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!
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.
TIME TO MAKE A CHOICE: HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (B)
BY REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD
I love football (soccer) both as a spectator and as a player. As a child I did a lot of football playing and goal- keeping. In fact I got a name among my mates for my assiduity in kicking and goal- keeping the bag of air. One thing I constantly remember is that when we gathered to play two Captains would normally emerge and would choose sides and pick players from among those who were available for the game. The interaction went this way:
Captain A: (Looking at Captain B) “I challenge you take one post?”
Captain B: (Pointing to his preferred goal-post) “I take this!”
Captain A: “I take that” (pointing to the remaining goal-post).
What normally followed was the picking of players. Since Captain B had the privilege of making the first choice of goal post, it then became the turn of Captain A to pick a player. The best players were normally preferred before the better ones, the good ones, the average ones, the manageable ones and so on. The choices Captains made during the picking (which was normally alternated between the Captains) determined to a great extent the fate of the team. Often teams lost at the end because the players could not coordinate very well on account of some “bad players”. Success at the end of the game depended so much on the choices of players made before the commencement of the game.
In the first reading (Joshua 24:1-2; 15-18), Joshua assembled all the Israelites at Schechem and told them that God had asked him to tell them to freely make a choice of whom they wish to serve. By this convocation we understand that God did not withhold the gift of freewill from humanity (Gen. 2:16-17), even after the colossal fall (Gen.3:1-18 ). From the direction of Joshua’s speech he was like telling the people “I challenge you take one post?” Joshua’s declaration tells us about God’s patience with us even when we are offensive to Him by our ways of life. Joshua’s speech shows us that God cares about us and He wants us to be saved; He gives us an opportunity to make the right choice. It points to God’s loving invitation for a dialogue with us which we do not deserve (Isaiah1:18).
I love Joshua so much from the way he handled the declaration of God’s message. At that point in time the people deviated from God and looked upon worthless gods of other nations around them. From their deviation from God, they landed into confusion and forgot the things God had done for them from the time of their ancestors to the time they were delivered from the land of Egypt; the land of slavery. They needed a Joshua who will bring them to their senses; moreover they needed a Joshua who will guide them by his own personal and family choice. If you were attentive to the passage, Joshua made his own choice first before the people could respond. He was in essence leading the way of righteousness, he gave the people clue to which choice would be most rewarding, thus he declared: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15). The effect of his choice could be seen in the people’s response: “We have no intention of deserting the Lord and serving other gods!…We too will serve the Lord, for He is our God” (Joshua 24:16,18).
In the gospel reading today (John 6:60-69) our Lord Jesus Christ wrapped up his teaching on the Eucharist by challenging his hearers to make a choice of either accepting his doctrine and gaining life or leaving it for a damnable fate. Like Joshua in the first reading he was like telling them: “I challenge you take one post?” We are told that some thought of the doctrine of Eucharist as intolerable language and consequently many of them stopped following him. The truth is actually bitter! We could also note here that these were the same people who at the beginning of this chapter in the gospel of John (6) were frantically searching for Jesus because they wanted to eat more bread. Jesus laid bare before them the bread that leads to eternal life and the bread that leads to eternal hunger. As we saw at the ending of the passage many of them preferred the bread that will lead them to eternal hunger. They left the eternal bread and wandered away to seek that which will lead them to eternal destruction. Many chose the wrong post and picked weak and unskilled players to play the football of their lives. The players here represent those things that drive and determine lives we live. However when Jesus asked the twelve if they would not join others in their choice , Peter spoke up like Joshua did in the first reading declaring their choice as a family for Jesus Christ as one who has the message of eternal life.
God has not stopped giving us the chance to make a choice. God has not withheld freewill from us. God is patiently waiting for you to take one post and choose the payers you need for the eternal game of life. You have a choice to accept and receive Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist or to refrain from doing so. You have the freedom to choose between serving and not serving, however any choice you make has its rewards. In making our choices we should also know that there are people watching us and are ready to do exactly what we do. We are expected to reflect Joshua and Peter who led the way to the right choices. As a father, mother, elder, or leader your individual decisions can make or mar the lives of those who look up to you. What is your current choice now? To accept and partake in the bread of life or to wander away looking for the bread that has no life giving power? “I challenge you take one post?”
Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
YOU BECOME WHAT YOU EAT: HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B) BY REV. FR. BONNIE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD
Food is one phenomenon that cuts across the globe. In every nation, culture, society and creed, people eat food. One key element is that food helps in maintaining overall physical well being. If we break this down further, food functions in maintaining proper health as well as in the prevention and cure of diseases. It is actually a natural propensity to desire to eat food when one is hungry. According to experts too what we eat has a lot to do with the responsiveness of our body metabolism
Beyond the basic need for food, there are various gradations or if you like hierarchy of food. Some are more nutritious than others. This immediately reminds me of my minor seminary days. Back then parents and relations were allowed to visit us once in a month ( that is the last Sunday of every month). Visiting days were actually very important to us then, primarily because parents and relations who visited brought specially prepared food from home which were actually nothing to compare to what we were given that time in the seminary. On those visiting days, few people ate from the refectory; these included either those who had no luck of being visited or those who could not be accommodated by the lucky ones who received visitors. To visit without food was same as not coming at all.
Back then one could perceive the aroma of different kinds of dishes coming from different corners. There were dishes from big cities, some from the urban areas, some from suburban areas, other from the rural areas, others still from inner villages! They also came in different food flasks or containers. In fact the packaging tells a lot about the origin and content. The truth was that some tasted better than others. There were some dishes that both the packaging and the aroma sent deplorable signals, while others were quiet tantalizing.
One important fact that struck me while reminiscing on this was that all the dishes both those that came from the urban areas and those from the inner villages finished at some point, In fact after the visiting day they became narrative topics and waste materials. This is simply a strong pointer to the fact that no matter how much food we eat now, we shall still be hungry afterwards. However in the interlocution with the Jews in the gospel today (John 6:51-58), our Lord Jesus Christ established that he has a kind of food of which if we eat, we will not only not hunger for any other food, we will from it derive eternal life. This food is actually his flesh and his blood, when we partake in them we become one with him because we are assimilated into him; in few words we become what we eat.
In the First reading (Proverbs 9:1-6), our Lord Jesus Christ is symbolized and personified as Wisdom. Wisdom is here seen as one who built a house (this house is understandable as the Church), erected seven pillars (we here call to mind the seven sacraments of the Church), slaughtered beasts, prepared wine and laid a table (here we make a link with the immolation of the lamb and the Eucharistic Sacrifice). Wisdom further dispatched the maidservants to invite all to come and eat bread and wine (the invitation to all the faithful to participate in the Holy Eucharist which is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ together with his Soul and Divinity under the appearances of bread and wine). The gospel reading today can thus be seen as a concretization of the imagery presented in the first reading.
If the Jews had been attentively connected with the scriptures they could have understood that the wisdom described in the book of proverbs was really the one with them. Among other attributes of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is the fact that by partaking in eating of his body and drinking his blood we have the gift of eternal life; that is, we live forever. What more do we need? There are many today toiling and working to feed on food (like the ones we had back in the minor seminary) that will spoil and will never last (Jn. 6:27). Of what benefit is life without this eternal and life giving food (Mark 8:36; Matt 16:26).
Most of us obviously take time to buy the healthiest food ever; we consult doctors and nutritionists to prescribe for us the best of food. Most of us spend time and money to buy various commodities and stock same in our compartments, stores and refrigerators but nothing can be found in our spiritual compartments and stores. Most of us have the best bread for breakfast and the best wine for dinner but we cannot be found at the table of the banquet of eternal life. Some have been on indefinite vacation from the Holy Eucharist while observing strictly the conventional three square meals. We are individually challenged to ascertain the nature of the relationship we have with Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament; what he is telling the Jews today is at the same time a message for us. “Do you believe that he is really present with his body and blood?” “Do you partake in that Holy Communion and when last did you do so in a manner that is fitting?”
Happy Sunday and a blessed week ahead!
REV. FR. BONNIE ANUSIEM Ph.D
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the outstanding Marian Solemnities (with Mary, Mother of God: January 1, Annunciation of the Lord: March 25,
and Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: December 8). The Assumption is at the same time a dogma of faith proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentisimus Deus of November 1, 1950. The dogma declaration runs thus:
The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
This remains a solemn dogma which is to be accepted on the platform of faith and as a consequent culmination of various divine messages in the Bible concerning Mary, which includes but not restricted to the message of the angel at God’s instance: “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you”. If the blessed Mother of God was conceived without sin (Immaculate Conception) there is logic, reason, and faith to hold that she was preserved from bodily corruption at the end of her earthly life.
The glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven did not happen by her own power. She had no power of her own to undertake such mysterious flight into heaven. It is purely the grace of God working in her. It is based upon this that we differentiate the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven (which is by his own divine power) and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which took place through the power of God).
There are no direct biblical references narrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, but there are strong biblical pointers as well as other events with inferential relationships.
As we celebrate the Assumption, let us know also that our lives need to be assumed into holiness. We need to reflect in our lives what characterized the Mother of our Lord, and who is our own Mother also.
Have a great day and happy Solemnity.
SURRENDERING TO THE BREAD OF LIFE: HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
I love to eat bread and I believe most people do too. Bread is actually among the commonest and most available snack in the world. Bread is thus a very flourishing commodity that cuts across the continents of the world. The Russians have their black (sweet) bread, in Italy they have the dry bread at every meal, and in France there is the brioche which is the sweet yeasted bread. In Germany they have the white bread. Americans have varieties of the product and in Nigeria we have so many types of bread from the most affordable Agege bread to the highly priced wheat, cake, fruit, and white bread. It could be said that around the world, a day is incomplete without a piece of bread. Of course we know that one of the immediate causes of the French Revolution was that the peasants had no bread to eat. In the entire Bible, bread is mentioned about 450 times.
In the first reading of today (1 Kings 19:4-8), we are presented with what happened to Elijah after his smashing victory over the prophets of baal at Mount Carmel. Jezebel the wicked wife of Ahab came after his life and he fled. However he got tired and weak on his way. In his desperation and fatigue under a shade he declared: “it is too much, Lord. Take away my life; I might as well be dead!” However while he was asleep God sent an angel to wake him up and invite him for a meal of bread and water. This was repeated twice and thereafter he got the strength that enabled him to undertake forty days and forty nights journey to encounter God at Mount Horeb.
In the gospel reading today (John 6:41-51) our Lord Jesus Christ continued his interlocution with the Jews who were searching for him basically for the sake of bread. I believe that the bread he miraculously multiplied was so sweet and nourishing that the people ardently desired a repeat of that miracle. However they were to receive the shock of their lives. Jesus was ready to give them bread, but this time the living bread which came down from heaven, which is at the same time his flesh. The Jews were not ready to accept this at all and thus reminded him of his paternity and maternity which they were very familiar with and per adventure very ordinary to them. Jesus went on to reveal to them the connection which he shares with God the father and his readiness to give eternal life to all who comes to him. He further established that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven. The living bread that is far more satiating and life-giving than the manna their ancestors ate in the desert and had died thereafter. The living bread is his flesh and through it the world is given life.
From the episode connected with Elijah in the first reading we locate ourselves as pilgrims in life on our way to God. In our lives, we often experience trials like Elijah. Sometimes we are even down and hopeless. Often we wish we were dead than living with challenges. Sometime we are being pursued by some “Jezebels” in various forms and shapes. We face a lot of “Jezebels” in our families, places of work, in our studies, in our relationships, in our businesses and sundry. Jezebel here stands for challenges of life, it stands for obstacles and lacks in our lives. There are times we have “Jezebel” experiences that we believe that we cannot manage. In such situations, we should be confident on these: “God cares about us and He is ready to support us!” (Prov.3:5; Romans 8: 37-39; 1 Pet.5:7). God displayed His love for Elijah by providing bread for him which actually gave him the strength to walk the forty days journey to encounter Him at Mount Horeb.
Drawing a relational line from the experience of Elijah to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ today, we see ourselves as privileged; perhaps more privileged than Elijah. Elijah ate bread and water and was able to reach Mount Horeb from the strength he got from the meal. In our own context we are given the living bread, which is more powerful, more generative of eternal life than the bread Elijah took. We are also given the blood of Jesus Christ to drink which is thicker and more effectual than the water Elijah drank. Furthermore Elijah was led by the strength from the bread and water to Mount Horeb, but the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is meant to lead us not to any physical location on earth, but to eternal life with God in heaven.
Our Lord made it clear for us that we can only have life from the living bread. Yes! Though we may have reasons to eat different kinds of bread available in different shops and supermarkets around us, there is this bread that is fundamentally very important for our well being. Beyond taste, texture, hygiene, size, packaging is the living bread which came down from heaven. This is the body (and blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with his soul and divinity that contains all that we need in life. If a small flash drive or chip can have gigabyte capacity of up to 8, 16, 32, 64, what more of the living bread which is Jesus Christ himself. Surely in our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist we are sure to get uncountable gigabytes of blessings!
As you approach the living bread today at the table of the Holy Eucharist, you only need to believe and you will be given all you need to walk through life and overcome all the raging “Jezebels”. As you approach the bread that came down from haven you need to anchor your hope on his power to translate your fatigue into favour, your shame into fame, and your challenges into chances. As Elijah surrendered himself to God when His human power failed him, you need to surrender yourself to the living bread today. He says in Matthew (11:28) come to me all you who labour and are over burdened and I will give you rest.
You may like to sing along with me this song:
You are blessed always and happy Sunday.
Revolting against God and Searching for Jesus Christ: Homily for the eighteenth Sunday in ordinary time year (B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Anusiem Ph.D
Revolution is a well known phenomenon in our human society. It can be described as a turnaround against an existing structure which can be socio-political, economic, cultural or ideological. In recorded history we are aware of a good number of revolutions; in fact from 2380 BC to 2012 there were more than four hundred revolutions. The prominent among them were the French, American, English, Russian, Turkish, Chinese, Iranian and quiet recently Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian revolutions.
In every revolution, there is a significant general reaction from a group. In all the revolutions known in history one could see a minority or suffering group suddenly rising up to oppose the measures of the majority or draconian group. Though individually we could fall into religious dyslexia and begin to question God on certain experiences, but for a group of people, nay a race to decide to join their voices and hands to revolt against the God who had been superlatively kind is only known among the Israelites within the context of their journey to the Promised Land. In the first reading today we are presented with the story of the revolt of the Israelites against God through their murmuring against Moses and Aaron and essentially against God who sent them to them as messengers.
The people just left the land of Egypt, the land of slavery. It was not long they miraculously crossed over the Red Sea. On reaching the other side of the Red Sea, they started revolting as a people. They started murmuring because they were hungry. In their revolt, they wished they died in Egypt where they had meat to eat. A closer examination of the content of the people’s revolt showed how ungrateful they could be. Fifteen days after crossing the Red Sea they began to accuse God of planning to do away with them in the desert. Two weeks and one day after an amazing crossing over to the other side of life they wished that they were on the other side of slavery and death. After a fortnight the people of Israel imagined that God had abandoned them to perish. We are often like the Israelites; quick to forget the things God had done for us. Very prone to undermining God’s power and might during the desert experiences of our lives. Yes life is not all milk and honey. Actually before we get to the “milk and honey landscape” we may necessary pass through the desert of difficulties. The desert stands for the period of trials. The desert stands for the period of challenges.
In the gospel reading of today, we are presented with the aftermath of the multiplication of loaves. It is expected that those who participated in the meal from the five loaves of bread and two fish went home with joy and recounted the event to those who could not come. Based on this news so many people came and began the ultimate search for Jesus. I can imagine the desperation during the legendry search for the Lord. This search actually reminds me of the usual final lap of the Reality Show in Nigeria called Gulder Ultimate Search. In all the eight seasons one notices the anxiety and desperation that overwhelms the usually last two or three contestants who search frantically for the hidden treasure at a given location. The person who finds it wins!
For the searchers of Jesus in the gospel periscope of this Sunday one treasure is at stake and that is bread and perhaps fish. They were actually committed searchers. They saw his followers leaving with a boat but without him; however crossing over to the other side of the sea they saw Jesus and wondered how he crossed over. Unknown to them he walked on the sea, just like the Israelites crossed over the Red Sea (though on dry shod). Meeting the people the other side of the sea he was confronted with the statement that they had been on the lookout for him. Their motive for searching for him was not hidden from our Lord and he told them directly and bluntly that their frantic search is directly connected with the multiplication of bread he did and not faith in the miracle itself. Here (John 6:26) Jesus Christ made it clear that there is a distinction between the outcome of a miracle and why such a given miracle was performed. Let us attempt to understand why the miracle was done. Jesus Christ did not perform the miracle just for the sake of giving the people dinner; he actually established from the miracle that God cares comprehensively about us. He went on to tell them not to be bothered about perishable food, but about the one that gives eternal life and that is the one he (our Lord) gives. Furthermore they asked what they could do to do what God wants and Jesus asked to believe in the one he sent.
The people did not give up on the last statement of our Lord as they pressed further by asking Jesus for a miracle to convince them to believe in him. They quoted the miracle of the Manna in the first reading. In essence the people were insistent for another miracle of multiplication of bread. That was why they took the pain and risk to cross over the sea to Capernaum. Our Lord then turned their attention to another kind of bread which upon partaking in it they will not be hungry again. Instantly they opted for that “miracle bread”. Contrary to their expectation, Jesus told them that he is that bread, the bread of life. This discussion will continue in the coming Sunday on Jesus Christ as the Living Bread.
Today we concerned with the revolt against God and the search for Jesus Christ. An attentive reflection of these two activities connects us with a common factor that explains why the people revolted against God in the first reading and the ultimate search for Jesus Christ in the gospel reading. This factor is simply the satisfaction of physical hunger with food (be it in form of bread, meat or fish). This is the same situation with most of us. When we are faced with some identifiable lacks in our lives, we tend to put God on the hot seat to provide answers why things should not be excellent for us. But when we get superlative or good times we tend to forget that God even exists.
On the other hand most of us join the band wagon to and fro the Church on Sundays and other days, but the question is “ for what specific motive?”. It is not uncommon that most of us butterfly from one church to the other, from one religious house to another in search of miracles. Some people are fundamentally attracted to those worship centres where it is perceived that there is someone (a man or a woman) who sees vision and can perform wonders. This is not actually the essence of our Christian vocation. The great miracle is that you know God; the greater miracle is that you worship Him, love him as well as others and the greatest miracle is that you finally succeed to be with him in heaven. If we understand these very well there will not be need for us to revolt nor search for Jesus because of perishable things but for values that are eternal (Matt. 6:33).
Have a wonderful Sunday and indeed a graceful Month of August.