Fr Bonnie's Reflections

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. 

PLASTIC EARS AND ARTIFICIAL MOUTHS. HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY YEAR B. FR. BONNIE

PLASTIC EARS AND ARTIFICIAL MOUTHS. HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY YEAR B. FR. BONNIE.

PLASTIC EARS AND ARTIFICIAL MOUTHS. HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY YEAR B. FR. BONNIE

PLASTIC EARS AND ARTIFICIAL MOUTHS: HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)

              —-REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD.

 

During the Nigerian civil war young people were conscripted into the army to fight; evidently most of them lost their lives. At that time most young people were hiding away from the soldiers who would go from house to house fishing out young people and forcing them into the army. There was one able-bodied young man who wanted to evade conscription into the army. Consequently he took refuge among women and had a plan to act deaf and dumb should the soldiers discover him.

One day it happened that some soldiers who were angrily searching for young people to get into the army found him among women and children. They were furious to discover that such a person was wasting away instead of being of help to the seceded group. Instantly they got him up from where he was squatting and asked him his name and what he was doing instead of going to war. He kept looking at them and making signs to indicate that he could neither talk nor hear. The women there who knew the plan begged the soldier on his behalf saying: “he no dey talk he no dey hear!”

The soldiers knew that a dumb and deaf man in the battle field would be as useless as making a blind man a night watch. Consequently they decided to go. They were almost gone when one of them (the leader) came back and asked the young man again: “what is your name!” This time his voice was hard and furious. The young man made his usual sign by touching the ear and the mouth and spreading the palms, indicating that he could neither hear nor talk. The Soldier seemed to be convinced that the young man was playing a fast one, so he gave him a kick that sent him like six feet above the ground and by the time he landed with his back on the ground he gave a loud cry incidentally what came out of his mouth was: “Leave me oooh I no dey talk I no dey hear oooh!”. They whisked him away and got him conscripted. The funny part of the man’s story was that after the war he became deaf on account of the sound from shelling. He began to hear quite later.

Today the readings seem to revolve around the ear and the mouth. In the prophecy of Isaiah (35:4-7) we are told among other things that God will open the eyes of the blind, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk and dumb will speak (vs 5). This is exactly what constitutes the mission of the messiah as Isaiah will indicate later in his prophecy (61:1-4), and our Lord Jesus Christ will also make personal in Luke 4:18. Furthermore in the gospel reading today (Mark 7:31-37) which forms the centre of our reflection, our Lord Jesus Christ cured a deaf and dumb man. The healing here is quiet peculiar in many ways. Generally there seems to be a lot of dramatization involved. First the region is outside the mainland Jewish land. In fact Sidon is one of the foremost Phoenician cities and the modern day Lebanon. Jesus seemed to have done pretty much in this territory as we can see in the story of the Canaanite woman whose daughter had a demon (Matt. 15:21-27) and the occasion after feeding the five thousand they wanted to make him king by force (John 6:15). From the characterizations, we could understand that the people of this region were quiet spontaneous in their way of life; they seem to appreciate good things too. (See Mark7:37).

In the passage we are told that the people brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment of speech too; put in a simple way; a deaf and dumb. They brought the man to be cured by Jesus Christ. Before this, Jesus had encountered the Canaanite woman whose faith brought about the healing of her daughter that had a demon. It seemed that the people already believed in what Jesus could do; they expressed their faith by coming to Jesus not to see if he could cure the man but for him to lay his hand on him to cure him. 

To effect the healing, Jesus first took the man away from the crowd, why? In all the gospel accounts there are instances everywhere of the crowd. The crowd is often unpredictable; they could shout “Hosanna” now and “Crucify him” later. The crowd can be arrogant to someone who has a purpose like Bartimaeus (Mark 10: 48); they can be an obstacle to healing and salvation like in the cases of the woman with the issue of blood and Zacchaeus (Luke 8:42-44). The crowd can make or mar, the crowd can build and destroy. The crowd here could be a platform of distraction and that was why it was necessary for our Lord to take the man away from the crowd. Of course in the crowd it would be difficult to hear. The crow effect could block the ear and make speech ineffective. If we read that passage very well it say that Jesus: 1) took him aside, 2) in private 3) away from the crowd; threefold seclusion. In life it is difficult to be effective within the crowd. The crowd could cause various degrees of harm. Often Jesus withdrew from the crowd to pray, the transfiguration is a typical instance of withdrawal from the crowd (Matt. 17:1-13).

Away from the crowd of distraction and disillusion, Jesus began what looked like a ritual of healing. He touched the man’s ear, spat, touched the man’s tongue with the spittle, looked up to heaven, gave a deep sigh and said ephphata which means open and at once he began to hear and to speak (This the Church adapted for baptism). Why was it necessary for our Lord to go through these rites? Could he not have said “hear and speak!” As he said to the man at the Sheep pool of Bethzatha “Stand up pick up your mat and walk!” (John 5:8)? Our Lord was aware of their cultural peculiarity, he was aware of dramatic life of the people; he more or less did a sort of inculturation of miracle. He was sensitive to their setting and used acts the resonated with them to carry out his miracle.

Beyond the above, there are intrinsic reasons. Jesus by touching the man destroyed the barrier between classes. He destroyed the barrier between the sick and the healthy, between the poor and the rich, between the more privileged and the less privileged. This is where the letter of St. James today draws relevance (Jas.2:1-5). By the touch he established that we all need to be touched by his able hands. By touching his ears he was drilling spaces for his words, by touching his tongue with spittle he was creating a contact for his words to be proclaimed which also reminds us of the encounter of Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6:6-7). By that touch the man was freed from not only impediment of speech but also impediments of sin. Jesus Christ touching the lips of the man reminds me of the reception of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ together with his soul and divinity in the blessed sacrament of the alter. The man appears to have prefigured the traditional reception of the Holy Communion.

At this juncture, it will be pertinent for us to evaluate the relevance of the gospel story in our lives. We may actually take this story at the face value that the man in question was physically deaf and dumb and was later healed. In a deeper sense, we all share in a common deafness and dumbness. This is chiefly operative within our lives. From our families as little delinquent children our parents often pull our ear telling us that we only have plastic ears because we don’t pay attention to instructions. As pupils, our teachers often deride us as having artificial mouth when we are not able to speak out or answer questions. In our relationship with God, how often do we present plastic ears to God’s commandments? How often do we fail to proclaim our faith at needful times? In my native language there is a saying that inattention to instructions is the bane of the child and inability to give right instruction when appropriate is the bane of the elderly person. If Abraham did not pay attention the God’s direction the talk about the great nation would have been a farce. If Esther and Modeccai did not speak out the people could have remained in captivity, if Marthin Luther Jnr did not speak out from his dream, racial discrimination of the black could have endured. If Mandela did not speak out apartheid could have been modernized now and would have endured.

The question before each and everyone one us this Sunday as we hold our ears and touch our mouth is: “do I have a plastic ear and an artificial mouth?” The answers we give will determine what happens with us within the week. May God’s words touch and transform us.

Happy Sunday and do have a wonderful week ahead!

 Fr. Bonnie

THE HEART AND SPIRIT OF THE LAW: HOMILY FOR THE 22ND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (B).-Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

THE HEART AND SPIRIT OF THE LAW: HOMILY FOR THE 22ND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (B).-Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD..

%d bloggers like this: