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.