LOVE THINGS: HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.
On the 14th of April 1912 the greatest maritime tragedy in sailing history occurred with the R.M.S Titanic. The sea vessel was the largest at the time with state of the art accompaniments which included aboard gymnasium, swimming pool, restaurants and park. The passengers in the epoch-making voyage were the exclusively rich at the time who wanted to be reckoned with the first voyage of one of the best from White Star Line and few poor and lucky emigrants to North America who got free tickets. In all, there were more than 2,224 passengers.
With sixteen watertight compartments in a 1/6 mile long hull, the captain Edward John Smith made a pre-voyage boast that “not even God can sink the Ship”.(Of course God does not sink ships he rather saves them). The Titanic left Southampton to New York for her first sail on the 10th of April 1912. While screen playing the story as a movie, James Cameron created two characters that made the movie Titanic to get universal acclaim. Hence as the Ship began her journey, fate brought about the meeting of two young people who later became love birds. Rose was of the super-rich class and was by family arrangement to marry a man from another rich family while Jack was one of the poor lucky emigrants heading to North America to search for better living. As the interaction between Rose and Jack grew, they came to connect and eventually fell in love.
An hour before midnight on the 14th of April 1912, amidst a starry moonless night the Titanic collided with an iceberg which the crew noticed late in the midst of late night merriment. The formidable Ship broke into severally pieces while letting in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean water to engulf the Titanic. Unfortunately, rescue came a bit late and there were insufficient lifeboats. Those in the first class were evacuated first which made it possible for Kate to have the option to escape death leaving Jack behind but she could not. She preferred to go through it all with Jack. They struggled together to survive the raging freezing ocean water. At last there was just a platform left for them to hold unto. Rose clung unto it on top while Jack had his entire body inside the grisly cold water. He kept on encouraging Rose to hold and never to give up. Before a rescue could come, Jack was entirely frozen, drowned and died. Rose was rescued.
While recounting what happened that night after many years as an old woman Rose said that she could only remember that a young man, out of love that she could not describe, gave up his life so that she could live.
In the book of Daniel Chapter three we are presented with the story of three young Jewish boys who were at the service of king Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Time came when Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue and made it a rule that everybody must bow down and worship it or face being thrown into a burning furnace. Everyone agreed to this but these three friends: Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to give worship to the golden statue. Consequently they were threatened with the burning furnace and they said this to the king;
“Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power then He will. But even if he doesn’t, your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god and we will not bow down to the golden statue that you have set up” (Dan.3: 16-18).
Later they were thrown into fire but instead of being burnt God sent an angel to make the fire cool and refreshing. Hence inside the fire they were praising and worshipping God.
Anyone reading thus far could be wondering why I had taken time to tell two stories that seem to be unconnected. They are actually deeply connected and both are love stories; love things. In the first story we saw love expressed between two human beings to the extent that one had to let go his life so that the other could live. In the second story, the three faithful friends loved God so much that they were ready to die for His sake. I prefer this approach because the world is yet to get a unified definition of love. The lesson as to what love is all about began early with the numerous instructions given by God to the Israelites; they seem not to get it even when God said: “Listen O Israel the Lord your God is one God you must love the Lord your God with all your mind and all your heart” (Deut. 6:4). In Leviticus (19:18) they are also told: “You must love your neighbor as yourself”.
Part of the reason why love as a phenomenon seems to be hard to define is that it is another name for God and God is not easy to define or describe. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “whoever does not love does not know God for God is love”. No wonder then St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:7) said that love conquers all things; this means that everything is subject to love which is God. In the gospel reading today (Mark 12:28-34) one of the scribes came to Jesus and wanted to know which of the commandments was the first. The man could be representing the men and women of his time (and of our time too) who were confused as to what could be the most important of the commandments. We all know from Exodus 20 that God gave ten commandments. But the Jewish religious authorities broke down these into about 613 rules. There were rules everywhere for almost everything. This man wanted Jesus Christ to give a summary of them all and there could not have been a better summary than the one he gave using the love of God and neighbour as the parameter. Obviously every worthwhile rule has basis on the love of God and neighbour; if you like our duties to God and our duties to our fellow human beings!
Love strictly seen is the seed of every good thing. Love is the reason why Jesus Christ came into the world (Jn 3:16), love is the reason why he preached and worked miracles (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Love is the reason why he went to the cross to die (Rom 5:8). Love is the reason for our salvation. Love answers all questions! Love is the only thing that can decide our fate after leaving this world. Love is a seed which every right thinking Christian must always sow.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the two dimensional expression of love: to God and to our fellow human beings. In any case it will be pertinent to examine how we can achieve these. The love of God is not achieved by saying it: “I love God”. It begins first from knowledge of God. In Hosea 4:6 God says that “My people perish for lack of knowledge!” In our Catechism when answering why God made us we begin by saying that: “He made us to know, love Him, and serve Him….” It is very clear and undisputable that you cannot love what you do not know! That could be fantasy, lust or infatuation. From knowledge and communication, you connect that is the due process to love. Love seeks to express itself in selfless giving; an example is what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us. A selfish person cannot love effectively because his/her self interest will always block the way to reaching out to others.
To love is not optional as most of us think. It is a commandment which carries a lot of consequences. In John (13:34) our Lord Jesus Christ said: “I give you a new commandment Love one another as I have loved you”. It also identifies who we are: “If you love one another everyone will know that you are my disciple” (John 13:35). Love is not based on conditions or conveniences. For some people their love is seasonal: the season of abundance; when things are going fine. The litmus test for love is at critical times like the one Rose and Jack experienced at the Titanic and the situation Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego had while being marched to the burning furnace.
Today our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the assignment to examine our love quotient. Do we love by mouth, by writings and text messages or do we practice and actualize love by our selflessness!
Happy Sunday and blessed week ahead!
THE SOULS DELAYED BUT NOT DENIED: HOMILY FOR ALL SOULS (NOVEMBER 2ND)
BY REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD.
Memories of my minor seminary days would often overwhelm me. During those days, late coming to any activity was (is still) a great offence. Once the prayer commences in the chapel for instance, those outside were considered late and would be punished adequately. One day, as I just stepped onto the threshold of the Chapel alongside other seminarians, the signal for the commencement of the prayer was given. We were stopped just at the threshold where there was an inscription “Domus dei et porta caeli” which means “House of God and gate of heaven”. We were asked to move to one side and behind us were others who had not reached the threshold at all and they were asked to move to another side. After a while, one of the prefects argued and also pleaded with his colleague to allow us to enter since we were not as late as those behind us and that we had reached the threshold. With this, we went through the traditional knelling down as was obtainable at the time. Thereafter, those of us who had reached the threshold were asked to cross over and join the rest inside the chapel while those behind us were severely punished.
Yesterday we were in a blissful mood as we celebrated the joy of our innumerable brothers and sisters who have gained entrance into the Kingdom of heaven. Today on the other hand we contemplate on the fate and prayer for those who like in my story have reached but not crossed the threshold. We pray for those who might be undergoing some forms of probation. Such people have been asked to stand aside. They are not with those inside neither are they pushed outside with those who were gravely late. They are like in a betwixt position though with much hope. Their hope is actually based on our prayers: their brothers and sisters in the militant Church.
Attentive to the above, we are called to bend our kneels in utter supplication to God on their behalf. We are encouraged to continuously call on God to have mercy on them and admit them into his Kingdom. Hence like those of us who were held at the threshold of the Chapel and who were mildly punished and allowed to cross based on the pleading of one of the prefects, these our brothers and sisters cannot help themselves. They can only be liberated on account of our ardent prayers and supplications since they still stand a chance to enter into bliss.
We are convinced about a place of temporary punishment based on the confirmation of the word of God. Purgatory as a word is not mentioned in the bible as it is but we have references pointing to its reality just like the word bible is not strictly mentioned in any of the books in the bible. If we read from the second book of Maccabes (12:46) we will discover that it is a worthwhile thing to pray for the dead so that their souls will be released. Of course even in our secular parlance we observe minutes of silence for the dead and afterwards we say: “Rest In Peace” (RIP). We cannot do these if we do not have hope for a better future for them.
In Matthew 12:32 our Lord Jesus said that anyone who sins against the Son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come. By this statement our Lord made us understand that there is forgiveness after our life in this world. He did not mention what the world to come looks like but that definitely cannot be heaven and it cannot be hell because there is no forgiveness there. So we are left with purgatory as the most probable place that could stand for it.
The most outstanding biblical reference is 1Cor.3:15. It will be very pertinent if we quote this passage and I wish to do so using the King James Version for the benefit of my protestant readers. It says:
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he
Himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
St. Paul was saying that a man’s work will be judged and he will suffer loss on that account. But he himself will only be saved through fire. Now the Greek description of “suffer loss” is “zemiothesetai” and this comes from the root “Zemioo” which means punishment. (The same word we can see in Exodus 21:22; Proverbs 17:26 and Proverbs 19:19.) From the passage we understand that a man’s work will be examined as with fire and on account of that he will be punished and his salvation will still come but through that same burning by fire. It is like raw gold that can be refined by passing it through fire. Furthermore in Revelation 21:27 we are told that nothing unclean can enter into the Kingdom of God; it could be said that nothing raw, unrefined imperfect can enter. So purgation will be required for those who cannot be granted direct entrance.
Even in our human valuation side there are various levels of offences for instance in the civil society. A person who commits murder has committed an offence and someone who contravenes traffic also committed an offence. Judging the two offences the same punishment cannot be given to them. St. John (1John 5:16) tells us about sins that lead to death and others that do not lead to death. It is from here that we talk about mortal sins and venial sins.
We are greatly encouraged today to pray for our departed brethren as our prayers will assist as many as possible to be liberated from purgatory and be admitted into the Kingdom of God. Yes they may be delayed but not denied!
May the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
BEYOND HALLOWEEN: HOMILY FOR ALL SAINTS DAY (NOVEMBER 1ST)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
In most countries especially in the West Halloween is an elaborate celebration. Shops become busier, there are lots of jingles are heard welcoming yet another Halloween and reminding people that they need to dress in scary costumes, and some people organize Halloween parties where attendees all appear in gory costumes and masks. However not many people know about Halloween or its origin. Even among those who mark it every 31st of October, the insight as to its origin and development could be really low. The name Halloween is actually a reconstruction of “Hallows evening” or “Hallows eve”, that is the evening before All Hallows day; which is the same as “All Saints Day!”
Halloween as a culture dates back to the Celtic people who lived in Britain many years ago who observed the day of the dead or festival of the dead. It was believed that on that day, dead people would come around among the living. To escape being harmed by them , the living would dress in frightening costumes as a way of mixing up with dead people who would mistake them to be dead too and thus not harm them. Such costumes include skeletons, vampire, brains, animal faces etc.
It is often forgotten that Halloween ought to be the eve of the celebration of the feast of All Saints. The idea of “All Saint Day” could have started with the gradual growth of Christianity from 313 AD. Those who lived worthwhile lives where remembered on the day of their deaths hence the feasts of various Saints and Martyrs on various dates. However it was reasoned that there are many who have merited heaven without human recognition. On the basis of this, the feast of All Saints was instituted to celebrate all the faithful departed who are enjoying the bliss of heaven and whose names may not be found in the litany of the saints or missals.
The current date of November 1 was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and ordered an annual celebration. This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.
Beyond Halloween, we are celebrating today the joy of those who have gone before us and who are enjoying the beatific vision of heaven. We are happy because they have reached the place of eternal rest and we are hopeful to be there only if we have all the necessary travelling documents in place for that eternal flight at the end of our earthly existence.
Our conviction about a place of eternal bliss after our sojourn here on earth is based on biblical confirmations. During the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus Christ among other things said: “blessed are the poor in Spirit for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matt. 5:3); he also said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Furthermore in the gospel of John (14:2) our Lord said: “In my father’s house there are many mansions if it were not so I would have to you. I am going to prepare a place for you!” In his letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 2:9) St. Paul said: “Eye has not seen ear has not heard neither has it entered into any mind what God has prepared for those who love him!” He also said that we have a better place after the destruction of this our earthly dwelling place. (2nd Cor: 5:1)
The vision of St. John in the book of Revelation we read today gives us the whole scenario or if you like the eternal picturesque of heaven. In his words, John looked up and saw a huge number of people impossible to count standing before the throne of the lamb with palms in their hands. To confirm what he saw John asked “who are these?” and he was told they are people who have been through great persecution and they have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. It is worth noting that the robes washed in the blood became dazzlingly white. This is an indication that the people in question soaked themselves not just in physical blood, but in purity.
Sainthood is a facility that is open for all of us. This facility continues to run for you and for me insofar as we are alive. For us to achieve sainthood, which is the end product of our pilgrimage on earth, we need to know:
1) Where we came from: (We came from God our Creator).
2) Who we are: (We are Children of God).
3) Where we are going to: (We are citizens of heaven).
“How can we get to our destination?” This is a question that each and every Christian should be asking himself or herself daily. On this, God did not leave us clueless. From the beatitudes of Matthew 5, we are presented with values that will aid us to attain eternity. The beatitudes we heard today from the gospel of Matthew (5:1-12) are not merely “dos” and “don’ts”. They rather are expressive of core values that will make our journey back to God possible.
You and I have all it takes to make heaven and thus be numbered among the saints. We have the word of God which is read and explained to us on daily basis, we have the sacraments especially the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist very much available to us. Just as heaven is real so is hell also real. We make heaven starting from the things we do here on earth. What will it then profit us if after the challenges of live and the attendant undulations we still suffer the lost of our souls in hell? There is no better time for us to prepare for heaven than now.
Happy All Saints Day and may God’s mercy lead you on! And may you be numbered among the saints in heaven!
“I WANT TO SEE AGAIN”: HOMILY FOR THE 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B).
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
Once upon a time I asked people in the congregation to indicate which physical challenge could be considered worst among the following: the blind, the deaf/dumb and the lame. As anyone would expect, there were various inputs; nay answers. However, those that spoke in favour of the blind were very few. I believe that the sense of sight is highly valued by a greater number of people because we all like to see things, people and events around us whether good, bad or ugly. We are in fact living in a world that is saturated with “sightable” phenomena! From the television to computers and mobile devices, the story remains the same; we want to see!
There was this blind beggar along one street who had an inscription by his side with the words: “HELP ME I AM BLIND”. Once in a long while someone will stop and drop a coin into his plate and he will say “thank you”. One man came across him, stood for a while and after examining the inscription he took it, turned the back and wrote something and left. After few minutes the blind man started getting so much patronage from people as he almost got tired of saying: “thank you”. Towards evening that man who changed the inscription came back and the blind man recognized his footstep and asked him what he wrote that made a lot of people to patronize him that much and the man said that he wrote: “TODAY IS BEAUTIFUL BUT I CANNOT SEE IT!” This inscription made many people who saw it to appreciate the fact that they could see.
In the gospel reading today we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ again on the move. He seemed to be running a mobile ministry unlike our contemporary location based ministries with imposing edifices. Jesus used any available space for preaching, consultation, prayer and counseling. Today on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem to attend the great Passover a lot of people followed him as well as his disciples. The presence of Jesus brought a lot of people out as he was teaching while taking the 15 miles trek to Jerusalem. No doubt the sick, beggars and other people also came out with their personal reasons which could have included but not restricted to asking for alms. Among the lot was a man St. Mark called Bartimeus son of Timaeus, a name which has two meanings. In Aramaic it meant “son of defilement”, while in Greek it meant “son of honour”. People could have given him the name because of his situation; of course such challenges were seen as punishment from God on account of sin and defilement. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar and when he heard that Jesus was passing by, he came out and began calling out to him: “Jesus son of David have pity on me?”
The name or title he gave to Jesus was very significant. The title “Son of David” describes the Messiah (Isa. 11:1-5 Rod out of the Stem of Jesse; Jer. 23:5-6 David’s Righteous Branch; Ezek. 34:23-24 A Shepherd like David). Furthermore, Messiah means Saviour. In essence Bartimaeus was actually saying “Saviour there is someone here who needs to be saved!” As he shouted for help something happened! The people around him tried to stop him. For them the son of defilement is not qualified to talk to the Son of God. For them Bartimaeus was so low to have anything to do with Jesus Christ. But he ignored the crowd and shouted all the more. Sometimes in life we face oppositions on our way to our positions. They may come as discouraging voices like the ones that hushed Bartimaeus; but he was not discouraged. There is a YES somewhere in your life, but for you to get to it you may experience a lot of NOS do not be discouraged.
Bartimaeus believed in the word of God in Jeremiah (33:3) which says: “call to me and I will answer you and I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know”. He was also attentive to Isaiah (58:9) which says: “when you pray, I will answer you, when you call to me I will respond”. He may have heard about the promise in John 14:14 which says: “Whatever you ask in my name I will do it” He trusted in the words of Matthew (21:22); “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believing you shall receive”. He was attentive to the command in Luke (11:9): “I say unto you ask and it shall be given to you”. Bartimaeus’ cry appeared like he was saying:
Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
This cry must have touched Jesus in a personal way. Firstly he was called by his proper title and secondly he was called to do what was prominent in the Manifesto of the Messiah (Luke 4:18); to give sight to the blind! The productive thing he had to do was to stop his journey and attend to a faith-filled man who needed a divine touch. Our Lord needed to stop to attend to a would-be disciple of his. He needed to stop to bring light to the darkened world of Bartimaeus. Our Lord then asked him to come! Instantly, with the encouragement of those who despised him earlier he jumped up and throwing his cloak away he ran to Jesus. We need to examine the story so far! His persistence brought about the attention of Jesus and consequently he was invited by him. It is worth noting that those who hushed him down earlier changed their words. They moved from hushing to helping. This is very true in our lives, if we refuse to be distracted by criticisms and focus on our goal those who shouted at us saying: “who are you?” will turn back with a mild voice to ask us:”how are you?” It is also very significant to note that Bartimaeus threw away his cloak before running to Jesus. The cloak served as his mattress, blanket and pillow. It was his comforter. With the call from Jesus he discarded that material comfort and went to embrace an eternal comfort. On our way to answer the call of Jesus there is need for us to discard our material comforts. There is need for us to move away from those comfort zones. There is need for us to move to a new position. We cannot be doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Bartimaeus had to do things differently in order to get a different result.
Coming to Jesus was not enough as Bartimaeus was expected to be specific in his request. Jesus thus asked him: “what do you want me to do for you?” Jesus knew he was a blind beggar but he wanted him to make his request a specific one. Perhaps he wanted financial assistance not divine healing. This is a lesson for us to be specific in our requests. Generalizations would not help us: “I want God to bless me, I need divine assistance, I want things to get better etc”. These are generalizations. You must be as specific as Hannah (I Sam. 1:11). Bartimaeus was very specific: “I want to see again!” That was very a very specific and focused request and it actually got the approval of our Lord as he told him to go as his faith had saved him. This is a pointer to us that Bartimaeus came to Jesus not only with a specific request but also with a deep faith.
The next point of interest is the action of Bartimaeus after receiving his sight. We are told that he followed Jesus Christ. That meant that he became a disciple. He did not run back to reply his critics, he did not run to his home to make case against those who may have taken away his properties. He rather saw clearly the right person to follow (Jesus Christ-the Saviour) and the right place to go (Jerusalem- the rain of Peace). Bartimaeus could not have made a better choice than the choice of following Jesus. Turning to ourselves we ask: “what do we do when we receive favours from God?” Do we turn to him in appreciation and follow him wherever he leads us or do we take a vacation from him to take care of our material and selfish interests. There is no doubt that many of us are seriously indebted to God for innumerable favours we have received. There are some of us who have never processed to the Alter for thanksgiving to God for His blessings in our lives.
From all indications there is need for us to have our sights back! We may be physically seeing but morally and spiritually we may be blind. Our ingratitude to God and to our fellow human beings are borne out of inner blindness. Our inattention to the word of God is a product of severe spiritual blindness. Like Bartimaeus some of us are sitting comfortably by the roadside of life without realizing that we are blind, and that we need to get up, get back our sights and move ahead with the Lord into the Jerusalem of peace. Some of us are still focusing of the crowd and their discouragement instead of calling out on the Lord. Some of us are still covering ourselves with the cloak. We have to throw away the cloak covering our sins and come to God the way we are in order to get to the next level. Some of us have refused to call on the Lord as he is passing by. There is still time, even today as we encounter him at the Eucharistic table. Do not allow him to pass you by without effecting that healing in your life; without giving you back your sight! O Lord heal us so that we may see!
Happy Sunday and have a splendid week ahead!
THE DUE PROCESS TO GREATNESS: HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
This story drew my attention while reflecting on the gospel. A man promised his children who were in primary school that he would buy a bicycle for any of his kids that would take the first position in their respective classes. By the end of the term they brought their results home. His eldest child and only son who happened to be in a different primary school from others came home with a result indicating a first position! The amazement was high because the boy in question never came close to the 15th position in the class of 25 children. His father looked at the result closely to see if it bore his name and it was really his name and the position was first. The man was very glad but skeptical at the same time. He didn’t want to fail his promise but at the same time he wanted to be sure that his son really came first in the class. He decided to take the boy to the shop to buy bicycle for him but silently decided to stop by his son’s teacher’s house to ascertain the credibility of the result.
On reaching the teacher’s house, they met him on his way out. Before the boy’s father could say a word, the teacher started scolding the boy for his poor performance of 21st out of 25. The man was shocked! He brought out the result he was holding and handed it over to the teacher. The teacher was shocked too and after a careful examination he discovered that the little boy doctored his result by carefully removing the “2” and leaving 1st. What he however failed to do was to change the teacher’s remark which the father did not notice because of his level of literacy and which read “very weak pass work hard to improve!”
The desire to be great seems to be a very central factor in human life. A careful reading of the world history will show that it is all about the struggle for power, influence, position, supremacy and greatness. From the First World War to the current uprising in Syria the story is the same; the struggle to be and remain in power. Have you ever wondered why some people, tribes and nations attach “Great” to their names? The likes of Alexander the Great, Great Britain, Great Roman Empire, Great Wall of China, etc. The simple answer is that they intend to create standards; an effort to establish inequality, the desire to create superiority as opposed to inferiority. This seems to run throughout the whole gamut of life, among plants some are more outstanding than others in size, beauty and utility; among animals there is a continuous quest for superiority, and among human beings the discussion continues. Even in the spiritual realm there are also comparative and superlative attributes for instance God is the Greatest.
The desire to be great starts with us as little children when we engage ourselves in little competitions to know who gets the first position. It could be in race, recitations, dancing and a lot more. In fact you can only reckon any of your playmates to be greater than you after series of competitions. We grow with this disposition as we mature.
It may not be too surprising for us to discover that the two famous brothers, James and John came to Jesus Christ to make a request. They actually came to our Lord to lobby for positions at his right hand and his left hand in his GLORY. This means that they were sure of a glorious moment. There is a clear indication here that the apostles still didn’t fully understand the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. They were still assuming him to be a political messiah; a worldly king. We remember that this contention for first position and greatness began in Mark (9:33-37) when they were arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest. Jesus did settle the situation for them, but the reoccurrence of this ultimate search for foremost positions by James and John showed that the quest for greatness did not end after our Lord’s instructions.
The two brothers were ambitious and I admire them for that. But in their quest they were focused on the glory and not the path that would lead to the glory. It was on account of this oversight that our Lord asked them if they will be able to drink the cup he would drink, namely suffering. Their ambition to get to the glorious realm was so strong that they did not express any fear of drinking the cup. They were sure that the cup will come and pass (and may not be as painful as that) but the glory will be established thereafter.
The request that James and John made was a very outstanding and specific one: to sit at the right hand and the left hand of our Lord Jesus Christ in his glory. From their request we can see that they intended to lead the parade. From their request they wanted to make the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ a family affair of the Zebedees. From their request we deduce selfishness and exclusion. I wonder the position they intended for Mary the Mother of the Lord.
The two brothers were really very ambitious like most people in our contemporary societies where people get into positions based on who-knows-who syndrome. The two brothers wanted to act fast before the rest would out-do them. It may be wrong to assume that they were the only people among the apostles that desired to take important positions in the would-be kingdom of Jesus Christ. Rather they were bold enough to declare their intentions.
The answer our Lord Jesus Christ gave to the two brothers showed that there is a due process to greatness. In our technology driven human society, computers and other devices give us shortcuts as options in some operating systems. Consequently most of us have linked that idea of shortcut to other spheres of life. Today people want to get rich without working for it. People want to rise to great heights without the drudgery of climbing a ladder, people want to get into the Promised Land without passing through the desert, and people want to wear the crown without carrying the cross. Mahatma Gandhi summarized these dispositions in his seven deadly sins of the modern world:
It is good to be ambitious but only if our ambition is on eternal values (Matt 11:12). Furthermore our ambition must go through a due process. In Nigeria we are used to “due process” which explains the path through which a project goes. For instance the awarding of a government contract involves a set of rules and formalities which a bidder and awarder must adhere to. The same thing is applicable to greatness in divine things. One must necessarily pass through some corridors which may not really be all sweet and rosy.
From the gospel reading James and John intended to place themselves where their egos suggested to them. It happens that often we tend to do the things that are reserved for God alone; we tend to take up God’s tasks. God is the person who can appoint us to places where He has divinely willed for us. When in Jeremiah (29: 11) we are told that”God has a plan for us” it means that He has designed a position for us where His plans for us will be realized.
Often we can only reach the place God has appointed for us through series of disappointments. The first reading from Isaiah (53:10-11) tells us that it is the will of God that his servant be bruised; experience grief and suffering as the due process that will lead to the salvation of all. If you examine the bible very well you will discover that God’s appointment to positions of greatness would always follow a due process. Abraham’s rise to the status of father of a great nation took a due process spanning up to twenty-five years (Gen.12:2). Joseph’s appointment to greatness came after series of disappointments that started with his brothers (Gen. 37:18).The Promised Land was realized after due process of forty years in the desert (Joshua 5:6). After being anointed king, David had to pass through a due process of fighting with Goliath and out-doing Saul before he could sit on the throne (1 Sam. 17:45; 19:10). To redeem us our Lord Jesus had to follow the due process of passion and death.
Wherever you will be in life has been designed by God. If you are connected with him in faith and obedience you will rise to your position. It does not really matter how long it takes you or how tough the road is (the due process); the point is that you will get there. Many people are not successful in life because they gave themselves positions that God never intended for them. Some people are in the wrong places in life and if you are in the wrong place it will all be wrong. To get to the right place follow God, it may not be an easy road but you will get to your rightful place after all.
I wish you a blessed Sunday and happy week ahead.
WHO IS REALLY RICH?: HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Phd
We may not find it difficult to identify the richest man in the world. According to Forbes as of March 2012 Carlos Slim Helύ of Mexico is the richest man in the world with a net worth of 69 billion US dollars followed closely by Bill Gates with a net worth of 66 billion US dollars as of September 2012. Beyond these the question still remains as to who is really rich?
In a certain town in the Southeastern region of Nigeria, a very rich man died after a protracted illness. It took about six months to prepare for his burial which was expected to be a very huge ceremony with grandiose festivities.
The burial day was more of a carnival than a mournful solemnity. People from different groups and associations the man belonged were clad in radiant outfits and flocked together in solidarity. Before the interment of the great man, as the funeral undertakers were digging the grave, a mad man that was known in the community for his wits came close to the grave and started shouting! Indeed on top of his voice he was lamenting that the funeral undertakers had made a big mistake. The undertakers wanted to ignore him but on a second thought they asked him what it was. Answering he pointed out that the dimensionality of the grave was so small. They asked him why and he went on to say that the grave they had dug won’t be able to accommodate the dead man’s cars, shops, wears, houses and other investments he refused to share with people while he was alive. One of them told him that those things won’t go into the grave with him so there was no need of expanding the grave. With this final answer the mad man walked away disappointed by the fact that the stingy rich man could not be buried with at least one of his cars! For him the stingy rich man ended up amassing so much wealth which other people will eventually share. This is a clear indication that our material wealth and possessions will lose their relevance at death. The question is: “Who is really rich?”
In the gospel reading today (Mark 10:17-30) we have an interesting encounter between our Lord Jesus Christ and a man who was referred to as a rich man. (Luke 18:18 would add ruler to the designation). From the gospel reading today we are told that the man ran up to Jesus while he was setting out on a journey, knelt before him and put this question before him: “Good master what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After instructing him not to refer to him (Jesus) as good, our Lord reminded him that he should keep the known commandments and the man agreed that he had been doing that since his earliest years. Then Jesus looked at him and loved and then said to him: “there is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Upon hearing this, the man’s face felled and he went away sad because he was a man of great wealth.
There is need to examine this encounter very closely. We are told that the rich man in question ran to Jesus. This is a typical indication of the urgency in the man’s desire to meet up with Jesus while he was setting out on a journey. Our Lord could stop his journey to give attention to this man who came kneeling before him in humility not minding the fact that he was a man of great wealth. We are told that those who search for the Lord will find him; especially those who do so in humility (Deut.4:29). The Lord will always attend to us when we run up to him not minding other preoccupations. Coming to Jesus the rich man started by calling him good master. At this, Jesus directed his attention to God who alone is good. What Jesus did was to make the man understand that the inquiry he was making was not from the usual masters of their time, but from God who is infinitely good. He wanted to let the man to know that only God is capable of giving the good answer to his question not man.
The man’s question was what he could do to inherit eternal life. The man knew that there is life after this earthly life which is eternal. He had inherited wealth in this world and he was desirous of inheriting eternal life. That was a very positive and commendable desire. Jesus pointed out the conventional commandments and the man asserted that he had kept all of them. And our Lord looked at him and loved him. It is interesting that Jesus loved him. He loved his heart not his face, he loved the worth of his soul and not the weight of his wealth; he loved his earnest desire to inherit eternal life. With that same look our Lord discovered that the man was lacking something in his life. He had done all things well except one thing; charity to the poor. Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor and thus gain eternal treasure in heaven and then follow him.
Going back to the man, his face felled at the words of our Lord that he should sell everything and follow him. This confirms the fact that the man had a deep seated attachment to his wealth. In fact from his reaction, he could not do without those material possessions. Though he was a good man in observing the laws, he was bad in terms of the practice of charity. His treasure was on his wealth and that was where his mind was. The man had faith but no good work to show (Jas.2:17). He received so much but refused to give anything.
The rich man not only walked away from Jesus Christ, he walked away from performing charity, he walked away from the vocation to be a disciple and he finally walked away from eternal life. When the man had gone Jesus told his disciples that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (a small city gate which a camel can enter by kneeling and without load) than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were amazed at what Jesus Christ said because the conventional assumption at the time was that wealth is a blessing from God indicating righteousness (See Psalm 37:25). Seeing how surprised they were and their question: “who can be saved?” He told them that with God all things are possible but not with men. This fact is very true because with God a carpenter can become a captain, with God a bus conductor can become a contractor, with God a driver can become a director, with God a maid can become a madam, with God a poor man can become suddenly rich (Sirach 11:21). Peter came up to inquire about what would be the fate of those who left everything and followed him and he was assured by the Lord that the reward will be full that is hundred fold.
We resemble the rich man in many ways. In fact his name was not given so that we can insert our names. Sometimes we feel that we have done everything well and that we are qualified to go to heaven. Sometimes we assume that being a member of this or that religion, church, denomination or group would qualify to adopt eternal life for us hereafter. Often time we are so comfortable with our material possessions that we walk away from the face of the Lord. We are often overwhelmed by our material wealth that we neither hear nor see the Lord calling us to follow him. We are often blinded by material wealth that we do not see the poor and needy around us. It takes divine direction to see, appreciate and give hand to the poor. A story is told about a priest who brought food for a family known to be so dejected and poor in his parish. After receiving the food from the priest, the mother of the family divided it into two equal parts and walked away from the house! She came back after some minutes with bare hands. The priest who was wondering why she walked away asked her why she divided the food into two and where went to you drop the part she took away. The woman responded: “we have a family living down the street and I thought we could share the food with them because they are as well starving!” The priest could not utter a word as he was overwhelmed by such act of selflessness. Nobody is too poor that he or she cannot give. You are better than someone (be kind enough to give). Someone is better than you (be humble).
This night about 850 million people will go to bed hungry. This actually happens every day yet many of us throw food away into the trash every hour. The wealth in the world generally can make each and every one of us comfortable and happy. The problem is that those who are custodians of wealth are not ready to share. Just recently in Nigeria, the Federal Government released a total sum of N17.6 Billion (aprox. 112 Million dollars) for victims of flood in some states in the country. We are praying and hoping that those who are genuinely affected by the flood receive the money. How often do many rich people ignore the cry and plight of the poor among us and focus on their personal interests and comforts. It takes the wisdom, Knowledge and understanding that comes from God (as the first reading showed) for us to see, appreciate and assist the poor and thus be acceptable to God (Matt. 25:31ff).
May the word of God which is alive and active direct the course of our lives to be able to appreciate and assist the poor among us. The really rich person is one who is wise enough to be God’s hands towards the poor. Today we are called to rewrite the story of the rich man by giving. God actually wants us to give all by giving ourselves to him. That is why we sing: “My life time I will give God my life time. If I give God my life time, he will take care of me…he will never never let me down… I will give God my life time!
Happy Sunday and do have a wonderful week ahead.