ADVOCATE WITH THE FATHER (3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; I John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

On this third Sunday of Easter, the readings of the Mass continue to narrate some post-resurrection events. The first reading is drawn from the speech of Peter after the healing of the crippled man at the beautiful gate. Explaining that it is the power of the crucified but risen Jesus that had restored the man’s health, he called on the people to repent of their sins, including the ignorance which led them to have Jesus crucified. The second reading takes the effects of Jesus’s death and resurrection a step further by stating that Jesus is now our advocate with the Father, especially because his death and resurrection gives us victory over sin, and the grace to rise above it. Jesus appears to the disciples in the gospel text and confirms the claim of the two disciples who had encountered him on the road to Emmaus. During this apparition, he tells them, among other things, that his death and resurrection were necessary because by that mysterious event, repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached to every nation. All three readings therefore, have the similar theme of repentance and forgiveness of sins as fruits of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The word of God says “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is…” (Col 3:1), implying that the resurrection of Jesus should make us seek the things of heaven and thus, rise above the standards of sin. Thus, Saint John, in our second reading, encourages us to do our best not to sin. However, because we have imperfections that may make us fall into sin sometimes, he reminds us too, that all hope is not lost since Jesus is now our advocate with the Father who pleads for our forgiveness (I John 2:1). We shall therefore, draw two lessons from this.

  • We must make effort to live in righteousness. In his discourse with Nicodemus as recorded in the third chapter of John’s gospel account, Jesus tells us two reasons why he came into the world: first, as an expression of God’s love for humanity (Jn 3:16) and secondly, for the salvation of the world (Jn 3:17). The death and resurrection of Jesus therefore, accomplishes these purposes. This puts us in God’s debt of gratitude because he did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. All that God demands of us in return is to live in righteousness, so that the death of Jesus is not in vain for us. Saint John says “I am writing to you so that you may not sin.” Dear child of God, if we must be true Christians, if we are grateful for Jesus’ salvific death for us, and if the mystery of Easter is to bear fruit in our lives, then we must do our best to live lives of holiness; we must make effort to shun sin and embrace righteousness.
  • With God, there are second chances. One of the greatest tragedies that may befall any Christian is not to realize the forgiving power of God. No Christian must ever allow his/herself to be enveloped by despair because of a sin he/she has committed, for “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” There are times when some people commit one sin or the other and the devil shows them the enormity of the sin they have committed. He so enlarges it before them that he blinds them to the reality of God’s forgiving love that is available to all who truly repent of their sins. He tells them that their sin(s) cannot be forgiven because it is too grave. Hear me, child of God, and hear me very well: There is no sin we have ever committed or shall ever commit that is bigger than God’s mercy to handle. That is why God said “Come, let us reason together; though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow…” (Isa 1:18).

Sometimes, and indeed many times, we may fall and fall very badly, but if we are truly sorry and sincerely repent, God is ready to forgive, for he is a second-chance God. God said he is not interested in the death of sinners but in their repentance and salvation (Ezk 33:11) and Jesus says he will not cast out anyone who comes to him (Jn 6:37). So we must be encouraged to return to God despite our spiritual filth and abasement due to sin.

While we are reminded today of God’s infinite love and mercy for us, we must be careful not to see this as a license to go on sinning, thinking that we can simply come back to God to ask for forgiveness and get away with it. That will be abusing God’s mercy and there is no true repentance in that; and we must also not forget that God cannot be deceived. The bible says that because grace abounds does not mean that sin should increase (Rom 6:1). That you have a very good lawyer is not a license to live a life of crime; that Jesus is our advocate and pleads for us before the Father is not a license to live a life of sin, for is we take God’s mercy for granted, then we shall have a taste of his justice.

Dear child of God, we are invited today to return to God in sincere repentance from our sins in order to receive mercy, through the advocacy of Jesus, our mediator with the Father. There is no sin too big for God to forgive; there is no soul too filthy for God to wash clean; there is no life too damaged for God to repair. All that is required is sincere repentance. And very importantly, after God has shown us mercy, we must make effort to live in righteousness. May the Lord Jesus give us the grace of true repentance. Amen.

VENDORS OF MERCY (2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B – DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118; I John 5:1-7; John 20:19-31

“The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul… and the resources were distributed to any who had need”

Today, the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, a Feast instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II in Year 2000 to remind ourselves of, and appreciate God for his immense mercy upon mankind, manifested more fully in the passion and death of Jesus Christ. At the heart of the reason for Jesus’ coming into the world and his passion, is the Divine Mercy, “for God sent his son into the world…so that through him, the world might be saved (Jn 3:17). So, it is only because of the mercy of God for sinful humanity that Jesus came to lay down his life for us; it is only because of his mercy that God forgives our many sins, for if He should mark our guilt, no one will survive (Ps 130:3).

It is the mercy of God that gives us one new day after another as wonderful opportunities to be saved; it was in mercy that Jesus emptied himself out on the cross, that blood flowed out of his side, and after the blood, came water. It was also the mercy of God that was at work in the early Christian community as we heard in the first reading. Because they were filled with mercy, they were able to keep the commandment to love which Jesus taught the apostles during his last supper with them – This is my commandment, that you love one another… (Jn 15:12). This is because love and mercy are tightly intertwined, that he who loves will ordinarily show mercy and he who is merciful will also love. And love and mercy are two concrete realities that must be felt, for any abstraction of these realities nullifies them. This is exactly what the early Christians did when they were united, heart and soul, sharing their possessions such that no one among them was in need; they were concretizing love and mercy.

For the reason that the mercy of God was alive in them, they were able to obey Jesus’ command to love by concretely loving and helping each other. They understood that there is joy in sharing, and they experienced this joy first hand. Today, the mercy of God challenges us to ask ourselves how much of sharers we are. Of course no one is asking us to sell our belongings and submit the proceeds to the church, but from what we possess, do we spare something for the needy among us?

  • How often do we help the poor, the hungry, and the naked among us?
  • Are we keeping clothing and shoes we have not used for years and months? They no longer belong to us, they belong to the poor.
  • Are we thrashing food in refuse bins when we have starving neighbours around us?
  • Are we spending so much on entertainment, drinks and other trivialities when a neighbour’s child is out of school for want of fees?
  • When was the last time we supported the Saint Vincent De Paul’s society in our parishes? When was the last time we dropped something in their box when they stand hitting those boxes after every Sunday Mass?
  • When appeals are made to us to support a charitable cause, how do we respond when we have the means? Do we give or not?

The truth is, it is not like we do not know these things, but to a great extent, we have become too self-centered that we no longer think much about others, rather, it is about me, myself and I. We have become too greedy that we usurp for ourselves, what is meant for the common good. We have become too stingy that we only understand the language of “take” while the language of “give” has been deleted from our vocabulary. We have become too steeped in materialist consumerism that rather than own things, things now own us, thus, we surround ourselves with things we may never really need. With these and other similar attitudes/dispositions, it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for us to be united, heart and soul to the point where no one among us is truly left in need. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said “There is sufficiency in the world for man’s need, but not for man’s greed.” As long as we keep being greedy, then what we heard described in our readings today will be a far reality from us.

Child of God, remember that we were once so poor and helpless in sin, but the mercy of God saved us. In the same vein, some people are so poor and helpless in material needs, let the mercy of God move us to help them. Today, as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus challenges us to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful; Jesus invites us to be vendors of his mercy; Jesus is asking us to let the world feel his love and mercy through us. As scripture says, “Charity covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8); so as we show mercy to others, may God also be merciful to us. Amen.

WHO KILLED JESUS? (HOMILY FOR GOOD FRIDAY)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Psalm 31; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1 – 19:42

On this day, the Church celebrates in remembrance, that day on which Jesus died for sinful humanity, the shameful death of the cross. This is the only day in the entire calendar that is called “Good” because, though what happened that day at Calvary was ordinarily shameful, what it brought about is the greatest good for all humanity.

Today, we shall ask two very important questions. First, we ask, ‘Why did Jesus die?’ Then next, we ask, ‘Who was responsible for his death?’ The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah answers the first question. He says: He bore our grief, carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement for our peace was upon Him. And while all of these were happening to him, humanity thought of Him as someone stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But what was the result of his sufferings? By His stripes we are healed. And though, we like sheep have gone astray and have turned, every one, to his own way, God laid on Him the iniquity of us all (cf. Isaiah 53:4-6). So, in answer to the question of why Jesus died, we can say, from the insight of the prophecy of Isaiah that he died to first, heal wounded humanity, then return lost humanity to the path that leads to God. In addition, as Saint John says, to give us life in abundance (Jn 10:10), and finally, according to the Letter to the Hebrews ( from today’s 2nd Reading), to give us confidence to approach God’s throne of grace to receive mercy (Heb 4:16).

So, we turn to the second question: Who was responsible for Jesus’ death? To answer this question, let us look at the key players/characters in the whole passion drama leading to the physical death of Jesus. Maybe we shall find answers in them.

Judas, the betrayer: Judas was a greedy man who sold his master for money. He went to the chief priests and said, “Oga, anytin for d boys? Dis man wey una wan catch so, I fit epp una run am o” and so, he sold his master. A man’s life, a man’s future, a man’s destiny all meant nothing to Judas because of his own selfish interests. For the love of money, for greed, for selfishness, for personal comfort, many of us have also betrayed our family, friends, colleagues, communities and even sometimes, mortgaged the destiny of future generations for our personal gains. Invariably therefore, in many and various ways, we act like the man Judas.

  • When you underpay your staff, you act like Judas
  • When you owe your workers their due salary, you act like Judas
  • When you cheat people in business, you act like Judas
  • When you fail to settle your apprentice who has served you, you act like Judas
  • When you execute projects with substandard materials, you act like Judas
  • When you sell fake and substandard drugs and other materials, you act like Judas
  • When you are a church worker (clergy or laity) who pilfers church money, you act like Judas
  • When you malign your colleagues at work before your superiors, you act like Judas
  • When you are unfaithful to your wife or husband, you act like Judas

In many and different ways, we often act like Judas, “selling” other people for our own evil gains. However, the fruit of betrayal never lasts; if you want to confirm, ask Judas what he did with the thirty pieces of silver he was paid for betraying Jesus.

Peter, the Unfaithful: This man denied his master for fear, even after bragging to Jesus saying “We die here!” When the time eventually came for him to stand up to his words, guy man fallout. And like Peter, there are times when we also deny Jesus, by our words and actions. We deny Jesus when we fail to speak up for the truth and for justice. We deny Jesus when we fail to acknowledge him in public. We deny Jesus when make promises we never keep. Every time we see right and fail to do it, or prefer to do otherwise, then we act like Peter who was unfaithful to his promise.

The Elders, the Malicious: The elders condemned Jesus out of envy. In him, they saw a rival who was taking their shine away. They were angry that people were leaving them and following Jesus. So, when no case was found against Jesus to substantiate the death sentence, they resorted to lies. Like Jesus, many people suffer today on account of someone or some people’s malice against them. Each time we behave like these elders, we remind Jesus of his earthly pain. Have we spread lies against people? Have we borne false witness against someone because we do not like the person? Have we spread false rumour against people because we see them as rivals? Have we maligned people because we are envious of their successes? This is what the elders did, thus playing a very key role in the execution of Jesus. Do they by any means reflect who we are?

Pilate, the Weak: He condemned to death, a man he himself declared innocent. Luke 23:13-24 tells us that Pilate told the Sanhendrin that both he and Herod had tried Jesus and found no fault in him deserving the death sentence. However, Saint John tells us that when they threatened his political career, he handed Jesus over to them to be crucified (Jn 19:12-16).  Have we also ever made people suffer in other to please others? Have we ignored helping someone in need so as not to offend another? Do you, as a man or woman, watch your spouse maltreat the young kid living with you and you say nothing and do nothing because you do not want to offend your husband or wife? Have you, either out of fear or to secure your position, sat on the truth, as a result of which someone or some people suffer? Any and every time we behave like this, we are not different from Pilate.

The Crowd, the Fair Weather: Some of these same people shouted “Hosanna” on Sunday; five days later, they were shouting “crucify”. There most probably also, were some in that crowd that day, who did not know what was happening, but they just joined others to shout “crucify”. Not everyone who praises you while you are succeeding will be there for you when you are failing; even your shadow leaves you in the dark. We should therefore be more concerned with doing the right thing and not be misled or deceived by the praises of people. There are times too, when we behave like some of the people in the crowd, praising someone one day and tearing the person to pieces the next day.

So we go back to our original question: Who was responsible for the death of Jesus? If we look critically at the characters of the passion, we shall see a reflection of ourselves in one or more of them. Thus, I say that just like those people in Jerusalem that day, we all share in the guilt of sin; and it is to take away this guilt that Jesus died, thus, we are all responsible. As the lyrics of the song goes, “All the way to Calvary, he went for me; he died to set me free.” Having died to set us free from the guilt of sin, it is only right that we do our best to always do what is right, holding tightly to the Cross of Christ. And may God help us to follow closely in the footsteps of Christ, that at the end of this journey on earth, we may merit eternal life. Amen.