During our minor seminary days, late coming to any activity was (and is still) a great offence. Once the prayer commences in the chapel, for instance, those outside are considered late and would receive adequate punishment. One day, I was just stepping onto the threshold of the Chapel alongside other junior seminarians when the signal for the commencement of the prayer came. 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 have been invited to move to another side. After a while, one of the auxiliaries (prefects) pleaded with his colleague to allow us to enter into the chapel since we were not as late as the lot behind us…
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Is there really heaven; the perfect place of eternal happiness? What is life like in heaven from dawn to dusk? How large is the place and how many (many) mansions are really there as our Lord mentioned in the Gospel of John (14:2-3)? Do people there do sports and play games? What do people there eat? People say that those in heaven keep singing and praising God will they not get tired and bored? These and similar imaginative questions are in the minds of many, and of course, some imaginative answers crop up because nobody on earth can claim to have comprehensive knowledge about heaven.
It will be fitting today to ask ourselves what we think about heaven, the place every well-meaning Christian should be aspiring to go after the short time we have on this earth. As a child, I had the idea of heaven as a place you…
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Have you ever considered yourself more privileged than others? Have you ever been in a group where you see yourself as being in the wrong place because you perceive that nobody in the group measures up to your class, level of education, political views, exposure, or even your religious belief system? In short, have you ever seen yourself superior to others because of the simple fact of having a different identity?
If you have a “yes” answer to any of the above questions, you may be guilty of the pharisaic syndrome. In the Gospel today (Luke 18:9-14), our Lord Jesus Christ tells a contrasting parable that addresses those who ride on the wings righteousness while despising others. Two men, a Pharisee, and a tax collector go up to pray at the temple area. The Pharisee takes a prominent position and prays to himself (not to God).
The Pharisee starts his self-praise prayer by thanking God for being different from the rest of humanity who are greedy, dishonest, and adulterous. Next, he contrasts himself from the tax collector with his religious practices of fasting and paying of tithes. On the other hand, the tax collector standing at a lowly position and without even raising his eyes to heaven beats his breast, asking God to be merciful to him for his sins.
Our Lord concludes the parable by remarking that the tax collector went home justified, unlike the Pharisee, who was prideful in his prayers. Furthermore, he states that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee and his Pharisaic Syndrome
The Pharisees represent an elitist sect within the Jewish religion that maintains strict observance of the written laws and the tradition of the elders. They are remarkable for creating barriers between themselves and others who do not belong to their sect. In some places in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ refers to them as hypocrites (Luke 11:37-44; Matt.15:1-9; Matt. 23:23-24).
The Pharisaic syndrome consists of a double standard of living. The name “hypocrite” is from the Greek “hypokrites,” which means a stage actor, dissimulator, or pretender. Therefore, a hypocrite lives a life that contradicts the real facts of the person’s life. From the analysis of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Pharisees fit into the structure of hypocrisy. They pretend to be righteous and holy in the presence of people, but inwardly they live a contrary life unknown to the public.
The Pharisee in the parable comes to the temple to make a pretentious show of piety to spite other people. The presence of the tax collector fuelled his hypocritical ambient as he sets standards of virtue and religious devotion to make the tax collector feel inferior and unworthy. Notice that what he offered was not a prayer because nobody prays to himself. He was merely narcissistic.
The Tax Collector and Sinner
Tax collectors at the time of Jesus worked for the Roman government in all the regions under the empire. It was also a common knowledge among the Jews that they extort money from the poor masses (Luke 3:13). Hence people see them as sinners (Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:30). Zacchaeus would confirm this theory during his encounter with Jesus Christ when he resolved that he would repay everyone he defrauded four times as much (Luke 19:8).
The tax collector did not come to the temple with the same disposition as the Pharisee. The Pharisee went as an intact spotless religious enthusiast, but the tax collector came as a broken, dirty sinner. However, at the end of their prayers, they switched places. The Pharisee went home broken and inadequate because he did not pray to God. On the other hand, the tax collector went home whole and healed because he had a transforming encounter with God.
Notice also that the tax collector did not pay attention to the arrogant pretension of the Pharisee; in fact, he was not looking, he refused to be distracted and focused on praying to God. His prayer was brief and straight to the point, “God be merciful to me a sinner”. Often, we allow the obsessive drama most people display around us in the church to distract us. There is a need for us to focus on God, not on people.
The central virtue of the tax collector which our Lord Jesus Christ extolls is his humility. It is impossible to offer a sincere prayer to God without humility; God commands humility before we could engage ourselves in prayer (2 Chron.7:14; 1 Pet. 5:8). Humility helps us to recognize our inadequacy before God while acknowledging His sufficiency. The First Reading today (Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18) tells us, among other things, that “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds.”
In life, do not allow what people say or do change whom you ought to be before God. In the narrative, the tax collector refused to copy the bad example of the Pharisee, and he would not allow himself to be intimidated by his self-praise. He instead remained humble and focused before God, and He answered him with divine forgiveness and peace.
We learn from the misdeed of the Pharisee that it is wrong to judge people because we are different from them. Often, being different from other people does not make you better than them. Humility helps us to accept what we are and allow others to be who they are. Like in the case of the two, there would always be a result of every action. Outwardly, the Pharisee thought he was in excellent standing, but in God’s presence, he was taking the least position while the tax collector who comes in humility received divine exaltation.
There would be the need for us to examine our lives to discover the hidden symptoms of the Pharisaic syndrome and pray earnestly to God for the grace for total liberation.
Watch out for these Pharisaic Syndrome
Have a beautiful Sunday, and a glorious week ahead. May the grace of God abide with you always as you submit to Him in humility.
Have you ever seen a carpenter trying to cut a piece of wood with a handsaw? If you have, you could recall that the handsaw goes several times (back and forth) into the wood before he achieves an excellent cutting. The carpenter would keep his eyes on the wood while pushing the handsaw into the wood with every strength he could muster.
We can apply the above illustration to our interaction with God during prayer. Prayer is not a one-time thing; it is an activity that ought to permeate us in season and out to season. The First Reading and the Gospel invite us to reflect on the need to make our prayer persistent. The First Reading (Exodus 17:8-13), tells us about the warfare engagements between the people of Israel and Amalek, and how the Israelites were able to win the battle through a divine connection with the staff of Moses raised towards heaven.
There is the need for us to understand the function of the staff or rod of Moses, as some translations would say. The first mention of the staff was during the encounter Moses had at the burning bush. During the meeting, God asked Moses, “what is in your hand?” and he said my shepherd’s staff and God asked him to throw it to the ground, and it became a snake. After that, he asked him to pick it by the tail, and it returned to the staff.
Staff is a symbol of authority, and in the context of Moses’ encounter with God, it shows the active presence of God to bring about amazing events. If we read further through the story of Moses, we discover that the staff was used by Aaron (the spokesman of Moses) to compete with Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7:10-12). Aaron used the staff to turn the Nile River into blood at the Lord’s command (Exodus 7:19-21).
During the crossing of the red sea, God reminded Moses to raise his staff over the red sea to divide it for the people to pass through on the dry ground. After crossing, he raised the staff again over the red sea, and the water returned and drowned the Egyptians who were coming after them (Exodus 14:16-26). Moses also struck the rock with his staff on two occasions to get water for the people of Israel to drink after a period of thirst (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:9-11).
The First Reading today tells us that the people of Amalek attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses gave instructions to Joshua to pick certain men with him to engage Amalek in battle. As the men go to war against Amalek, Moses climbs to the top of the hill with his staff, which he raised to the heavens. As long as his hands were up, the Israelites prevailed, but when he got tired, Amalek began to have the better part of the battle. To ensure that his hands remain upward, Aaron and Hur made him sit and supported his hands. The Israelites won the battle that day, not because of their physical strength but the divine connection with the staff of Moses.
Why does God demand Persistence in Prayer?
The Gospel Reading today (Luke 18:1-8) relates to the First Reading as they share a common denominator, namely, persistence. The victory of the Israelites in the war against Amalek depended on Moses’ persistence by holding up his staff towards the heavens. In the parable we heard from the Gospel, an unnamed woman would not give up asking a wicked judge to give her fair judgment until she gets it.
The introduction to the parable shows that our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to show his disciples the importance of persistence in prayer as opposed to becoming weary and giving up. Surely God wants us to be persistent in our prayers. St Paul writing to the Ephesians (6:18) says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”
The question we need to address still is why God demands persistence in prayer from us. Does it mean that we need to repeat our prayers countless times before God could open the door for an answer? Do we need to run after God as the widow did to the judge before we could receive a reply from him? The following answers could suffice for the reason why God demands persistence in our prayers.
God wants a relationship with us!
There is a difference between a one-time encounter and an enduring relationship. God would not encourage us to approach Him as a firefighter but as a Father. That is why in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells His disciples to begin by calling God “Our Father.” (Matt 6:9). Relationship is significant to God, and without a relationship, we have nothing in common with God (John 15:5).
For any relationship to become worthwhile, there would be a need for attention. Attention is very vital in any relationship. Attention brings focus because we drop every distraction and focus feeds interest and commitment. Furthermore, being in a relationship helps us to learn about ourselves and others.
Persistence in prayer brings spiritual transformation
Praying is like working out in the gym, and the more you work out, the more your body responds to the activities, and this would be evident in your body. When we engage in persistent prayer, we train our spiritual muscles to become strong and resilient in our spiritual journey.
Persistence reduces our worry and increases our faith
Worry is one of the most dangerous obstacles to our spiritual life and development because it diminishes faith. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). If the widow in the Gospel were overwhelmed with worry, she wouldn’t persist in getting an answer from the wicked judge. Worry cannot change anything, but persistent prayer could.
Moving Forward: God Responds to Every Prayer, Keep Praying
Every prayer gest an answer from God. However, God responds to our prayer in various ways. In whatever situation we may find ourselves, God wants us to be persistent. In the Second Reading (2 Tim. 3:14-4:2), St. Paul tells Timothy to be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.
Like we pointed out earlier, God answers prayer. Rick Warren thinks that for every prayer, God answers us in on one of these four different ways: No, grow, slow, or go. Let us reflect more on these.
No: God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Consequently, God could say no to us when our request would harm us instead of helping us. St. James (4:3) tells us that we ask, and we don’t receive because our motives are wrong. However, when God says no to us, he gives us an alternative yes in a different way.
Grow: Often, we are just so immature to receive answers to our prayers. In such situations, God comes in to tell us to grow. Growing among other things, means that we should differentiate between our wants and needs. Most things we want are not what we need in life. It could also mean that we rise in our faith in God,
Slow: There are sometimes when we think that we are smarter than God, and we love things to turn out in our times and seasons. At those moments, God tells us to slow down by waiting for Him. This is where the virtue of patience comes in. Isaiah (40:31) says that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.
Go: This is when we get our answers the way we ask. God tells us, go when He opens the door of blessings following our steadfastness, faith, and persistence. The Book of Psalms (50:51) says “call me on the day of trouble I will deliver you and you will glorify me”.
As we march into the new week, may we pay attention to the invitation for us to pray and to be persistent about it. Our persistent prayers would function in improving our relationship with God, transform us, and reduce our worry level. Have a blessed week, and more graces upon your prayers.
Growing up as a child, one phrase I always heard from my parents and my older siblings whenever I received a gift from them or from other people was, “what do you say?” That usually was a tactical way awakening or reminding me to say, “thank you!”. The expression of gratitude is something a child could learn from the socializing environment, not from nature. The natural disposition of the human person is to grab and go but returning to give thanks is a powerful disposition we need to develop.
We could rightly call today “thank you Sunday” as we encounter the narratives of gratitude in the Readings. In the First Reading (2 Kings 5:14-17), we learn about Naaman, the Syrian army commander who received the healing of his skin infection (leprosy) from God through his prophet Elisha who asked him to plunge himself seven times into the Jordan River. When he was healed with new flesh, like that of a child after the last plunge, Naaman remembered and returned to show gratitude to the prophet Elisha.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 17:11-19), we hear the story of the cure of the ten lepers consisting of nine Jews and a Samaritan who eventually returned to give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice the connections between the First Reading and the Gospel. Both talk about leprosy, a very deadly affliction at the time. In the First Reading, Naaman goes to Samaria to get healing from the prophet, and in the Gospel, a Samaritan leper goes to Jesus Christ around the region of Judea and gets his healing.
Remembering and Returning
Remembering involves an active recollection of someone or an event on account of what happened in the past. Remembering is the opposite of forgetting which is the inability to bring to one’s mind an event or person in the past. With the way our mind works, we often remember the hurts we get more than helps we receive; we are quick to complain than we are to compliment; we tend to condemn more than we commend.
Remembering is very essential in our relationship with God. In fact, God encourages us to remember Him (Deut. 8:18a; Neh.4:14b) as He is always mindful of us (Psalm 115:12). It is impossible to genuinely worship God without the conscious and intentional act of remembering (Psalm 77:11-12). Remembering moves us to pray, praise, and penitence. In the parable of the prodigal son, the point of repentance was the moment he came to his senses, in other words, when he remembered the love of his father and what he lost by being in a distant country (Luke 15:17).
Remembering would be incomplete if there is no action of returning to the source. God is continually asking us to return to Him, and He would return to us (Zech. 1:3) In the First Reading and the Gospel, we see Naaman and the Samaritan leper not only remembering but also returning to give thanks to the sources of their cure. Coming out from the Jordan with fresh skin, Naaman had the option to leave immediately to his home but remembered and returned to give thanks to Elisha.
The situation is even more dramatic in the Gospel Reading. The passage tells us that following the supplications of the ten lepers, our Lord sends them to go and show themselves to the priests. However, healing comes upon them while they were on their way, but only one of them, the Samaritan, could remember how their healing came to be and returned to give thanks.
Moving Forward with the Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude could be a positive attitude if we desire to cultivate it. Gratitude means being at peace with ourselves and others for what we have and being aware that whatever we have is a gift; we literally own nothing. Often, we are so overwhelmed, and we worry about what we do not have, and we forget (not remembering) to be thankful for what we have. Sometimes, the worry about what we do not have may make us lose what we have.
The attitude of gratitude would help us to be grateful FOR everything we get and to be thankful IN every situation, which may not be very good for us. Indeed, life may not be fair at various moments in our lives, but we still have a lot more to move us to gratitude. Pause and consciously make a list of what you have, and you will discover that you urgently need to say to God:
Thank you for my life
Thank you for my health
Thank you for my job
Thank you for my family
Thank you for my friends
Thank you for my children
Thank you for my spouse
Thank you for the food and water
Thank you for the air
Thank you for the sun
Thank you for a new day
Thank you for new opportunities
Thank you for another chance
Thank you for grace
Thank you for this message
Gratitude is a door to more blessings and a secret to success; make it an attitude. The difference between gratitude and attitude is the “GR,” and it means the Golden Rule, “treat others as you would want to be treated.” If you want more reason to be grateful, then show gratitude to God and to others.
Be grateful in and for everything. Have a gratitude-filled Sunday. Thank God, and thank you.
There are moments in our lives when we have so many questions about things, but we get little or no corresponding answers. There are moments when it seems that all our efforts to get to a precise balance switch over to the reverse; the more we push, the more we get a push-back. You may have had a rock-bottom experience in your finances, marriage, and relationship. It could even be physical, mental, or spiritual challenges that make you defenseless. You know those moments when you are not sure of the next line of action.
An attentive look at the First Reading today (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4) shows that the suppliant was in the exact situation we examined above. Hear part his painful lines again:
How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?
This excerpt shows the deep frustration and hopelessness of the person in the eye of the frustrating moment. From the lines, we understand that the individual in question has been crying out to God for assistance, but no help seems to be in view. It may not be out of place to ask why he was not able to get help from God. The possible answer to the question is evident in God’s reply to him and part of which would preoccupy us in what follows.
The Just Shall Live by Faith
Many people spend much time in prayer, but very few exercise the faith they have in the course of their prayer. Responding to the suppliant in the First Reading, God first dismisses the idea that He would not listen by stating that He would not disappoint, and even if he delays, it is worth the wait. Going further, He says that the just (righteous) shall live by faith.
God’s response clearly shows that the person praying to God in the passage has faith issues. Here we understand that being just or righteous does not automatically translate to faith; in fact, your faith would show forth your righteousness like the case of Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).
The one praying to God in the passage from the First Reading had every good quality and intention but faith. If he had faith, he would not complain that God would not listen to him because God answers even before we finish praying (Isaiah 65:24). If the suppliant had faith, he would have known that he needs to be patient and wait for the Lord to act (Psalm 37:7) and that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).
At this point, it would be worthwhile for us to define faith for clarity. Faith is not an assumption or a feeling as most people think. Faith is essentially a supernatural gift we have from God, which enables us, when we use it, to believe without looking for verifications. The famous oxymoronic passage from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that faith is the assurance of the things we are hoping for and the evidence of things we cannot see (Hebrew 11:1).
Use Your Faith; You Don’t Need an Increment
In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 17:5-10), we see the apostles coming together to our Lord Jesus Christ to make a joint request, and that is “increase our faith.” Here, they acknowledge that they have faith, but they feel that what they have is not enough. Notice that this question comes after the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the instruction about leading others to sin and forgiving offenders as often as they ask for forgiveness.
To their request for increment in their faith, our Lord tells them that if they have faith like the size of a mustard seed, they could tell a mulberry tree to relocate to the sea, and it would happen. Here, our Lord Jesus Christ tries to tell them that what they need is quality-based faith, not quantity-dependent. Furthermore, they need to put their faith into action no matter little it could be.
Moving Forward in Faith
If the Christian life is hardware, faith would be one of its powerful software. St. Paul was right to name faith as one of the three things that would last (1 Cor. 13:13). We need faith to worship God rightly, and as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “it is impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:6).
Often, we ride on the wings of doubt and fear more than that of faith. We ride on the wings of faith when we trust in the power of God and not leaning on our understanding (Prov. 3:5). We ride on the wings of faith when we leave every situation in God’s hands so that we can see God’s hands in everything. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real, but with FAITH, we Forward All Issue To Heaven. Faith would not make things easy; it would instead make all things possible through the power of him who can do exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine (Eph.320).
Have a beautiful Sunday and a lovely week ahead.
What is the purpose of your life on earth? To this question, there could be many answers as there are many people with diverse mindsets and value systems. For the epicureans (those who believe in worldly pleasure), the purpose of life consists of eating and drinking and indulging in sensual pleasures. According to the Bible, their maxim runs thus, “let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” (Isaiah 22:13; 1 Cor.15:32).
We see the trend of epicureanism running through the liturgy of the Word today. In the First Reading (Amos 6:1a, 4-7), God pronounces woe to the complacent in Zion who indulge in mundane luxury leveraging food, drink, best oils, exotic music, and material comfort.
Why did God call them “the complacent?” The complacent is someone who exudes the feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction and is often careless about what the future holds, especially the potential dangers. A perfect example of a materially complacent individual in the Bible would be the rich fool who, after recording a vast harvest complacently says to his soul “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12:19).
The Poor Lazarus and the Rich Epicurean
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is one of the famous passages we have in the Gospels. According to the parable, there was an unnamed rich man who had everything going for him and would feast daily. At his door lay Lazarus, a poor sick man who would gladly eat the scraps from the rich man’s table, but nobody would offer him anything. The only help he could get was from dogs who come around to lick his sores.
Afterward, both the rich man and Lazarus go the way of mortals; namely, the route of death. While money could buy so many things in life, it cannot stop death when it finally comes. Death is open to everyone; the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the good and the bad.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man helps us to understand that there is another life after this earthly existence. Pay attention to what happened when they passed. Lazarus is the first to die, and there was no mention of a funeral, but his soul was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
Note well that while he was on earth, nobody could come close to him except the dogs. But on his way to the Afterlife, he had the privilege of having angels transport him to heaven and bring him to the bosom of Abraham. Being at the bosom of Abraham, the father of faith shows his patience and trust in God despite his condition on earth. He believed that his condition would not be his conclusion.
On the other hand, the rich man dies, and unlike Lazarus, he receives an elaborate and befitting funeral. However, there is no mention of angels taking him, and he did not go to the bosom of Abraham. He instead finds himself in a place of torment and scarcity where he could not get as little as a drop of water. At this point, the poor Lazarus becomes eternally rich while the wealthy epicurean becomes perpetually miserable.
Moving forward, the rich man sees Lazarus enjoying at the bosom of Abraham while he languishes in scarcity Notice that the rich man could recognize Lazarus at this point, but he did not pay attention to him on earth. Furthermore, his two requests for a drop of water from the tip Lazarus’ finger and to have him go back to the world to warn his five brothers did not receive positive answers; why? His prayers are useless in that location because he had the opportunity on earth to make a difference, but he could not.
Moving Forward: Preparing for the Afterlife
The rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth, and Lazarus did not find himself in a glorious Afterlife because he was poor and sick. The difference between the two individuals and what determined their respective rewards was their attitude and disposition to what they had or what they did not have. Attitude is the key to our success or failure in life.
The rich man’s attitude shows that he takes material wealth and worldly pleasure as the end and purpose of life. For him, life is all about how much you could eat and drink, what you can wear and how flamboyant one could be. The rich man did not realize that life is not all about eating and drinking but justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans14:17). St. Paul adds that we should not destroy the work of God on account of food (Romans 14:20).
Lazarus, on the other hand, made it to the bosom of Abraham in heaven because he allowed the love of God to overwhelm him while being patient and having total trust in God. Notice that he didn’t grumble nor complain against the rich man; he had hope in God that he would receive divine elevation at the end of his earthly struggles.
The message today invites us not to put our trust and hope on riches even when they increase (Psalm 62:10). Complacency on riches would deprive us of eternal bliss like the rich man. Finally, St. Paul tells us to consider whatever that is true, honorable, just, holy, lovable, of good repute, virtuous, and anything worthy of praise.
As we step into a new week, let us pay attention to the eternal realities instead of material concerns that would deprive us of everlasting happiness in heaven. Let us be apt enough to make choices for the things that would help us rather than the ones that would harm us in the Afterlife. God bless you!
Once upon a time, a king comes across a poor but happy peasant man and his family while taking a walk outside his palace. The king kept wondering why every one of them looked joyful though they live in abject poverty. After some days, the king decides to pass that way again, and this time the family was having so much fun as they play around laughing and jumping around.
Coming back to the palace, the king asks one of his advisors to explain to him why the peasant and his family live in peace and joy despite their poverty. Responding, the advisor tells the king that they do not belong to the “99 club”, “what’s the 99 club?” the king inquires, and the advisor begs him to spare 99 gold coins, and in few weeks he would understand what it means.
Getting the bag of 99 gold coins, the advisor drops it at the door of the peasant man at night while everyone was asleep. In the morning, the man sees the bag and opening it he finds gold coins and joyfully counting he records 99 gold coins. For a moment, he starts to think that one coin is missing, “how could it be 99 coins, not 100”? He thought. Recounting the bag of coins several times could still not make a difference in the figure.
For the first time in a long while, the peasant loses his joy and becomes irritable. He calls his family together not to share the pleasure of getting a miraculous bag of 99 gold coins but to ask if anyone, by any chance, saw one gold coin. When he could not get a definite answer, the joy in the family started to dwindle. Passing the areas after one week with the advisor the king could not see that joy, he saw earlier. Responding to the king, the advisor tells him that the peasant had joined the 99 club as he is desperately looking for one gold coin when he has 99 of them he could enjoy with his family.
Between God and Mammon
In the Gospel today (Luke 16:10-13), Our Lord Jesus Christ ends the instruction on the right use of wealth by leaving his disciples to choose between God and mammon as much as nobody can conveniently serve two masters. Notice here that our Lord calls mammon a master, and we know that master stands for a person who has power over another; in fact, a master holds a relationship of control over the one who is under him.
God needs no introduction; He is the creator, owner of the universe, and the whole of creation and everything seats under Him, including mammon. God is, indeed, the source of our being. Addressing the Greeks in the Areopagus St. Paul maintains that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In the testimony of St. John about the Word who is God (John 1: 3) he says, “all things were made through him, and without him was made nothing that has been made.”
Mammon comes from the Greek word, mammonas which means money or material wealth. Money is a good thing as it could solve a lot of problems; in fact, the Book of Ecclesiastes (10:19) says that money answers all things. However, there is another angle which tells us that the love of money is evil; in fact, the root of all evil. Some eager for money have strayed from the faith and have involved themselves in many troubles (1 Tim. 6:10). Notice here that the love of money is the ROOT of all evil, not the FRUIT. The fruit is what we see, but the root lies beneath, and we don’t easily see the root.
The real reason why most people rise very early in the morning to work and come back late tired and exhausted is the desire to generate money that could serve some material needs which includes food, clothing, and shelter among others. Most People go into businesses and other endeavors because of the income they could generate from them.
Generally, the bible does not condemn working to generate income; in fact, the Psalmist says that you shall eat by the labor of your hands and all shall go well with you (Psalm 128:2). Again St. Paul says that whoever does not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). What God detest is when we place work and income above Him or when we neglect social justice and morality in our pursuit for money like the prophet Amos (8:4-7) mentioned in the First Reading today.
Moving Forward: Money is not everything, but God is!
Materialism is one of the major obstacles to our spiritual growth and development because it turns our attention from God and keeps our focus on what we can get and how much we can hold. Life is not all about what we can get than what we can give. In giving we increase; the Word of God says that blessed are the hands that give than the one that takes (Acts 20:35).
It is not uncommon to hear most people talk about pursuing money. The reality is that if you set out to go after money, you will never get enough. The real key to wealth is to embrace your passion, and with that you make impact, and the impact would drive income.
The real Master we must follow always is God because He is the source of our resources. Our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that those who righteously seek God would have other things, including material wealth, added unto them (Mathew 6:33). As we march into a new week, let us try to reappraise our Christian commitment and stand with God as the ideal master of our lives.
Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead. God bless you!
Have you ever lost anything that is very precious to you; just anything? There are some legendary stories about lost items that were found after so many years. A Georgian resident, Burton Maugans lost his wallet while water-skiing and the same wallet was found after twenty-four years by the shore in North Carolina with his driver’s license and other ids intact. Years ago, a professor ordered an old book, and it turned out to be the same book he lost four years earlier.
There are other stories of people who got missing and were found after many years when their families and friends had presumed that they were dead. The experience of losing our possessions probably starts from childhood. You could remember those times you misplace your toys or other tiny properties, and you cry and want the entire world to stand still until you find them. The joy of finding lost things often transcends the pain of losing them.
To sin is to Get Lost
One of the destructive effects of sin is that it cuts us away from God (Isaiah 59:2). Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel of John that when we are cut off from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). The First Reading (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14), narrates the dialogue between Moses and God on Mount Sinai where God tells Moses about His displeasure over the sins of the people and His plan to blot them out entirely and raise another nation through him.
God was telling Moses that the people strayed from Him due to their evil mind and obduracy. To stray is another way of saying that they got lost by following the desires of their hearts, namely, making a molten calf and worshipping it. Reacting to God’s decision to wipe away the people, Moses pleads and reminds Him of His oath of abundant blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 15:1-32), our Lord reacts to the complaint of the Pharisees and the Scribes about his closeness to tax collectors and sinners; in fact, they said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Typical of our Lord Jesus Christ, he appeals to the power of parables to give them a great answer, in this case, he rolls out three interconnected parables that dwell on the theme of lost and found.
The first parable talks about a single sheep straying from a fold of a hundred sheep and how the shepherd left the ninety-nine in the desert to look for the lost one. The story can only make sense to us when we see it as a parable, not a real event because leaving ninety-nine sheep in the desert to look for one strayed one appears preposterous. From the illustrative point of view, what is essential is the lost sheep that needs rescue.
In the second parable, our Lord talks about a woman with ten coins losing one and how she would light a lamp and search the house carefully until she finds it. The more exciting part of it is that calls her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her over the lost and found coin.
The woman could be a widow and childless as there were no indications of husband and children. Furthermore, the money appears to be very important to her as she couldn’t wait till dawn to look for it. Finding it, she could not keep quiet; in fact, her neighbors and friends had to lose some sleep to rejoice with her. Our Lord’s concluded this parable by linking the event to how heavens rejoice when the lost (sinner) is found.
While the first two parables talk about an animal and an inanimate object, respectively, the third parable talks about a lost human being. While in the first two parables the owners go in search for them, in the parable of the lost son (also known as the prodigal son), the lost person comes back on his own and makes himself available to be found after coming to his senses.
We are like the Lost Sons
For the everyday reader of third parable in Gospel today, there seems to be one lost son, but an active reading would show that the parable is also about the older son who became lost when his brother was found.
The parable tells us that the younger son comes to his father to ask for his share of his estate. His father was not dead, and he could only have a share if it appears on the father’s will. The younger son’s request was totally out of order. Contrary to everyone’s expectation, the father did not resist; he divided all he had into two and gave him one part and getting his things together; he travels to a distant country.
The country is called distant or far (as some other translations would say) because it represents a disconnection with the father. To be in a distant country is to be lost and nothings subsist in a distant country. The Book of Proverbs (21:16) says that a man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead. The latter explains the plight of the younger son as the distant country goes into recession, famine, and hunger.
The turning point was when the younger son comes to his senses and decides to go back to his father and apologize for his mistakes and misdeeds. It was on his way back that his father sighted him and runs to welcome him back to his house and goes further to restore his lost status and privileges.
However, the flip side of the narrative shows that the older son was not happy that his lost brother was found, so he decides to stay away from the return-party in honor of his missing brother that was found. At this point the older son switched places with his brother; the lost was found, and the one who was not missing got lost.
The parables point to the fact that sin takes us away from God; we become lost when we make wrong decisions and choices that disconnect us from God and take us to a “distant country.” They also tell us that God is continuously in search for us as He does not take pleasure in the death of the lost (Ezekiel 33:11).
The second point of the third parable is that we could sin not only by outright commission like the younger son but also by some prideful attitudes like that of the older son. If we take a closer look at the words and actions of the elder son, we will discover that he already judged and condemned his younger his brother. The last thing he would like to hear is that his lost brother is found alive and would regain what he lost by his disconnection from the father.
As we march into the new week we are invited to come to our senses like the younger son and to find our way back towards the Father as He would receive us to Himself and restore all we have lost by straying away. Furthermore, we are invited to pay attention to our attitude to others whom we tag as unrighteous. Often our disposition in our so-called righteousness could make us worse than those we label as sinners.
God bless you and have a blessed week ahead.
On one occasion while in the seminary, I was traveling from Owerri southeast Nigeria to visit one of my sisters in Abuja, northcentral Nigeria. Arriving at the bus terminal, I met a lady with two young boys clad in their school uniforms. The lady coming to me asked if I was traveling on the bus that was about to depart, and I answered in affirmation. Then she said, “can I ask for a favor?” I nodded, and she asked if I could kindly keep an eye on the two boys (her kids) as they were traveling back to school for the first time by themselves and she felt like handing them over to someone, and she thought I could help.
Fast forwarding, I accepted the lady’s request, and she was overjoyed when I introduced myself as a catholic seminarian, and the kids were returning to Loyola College, a catholic school in Abuja. One thing that touched me and doubled as the reason for this story was her final words to her kids before kissing them goodbye. She said to them, “follow him (that is me) and do whatever he tells you throughout the journey.” Like a typical Nigerian mother, she repeated the instruction three times while pulling the lower part of her ears with both hands for emphasis.
Reflecting on that event in the context of the Gospel Reading today (Luke 14:25-33), it strikes me that the greats crowds were merely traveling with Jesus and not committing to becoming followers of the Lord. For the latter reason, our Lord turns to them and says, “if anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Co-travellers Vs. Disciples
Each time we travel, we meet other people traveling on the same route as us. Often, the only relationship we have with them is that of being on the same bus, car, ship, airline, etc. At the end of that journey, we may not meet most of them again. On the contrary, when we have family, friends, or colleagues with us, we tend to share a relationship of support and dependence during the duration of the journey.
In the opening story of this reflection, one would observe that the two young students had many co-travelers in the bus, but through the counsel of their mom, they could look up to me and follow my instructions throughout the journey. On the way to Jerusalem, our Lord had lots of co-travelers or crowds, but he insists on making it clear that there is something more precious than being a co-traveler.
Discipleship is all about Detachment and Commitment to the Lord
It is most regrettable that some Christians are mere co-travelers instead of committed disciples. Our Lord made it clear that anyone who wants to follow him must go through a process which involves detachment from self and close relations (1 Cor. 7:29-31), carrying one’s cross, building up oneself (Jude 1:20), and being battle-ready (Eph. 6:11-17).
When our Lord says, one should hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and one’s own life he meant that we should love them less compared to our love for God which should be more. Our Lord’s message is very appropriate for us in our day and age, where most of us prefer the things of the world to heavenly values. St. James would advise us that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).
Carrying our cross every day to follow the Lord calls for commitment and consistency in our Christian life. Christianity is not just a religion; it is a way of life and living the Christian life without the cross is like making a caricature of the redemptive event of the Lord at Calvary. The cross is not a conclusion of our life but the gateway to our glorious crown in heaven. St. Paul tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
As we march into a new week, let us remember that it is not enough to travel with the Lord amid the vast crowd. He wants us to identify ourselves as committed disciples by our avowed detachment, the conscientious building of our faith in love and the courage to fight the battle with the confidence that He who started a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). God bless you!