NO VERDICT IS FINAL! (HOMILY FOR 13TH SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Over time, I have developed a certain approach to watching the game of soccer and other sports which some of my friends find weird, and it is this: I don’t believe in the finality of the scores displayed on the scoreboard until I hear the final whistle. Even if the scoreboard is reading 5-0, with just a minute left to play, I still believe that it is not the final result; within a matter of seconds, that score line can change to 5-1. Until the referee says it is over by blowing the final whistle, I don’t accept that the result is final. And I have carried this attitude to every other aspect of my life; as far as I am concerned, no verdict, no situation, no experience of life – especially a negative experience or verdict – is final until God says so. No matter what anybody says or thinks, as long as that person is not God, I believe it is not final; it can still change.

Today’s reflection shall be centered on the gospel passage and it reveals clearly to us, how God can cancel, reverse, abrogate or nullify any verdict that his mouth has not pronounced. In that text of the gospel, we read of two people who received negative reports – Jairus and the woman who suffered haemorrhage for 12 years. On the one hand, after Jairus had appealed to Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter, he received the report that she was dead; on the other hand, after spending money consistently for 12 years trying to get medical help but without success, the sick woman probably got the negative report that her ailment was incurable. These two people received reports that wore the mask of hopelessness and bore a tone of finality, but to both of them, and to all of us and all humanity for all ages, Jesus proved that no verdict is final and only God has the final say.

A number of things happened with/to the major characters in this gospel passage that are worthy of note. It is important for us to bear them in mind and carry them with us as we approach God. These shall constitute some lessons for us today.

  • They humbled themselves – Scripture reports that Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell down at the feet of Jesus to beg for healing for his daughter; the woman with haemorrhage, when Jesus asked who touched him, also came and fell down before him. Both of them, by falling down, acknowledged the supremacy of Jesus and their nothingness before him; they humbled themselves with their burdens before the Lord, and he lifted them up without the burdens. Quiet sadly, I see some Catholics today who are too big to kneel down before Jesus even during consecration at Mass and during Eucharistic adoration. For some, their clothes are too expensive or too neat to touch the ground before Jesus. Yet, they have come before the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
  • They cried out to God – Jesus gives us an invitation in Matthew 11:28 to come to him with our burdens, and he will give us rest. God says in Psalm 50:15 that we should call on him in the day of distress and he will give us rest. Jairus and this woman called on Jesus in their distress and he kept his word – he gave them rest. Child of God, do not hesitate to table that difficulty, that problem, that worry, that burden before God, and he will surely give you rest, for his word says in Isa 58:9, “When you pray, I will answer you; when you call to me, I will respond.”
  • They defied and overcame their crowds – To get to Jesus, the woman with haemorrhage had to push her way through a crowd of people. She defied the number of people who were around Jesus to touch his cloak. To receive his daughter back from the dead, Jairus had to ignore the voices of those who told him the girl was dead. Oftentimes too, in our quest for God, as we seek God’s verdict concerning our situations in life, we come across voices and circumstances of discouragement. We must never let them shift our focus from Jesus who has the final verdict. They are crowds trying to block your way, defy them!
  • They believed Jesus – To the woman who suffered haemorrhage, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” To Jairus, Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” They believed the words of Jesus; they did not doubt, they did not question, they just believed. And as Jesus said, so it was – the woman was healed; Jairus’ daughter came back to life. The Bible says “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). This faith in Jesus was what guaranteed the miracles we read about today. If the hand of God must move in our favor, we must have faith in him, for faith is the foundation upon which all miracles stand.

Because Jairus and the woman who suffered haemorrhage believed the words of Jesus, he overturned the reports they had previously received, for he is the one who gives the final verdict. The Bible says no one decrees a thing and it stands but the Lord. It is only God who has the final verdict on everything pertaining to us. There is no human judgment, no human report, no human verdict that God cannot overrule. In the presence of God, no verdict is final! Hence, it does not matter what anyone has said concerning you, it does not matter what verdict the devil and his relatives have passed on you, it does not matter what report that has come to you from any quarters, I announce to you today, child of God, that before God, no verdict is final! With faith in God, negative reports will be reversed; with faith in God, burdens and yokes shall be lifted; with faith in God, curses and chains shall be broken; with faith in God, injustices shall be corrected; with faith in God, every verdict is reversible. Choose therefore, this day, whose report, whose verdict you shall believe. There is a God who has the final say, the final verdict, and that God is calling on us today to have faith in him, to walk uprightly before him, to humble ourselves before his mighty power, and he will do great and wonderful things in our lives. I pray for you today, that as we begin a new day, a new week, and end the first half of this year to begin the second half of the year, may God overrule and overturn every negative verdict that has been pronounced about you and upon you in the mighty name of Jesus! Amen!

LORD OF THE STORM (12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; Psalm 107; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41

John Newton, the composer of the classic gospel song, Amazing Grace, was the son of an English Captain. After losing his mum at the age of 10, he went to sea with his dad. At age 17, he rebelled against his dad, separated from him and started living a wild life. He eventually joined a cargo slave ship to Africa, of which he soon became Captain. One night, their ship ran into a violent storm at sea, and Newton prayed to God in these words: “Lord, if you will save us, I promise to be your slave forever.” God heard that prayer, and the ship and everyone in it was saved. John Newton kept his promise, quit slave trade and became a pastor and composer of hymns. Amazing Grace was a composition in praise of God for his conversion.

Newton’s story is similar to the story in the gospel reading and psalm of today’s Mass. And today’s readings remind us of God’s power over the situations of our lives, especially the storms we face in life. These readings apply to us in very practical ways, and they say to us that God is the Lord, even of the storms of our lives. We shall thus draw three lessons from today’s liturgy of the Word.

God is never far

Because God is omnipresent and omnipotent, he is always close to us his people and can do all things for us. Jesus himself said he is with us always, even till the end of time (Mat 28:20). However, many times, the challenges of life make some people seem to forget that God is always there for them; they focus so much on the storms of their lives that they fail to notice the presence of the Lord of the storm standing by. Sometimes too, we think that we can handle the situations by ourselves and so we do not need God, but scripture says otherwise, for it is not by power nor by might, but by the Spirit of the Lord that victory is won (cf. Zech 4:6). Until the disciples of Jesus in the gospel reading and Newton in our story acknowledged the presence of Jesus and called on him for help, the storm they battled with remained. Until we too call upon God for help, we definitely are on our own. God is never far from us, and no storm is too turbulent for him to handle, so when next a storm comes upon us, let us run to the Lord and be saved.

With God, every problem has a limit and an expiry date

When God is involved, it is only a matter of time before every storm dies down. Though Job suffered so much, God did not allow his sufferings to break him (that is the limit God set for him). In the first reading from the Book of Job, God used the sea to explain this: just as he has power to contain and limit the sea, so does he have power over our troubles. Scripture says too that “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our limits” (1 Cor. 10:13), so, if we are going through any challenge, let us know that God has set a limit for them, and according to his word, that limit is within our capacity to handle. And just as it was with Job, with the disciples of Jesus and with Newton, every problem expires the day God says “Enough! Be still!” Let us trust God therefore, to give us the grace to face our trials and also believe in him to bring them to an end.

Every challenge ends in change

No one comes out of a struggle exactly the same. Our struggles and challenges in life either make us stronger or weaker at the end. However, he who truly faces up to his trials comes out better and stronger. Job had a new vision of God; the disciples had a new understanding of Jesus; Newton had a new life in God. These changes took place after they came out of their challenging circumstances. If we face our challenges with God’s support, we shall be transformed by them. Generally, our experiences of life help us to change our outlook and approach towards God, people and events, thus, not all trials end on a negative note. When challenges come upon therefore, let us ask God to also help us see what his will is for us in that particular circumstance.

In all things therefore, let us always remember that our God is master of every storm we will ever encounter in this life, and if we face our storms trusting in his help, we shall surely overcome.

GOD OF MYSTERIES (HOMILY FOR 11TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B)

Readings: Ezekiel 17: 22-24; Psalm 92; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

As we return back fully to the ordinary time of the Church’s calendar, the liturgy of the word leads us to holiness especially through the teachings of Jesus. In today’s gospel reading too, Jesus teaches us valuable lessons. Jesus’ very popular style of teaching was the use of parables. In today’s gospel reading, he uses two parables to teach us very important lessons of life: the parable of the growing seed and the parable of the mustard seed. And the things Jesus said in these two parables are familiar even to us. All three readings of today’s Mass talk about God’s work in our lives, but we shall focus on the gospel reading for our reflection, out of which we shall draw two lessons.

God’s power vs. Man’s helplessness

Jesus says in the first parable that the planted seed grows without man’s knowledge and understanding, yet it grows. Man absolutely has no power to decide the fate of the seed, whether it grows or dies, whether it bears fruit or not. All that man can do is to provide a safe and healthy environment for the seed to grow, after which he is powerless and the rest depend on God. But at the end, man reaps and enjoys the fruit.

One message this gives to us is that everything we succeed at is only because God allows it. We may work hard, trade wisely, study very well, drive carefully and many other such things, yet it is God who grants success. How God does it, we do not know; we just know that we are succeeding, and this is so because he is the God of mysteries. Little wonder God spoke through the prophet Zechariah that it is not by human might or power but by the Spirit of the Lord that victory comes (Zech 4:6). When we think of the fact that there are people who are far better off than we are, who work harder, are more careful and all that than we are, yet they do not enjoy the successes we enjoy, then we just realize how it is not by our making. This is why scripture says “It is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom 9:16).

God does these things for us because he loves us and cares most for us amongst all his creatures. The Psalmist even wondered why of all of God’s creation, he should care so much for man and keep him in mind (Ps 8:3). We must always therefore bear in mind that in relation to many things that happen to us and around us, we are completely helpless but for the power of God working in and for us. This should thus inspire in us, an attitude of gratitude to the God who is always there for us and helping us in our nothingness. If not for God, where would you and I have been? Think about this!

The power of small beginnings

In the first reading, God said he shall pluck a tiny twig, a small branch, and shall plant it on the lofty mountains, and it shall become a mighty cedar. In the gospel reading, Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, but it grows to be the biggest shrub of all. It is said that “Little drops of water fills the bucket” and “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.” This is the mystery of life, that many great things start small, and this reveals to us the power of small beginnings.

One of the reasons many people have problems in life is that they want things big all at once but unfortunately, it is not the case most times. Many are too impatient to wait for the process; they just want the result instantly. And this has led to so many societal evils. Even Jesus’ parable of the growing seed shows to us that growth comes through a process. He said the seed will first sprout, then produce the leave, then the stem, then the fruit. Notice that it did not jump from seed to fruits. Every little step of the way counts for something, but we often neglect the small things of life, yet, they hold the essence of life.

There is power in little efforts; though they may not seem to count for much instantly, but in the long run, they count for something big and we must learn to look beyond the now to see the possibilities they hold for the future. Only faith can give us this disposition, so our second reading today tells us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” If we put faith in our little beginnings, God will crown them with growth. The Church did not start big; it started primarily with 12 men but today, we have over 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, not counting Christians of other denominations. We should therefore learn to always do our little best and let God take care of the rest. Because our God is a God of mysteries, he knows how to turn small things into big things.