Fr Bonnie's Reflections

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..

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.

Why are there laws (rules) and regulations in every sphere of life? There is indeed no aspect of our human life that is not governed by one law or the other. Most scientists talk about different laws that govern nature; for instance Isaac Newton’s law of gravity which simply states that everything that goes up must come down; it is practically the case. Specialist in different parts of human body give rules that govern for instance the eye, ear, skin, teeth, brain, and so on. Obeying such rules help in the better functioning of the organ in question. In social sciences there are so many laws as there are disciplines like Psychology, Ethics, Anthropology, Geography etc. There are indeed so many laws, rules and regulations that govern the economic, social, cultural, political and religious lives of people globally.

The question still remains: ” why are there laws (rules) and regulations?” Parents have dos and don’ts for their children for instance: “say your prayers before eating!” “Do not accept things from strangers”. Teachers would tell the students: “Read your books!” Do not make noise in the class!”Employers would tell employees: “Be punctual!” Be serious with your official duty!” Road Safety workers would tell us: “Use your seatbelt while driving!” “Do not use mobile phones while driving!” From our homes to our places of work, from the school to the church, from the social ceremony to the cemetery we encounter a lot of law (rules) and regulations. In fact it is said (may be hearsay) that at the mortuary before the morticians enter the morgue there is a rule that orders them to knock first. Why are there laws (rules) and regulations rather than none? The answer that comes to my mind is that laws, rules and regulations are meant to bring about order and discipline which help in the progress of the society. There may be other reasons for them.

The first five books of the bible make up what we know as the Pentateuch. The word is a Greek adaptation of the Hebrew expression “ḥamishshah ḥumshe ha-Torah” (five-fifths of the Law). The books which include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy make up the law. God did not give the laws, regulations and directives found in these books for the sake of giving. There was (and is) a divine purpose and reason behind the law. If we listen attentively to Moses in the reading today we get the insight to this. Moses told the people: “Now Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, THAT YOU MAY HAVE LIFE AND ENTER AND TAKE POSSESSION OF THE LAND THAT THE LORD THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS IS GIVING TO YOU”.

If we examine this passage very well we will see that God’s intention is that we have a guide that will lead us to where we can have life and eternal possession. So behind the law is God’s love and care for us. Behind the dos and don’ts we locate God’s reward of eternal life and superabundant grace. Behind the letters of the Law is the heart and spirit of the law which is God’s love. From the point of view of Moses, it will be difficult to have life and take possession of what God intends for us if we do not pay attention to the laws He had given us. In Deuteronomy (28:1-68) we see a clear elucidation of blessings for obedience to the divine laws and curses on account of disobedience to the divine rules and regulations.

The second reading from the apostle James (1:17-18. 21-22.27) we find further words of encouragement to pay attention to the word of God which represents God’s directives for our lives. James thus says: “You must do what the word tells you not just listen to it and deceive yourselves” (James 1:22). How very often we actually deceive ourselves by claiming to have (intellectual) knowledge of the divine laws and regulation but lack the (spiritual) will to carry them out. We see this happening in our society everyday with those who make and execute the laws. Syria is in turmoil today because the leader whose duty includes but not restricted to protecting the lives of the citizens and maintaining peace has turned around to kill the people in their numbers and bending the laws to suite his capricious whims. St James is telling us that obedience to the word of God makes us authentic and acceptable children to Him while by being disobedient we deceive ourselves. Deceiving ourselves here means that the things we do will come back to us as retribution. Why would someone start a fire that will burn him or her?

In the gospel reading we are presented with an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees with their religious cousins, the Scribes. If we set the life of Jesus as a screen story, he (Jesus) will qualify as the protagonist while the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees and others will form the antagonist group. This group seemed to have had one common interest (apart from their doctrinal difference) and that was to attack Jesus Christ. Their whole concern was to catch Jesus on something offensive to the law (See Luke 20:20). Their spying eyes went even to where the disciples of Jesus were eating; they followed them to their kitchen. The gospel spoke about this group noticing that the disciples of Jesus Christ did not wash their hands before eating, which in their estimation was tradition of the elders; note well, not the law of God. They questioned Jesus Christ on this and his response disclosed to us what actually constituted their lives. Our Lord quoted the book of Isaiah (29:13) for them where God made a distinction between lips service and heartfelt worship. Here our Lord made it clear that his opponents were concerned about the letters of the law and never the heart and spirit of the law. They were more interested in strict external show.

Furthermore our Lord used the opportunity to show that externalities are mere frivolities, the more enduring things are those things that proceed from the heart. Sin generally begins from the heart. Before a  criminal strikes, he/she must have conceived the idea in the heart. Wickedness, strife, envy, and disobedience of the divine laws proceed from the heart. The best fight against evil is from the heart. It is at this point that the heart becomes a very important element for our reflection in view of obedience to the laws of God. The obedient person is one who believes in his or her heart that it is worthwhile to do the will of God. To be obedient to God we need to restructure the contents of our hearts; to be obedient to divine rules and regulations, we should empty our hearts of those things that block us from knowing that we can gain life and our eternal possession by being obedient. You are actually what your heart is made of. Often we speak of someone as wicked, good, cheerful etc on account of what we perceive as coming from the heart of the person. Good men and woman are not known by their looks but by their attitude and attitude manifests what constitutes us.

Last Sunday Joshua challenged us to make a choice to serve or not to serve the almighty God. This Sunday, Moses is telling those who had made the choice to serve God that they have a grave obligation to pay attention to His words in obedience. Furthermore Jesus instructs that it is more effective to pay attention to the heart and spirit of the law than on the letters of the law. Hence the obedience should be heartfelt not show-based. We are challenged this Sunday not to be merely religious, we should more expectantly spiritual; that is the source of obedience to divine laws.

Happy Sunday and have a blessed week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

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