“THE END OF TIME”: HOMILY FOR THE 33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B)
REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD.
There is one basic rhythm in life; whatever has a beginning will logically have an end. The preacher made it more appealing when he said: “for everything under the earth there is a season” (Ecclesiastes. 3:1). The fact of a beginning runs through the old and new testaments (Gen.1:1; John 1:1); there is also an opening to the end of the world as testified by Daniel in the Old Testament (Daniel 12:1-13) and our Lord Jesus Christ and St. Paul in the New Testament (Matt.24:15-29; 1Thess.5:1-11).
From the time our Lord Jesus Christ gave a hint about the end of the world through the teachings of St. Paul about the second coming of Jesus Christ like a “thief”, the known world has been living in unsettling expectation to the extent that we have more than 200 recorded predictions about the end of the world; but the end is yet to come! These are some of the prominent predictions:
11. Harold Camping: Using the medium of the family radio Oakland California, Camping announced that the rapture would take place on May 21, 2011 with God taking 3% of the world population as those to be saved. Consequently he predicted that by October 21, 2011 the world would end finally. Am sure we are in November 2012. Later on he said that on that May 21, 2011 what happened was spiritual rapture and that God is giving us time (which is not a new message anyway).
We could spend the entire space recounting prophecies of the end of the world, their proponents and the accompanying failures; the list is long. In any case all the predictions overlooked the statement of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew (24:36): “No one knows, however, when that day and hour will come- neither the angels in heaven nor the Son the Father alone knows”. (See also Mk.13:32).
On the other hand, those who had been gullible with the predictions of the doomsday prophets seem to forget that our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Be on your guard and do not let anyone deceive you. For many will come in my name, saying I am the Christ and will deceive many”. (Matthew 24:4-5). In another place (Matthew 24:23-25) he says:
If anyone says to you Look here is the Messiah! Or there he is do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear; and they will perform great miracles and wonders in order to deceive even God’s elect if possible. Listen I have told you this before it happens.
The end is sure but should it be productive of fear or faith? Should we be worried about the end of time or about living good and acceptable lives? St. Paul had to battle with a similar scenario at various points because people were aimlessly starring at the sky waiting for the second coming of the Lord. In his first letter to Timothy (I Tim.6:14-15) he advised that people should focus on obeying the commandments faithfully until the Lord comes again at the right time appointed by God.
There are basically two reasons why people obey rules; one is positive while the other is negative. One is out of love, commitment and appreciation while the other is out of fear of being punished. In some countries in West Africa for instance, some people scramble for their seat belts while driving when they sight Road Safety Workers on the way; this is obedience out of fear of punishment rather than appreciation of the need for safety. We should be moved to be in heaven by our love for God, our appreciation for His goodness and commitment to doing His will than the fear of going to hell and being eternally punished. We should be sustained by heavenly faith than by hellish fear!
As the liturgical and calendar year draws to an end we are reminded that we are in this world for a moment! There is an end in view. Actually when anyone of us dies his or her time comes to an end. Evidently none of us has the gift of forever. In any case we should be more concerned about eternity than the fear of the end of the world which is sure to come but at a divinely appointed time not by human predictions. The question that could be more productive is: “How ready I am if the Lord should come today will I be saved severed?” More so we are called upon to announce the end of sin and disobedience than the end of the world! Be it 21st of December 2012 or later we should be ever ready!
Have a glorious Sunday and a happy week ahead!
TENDERING OR TAMPERING GOD’S PORTION: HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR B.
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
It was on a Sunday morning in a certain town in Nigeria West Africa. While preparing to attend the Sunday Mass, one young man brought out his wallet and examined what was left after having an exciting weekend groove with some of his friends who came into town. He had the following denominations: 5 naira note (little above a quarter), 50 naira note (less 50 cents), 100 Naira note (less than a dollar) 200 naira note ( about 1.3 dollars), 500 naira note ( about 3.2 dollars) and 1000 Naira note ( about 6.4 dollars). After an interval of calculation on how to use his money that day, he brought out the 5 naira note and 1000 naira note. He planned to give the 5 naira as his offering for the Mass and thereafter use the 1000 naira to buy airtime for his mobile phone’s pay as you go recharge. Before proceeding to the church he had the 5 naira in his left pocket and the 1000 naira in his right pocket.
During the offering time, the choir was in an exceptionally celebrative mood as they rendered traditional liturgical songs that prodded people to dance along as they went to put money in the offering box at the centre of aisle. The young man in question seemed to be in a happier mood as the choir rendered one of the songs he loved so much. In that gusto he approached the offering box and dipping his hand into his right pocket and without checking what he brought out he made his offering. While proceeding to his seat, he paused a while to check his right pocket and instantly he discovered that he had just offered the 1000 naira note and suddenly he stopped dancing and he became moody. He remained that way throughout the rest of the Mass; of course he was unable to receive communion on account of his state of mind. After the Mass he waited like other people to greet the priest and thank him for the wonderful celebration. As he shook hands with the priest he immediately submitted that he made a mistake during the offering time as he “mistakenly” gave 100 naira instead of 5 naira. The priest was shocked but went ahead to ask him what he would like to be done about it. He said that he would like to have the 1000 naira replaced with the 5 naira he had in mind from home. The priest did not argue and asked him to bring the 5 naira and then have the 1000 naira back. The man searched his left pocket for more than 10 minutes and he could not find the 5 naira. The priest told him that he could only give him 1000 naira if he provided the 5 naira. The young man became more confused and left. While going home it came to his mind that he had earlier removed the 5 naira from his left pocket and was actually having it in his hand, but the song so thrilled him that he went ahead to dip his hand into his right pocket and offered both the 5 naira and the 1000 naira. God eventually took all “by default!”
Today, the first reading (1Kings 17:10-16) and the gospel reading (Mark 12:38-44) present us with issues that are so much related with giving to God or for God’s sake. In the first reading we encounter a widow at Zarephath at the heat of the famine being experienced by the people of Israel. As Elijah entered the city (by divine direction) he saw the widow in question gathering sticks by the city gate. Immediately he asked for water to drink. While she was going he called her back and asked for a morsel of bread. The woman was speechless. She could afford water as it is demanded in the Jewish law not to refuse water to someone thirsty especially when it is available, but for bread her story was not palatable. According to her, she had a handful of flour and a little oil which she was about to prepare for herself and her child to eat and afterwards await death. Elijah interrupted her lines of lament by assuring her that God had decreed that neither the flour nor the oil would finish until God sends rain upon the earth. She went ahead and did what Elijah asked her to do and the promise was fulfilled. Her household never lacked any food throughout the period. In the gospel reading we encounter another widow. During the offering time in the Synagogue she went like others to make an offering but our Lord identified her offering as peculiar. She gave two copper coins (about a penny) but according to our Lord it was the greatest of all because from the little she had she gave everything.
We have here very interesting stories bothering on giving to God or giving for God’s sake. Put in another way we are presented with the invitation to tender and not to tamper God’s own portion. It is most touchy that the subjects of the stories belonged to the lowest rung of the society. Widows then belonged to the same cadre as those considered to be without anything like orphans and strangers (Deut. 14:29; Mal.3:5).The two widows had faith in their willingness to give. Furthermore they gave selflessly (and unconditionally) without the thought of what they would gain from their generosity. They were moved to give because of the conviction that the little they had came from God. They were poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3) because they relied solely on God. We can say that they left themselves in God’s hands. At that time women saw their husbands as their lords (1 Pet. 3:6). As lords, husbands took total care of their wives; in fact their existence had a lot to do with their husbands. With this, one could imagine the fate of a widow who had nobody to reckon as a lord. It is based on this that God suffices as the husband of the widows (Isaiah 54:4; Psalm 68:5). They were physically widowed but spiritually married to God whose nature is charity.
Evidently the bible did not give us the names of the two widows so that we can insert our names in those stories. How many of us can be bold enough to replicate the deed of the widow of Zarephath by accepting the “inconvenience” of providing for those working in His vineyard even when there seems to be nothing? How many of us will be as self-effacing as the widow in the gospel who gave ALL she had because God’s portion needed to tendered. Imagine how much you spend on yourself every week and what you give to God within the same space of time. God forbid that I give him the least in my pocket! There are some of us, using the Nigerian context, who fall within the category of those who from their abundance offer God 5 naira every Sunday. The breakdown runs thus
5 Naira = Every Sunday
In four week = 20 naira
In three months = 60 naira
In six month = 120 naira
In one year =240 naira. (This is less than 2 dollars).
There are some people who feel that 20 naira is ideal. Let us look at this very well:
20 naira = Every Sunday
In four weeks = 80 naira
In three months = 240 naira
In six month = 480 naira
In one year = 960 naira. (This is less than 7 dollars).
There are still others who feel that 50 naira is so great. Let us look at this also.
50 naira = Every Sunday
In four weeks = 200 naira
In three months = 600 naira
In six months = 1,200 naira
In one year = 2,400 naira (This is less than 20 dollars).
I wish to stop so far and have each and every one of us work out his or her offering status. It is good to remark here that there is nothing we can give to God that can be said to be very sufficient. What if we buy the air we breathe? What if we are required to recharge the air we breathe? But he had given it to us free! At some instances God had to frown at people’s lack of appreciation to him (Mal 3:8ff). We have to reconsider our offering quotient today. This may not be only in terms of monetary offering. There are indeed many things we can offer ranging from our time to our talents as well as our souls.
Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead!
LOVE THINGS: HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.
On the 14th of April 1912 the greatest maritime tragedy in sailing history occurred with the R.M.S Titanic. The sea vessel was the largest at the time with state of the art accompaniments which included aboard gymnasium, swimming pool, restaurants and park. The passengers in the epoch-making voyage were the exclusively rich at the time who wanted to be reckoned with the first voyage of one of the best from White Star Line and few poor and lucky emigrants to North America who got free tickets. In all, there were more than 2,224 passengers.
With sixteen watertight compartments in a 1/6 mile long hull, the captain Edward John Smith made a pre-voyage boast that “not even God can sink the Ship”.(Of course God does not sink ships he rather saves them). The Titanic left Southampton to New York for her first sail on the 10th of April 1912. While screen playing the story as a movie, James Cameron created two characters that made the movie Titanic to get universal acclaim. Hence as the Ship began her journey, fate brought about the meeting of two young people who later became love birds. Rose was of the super-rich class and was by family arrangement to marry a man from another rich family while Jack was one of the poor lucky emigrants heading to North America to search for better living. As the interaction between Rose and Jack grew, they came to connect and eventually fell in love.
An hour before midnight on the 14th of April 1912, amidst a starry moonless night the Titanic collided with an iceberg which the crew noticed late in the midst of late night merriment. The formidable Ship broke into severally pieces while letting in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean water to engulf the Titanic. Unfortunately, rescue came a bit late and there were insufficient lifeboats. Those in the first class were evacuated first which made it possible for Kate to have the option to escape death leaving Jack behind but she could not. She preferred to go through it all with Jack. They struggled together to survive the raging freezing ocean water. At last there was just a platform left for them to hold unto. Rose clung unto it on top while Jack had his entire body inside the grisly cold water. He kept on encouraging Rose to hold and never to give up. Before a rescue could come, Jack was entirely frozen, drowned and died. Rose was rescued.
While recounting what happened that night after many years as an old woman Rose said that she could only remember that a young man, out of love that she could not describe, gave up his life so that she could live.
In the book of Daniel Chapter three we are presented with the story of three young Jewish boys who were at the service of king Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Time came when Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue and made it a rule that everybody must bow down and worship it or face being thrown into a burning furnace. Everyone agreed to this but these three friends: Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to give worship to the golden statue. Consequently they were threatened with the burning furnace and they said this to the king;
“Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power then He will. But even if he doesn’t, your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god and we will not bow down to the golden statue that you have set up” (Dan.3: 16-18).
Later they were thrown into fire but instead of being burnt God sent an angel to make the fire cool and refreshing. Hence inside the fire they were praising and worshipping God.
Anyone reading thus far could be wondering why I had taken time to tell two stories that seem to be unconnected. They are actually deeply connected and both are love stories; love things. In the first story we saw love expressed between two human beings to the extent that one had to let go his life so that the other could live. In the second story, the three faithful friends loved God so much that they were ready to die for His sake. I prefer this approach because the world is yet to get a unified definition of love. The lesson as to what love is all about began early with the numerous instructions given by God to the Israelites; they seem not to get it even when God said: “Listen O Israel the Lord your God is one God you must love the Lord your God with all your mind and all your heart” (Deut. 6:4). In Leviticus (19:18) they are also told: “You must love your neighbor as yourself”.
Part of the reason why love as a phenomenon seems to be hard to define is that it is another name for God and God is not easy to define or describe. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “whoever does not love does not know God for God is love”. No wonder then St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:7) said that love conquers all things; this means that everything is subject to love which is God. In the gospel reading today (Mark 12:28-34) one of the scribes came to Jesus and wanted to know which of the commandments was the first. The man could be representing the men and women of his time (and of our time too) who were confused as to what could be the most important of the commandments. We all know from Exodus 20 that God gave ten commandments. But the Jewish religious authorities broke down these into about 613 rules. There were rules everywhere for almost everything. This man wanted Jesus Christ to give a summary of them all and there could not have been a better summary than the one he gave using the love of God and neighbour as the parameter. Obviously every worthwhile rule has basis on the love of God and neighbour; if you like our duties to God and our duties to our fellow human beings!
Love strictly seen is the seed of every good thing. Love is the reason why Jesus Christ came into the world (Jn 3:16), love is the reason why he preached and worked miracles (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Love is the reason why he went to the cross to die (Rom 5:8). Love is the reason for our salvation. Love answers all questions! Love is the only thing that can decide our fate after leaving this world. Love is a seed which every right thinking Christian must always sow.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the two dimensional expression of love: to God and to our fellow human beings. In any case it will be pertinent to examine how we can achieve these. The love of God is not achieved by saying it: “I love God”. It begins first from knowledge of God. In Hosea 4:6 God says that “My people perish for lack of knowledge!” In our Catechism when answering why God made us we begin by saying that: “He made us to know, love Him, and serve Him….” It is very clear and undisputable that you cannot love what you do not know! That could be fantasy, lust or infatuation. From knowledge and communication, you connect that is the due process to love. Love seeks to express itself in selfless giving; an example is what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us. A selfish person cannot love effectively because his/her self interest will always block the way to reaching out to others.
To love is not optional as most of us think. It is a commandment which carries a lot of consequences. In John (13:34) our Lord Jesus Christ said: “I give you a new commandment Love one another as I have loved you”. It also identifies who we are: “If you love one another everyone will know that you are my disciple” (John 13:35). Love is not based on conditions or conveniences. For some people their love is seasonal: the season of abundance; when things are going fine. The litmus test for love is at critical times like the one Rose and Jack experienced at the Titanic and the situation Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego had while being marched to the burning furnace.
Today our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the assignment to examine our love quotient. Do we love by mouth, by writings and text messages or do we practice and actualize love by our selflessness!
Happy Sunday and blessed week ahead!
THE SOULS DELAYED BUT NOT DENIED: HOMILY FOR ALL SOULS (NOVEMBER 2ND)
BY REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD.
Memories of my minor seminary days would often overwhelm me. During those days, late coming to any activity was (is still) a great offence. Once the prayer commences in the chapel for instance, those outside were considered late and would be punished adequately. One day, as I just stepped onto the threshold of the Chapel alongside other seminarians, the signal for the commencement of the prayer was given. We were stopped just at the threshold where there was an inscription “Domus dei et porta caeli” which means “House of God and gate of heaven”. We were asked to move to one side and behind us were others who had not reached the threshold at all and they were asked to move to another side. After a while, one of the prefects argued and also pleaded with his colleague to allow us to enter since we were not as late as those behind us and that we had reached the threshold. With this, we went through the traditional knelling down as was obtainable at the time. Thereafter, those of us who had reached the threshold were asked to cross over and join the rest inside the chapel while those behind us were severely punished.
Yesterday we were in a blissful mood as we celebrated the joy of our innumerable brothers and sisters who have gained entrance into the Kingdom of heaven. Today on the other hand we contemplate on the fate and prayer for those who like in my story have reached but not crossed the threshold. We pray for those who might be undergoing some forms of probation. Such people have been asked to stand aside. They are not with those inside neither are they pushed outside with those who were gravely late. They are like in a betwixt position though with much hope. Their hope is actually based on our prayers: their brothers and sisters in the militant Church.
Attentive to the above, we are called to bend our kneels in utter supplication to God on their behalf. We are encouraged to continuously call on God to have mercy on them and admit them into his Kingdom. Hence like those of us who were held at the threshold of the Chapel and who were mildly punished and allowed to cross based on the pleading of one of the prefects, these our brothers and sisters cannot help themselves. They can only be liberated on account of our ardent prayers and supplications since they still stand a chance to enter into bliss.
We are convinced about a place of temporary punishment based on the confirmation of the word of God. Purgatory as a word is not mentioned in the bible as it is but we have references pointing to its reality just like the word bible is not strictly mentioned in any of the books in the bible. If we read from the second book of Maccabes (12:46) we will discover that it is a worthwhile thing to pray for the dead so that their souls will be released. Of course even in our secular parlance we observe minutes of silence for the dead and afterwards we say: “Rest In Peace” (RIP). We cannot do these if we do not have hope for a better future for them.
In Matthew 12:32 our Lord Jesus said that anyone who sins against the Son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come. By this statement our Lord made us understand that there is forgiveness after our life in this world. He did not mention what the world to come looks like but that definitely cannot be heaven and it cannot be hell because there is no forgiveness there. So we are left with purgatory as the most probable place that could stand for it.
The most outstanding biblical reference is 1Cor.3:15. It will be very pertinent if we quote this passage and I wish to do so using the King James Version for the benefit of my protestant readers. It says:
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he
Himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
St. Paul was saying that a man’s work will be judged and he will suffer loss on that account. But he himself will only be saved through fire. Now the Greek description of “suffer loss” is “zemiothesetai” and this comes from the root “Zemioo” which means punishment. (The same word we can see in Exodus 21:22; Proverbs 17:26 and Proverbs 19:19.) From the passage we understand that a man’s work will be examined as with fire and on account of that he will be punished and his salvation will still come but through that same burning by fire. It is like raw gold that can be refined by passing it through fire. Furthermore in Revelation 21:27 we are told that nothing unclean can enter into the Kingdom of God; it could be said that nothing raw, unrefined imperfect can enter. So purgation will be required for those who cannot be granted direct entrance.
Even in our human valuation side there are various levels of offences for instance in the civil society. A person who commits murder has committed an offence and someone who contravenes traffic also committed an offence. Judging the two offences the same punishment cannot be given to them. St. John (1John 5:16) tells us about sins that lead to death and others that do not lead to death. It is from here that we talk about mortal sins and venial sins.
We are greatly encouraged today to pray for our departed brethren as our prayers will assist as many as possible to be liberated from purgatory and be admitted into the Kingdom of God. Yes they may be delayed but not denied!
May the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
BEYOND HALLOWEEN: HOMILY FOR ALL SAINTS DAY (NOVEMBER 1ST)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
In most countries especially in the West Halloween is an elaborate celebration. Shops become busier, there are lots of jingles are heard welcoming yet another Halloween and reminding people that they need to dress in scary costumes, and some people organize Halloween parties where attendees all appear in gory costumes and masks. However not many people know about Halloween or its origin. Even among those who mark it every 31st of October, the insight as to its origin and development could be really low. The name Halloween is actually a reconstruction of “Hallows evening” or “Hallows eve”, that is the evening before All Hallows day; which is the same as “All Saints Day!”
Halloween as a culture dates back to the Celtic people who lived in Britain many years ago who observed the day of the dead or festival of the dead. It was believed that on that day, dead people would come around among the living. To escape being harmed by them , the living would dress in frightening costumes as a way of mixing up with dead people who would mistake them to be dead too and thus not harm them. Such costumes include skeletons, vampire, brains, animal faces etc.
It is often forgotten that Halloween ought to be the eve of the celebration of the feast of All Saints. The idea of “All Saint Day” could have started with the gradual growth of Christianity from 313 AD. Those who lived worthwhile lives where remembered on the day of their deaths hence the feasts of various Saints and Martyrs on various dates. However it was reasoned that there are many who have merited heaven without human recognition. On the basis of this, the feast of All Saints was instituted to celebrate all the faithful departed who are enjoying the bliss of heaven and whose names may not be found in the litany of the saints or missals.
The current date of November 1 was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and ordered an annual celebration. This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.
Beyond Halloween, we are celebrating today the joy of those who have gone before us and who are enjoying the beatific vision of heaven. We are happy because they have reached the place of eternal rest and we are hopeful to be there only if we have all the necessary travelling documents in place for that eternal flight at the end of our earthly existence.
Our conviction about a place of eternal bliss after our sojourn here on earth is based on biblical confirmations. During the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus Christ among other things said: “blessed are the poor in Spirit for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matt. 5:3); he also said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Furthermore in the gospel of John (14:2) our Lord said: “In my father’s house there are many mansions if it were not so I would have to you. I am going to prepare a place for you!” In his letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 2:9) St. Paul said: “Eye has not seen ear has not heard neither has it entered into any mind what God has prepared for those who love him!” He also said that we have a better place after the destruction of this our earthly dwelling place. (2nd Cor: 5:1)
The vision of St. John in the book of Revelation we read today gives us the whole scenario or if you like the eternal picturesque of heaven. In his words, John looked up and saw a huge number of people impossible to count standing before the throne of the lamb with palms in their hands. To confirm what he saw John asked “who are these?” and he was told they are people who have been through great persecution and they have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. It is worth noting that the robes washed in the blood became dazzlingly white. This is an indication that the people in question soaked themselves not just in physical blood, but in purity.
Sainthood is a facility that is open for all of us. This facility continues to run for you and for me insofar as we are alive. For us to achieve sainthood, which is the end product of our pilgrimage on earth, we need to know:
1) Where we came from: (We came from God our Creator).
2) Who we are: (We are Children of God).
3) Where we are going to: (We are citizens of heaven).
“How can we get to our destination?” This is a question that each and every Christian should be asking himself or herself daily. On this, God did not leave us clueless. From the beatitudes of Matthew 5, we are presented with values that will aid us to attain eternity. The beatitudes we heard today from the gospel of Matthew (5:1-12) are not merely “dos” and “don’ts”. They rather are expressive of core values that will make our journey back to God possible.
You and I have all it takes to make heaven and thus be numbered among the saints. We have the word of God which is read and explained to us on daily basis, we have the sacraments especially the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist very much available to us. Just as heaven is real so is hell also real. We make heaven starting from the things we do here on earth. What will it then profit us if after the challenges of live and the attendant undulations we still suffer the lost of our souls in hell? There is no better time for us to prepare for heaven than now.
Happy All Saints Day and may God’s mercy lead you on! And may you be numbered among the saints in heaven!
“I WANT TO SEE AGAIN”: HOMILY FOR THE 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B).
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
Once upon a time I asked people in the congregation to indicate which physical challenge could be considered worst among the following: the blind, the deaf/dumb and the lame. As anyone would expect, there were various inputs; nay answers. However, those that spoke in favour of the blind were very few. I believe that the sense of sight is highly valued by a greater number of people because we all like to see things, people and events around us whether good, bad or ugly. We are in fact living in a world that is saturated with “sightable” phenomena! From the television to computers and mobile devices, the story remains the same; we want to see!
There was this blind beggar along one street who had an inscription by his side with the words: “HELP ME I AM BLIND”. Once in a long while someone will stop and drop a coin into his plate and he will say “thank you”. One man came across him, stood for a while and after examining the inscription he took it, turned the back and wrote something and left. After few minutes the blind man started getting so much patronage from people as he almost got tired of saying: “thank you”. Towards evening that man who changed the inscription came back and the blind man recognized his footstep and asked him what he wrote that made a lot of people to patronize him that much and the man said that he wrote: “TODAY IS BEAUTIFUL BUT I CANNOT SEE IT!” This inscription made many people who saw it to appreciate the fact that they could see.
In the gospel reading today we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ again on the move. He seemed to be running a mobile ministry unlike our contemporary location based ministries with imposing edifices. Jesus used any available space for preaching, consultation, prayer and counseling. Today on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem to attend the great Passover a lot of people followed him as well as his disciples. The presence of Jesus brought a lot of people out as he was teaching while taking the 15 miles trek to Jerusalem. No doubt the sick, beggars and other people also came out with their personal reasons which could have included but not restricted to asking for alms. Among the lot was a man St. Mark called Bartimeus son of Timaeus, a name which has two meanings. In Aramaic it meant “son of defilement”, while in Greek it meant “son of honour”. People could have given him the name because of his situation; of course such challenges were seen as punishment from God on account of sin and defilement. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar and when he heard that Jesus was passing by, he came out and began calling out to him: “Jesus son of David have pity on me?”
The name or title he gave to Jesus was very significant. The title “Son of David” describes the Messiah (Isa. 11:1-5 Rod out of the Stem of Jesse; Jer. 23:5-6 David’s Righteous Branch; Ezek. 34:23-24 A Shepherd like David). Furthermore, Messiah means Saviour. In essence Bartimaeus was actually saying “Saviour there is someone here who needs to be saved!” As he shouted for help something happened! The people around him tried to stop him. For them the son of defilement is not qualified to talk to the Son of God. For them Bartimaeus was so low to have anything to do with Jesus Christ. But he ignored the crowd and shouted all the more. Sometimes in life we face oppositions on our way to our positions. They may come as discouraging voices like the ones that hushed Bartimaeus; but he was not discouraged. There is a YES somewhere in your life, but for you to get to it you may experience a lot of NOS do not be discouraged.
Bartimaeus believed in the word of God in Jeremiah (33:3) which says: “call to me and I will answer you and I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know”. He was also attentive to Isaiah (58:9) which says: “when you pray, I will answer you, when you call to me I will respond”. He may have heard about the promise in John 14:14 which says: “Whatever you ask in my name I will do it” He trusted in the words of Matthew (21:22); “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believing you shall receive”. He was attentive to the command in Luke (11:9): “I say unto you ask and it shall be given to you”. Bartimaeus’ cry appeared like he was saying:
Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
This cry must have touched Jesus in a personal way. Firstly he was called by his proper title and secondly he was called to do what was prominent in the Manifesto of the Messiah (Luke 4:18); to give sight to the blind! The productive thing he had to do was to stop his journey and attend to a faith-filled man who needed a divine touch. Our Lord needed to stop to attend to a would-be disciple of his. He needed to stop to bring light to the darkened world of Bartimaeus. Our Lord then asked him to come! Instantly, with the encouragement of those who despised him earlier he jumped up and throwing his cloak away he ran to Jesus. We need to examine the story so far! His persistence brought about the attention of Jesus and consequently he was invited by him. It is worth noting that those who hushed him down earlier changed their words. They moved from hushing to helping. This is very true in our lives, if we refuse to be distracted by criticisms and focus on our goal those who shouted at us saying: “who are you?” will turn back with a mild voice to ask us:”how are you?” It is also very significant to note that Bartimaeus threw away his cloak before running to Jesus. The cloak served as his mattress, blanket and pillow. It was his comforter. With the call from Jesus he discarded that material comfort and went to embrace an eternal comfort. On our way to answer the call of Jesus there is need for us to discard our material comforts. There is need for us to move away from those comfort zones. There is need for us to move to a new position. We cannot be doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Bartimaeus had to do things differently in order to get a different result.
Coming to Jesus was not enough as Bartimaeus was expected to be specific in his request. Jesus thus asked him: “what do you want me to do for you?” Jesus knew he was a blind beggar but he wanted him to make his request a specific one. Perhaps he wanted financial assistance not divine healing. This is a lesson for us to be specific in our requests. Generalizations would not help us: “I want God to bless me, I need divine assistance, I want things to get better etc”. These are generalizations. You must be as specific as Hannah (I Sam. 1:11). Bartimaeus was very specific: “I want to see again!” That was very a very specific and focused request and it actually got the approval of our Lord as he told him to go as his faith had saved him. This is a pointer to us that Bartimaeus came to Jesus not only with a specific request but also with a deep faith.
The next point of interest is the action of Bartimaeus after receiving his sight. We are told that he followed Jesus Christ. That meant that he became a disciple. He did not run back to reply his critics, he did not run to his home to make case against those who may have taken away his properties. He rather saw clearly the right person to follow (Jesus Christ-the Saviour) and the right place to go (Jerusalem- the rain of Peace). Bartimaeus could not have made a better choice than the choice of following Jesus. Turning to ourselves we ask: “what do we do when we receive favours from God?” Do we turn to him in appreciation and follow him wherever he leads us or do we take a vacation from him to take care of our material and selfish interests. There is no doubt that many of us are seriously indebted to God for innumerable favours we have received. There are some of us who have never processed to the Alter for thanksgiving to God for His blessings in our lives.
From all indications there is need for us to have our sights back! We may be physically seeing but morally and spiritually we may be blind. Our ingratitude to God and to our fellow human beings are borne out of inner blindness. Our inattention to the word of God is a product of severe spiritual blindness. Like Bartimaeus some of us are sitting comfortably by the roadside of life without realizing that we are blind, and that we need to get up, get back our sights and move ahead with the Lord into the Jerusalem of peace. Some of us are still focusing of the crowd and their discouragement instead of calling out on the Lord. Some of us are still covering ourselves with the cloak. We have to throw away the cloak covering our sins and come to God the way we are in order to get to the next level. Some of us have refused to call on the Lord as he is passing by. There is still time, even today as we encounter him at the Eucharistic table. Do not allow him to pass you by without effecting that healing in your life; without giving you back your sight! O Lord heal us so that we may see!
Happy Sunday and have a splendid week ahead!