileged as outsiders. Even our Lord Jesus Christ had the outsider experience throughout his ministry on earth and even died on that account. So whenever you face opposition or rejection because you don’t belong remember that it is a Christ-like experience.

There is another level of Outsider-Insider experience which actually endures forever. On this platform, one qualifies to be an Outsider or Insider depending on one’s choice; that is what one does here on earth. St. James in the second reading today (Jas. 5:1-6) set the scene very well. Among other things he told the rich to start crying because of the miseries that will be coming their way. He further said that their wealth will rot away. St. James was actually saying that at the end of our human standard, God’s eternal standard will be established. This means that those who considered themselves Insiders will become Outsiders while those who were considered Outsiders will become Insiders. According to the apostle James God will be the one to decide finally who will be the Insider and the Outsider. Those who oppressed the poor, those who dwelt on material gains and considered themselves the Insiders will at the end of time become Outsiders in relation to the kingdom of God. The table will evenually turn!

To evade this experience our Lord Jesus Christ in the second part of the gospel advised us to let go! There is power in letting go. The first part of this second part of the gospel challenges us to give. Most people have not yet understood the power in giving. Giving is God’s way of life and one of the things God does we can do. To become an Insider in God you must be a giver. This directive has basis in the Old Testament (Deut 15:10; 16:17; Prov.3:9&27; 28:27; Malachi 3:10). In the New Testament Our Lord gave it as an instruction (Matt. 5:42; 10:8; Luke 3:11; 6:38). Some of the apostles also dwelt on the same issue of giving (Act 20:35; 2 Cor. 9:6-7; I Peter 4:8; I John 3:17-18).

In the second part of the second part of the gospel today our Lord encouraged us to let go in a different way. Here he tells us to let go by dropping off those things that will hinder us from becoming Insiders in God after our earthly existence. According to him we are expected to cut off anything that will prevent us from entering into eternal life. Let us not see the hands, feet, and eyes that he asked us to discard as the physical ones we have. They represent things, persons, events, situations that make us Outsiders from God. Those realities that replace our communication and connection with God, those realities that steal and keep our attention from God, those realities that make us Outsiders; away from God and His eternal blessings. Point blank there are some persons, things, events and situations are not necessary in your life, discard them; your life can become more meaningful without them.

We are called upon today not to make other people outsiders because they do not belong to our group. Today we are called to plant and nurture acceptance of others in order to secure our acceptance before God. She or he may not belong to your earthly group but we all belong to God’s eternal group so do not stop him or her from doing that which is good!

Do have a happy Sunday and a blessed week ahead!

 Fr. Bonnie.

THE SECRET OF GREATNESS / FIRST POSITION: HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). REV. FR BONNIE ANUSIEM

THE SECRET OF GREATNESS / FIRST POSITION: HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). REV. FR BONNIE ANUSIEM.

THE SECRET OF GREATNESS / FIRST POSITION: HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). REV. FR BONNIE ANUSIEM

THE SECRET OF GREATNESS / FIRST POSITION: HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B).

–REV. FR BONNIE ANUSIEM PhD.

This story actually overwhelmed me. Some foreign philanthropists went about visiting some secondary schools in various parts of Africa. Their aim was to get the best brains from some secondary schools and to assist in charting their fecund intellectual abilities by getting them into colleges abroad. Consequent upon this, some schools were randomly selected by ballot from various regions of the continent.

At one of the secondary schools chosen, a teacher who was in-charge of the topmost class in the school, happened to have had a set of male identical twins in that same class. This class was selected by the school authorities as the only class that would be inspected by the visiting philanthropists. The teacher in question took personal interest in the inspection and had the desire to have her twins selected by the people coming for the inspection. She had her twins dressed in new school uniforms and to make her plan solid, she made them sit at the front seats by the entrance to the classroom. She actually took a poor boy called Peter; an orphan by identity, and who was a beneficiary of the community scholarship from the front seat and gave him a sit at the back of the class; away from the sight of the coming inspectors: “after all he is an orphan and does not deserve the notice of the White folks!” She told herself.

One elegant White woman entered the class and was unanimously and respectfully greeted by the class with a resounding and elating “Good morning Ma!” She responded and asked them how they were doing and they answered by asserting the conventional “We are very fine thank you!” She asked them to keep standing and moved down to the back of the class. Thereafter she asked the class to make an “about-turn” and face her. By so doing those who were at the usual front seats became back benchers while the back benchers assumed the front seats. The most outstanding thing that happened was that our poor Peter was by this new arrangement facing the woman directly. Incidentally also the woman took him up on some questions from various subjects and he gave accurate and precise answers to all the questions. The inspector was greatly impressed and after commending the teacher for grooming such a wonderful class, she announced immediately that Peter would be among those to be given scholarship to study abroad!

There seems to be a basic desire in each and every one of us to be the first, to be the best, to be the most outstanding and to lead the parade. This is was what Martin Luther King Jnr. (adapting from Wallace Hamilton) in his sermon on 4th February 1968 called “Drum Major instinct”; the desire to be first, the desire to be noticed. Even the cry of a baby is a public announcement for attention. Like the mother of the twins she wanted the first positions for her children.

The desire for greatness / first position seems to characterize our thinking and acting as human beings. It is not all too different that we rate people in their order of performances as 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. During our primary, secondary and even tertiary school days there was always the contest of who comes first in the class; who climbs the stage, who receives award! The apostles were not less human. In the gospel reading today (Mark 9:30-37) we are presented with an episode involving the apostles in what appears to be a seminar on “greatness and being first”. I believe that all of them contributed in the argument. I can imagine Peter saying: “I am the greatest; the master just gave me the keys after professing him to be the Christ!” (Matt. 16:17-19). Others may have also reminded him that after all said and done the Lord told him: “get behind me Satan!” (Matt. 16:23). I can imagine John claiming to  be the greatest and the first while leveraging on being the closest to the Lord (John 13:23). I can imagine Judas arguing from the financial stance as the one holding the purse of the group (John 12:6; 13:29). I can imagine Andrew claiming to be the greatest and the first on account of his public relation (PR) potentials which included but not restricted to introducing Simon Peter to the Lord, pointing out the boy with five loaves of bread and two fish and bringing some Greeks to see Jesus (John 1:42; 6:8-9;12:20-22). I can imagine Matthew the former tax collector claiming to be the greatest and the first based on his learning and wealth that he left and followed Jesus (Matt. 9:9). I can imagine Nathaniel reminding all that he should be considered the greatest and the first because the Lord already proclaimed him to be a man without guile (John 1:47-48). I can imagine James and John nursing the position of greatness as they later expressed it in the 10th chapter of the gospel of Mark. I can finally imagine Thomas casting doubts on all the sides they had taken.

When Jesus got to know about their contention, he expressed his dismay and went further to give them the secret of being great, the secret of gaining the first position. His formulation for greatness was amazingly below their imagination. For him, anyone who desires to be first must first of all make himself (herself) last by being the servant of others.

 

This formular that our Lord presented was what they least anticipated hearing and of course in our day and age most of us will not like to take it. We notice this playing out especially among political leaders. The bane of most nations in the world including small communities is leadership without service. Jesus was not telling them sometime strange because that was the route he went as St. Paul would attest in Phil. 2:6-11. The secret of greatness / first position is the way of humility; it has to do with bending. Now for someone to pass  an examination the individual is expected to read and to read one needs to bend down the head .The word humility comes from the Latin humus which means soil. Hence to be humble is to bring oneself down to the level of the soil. I will also like to share this story. A lorry carrying some load was passing through a road and at a point it could not pass through a crossbar along the road on account of the load it was carrying. Some people suggested that the crossbar be removed, some others suggested that some of the load be removed and after crossing the loads will be put back, others asked the driver to make a turn and take another road without crossbar. All the suggestions had their big shortfalls. Removing the crossbar would be costly and replacing it will add another cost and time. Off-loading will as well take time and payable manual labour. Going through another route would be like starting the journey afresh since the destination was in view. It was a little boy who after looking at the lorry suggested that if the tyres were to be deflated a little the lorry could pass. When this was done, the lorry actually passed through with ease.

There is need for us to do some deflating in our lives to enable us pass through into greatness. There is need for us to rely on God because he is the one that sets the platform of greatness. The stance of St. James today is also relevant (James 3:16-4:3). Among other things the apostle pointed out that we are often filled with the desire to be great and first to the extent that we don’t mind doing evil things like killing to achieve our selfish motives. This plays out very well in political positions as well as in the acquisition of material wealth. Some people even vow to go to any length whatsoever provided they get what they want.

Do you want to be great? Do you want to take the first position? The best way and manner is to start small, to bend low; to stoop to conquer. Before a swimmer takes a great dive he/she must first take a squatting position; such a person must bend his/her kneels. Yes! To knell is to win. There is no need to scramble over greatness or first position. There is a place God has reserved for you in life; locate it and maintain it.

Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B) REV. FR. BONNIE ANUSIEM

LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B).

                              – REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD

This story caught my attention as I was reflecting on the readings. A young lady was driving along a high way after work. It was a rainy day and the night was creeping in prematurely due to the cloudy weather. Suddenly she felt a jerky jump from her car followed by a noise. She stopped! Alighting she discovered a flat tyre. Looking closely she discovered that the tyre had been punctured by a sharp object; she was indeed lucky the impact was not fatal to her. She was greatly shaken by the incidence because she had never changed a tyre in her whole life. In fact she was experiencing flat tyre for the first time in her driving life.

For twenty minutes she stood there wishing that someone could stop to assist her; but it seemed that people increased their speed upon spotting her by herself on that lonely and dangerous road; she could be a trap set by some high way robbers, some people may have reasoned. She practically lost hope and started trekking home gradually. She was surprised as one man stopped by her side and asked her what the problem was. For some seconds she could not find her voice, and when she did she could only mutter “mmmmh… my car!” Pointing to the car some distance behind her. The man offered to help her to change the tyre. It took him about ten minutes to remove the flat tyre and had the spare fixed. The car was good to go! The lady was so excited and happy that she asked the man to name any price at all. The man looked at her, shook his head and said: “my name is Christian and I am also a Christian I have just performed one of my duties. If you are a Christian do this for someone else, Christ did it for us without charge!” With these words he entered his car and drove off.

The lady became confused and overwhelmed. She wanted to know more about this strange benefactor on the high way of loneliness and abandonment. She even wanted to tell the man that they share a common name because her name was Christiana; but it was pretty late the man was almost out of sight. She gathered herself and drove off thinking about what had just happened. When she entered the town she decided to take her dinner at a restaurant by the gas station before heading home. After her meal she decided to take a shorter route to her house; she was scared of the high way. On her way, she saw a pregnant woman with a child walking down the road; they were obviously looking helpless. She wondered how a woman in such condition could be trekking under the wet weather with a child. She could have passed her but remembering how Christian stopped to assist her, she stopped to help the woman to her destination. By the time she got close to her house she opened her purse and brought out a bundle of currency and handed it to the woman and said: “Take this it will assist you to take care of yourself and the baby that is coming”. The woman was trying to refuse the offer when the lady said: “My name is Christiana and I am a Christian; I have just performed one of my duties and someone just did it for me free!” The lady (Christiana) was attentive to the telephone conversation the woman had with someone she believed was her husband. She gathered that the woman went to her former workplace to get her pay before her maternity but she was told she could not be paid  on account of some problems with the company.

On getting home, the woman met her husband in a sad mood. He too had a bad day. He could not do his airport taxi business that day because his car had a mechanical complication which was fixed by evening and he had to go home without any income. On his way home he had helped a lady to fix her flat tyre though he refused to take money from the lady who was willing to give him a large sum. By the time Christian’s wife finished the story of her encounter with the good Samaritan lady, he came to realize that it was the same lady he helped that assisted the wife and even gave her a huge sum of money! Moreover he was touched by the fact that the woman used exactly the same words he used after assisting her! He was glad that the gospel he preached by his identity was fruitful and even to him.

Our seemingly long story could be cut short by asserting that it pays to live by our identity. In the gospel today (Mark 8:27-35) our Lord Jesus Christ did a kind of identity survey with his disciples by asking them two interrelated questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” Firstly, an attentive reading will show that the answer is in the question. This is one of the places we encounter the phrase “I am”. When Moses inquired to know the name of God in case the people should ask him who sent him, God told him: “Tell them that I am sent you” (Ex 3:14). During the argument with the Jews Jesus told them among other things that “Before Abraham I am” (John 8:58). There are other “I am” statements: I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the light of the world, I am the gate to the Sheepfold” (In all these you can replace “I am” with “God is”). In any case, Jesus’ questions bore the answer because he is “I am” (God is). So the question actually should read: “Who do people say God is?”

Answering the question about the people’s speculations about the identity of Jesus, the disciples reported that some say he is John, others Elijah, other people still say one of the prophets. It is good to note that though the people did not get the real identity of Jesus Christ, they connected him with men of God of proven integrity and power. They did not relate him to any person of questionable character and history. On the part of the disciples’ identity analysis of Jesus Christ, Peter identified him as the Christ which in Hebrew is rendered as Messiah. In the account of Matthew (16:13-20), Peter got a price for the answer which according to our Lord was revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we still recall that Andrew had already introduced Peter to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah in John (1:41).But for him to remember and profess it at the due moment was an act of the Holy Spirit. After Peter’s profession, our Lord went on to tell them the fate of the Messiah which included suffering, rejection and death not excluding resurrection after three days. Instantly Peter took the Lord aside and began to forbid him from taking that way, but our Lord rebuked Peter by saying: “Get behind me Satan your thoughts are man’s not God’s!”

There is need to explain this episode very well in connection with our theme: Living by our identity. Firstly, the Christ a.k.a the Messiah which also means the anointed one is identifiable as the one who is coming to save his people. This is explained very well in most of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that are also confirmed in the New Testament. However, he was going to be an unusual messiah. He is one who is be born among animals (Luke 2:7), one who rides on a donkey (Zech.9:9), one who rules with fairness (Isaiah 9:7), one whose throne is the cross (Matt. 27:32ff), one whose crown is thorn (Matt. 27:29)], one who will be wounded for the sake of his subjects (Isaiah 53:5), one whose who rule will last forever (Luke 1:33). If we take a look at the first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9), we discover that the prophet was describing the identity of the Messiah which includes suffering followed by divine vindication. These were elements that formed the identity of the Messiah. Hence when Jesus was telling them about his fate, he was more or less telling them that he is going to live out his identity.

Peter on the other hand was telling him not to do so. Peter can be viewed as telling Jesus Christ: “answer the Christ; the Messiah but don’t carry out his mission”. It is like telling a medical doctor: “answer doc but don’t cure anyone!” Peter could not stay on the profession he made as he started to advice the Messiah not to live by his identity. It is a wonder that the Peter who confirmed Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) few minutes ago could turn around and ask him not to complete his Messianic mandate. Jesus was right to say “get behind me Satan” because it is only the devil that can make such a devastating suggestion. 

Often we are reflective of the stance of Peter. We profess Christianity but we are not ready to activate the Christian life in practice. This is where the letter of James today draws relevance.”Faith without good works is dead”. In the same way Christianity without Christian life is useless” just as “faith without faithfulness is worthless”. To be a Christian is not just a name, it is a call into a life pattern; the life pattern of Christ. It is the life pattern of love and service to God and humanity. Do not allow any day to pass without living by your identity as a Christian. We are all Christians by identity but how many of us are ready to respond to the life of charity, fellow-feeling, forgiveness and trust in God which was Characteristic of the life of Christ? Like Christian and Christiana in our story today we are challenged to live by our identity just as our Lord activated his identity as the Christ (Messiah) till the end. The way and manner you activate your Christian faith will determine how people perceive; it will indicate who people take you to be: “that kind hearted man or woman” or “that heartless fool!”

May the word of God be activated in your life always. Happy Sunday and a blissful week ahead.

 

LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (b)-Fr. Bonnie

This story caught my attention as I was reflecting on the readings. A young lady was driving along a high way after work. It was a rainy day and the night was creeping in prematurely due to the cloudy weather. Suddenly she felt a jerky jump from her car followed by a noise. She stopped! Alighting she discovered a flat tyre. Looking closely she discovered that the tire had been punctured by a sharp object; she was quite lucky the impact was not fatal to her. She was greatly shaken by the incidence because she had never changed a tyre in her whole life. In fact she was experiencing flat tire for the first time in her driving life.
For twenty minutes she stood there wishing that someone could stop to assist her; but it seemed that people increased their speed upon spotting her by herself on that lonely and dangerous road; she could be a trap set by some high way robbers, some people may have reasoned. She practically lost hope and started trekking home gradually. She was surprised as one man stopped by her side and asked her what the problem was. For some seconds she could not find her voice, and when she did she could only mutter “mmmmh… my car!” Pointing to the car some distance behind her. The man offered to help her to change the tire. It took him about ten minutes to remove the flat tyre and had the spare fixed. The car was good to go! The lady was so excited and happy that she asked the man to name any price at all. The man looked at her, shook his head and said: “my name is Christian and I am also a Christian I have just performed one of my duties. If you are a Christian do this for someone else, Christ did it for us without charge!” With these words he entered his car and drove off.
The lady became confused and overwhelmed. She wanted to know more about this strange benefactor on the high way of loneliness and abandonment. She even wanted to tell the man that they share a common name because her name was Christiana; but it was pretty late the man was almost out of sight. She gathered herself and drove off thinking about what had just happened. When she entered the town she decided to take her dinner at a restaurant by the gas station before heading home. After her meal she decided to take a shorter route to her house; she was scared of the high way. On her way, she saw a pregnant woman with a child walking down the road; they were obviously looking helpless. She wondered how a woman in such condition could be trekking under the wet weather with a child. She could have passed her but remembering how Christian stopped to assist her, she stopped to help the woman to her destination. By the time she got close to her house she opened her purse and brought out a bundle of currency and handed it to the woman and said: “Take this it will assist you to take care of yourself and the baby that is coming”. The woman was trying to refuse the offer when the lady said: “My name is Christiana and I am a Christian; I have just performed one of my duties and someone just did it for me free!” The lady (Christiana) was attentive to the telephone conversation the woman had with someone she believed was her husband. She gathered that the woman went to her former workplace to get her pay before her maternity but she was told she could not be paid  on account of some problems with the company.
On getting home, the woman met her husband in a sad mood. He too had a bad day. He could not do his airport taxi business that day because his car had a mechanical complication which was fixed by evening and he had to go home without any income. On his way home he had helped a lady to fix her flat tire though he refused to take money from the lady who was willing to give him a large sum. By the time Christian’s wife finished the story of her encounter with the good Samaritan lady, he came to realize that it was the same lady he helped that assisted the wife and even gave her a huge sum of money! Moreover he was touched by the fact that the woman used exactly the same words he used after assisting her! He was glad that the gospel he preached by his identity was fruitful and even to him.
Our seemingly long story could be cut short by asserting that it pays to live by our identity. In the gospel today (Mark 8:27-35) our Lord Jesus Christ did a kind of identity survey with his disciples by asking them two interrelated questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” Firstly, an attentive reading will show that the answer is in the question. This is one of the places we encounter the phrase “I am”. When Moses inquired to know the name of God in case the people should ask him who sent him, God told him: “Tell them that I am sent you” (Ex 3:14). During the argument with the Jews Jesus told them among other things that “Before Abraham I am” (John 8:58). There are other “I am” statements: I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the light of the world, I am the gate to the Sheepfold” (In all these you can replace “I am” with “God is”). In any case, Jesus’ questions bore the answer because he is “I am” (God is). So the question actually should read: “Who do people say God is?”
Answering the question about the people’s speculations about the identity of Jesus, the disciples reported that some say he is John, others Elijah, other people still say one of the prophets. It is good to note that though the people did not get the real identity of Jesus Christ, they connected him with men of God of proven integrity and power. They did not relate him to any person of questionable character and history. On the part of the disciples’ identity analysis of Jesus Christ, Peter identified him as the Christ which in Hebrew is rendered as Messiah. In the account of Matthew (16:13-20), Peter got a price for the answer which according to our Lord was revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we still recall that Andrew had already introduced Peter to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah in John (1:41).But for him to remember and profess it at the due moment was an act of the Holy Spirit. After Peter’s profession, our Lord went on to tell them the fate of the Messiah which included suffering, rejection and death not excluding resurrection after three days. Instantly Peter took the Lord aside and began to forbid him from taking that way, but our Lord rebuked Peter by saying: “Get behind me Satan your thoughts are man’s not God’s!”
There is need to explain this episode very well in connection with our theme: Living by our identity. Firstly, the Christ a.k.a the Messiah which also means the anointed one is identifiable as the one who is coming to save his people. This is explained very well in most of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that are also confirmed in the New Testament. However, he was going to be an unusual messiah. He is one who is be born among animals (Luke 2:7), one who rides on a donkey (Zech.9:9), one who rules with fairness (Isaiah 9:7), one whose throne is the cross (Matt. 27:32ff), one whose crown is thorn (Matt. 27:29)], one who will be wounded for the sake of his subjects (Isaiah 53:5), one whose who rule will last forever (Luke 1:33). If we take a look at the first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9), we discover that the prophet was describing the identity of the Messiah which includes suffering followed by divine vindication. These were elements that formed the identity of the Messiah. Hence when Jesus was telling them about his fate, he was more or less telling them that he is going to live out his identity.
Peter on the other hand was telling him not to do so. Peter can be viewed as telling Jesus Christ: “answer the Christ; the Messiah but don’t carry out his mission”. It is like telling a medical doctor: “answer doc but don’t cure anyone!” Peter could not stay on the profession he made as he started to advice the Messiah not to live by his identity. It is a wonder that the Peter who confirmed Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) few minutes ago could turn around and ask him not to complete his Messianic mandate. Jesus was right to say “get behind me Satan” because it is only the devil that can make such a devastating suggestion. 
Often we are reflective of the stance of Peter. We profess Christianity but we are not ready to activate the Christian life in practice. This is where the letter of James today draws relevance.”Faith without good works is dead”. In the same way Christianity without Christian life is useless” just as “faith without faithfulness is worthless”. To be a Christian is not just a name, it is a call into a life pattern; the life pattern of Christ. It is the life pattern of love and service to God and humanity. Do not allow any day to pass without living by your identity as a Christian. We are all Christians by identity but how many of us are ready to respond to the life of charity, fellow-feeling, forgiveness and trust in God which was Characteristic of the life of Christ? Like Christian and Christiana in our y today we are challenged to live by our identity just as our Lord activated his identity as the Christ (Messiah) till the end. The way and manner you activate your Christian faith will determine how people perceive; it will indicate who people take you to be: “that kind hearted man or woman” or “that heartless fool!”
May the word of God be activated in your life always. Happy Sunday and a blissful week ahead. 
 
  

LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). – REV. FR. BONNIE NKEM ANUSIEM.

LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). – REV. FR. BONNIE NKEM ANUSIEM..

LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B). – REV. FR. BONNIE NKEM ANUSIEM.

 

LIVING BY OUR IDENTITY: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B).

                              – REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD

This story caught my attention as I was reflecting on the readings. A young lady was driving along a high way after work. It was a rainy day and the night was creeping in prematurely due to the cloudy weather. Suddenly she felt a jerky jump from her car followed by a noise. She stopped! Alighting she discovered a flat tire. Looking closely she discovered that the tire had been punctured by a sharp object; she was quiet lucky the impact was not fatal to her. She was greatly shaken by the incidence because she had never changed a tire in her whole life. In fact she was experiencing flat tire for the first time in her driving life.

For twenty minutes she stood there wishing that someone could stop to assist her; but it seemed that people increased their speed upon spotting her by herself on that lonely and dangerous road; she could be a trap set by some high way robbers, some people may have reasoned. She practically lost hope and started trekking home gradually. She was surprised as one man stopped by her side and asked her what the problem was. For some seconds she could not find her voice, and when she did she could only mutter “mmmmh… my car!” Pointing to the car some distance behind her. The man offered to help her to change the tire. It took him about ten minutes to remove the flat tire and had the spare fixed. The car was good to go! The lady was so excited and happy that she asked the man to name any price at all. The man looked at her, shook his head and said: “my name is Christian and I am also a Christian I have just performed one of my duties. If you are a Christian do this for someone else, Christ did it for us without charge!” With these words he entered his car and drove off.

The lady became confused and overwhelmed. She wanted to know more about this strange benefactor on the high way of loneliness and abandonment. She even wanted to tell the man that they share a common name because her name was Christiana; but it was pretty late the man was almost out of sight. She gathered herself and drove off thinking about what had just happened. When she entered the town she decided to take her dinner at a restaurant by the gas station before heading home. After her meal she decided to take a shorter route to her house; she was scared of the high way. On her way, she saw a pregnant woman with a child walking down the road; they were obviously looking helpless. She wondered how a woman in such condition could be trekking under the wet weather with a child. She could have passed her but remembering how Christian stopped to assist her, she stopped to help the woman to her destination. By the time she got close to her house she opened her purse and brought out a bundle of currency and handed it to the woman and said: “Take this it will assist you to take care of yourself and the baby that is coming”. The woman was trying to refuse the offer when the lady said: “My name is Christiana and I am a Christian; I have just performed one of my duties and someone just did it for me free!” The lady (Christiana) was attentive to the telephone conversation the woman had with someone she believed was her husband. She gathered that the woman went to her former workplace to get her pay before her maternity but she was told she could not be paid  on account of some problems with the company.

On getting home, the woman met her husband in a sad mood. He too had a bad day. He could not do his airport taxi business that day because his car had a mechanical complication which was fixed by evening and he had to go home without any income. On his way home he had helped a lady to fix her flat tire though he refused to take money from the lady who was willing to give him a large sum. By the time Christian’s wife finished the story of her encounter with the good Samaritan lady, he came to realize that it was the same lady he helped that assisted the wife and even gave her a huge sum of money! Moreover he was touched by the fact that the woman used exactly the same words he used after assisting her! He was glad that the gospel he preached by his identity was fruitful and even to him.

Our seemingly long story could be cut short by asserting that it pays to live by our identity. In the gospel today (Mark 8:27-35) our Lord Jesus Christ did a kind of identity survey with his disciples by asking them two interrelated questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” Firstly, an attentive reading will show that the answer is in the question. This is one of the places we encounter the phrase “I am”. When Moses inquired to know the name of God in case the people should ask him who sent him, God told him: “Tell them that I am sent you” (Ex 3:14). During the argument with the Jews Jesus told them among other things that “Before Abraham I am” (John 8:58). There are other “I am” statements: I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the light of the world, I am the gate to the Sheepfold” (In all these you can replace “I am” with “God is”). In any case, Jesus’ questions bore the answer because he is “I am” (God is). So the question actually should read: “Who do people say God is?”

Answering the question about the people’s speculations about the identity of Jesus, the disciples reported that some say he is John, others Elijah, other people still say one of the prophets. It is good to note that though the people did not get the real identity of Jesus Christ, they connected him with men of God of proven integrity and power. They did not relate him to any person of questionable character and history. On the part of the disciples’ identity analysis of Jesus Christ, Peter identified him as the Christ which in Hebrew is rendered as Messiah. In the account of Matthew (16:13-20), Peter got a price for the answer which according to our Lord was revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we still recall that Andrew had already introduced Peter to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah in John (1:41).But for him to remember and profess it at the due moment was an act of the Holy Spirit. After Peter’s profession, our Lord went on to tell them the fate of the Messiah which included suffering, rejection and death not excluding resurrection after three days. Instantly Peter took the Lord aside and began to forbid him from taking that way, but our Lord rebuked Peter by saying: “Get behind me Satan your thoughts are man’s not God’s!”

There is need to explained this episode very well in connection with our theme: Living by our identity. Firstly, the Christ a.k.a the Messiah which also means the anointed one is identifiable as the one who is coming to save his people. This is explained very well in most of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that are also confirmed in the New Testament. However, he was going to be an unusual messiah. He is one who is be born among animals (Luke 2:7), one who rides on a donkey (Zech.9:9), one who rules with fairness (Isaiah 9:7), one whose throne is the cross (Matt. 27:32ff), one whose crown is thorn (Matt. 27:29)], one who will be wounded for the sake of his subjects (Isaiah 53:5), one whose who rule will last forever (Luke 1:33). If we take a look at the first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9), we discover that the prophet was describing the identity of the Messiah which includes suffering followed by divine vindication. These were elements that formed the identity of the Messiah. Hence when Jesus was telling them about his fate, he was more or less telling them that he is going to live out his identity.

Peter on the other hand was telling him not to do so. Peter can be viewed as telling Jesus Christ: “answer the Christ; the Messiah but don’t carry out his mission”. It is like telling a medical doctor: “answer doc but don’t cure anyone!” Peter could not stay on the profession he made as he started to advice the Messiah not to live by his identity. It is a wonder that the Peter who confirmed Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) few minutes ago could turn around and ask him not to complete his Messianic mandate. Jesus was right to say “get behind me Satan” because it is only the devil that can make such a devastating suggestion. 

Often we are reflective of the stance of Peter. We profess Christianity but we are not ready to activate the Christian life in practice. This is where the letter of James today draws relevance.”Faith without good works is dead”. In the same way Christianity without Christian life is useless” just as “faith without faithfulness is worthless”. To be a Christian is not just a name, it is a call into a life pattern; the life pattern of Christ. It is the life pattern of love and service to God and humanity. Do not allow any day to pass without living by your identity as a Christian. We are all Christians by identity but how many of us are ready to respond to the life of charity, fellow-feeling, forgiveness and trust in God which was Characteristic of the life of Christ? Like Christian and Christiana in our story today we are challenged to live by our identity just as our Lord activated his identity as the Christ (Messiah) till the end. The way and manner you activate your Christian faith will determine how people perceive; it will indicate who people take you to be: “that kind hearted man or woman” or “that heartless fool!”

May the word of God be activated in your life always. Happy Sunday and a blissful week ahead. 

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