THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS (4TH SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

In the Ordinary Time of the Church’s liturgical calendar, our attention is directed to the public life and ministry of Jesus. Interestingly, the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all mention the synagogue as the starting point of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Mat 4: 23; Mk 1:21; Lk 4:14-15). In the gospel text of today’s Mass, which shall be the focus of our reflection, Jesus comes into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and some interesting events took place there. Those events are what we shall x-ray in this reflection.

Saint Mark narrates that Jesus taught “as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” This manner of teaching, which was new to his audience, made a deep impression on them. Before Jesus, the scribes, who were the experts at interpreting scriptures, and the Rabbis, who taught on virtually all subjects, often made recourse to other older and superior authorities than themselves. So it was common for a scribe or a rabbi to begin making a point by saying something like “According to Rabbi…” or “As it is written in the Torah…”; but Jesus comes, needing no authority to substantiate his teachings. For the Jews, the Torah (the Law – technically, the Ten Commandments and the first five books of our Old Testament) is the supreme authority in all matters of faith, believed to have been given directly to Moses by God, hence, no claim can be laid to any authority higher than this corpus of laws. But Jesus comes and seems to set aside the teachings of the Torah.

In Matthew’s account of the gospel, six times in the fifth chapter, Jesus makes this statement: “You have heard that it was said… But now I say to you…” and each time, referring to a law from the Torah. The implication of such a stance is that Jesus makes himself superior to the Torah, and this was why the people were astonished. While it is easier for us to accept this, because we now know and believe in the divinity of Jesus, to his original audience, this was “a new teaching!” Jesus comes to them as the Messiah, but they did not recognize him as such, hence, their genuine shock at his style of teaching.

But in that congregation was a man possessed by a demon. It was only this demoniac that recognized the power and divinity of Jesus and he acknowledged Jesus’ authority and supremacy when he shouted, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” It is of utmost importance for us to note where this was taking place: The Synagogue! This was a place of prayer, reading and exposition of the scripture. In modern day term, we would say that the demon came to church! Interesting indeed. There are two things we shall draw out of this:

  1. Even in the gathering of believers, the devil can be present.

Another example of such a scene is recorded in Job 1:6, that when the sons of God came to present themselves before God, Satan was there also. While Satan and his demons may not be physically present, just as we see in our gospel text that he came inside a man, so too can some people carry demonic spirits into the arena of God’s presence, some even without knowing. Some even unconsciously make themselves willing tools in the hand of the devil who uses them to perpetrate evil in the house of God.

  • When you hear of cases of stolen money or phones or other valuables in the church, know that Satan came to church;
  • when you hear of embezzlement of funds belonging to groups and societies in the church, then know that Satan came to church;
  • when you hear of cases of sexual immorality in the house of God, then know that a demon was in church;
  • when you see people blatantly disobeying ushers and other church officials who try to ensure a smooth worship experience, know that Satan is in church;
  • when you see people indecently dressed in a manner capable of distracting the worshipping community, a demon is in church;
  • when you see people chatting on their phones, making and answering calls during Mass and allowing their phones to ring and distract the praying community, know that a demon followed them to church to distract them;
  • when you hear a minister of the gospel distorting the word of God to further his/her own selfish motive, then be sure that a demon is in church;
  • when church leaders bring comedians to the sanctuary and turn worship sessions into comedy shows, then know that a demon is in church trying to distract the people of God from the real reason they are in church in the first instance.

The list goes on and on, so we need to be careful and watchful not to be carriers of demonic forces, bringing Satan into the presence of God.

2. Jesus has authority over every devil

The demon in the man in the synagogue asked Jesus: “Have you come to destroy us?” The simple and clear implication of this statement is that even the devil realizes his helplessness when Jesus steps into the picture. Before now, Satan held sway in the man’s life, but Jesus came that he might destroy the works of Satan (1 Jn 3:8) and set captives free (Lk 4:18). Jesus said that while the devil and his demons come to steal, to kill and to destroy, he came that we may have life and have it in abundance (Jn 10:10); he also promised to be with us always, till the end of time (Mat 28:20), so, at all times and in all circumstances, Jesus is with us. That is why scripture says “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).

Ironically, many Christians do not even realize this immense, supreme power of Jesus that is there for them. It is commonplace these days to see supposed Christians scared to death over things that they ordinarily should take authority over in the name of Jesus. By their fears, they diminish the power of Jesus in their lives and magnify the power of Satan over them. Being the deceiver that he is, Satan feasts on their fears and keeps them perpetually caged, and gradually, he destroys their faith and everything about them.

Hear this, child of God: the devil you are afraid of is also afraid of you because of the presence and power of Jesus that is in you. Jesus has absolute authority over the devil and his demons, for all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Mat 28:18) and we must, as Christians, trust Jesus more than we fear the devil. That is the only way we can enjoy the abundance of life that Jesus is offering us.

May the power of Jesus destroy the works of Satan in the lives of anyone who has been kept bound in any way. Amen.

STOP! TURN AROUND! (HOMILY FOR 3RD SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20With the close of the season of Christmas, during which we looked at the narratives of the birth and infancy of Jesus, our attention is now taken to his public life and ministry, beginning with his baptism. In last Sunday’s gospel text, John the Baptist points out Jesus as the Lamb of God, and today, we heard of how Jesus began his preaching and gathering followers for himself. However, the common thread that runs through today’s Liturgy of the Word is the call to repentance.

In the First Reading, Jonah preaches repentance to the Ninevites, and Jesus does the same thing in the gospel, preaching repentance and the nearness of the kingdom of God to his Jewish audience. Saint Paul tells us in the Second Reading that our time is short and fleeting, hence, we must live in readiness for the second coming of Jesus, and with the Psalmist, we pray God to guide our hearts in the right path, away from the path of sin.

The Greek word Jesus uses for “repent”, as recorded in our gospel text today, is “metanoia”, which can be understood as “a transformative change of heart” or “a reformation,” and it denotes a turnaround from the path of sin. This is quite different from “metamelomai”, which is “painful sorrow” or “remorseful regret.” While “metanoia” necessarily leads to a change of heart and attitude, “metamelomai” does not necessarily lead to this end. As one Bible scholar, Thomas Robertson said, “mere sorrow avails nothing unless it leads to change of mind and life.” This means therefore, that what today’s readings call on us to do is to have a change of heart and attitude. From the first reading, when Jonah preached to the Ninevites, the king’s order was that “everyone must give up his wicked behaviour and his evil actions” (Jon 3:8). It was this change of heart, culminating in a change of behavior, which turned God’s anger away from the city and its inhabitants.

The call God puts before us today is to make this change of heart, and ultimately, change of ways. Today, God is calling on us to stop and turnaround from our sinful ways of life. So,

  • From the path of lies and dishonesty, God says stop, turn around;
  • From the habit of drunkenness, smoking and gambling, God says stop, turn around;
  • From the ways of backbiting and gossip, God calls us to stop and turn around;
  • From the bearing of grudges and malice, Jesus invites us to stop and turn around;
  • If you see fornication, masturbation, pornography and adultery as sources of pleasure, today, Jesus invites you to stop and turn around;
  • To be unforgiving and bitter will only destroy you, so Jesus is asking you to stop and turn around.
  • From every waywardness and sinfulness of our lives, the call of God to us today is to stop, repent, turn around.

While changing from a sinful habit may be difficult for some people, if not for all of us, we must make the effort to try. We don’t repent by wishing, but we do so by doing good everyday and growing stronger in it. We must also never believe the lie of satan that we have time, because Jesus will come for us suddenly (Mat 24:44) and as St. Paul cautions in our 2nd Reading, “the form of this world is passing away” (I Cor 7:31). If we make up our minds to repent, God will supply us the sufficient grace to do so (2 Cor 12:9).

SHARING FAITH BY SHARING KNOWLEDGE (2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Ejeh Sylvanus

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19: Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20: John 1:35-42

  • Looking through the readings for today’s Mass, one may think it is Vocation Sunday, owing to the fact that all three readings and the psalm talk about calls and responding to God. But no, today is simply the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time of the Church’s liturgical Calendar.
  • We heard from the readings of today’s Mass, different people receiving different calls from God through different human instruments. In Reading 1, God calls young Samuel, but the boy thought it was Eli his master who was calling, Eli therefore had to help him to respond to He who was making the call. St. Paul calls on the Corinthians in his First Letter to them to live a life of chastity in preference to the promiscuity prevalent in that community at that time, and in the Gospel text, John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his disciples and two of them followed him; having had an encounter with Jesus, one of them, Andrew, goes out to look for and bring his brother to Jesus.
  • In these events, there is a common denominator running through, which is, the sharing of faith by sharing of knowledge. Eli understood what Samuel did not, Paul knew the spiritual implications of sexual immorality, and John knew that Jesus was the Christ. By these four men (Eli, Paul, John and Andrew) sharing their knowledge with others, they shared the foundation for the building of a faith relationship between God and the recipients of their knowledge, and this is the crux of our reflection today.
  • Every relationship between man and God is built on the foundation of faith (cf. Heb 11:6) and faith founded on the ageless, changeless Word of God, for Scripture says “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17). This “Word of God” by which faith comes, needs to be shared with people everywhere and God is inviting us to take up this task. Sharing our knowledge of God is a sure way of sharing our faith with others, and sharing our faith with others help them to build and strengthen their own relationship with God. When we do this, we ultimately help people to live in righteousness, by which they escape the condemnation due to sin. God says “My people perish for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6) and as Christians, it behooves on us to spread this saving knowledge everywhere.
  • There are very many diverse ways by which we can share the knowledge of God, each having the goal of sharing faith in God. Some of such ways include preaching of the Word, teaching catechism to neophytes in the faith, sharing some of what we have with those who do not have, caring for people who are in difficult situations such as the sick and the bereaved, giving wise and proper counsel especially to children and young adults, simply doing our jobs well in our places of work, and most importantly, living in uprightness. When we do our best to live uprightly, we will be pointing others to God, and this is what God challenges us today to do. May we be people who, by our knowledge of God, will help others build faith in him.

Ash Wednesday: Vatican offers guidance on ash distribution amid pandemic

The Vatican gave guidance Tuesday about how priests can distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.  The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a note Jan. 12, directing priests to say the formula for distributing the ashes once to everyone present, rather than to each person. 

The priest “addresses all those present and only once says the formula as it appears in the Roman Missal, applying it to all in general: ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel,’ or ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,’” the note said.

It continued: “The priest then cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask and distributes the ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, he goes to those who are standing in their places. The Priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one without saying anything.”  The note was signed by the congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and its secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche. 

Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 17 this year.  In 2020, the divine worship congregation put out various instructions for priests on administering the sacraments and offering Mass during the coronavirus pandemic, including for the celebration of Easter, which occurred when many countries were in lockdown and public liturgies were not permitted.

Source Credite: Catholic News Agency

A NEW BEGINNING (HOMILY FOR FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This marks the end of Christmas Season and begins the Ordinary Time of the Church’s Liturgical calendar. During this time, the Church, through the readings of the Masses of this Time, reflects on Jesus’ coming out of his hidden life to begin his public life and ministry. This public life and ministry of Jesus ushers in the new era of God’s reign in the world.

LESSONS

Re-enactment of creation

Scripture makes us to understand, especially in the letters of Saint Paul to the Romans & I Corinthians, that Jesus is the new Adam. As man’s natural life began with Adam, so did man’s spiritual life also begin with Jesus. At creation, in Genesis 1, the Bible says in the beginning, water was everywhere, the Spirit moved over the waters, then God spoke and creation began. We see this happening again at Jesus’ baptism: Jesus was in the water, the Holy Spirit descended and hovered over Jesus in the water, God spoke and a new era was ushered in. This marked the beginning of the new life that God was offering man. In Genesis, God gave man every physical thing in abundance; in the person of Jesus, God gives us both spiritual and physical blessings in abundance (cf. John 10:10). This means that in Jesus, God gave man a new world, a new life, a new opportunity, and all things became new, for in Christ Jesus, we are new creatures; old things have passed away and all things have become new (cf. 2 Cor 5:17). We must therefore make good use of this new life, this new beginning, this new opportunity that God has given to us, for the glory of his name and the salvation of our souls. Let us all heed the words of the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, to seek the Lord while he may be found, to forsake our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, and to return to the Lord. When we do this, God shall water our lives with new graces as the rain waters the earth and makes it fruitful.

Our baptism makes us new creatures in Christ

In Colossian 2:12, the Bible says “We were buried in Christ in baptism and rose again to new life in him through faith.” In baptism, we receive forgiveness for our all sins and become new in God’s sight. This implies that if we were made new by baptism, then we should adopt new lifestyles according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, for in Christ Jesus, old things must pass and all things ought to become new. Through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, God enjoins us to incline our ears and come to him, and hear, that our souls may live. And this new life God is offering us is free of charge, so he invites us to come to the waters (of grace and new life)even if we have no money, for indeed, no amount of money can even buy the gift of grace and new life that God gives to us.

This is my beloved son… Is God pleased with you?

Scripture says God has adopted us as his sons (and daughters) through and in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:5). This means God can also say about us: this is my beloved son; this is my beloved daughter. And when the voice of the Father called Jesus his beloved Son, he added, “in whom I am well pleased.” But there are some important questions we must individually answer:

  • Is God pleased with me as his child?
  • By the way I am living my life, can God say he is pleased with me?
  • In my family, is God pleased with how I am carrying out my role as a husband/father or wife/mother or child?
  • In my work place or in my business place, is God pleased with I am doing it?
  • As a member of the church, is God pleased with my commitments to the Church?
  • Generally, as a child of God, is God pleased with me?

If we answered NO to any of the above questions, then we need to make amends and begin anew to be better children of God. Let us do our best to live our lives in such a way that when God looks at us, he will smile with pride and say “that my child is doing well.” With his grace, which is available to and sufficient for us, we can do it.

ARISE AND SHINE (HOMILY FOR EPIPHANY SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6: Matthew 2:1-12

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The word ‘epiphany’ is a combination of two Greek words, ‘epi’ (on, upon) and ‘phaneia’ (shine, appear), thus, ‘epiphany’ can be roughly translated as “shine on” or “shine upon” or “appear upon”. From the perspective of today’s liturgy however, ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ (of Christ to the world). It is traditionally celebrated on January 6th or on the Sunday between January 2nd and 8th. This feast celebrates the manifestation of Jesus to the gentiles by the revelation of his star to the Wise Men from the East, the implication of which is that Jesus did not come to save the Jews only but to save the whole world.

The universality of this salvation Jesus won for us is reflected in all the readings of today’s Mass. Reading 1 says “NATIONS shall walk by your light”; the Psalmist says “ALL NATIONS shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord” while the 2nd Reading tells us that “Gentiles are now fellow heirs (of salvation), members of the same body, and partakers of the promise of salvation and in the Gospel text, we read that Jesus’ star was seen in the East; the wise men saw his star and in it, his glory, and they came to worship him.

For the purpose of our reflection today, we shall focus on the gospel text. Today’s gospel tells us that the wise men were led to Jesus by star light. That star appeared once, never to appear again. But even today, there are still very many people who need to find Jesus. Isaiah 60:2 says “Thick darkness shall cover the peoples…” Look around the world and you will agree with me that the darkness of sin and unrighteousness has covered many people. Such people need the light to lead them out of their darkness, and God expects us to be their guiding stars. So today, God says to us: Arise, shine! Shine, because God’s glory has risen upon you. When the radiance of God shines upon us, we must reflect it to others. In Exodus 34:29, scripture tells us that when Moses came down from the mountain, his face shone, because he had been talking to God.

As God’s children, Jesus says we are the light of the world and our light must shine, so that seeing our good work, people will give glory to our Father in heaven (Mat 5:14-16). So we ask ourselves today:

  • Am I being a light, leading people out of the darkness of sin?
  • If people follow my lifestyle, will they find God at the end?
  • As a husband/father, am I being a light to my wife/children?
  • As a wife/mother, am I being a light to my husband/children?
  • Can I convincingly ask my husband/wife/children to imitate my lifestyle? If they do, how will they end?
  • As an elder brother/sister, what am I showing my younger ones by the kind of life I live: light or darkness?
  • As a teacher, is my life a light guiding my pupils/students?
  • As a priest, can my parishioners follow in my example and find God?
  • The word of God says “Nations shall come to your light” (Isa 60:3). If people come to you, will they find light or darkness?

Hear me child of God: If nobody is looking up to you for spiritual mentorship and guidance, then your time on earth is wasting.

Child of God, the time has come for us to rise and shine!

  • Arise and shine, because God’s glory has been given to you
  • Arise and shine, because the world is in darkness and needs your light
  • Arise and shine, because there are many souls seeking for direction to where they can find Jesus, and they need you to show them the way.
  • Arise and shine, because if you dim your light and prevent people from finding their way to God, you shall be held accountable on the day of judgment (cf. Ezek 33:7-9).
  • Arise and shine, because somebody needs your light in order not to end up in hell.
  • Arise and shine, because God has commanded us to do so.
  • Arise and shine, because in shining, your own soul will avoid hell and go to heaven.

Very importantly, never think that the light you give off is too small compared to the darkness around you. Even one little lit bulb can give light to a room that can contain a thousand bulbs. If we all give off our little lights, then we shall have brightness all over in no time.

May Jesus the bright morning star, help us to live our lives in brightness. Amen.