FAITH WITHOUT WORKS (24TH SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 116; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Two Sundays ago, we read in Saint James’ Letter for our second reading that we must not only be hearers of the word but doers of the word. Saint James went on to say that hearing the word of God and not putting it into practice is foolishness, for it is in practicing what the word says that our faith comes alive and we build a strong relationship with God. The Letter of Saint James mostly contains practical guidance for Christian living.

In today’s second reading, Saint James takes up another dimension of this discourse and he says forcefully that “faith without works is dead.” He argues that it is difficult to prove we have faith if it cannot be seen in action, whereas, it is very easy to, by our actions, show that we are people of faith. So he says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” It is quite easy to say something, after all, words are cheap, but people are more likely to believe what we say if they see it. This is why it is said that “actions speak louder than words.” For instance, it is common experience for politicians to make humungous promises of what they will do during election campaigns, but how many eventually get to keep those promises? Yet, people will trust more, the one who made fewer promises but did more work for the people than the one who made all the beautiful promises and did nothing. Indeed, “faith without works is dead.”

This admonition of Saint James is for me, one that Christians of today need to hear over and over again, because more and more, the brand of Christianity being sold in our generation is one that professes faith but has no room for works. Faith is not theory, but a practical way of living; also Christianity is not a state of being, a state of existence, but a way of life. This means that the Christian faith is one that must be constantly engaged to produce the fruit of good works. This is why many Christians today want to have results without first going through the process. In the gospel reading of today’s Mass, Jesus had to admonish Saint Peter against this deadly disposition. Peter wanted to see Jesus as the Messiah, but he did not want Jesus to pass through the process of the Cross. By telling Peter and the others that those who want to follow him must do so carrying their crosses, Jesus also is saying to us that “faith without works is dead.” Many Christians today believe in the power of the cross (faith) but they do not believe in carrying their crosses (works).

There are lots of things we do today as Christians which shows that we are in the camp of faith without works. For instance,

  • there are some people who spend the most part of their week in prayer houses asking God for a job (faith) while spending less time dropping their CVs in offices and attending interviews (works). They expect that by their prayers, God will send employers of labour to look for them in their homes or in the Church where they are.
  • There are some ladies and some gentlemen who are asking God for a good life partner (faith) but do not take the time to make themselves marry-able (works).
  • Some women have lost their lives or their babies while insisting on going through a normal delivery “like the Hebrew women” (faith) whereas undergoing a simple Caesarian Session could have averted such deaths (works).
  • Many Nigerians are praying against the “evil spirit of bad roads” that are killing people (faith) while they keep electing, either directly or indirectly, politicians who have no interest in the common good who could have fixed the roads (works).
  • Some people are daily praying for good health (faith) while failing to keep their environments clean (works).
  • Many students pray to pass their exams (faith) but they do not study hard enough to pass the exams (works).

Hear me child of God and hear me well, we may have all the faith in the world, but before God will do certain things for us, he expects us to work for them. When we have done what we have to do, then God will do what he has to do and he alone can do. The majority of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in Scriptures show us this example, even though we sometimes fail to see them. For instance,

  • before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he asked the people to roll away the stone across the grave (Jn 11:39). He did not pray about the stone; the people had to do the rolling.
  • Before he multiplied bread for the multitude, he asked the disciples, “What do you have?” (Mk 6:38). He did not simply pray that angels should bring down bread from heaven.
  • Before he healed blind Bartimaeus, the man had to earn Jesus’ attention by shouting over and above the voices of the crowd (Mk 10:48).
  • When Jesus wanted to pay tax for himself and Peter, he did not ask Peter to pray for money, he rather told him to go to the river and catch fish and take money out of the mouth of the fish (Mat 17:27).
  • The woman with haemorrhage did not only believe that Jesus could heal her, she also had to push her way through the crowd around Jesus to touch his garment in order to receive the healing (Mk 5:28-29).

The list goes on and on. Even in the Old Testament, we see a similar pattern in the miracles God worked through the hands of the prophets; either the prophets or the people had to do something before God took care of the rest.

Today, God’s word to us is that we must translate our faith into actions in order to give it meaning and power. As stated earlier, faith is not mere theory, but a practical way of life. So, with Saint James, let us remind ourselves that faith without works is dead. Let us therefore go out and through our way of life, show to the world that we are people of faith. I pray that God may grant us the courage to translate our faith into the everyday actions of our lives. Amen.

NO VIP SEAT (HOMILY FOR 23RD SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

Some years ago, as a seminarian on Pastoral Year, the daughter of a very prominent politician was wedding in our parish. At the time, the politician in question was the Number 3 man in the country. There was a wedding taking place by 10am, and theirs was to begin by 12 noon. Twice, before the end of and immediately after the first wedding Mass, two separate people walked up to me and asked where the governor of their states was to sit. I told them to look around the church, find any pew they believe will be comfortable enough for their principal to sit and make the place ready for him. And to this response, each of them exclaimed: “What?! You mean there are no seats reserved for VIPs?” And to each of them, I politely answered that in the church, there are no VIP seats. It is needless to say that the shock on their faces was very palpable. This is to say nothing about the major drama that ensued between the said politician and I over the same issue of seat for VIPs, for which he dislodged his daughter and her groom from the seats we kept for them as the celebrants of the day to make space for one VIP and himself, a move I vehemently objected to.

I am reminded of this event today by the point Saint James makes in the 2nd reading of today’s Mass when he denounced the practice of discrimination among the Jews of the Dispersion. He says to them – and to us – that partiality must not be shown amongst the faithful in the house of God, especially on the grounds of people’s social status. To do this, according to James, is to make ourselves judges with evil thoughts. It is sad however, that even to this very day, we still experience these acts of discrimination in the house of God. And it seems that in our age, it is even worse than in the days of James because we have found more reasons and more grounds for discrimination. We discriminate against people today, not only on account of their social statuses, but also on account of their tribe, skin color, ethnic background, educational qualification, looks, and some even go as far as discriminating against people based on what they perceive as their spiritual standing with God.

By this stance that some Christians have adopted, we treat people, not on their own merit, but on our prejudices against them. Some people cannot get admission to school because the person who must make the final decision that grants them the admission has a hatred for the tribe they come from, hence, he denies them the VIP seat of admission. There are some who cannot marry the person they are truly and deeply in love with because they are from a poor home, and the wealthy parents of their lovers would not grant them the VIP seat of marriage. Many people today have missed job opportunities they are very qualified for simply because someone is discriminating against them based on their ethnic background, so they are denied the VIP seat of employment. There are many people too who have been denied the VIP seat of fair treatment because of their educational background. Worse of all is when some people make themselves into God’s Senior Special Assistant on Spiritual Matters that they discriminate against some members of the church who, by their judgment, are too sinful to be in the house of God or in the gathering of believers. Such people will not even offer the seat of opportunity for repentance to the perceived sinners, thereby, standing in their path to reunion with God. Today, Saint James says whenever we discriminate against people for any reason, we become judges with evil thoughts.

Dear friends, we must learn from the example of Jesus and the great apostles as we read in scriptures, not to be partial and discriminate against people. The Bible tells us that Christ visited and ate with Zacchaeus, a tax collector (Lk 19:1-10); He healed the servant of a rich Roman centurion (Lk 7:1-10); against Jewish perception, He conversed with a poor and ‘sinful’ Samaritan woman, transforming her life and bringing her back to faith (Jn 4:5-42). Also, He healed many poor people who were blind, lame, deaf and dumb, some even in gentile territories, just as we heard in the gospel of today’s Mass.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Saint Paul tells us that he became all things to all people so as to win as many as he could to Christ. To warn Saint Peter against discriminating against the Gentiles, God showed him a vision of animals, mostly unclean animals, after which He told Peter not to call anything he has created unclean (Acts 10:9-21). Hence, following in the footsteps of Jesus and the saints, we must also never look down on anyone, for scripture says God made human beings in His image and likeness.

As we therefore go through our everyday lives, we must not discriminate against people for any reason; we must not deny people the VIP seat of fair treatment; and very importantly, we must always apply the golden rule of treating people the same way we would love to be treated. Always remember that if you think you are rich and so will look down on those who are poorer than you, there are people who are richer than you and you will not like it if they treat you in like manner; if you think you are educated and go ahead to disregard those who are uneducated, remember that some people taught you what you know and you will not like it either if they look down on you; if you dislike some people simply on account of their place of origin, there may also be some people who despise with all their soul, anyone from your own ethnic background, but when you meet such people, you will expect that they treat you based on your own merit and not on their stereotype of your background. The list goes on and on. Dear friends, let us put away this evil of partiality and discrimination, for it does nothing but destroy people, destroy relationships, kill opportunities, and offend God.

HOLD ON, HELP IS COMING (19TH SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

The First Reading of today’s Mass recounts the story of the Prophet Elijah when he was running away from Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, after the slaughter of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. It was on this journey to Horeb, where he was to encounter God that he had the experience we read about. Similar to the journey and experience of Elijah is that of the Christian. The Christian journey is a long, rough, tough and tiring one which we are making to our eternal homeland. This journey is through a road Jesus describes as hard and narrow (Mat 7:14), yet, it is the only way that can lead us to heaven. Along this road, there are highs and lows, and bends and patches, which can wear us out. Many of us therefore can easily identify with Elijah when he cried to God that he was tired and unable to continue. Some people get to a point in their lives where they say if this is how serving God can be difficult, then they are not doing again. From this experience of Elijah and from the entirety of today’s readings, we shall draw three lessons.

No one is above discouragement – There are some people who think that certain experiences can never weigh them down, thus, they do not seem to understand when people say their experiences as Christians is challenging their faith and they are getting discouraged. To such people, they have “outgrown” that “level” of relationship with God. They feel they have come so far with God and they are standing so firm that such cannot be their portion. They imagine that they have developed thick skin against the wiles of Satan and the trials of the Christian life. But today, we have the experience of Elijah to learn from. Elijah, who is the greatest of the prophets, and the symbol of them, told God as we heard, that the burden was too heavy for him. Despite his close affinity to God, he was weighed down! If it could happen to Elijah, it can happen to anyone of us. Hence, Saint Paul warns that “anyone who thinks he is standing firm ought to be careful, lest he falls” (I Cor. 10:12). So we must never think that we are above certain spiritual experiences; and when we see people who are going through a discouraging time in their Christian journey, we must support them the best way we can, for “God helps us in our weaknesses, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles themselves” (2 Cor. 1:4).

Sin causes discouragement – There are several factors that can bring about discouragement in the spiritual life of a Christian. One of such factors, and which is so powerful, is sin. What sin does is that it makes us uncomfortable to continue walking with God, so we gradually pull away, and then the journey becomes wearisome. This is why Jesus warns us that away from him, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). God is all holy, and nothing impure can comfortably be in the presence of God. Sin is spiritual impurity, so it pushes us away from God. In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul admonishes us to put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, slander, malice and every other vice. These things constitute burdens that weigh on our spirits; their presence discourages us from drawing near to God, because by them, Satan reminds us of our unworthiness before God. We must therefore do our best, day by day, to avoid sin and every occasion of sin, walking in the love and mercy of God, as the Second Reading tells us. However, even if we sin, we must never allow Satan use that as an opportunity to separate us farther from God, for God has also provided a solution to such situations, just as he provided a solution for Elijah.

Jesus is the remedy for discouragement – Matthew 11:28 gives us the invitation of Jesus to come to him with all our burdens and find rest. This includes the burden of discouragement, and whatever the cause may be. He tells us, as we heard in today’s gospel, that those who are drawn to him, he will raise up (Jn 6:44). The help, comfort, peace and hope that Jesus gives, no man can give, and he has assured us that anyone who comes to him will not be turned away (Jn 6:37). Dear friends, as we live out our lives as Christians, whenever we face discouragement, whenever we feel lonely and abandoned, whenever we feel overburdened, let us remember that Jesus is the remedy. If we hurry to him at such times, we shall find rest and be refreshed to continue, just as Elijah was refreshed and his strength renewed. May God always be with us in our struggles. Amen.

HIS NAME IS JIREH (THE LORD WILL PROVIDE) (HOMILY FOR 18TH SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

When Israel left Egypt on their journey to the Promised Land, God made them go through the long route of the desert. This was a very tough journey to make, for there was no food, no water, no shade from trees, no animals to hunt, just dryness and heat everywhere. At some point, indeed, at more than one point, they complained against God for several things, including food and meat, things they had even in the house of slavery, and they wished they could return to Egypt where there is bread and meat. At this point of desperation, God proved his name was indeed “Jireh” (Provider) by making meat and bread available for them in abundance, all through the years they were in the desert. This is the story our first reading today tells us.

Reflecting on the readings of today’s Mass, I see a lot of similarities in our experiences with that of Israel; and I see a lot of lessons too to be learnt from their experiences. We too, like Israel, are journeying through the desert of this world to reach our Promised Land in heaven. Oftentimes too, we experience situations of lack that leaves us frustrated, that we sometimes even behave like Israel, murmuring against God. The bible tells us today that the sons of Israel murmured against Moses and against God, but this is not to be the attitude of Christians. Note that the Israelites had only but a very shallow knowledge and understanding of the Person and workings of God, but we, we know better than they did. They murmured because they were still getting to know this God and the extent of his power, but experiences of thousands of years and the faith of our forebears leaves us with deeper knowledge. This is why, unlike the Israelites, we must never murmur against God.

They wished they could go back to Egypt, where they were sure to have bread and meat, even if it meant eating it as slaves. But God had better plans for them, which was why he brought them out of that house of slavery in the first place. There are times that some people also wish they could go back to living a sinful life they had left behind, all because they lack something and are in dire need. There are some people who once were thieves, fraudsters, adulterers/adulteresses, liars, prostitutes (whether in public or in private), fornicators, pickpockets, slaves of corrupt practices, cheats, etc, who have chosen, for the sake of a better relationship with God, to leave such lifestyles behind. Many of us can easily identify with one or more of these. And then, a time comes when they are in need and they remember their past lives. Some may say something like, “If it was when I was a thief, I won’t be needing money like this” or “If I had not given up the sin of fornication, I would have just slept with this person and secured this job”, or “See how I cannot pay my children’s school fees because I have chosen not to be involved in corruption again” or “God, how can you allow me to be suffering like this because I have vowed to give up the sin of lying?” Dear brothers and sisters, if ever you find yourself in this kind of condition, do not murmur, do not retreat; remember rather, that God’s name is Jireh, the God who provides, for indeed, he will surely provide. In Psalm 50:15, God says “In the day of distress, call upon me and I will save you.” He said “call upon me”, not grumble, not complain, but call.

To return to a sinful way of life because we are in need is like returning to Egypt, the house of slavery. Though we may get what we want with relative ease, but at what cost? And in truth, slavery to sin is no easy life. Think about the pain and the humiliation and the anxieties that come with living in sins such as adultery, fornication, stealing, prostitution or lying? Is it really worth it? And St. Paul tells us in the 2nd Reading that we must strive to put off completely, our former lives with its corruption and do our best to put on the new man in Christ Jesus, clothed in true righteousness and holiness. If we do stay true to God, he will stay true to his name, and he will take care of us. The Responsorial Psalm today recalls this provident act of God and praises him for it. Someday, we too, if we remain steadfast, shall remember how God saved us in our time of distress and we shall glorify him. No matter what it is, God can handle it, if we put faith in him. He himself said He is the God of all flesh and there is nothing too hard for him to do (Jer 32:27).

Finally, we must be careful not to wrap our relationship with God only around his provident care. Many people fall into this error of seeing God only as a solution provider, as a supplier of their needs, as a God whose basic responsibility is to give them what they want, when they want it, and in the manner they want it. This is very wrong! Our relationship with God must transcend this. This is the point Jesus makes in the gospel reading when he chided the people who came looking for him. This happened after he fed well over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. He told them they sought him out, not because they saw the power of God at work, but because they got food to eat, that is, because God took care of their need. We must not be like that. While God knows our every need and is committed to giving us what we require to live a good life (Mat 6:25-32), we must not forget that God wants more from us; he wants us to relate with him for his own sake, and he will do the rest (Mat 6:33).

A MESSAGE FOR THE SHEPHERDS (HOMILY FOR 16TH SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

Have you ever wondered why societies are going morally, economically, socially and spiritually bankrupt? Have you ever wondered why things appear to be going from bad to worse in our world? Have you wondered why the family unit is obviously more and more failing or disintegrating? The simple reason, by my reckoning, is that those to whom God entrusts the responsibility of leadership have continued to fail at it. And this is what the readings of today’s Mass address.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah denounces the political leadership of the house of Israel for their brazen failure in taking care of the people of God. Using the imagery of the shepherd for the leaders and the sheep for the people, Jeremiah accuses them, in God’s name, that rather than attending to the sheep, the shepherds have destroyed and scattered them. The second reading describes Jesus as the shepherd who gathers and unites the sheep, removing the walls that separate them while the gospel paints the picture of Jesus as the shepherd who sacrifices his comfort and rest for the sake of the sheep. But unlike Jesus, the shepherds of Israel abandon the sheep and even drive them away. However, the Psalmist assures us that we have the Lord as our shepherd therefore, we shall not want for anything. From these readings, we shall take three lessons.

Every leader shall render an account of stewardship to God – It is a fact that at the end of our lives, we shall render an account to God of how we have lived this life he gave us. In addition to this, all of us who have ever been, who are, and who will ever be leaders in whatever capacity, shall render an extra account to God for those he put under our authority. When that day comes, what kind of account shall we present to God? Through the prophet Jeremiah, as we heard in the first reading today, God denounced the leaders of Israel for failing in their responsibilities. Through the prophet Ezekiel too, God also strongly condemned the leaders of Israel for their bad leadership as a result of which the society became morally, economically and spiritually bankrupt and putrid (cf. Ezk 34:1ff). Because the leaders of Israel failed, the people were scattered, and God said he will bring the leaders to judgment.

What was true of Israel then is still very true of our world today and Nigeria in particular. Today, our society is failing because rather than lead, our leaders are consciously destroying the country; rather than gather the people together, our leaders are consciously and deliberately sowing seeds of division and perching the country at the edge of the precipice of division and destruction. In Nigeria presently, what we have are not political leaders but political bandits and vampires who are sucking the life out of the nation. Families too are failing because parents are increasingly neglecting their responsibilities in the homes. Parents now brazenly do evil in the presence of their children and even encourage the children to do the same. Parents are proud to see their children growing in the knowledge of the world without a corresponding growth in the knowledge of the Lord, something they ordinarily ought to be ashamed of. The church is also failing because spiritual leaders are neglecting the truths of the gospel to pursue the gospel of wealth and material prosperity while neglecting spiritual prosperity; more and more, rather than hear the gospel being preached, we are hearing motivational speeches from the pulpit. But to all leaders who have neglected their God-given mandates, God says in Jeremiah 23:2, “I will attend to you for your evil doings…” For all of us therefore, who hold different leadership positions, let us keep in mind that God will bring us to judgment and we shall give an account to him of how we managed the power and authority he gave to us.

Leadership involves sacrifices – No one can be a true leader if all he seeks is a life of comfort. It is said that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” because it is not easy to lead; and the reason why very many people fail at leadership is because they are not ready to make sacrifices. But to lead effectively, you must be ready to sacrifice your time, energy, comfort and even resources for the good of those you lead. This is the example Jesus shows us in the gospel reading of today’s Mass. After working very hard with his disciples, they wanted to rest, but the people will not let them; they came running after Jesus and his disciples, seeking for help. Rather than send them away, Jesus pitied them and taught them, sacrificing the rest he had desired with his disciples. Jesus says while the good shepherd (leader) is ready to sacrifice for his sheep, the bad leader runs away when a sacrifice is needed to be made (cf. Jn 10:11). Whatever leadership position you hold at any given time, be ready to make sacrifices for the good of those under you. I especially call on parents to do more in sacrificing their time and comfort to give greater attention to the proper training of their children. If we get it right from the home, we shall have less work to do in the society.

Leaders must listen to their followers – One of the attributes of the good shepherd Jesus gives is that the shepherd and the sheep communicate with each other (Cf. Jn 10:3-5). The sheep listen to the shepherd because the shepherd first listens to them. In our today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus doing this in practice – he listened to the yearnings, aspirations and the cries of the people and he attended to them. No one can be a good leader if he does not listen to his followers. And the followers will communicate messages either by words, by actions, by inactions or by all three means. It will take a good shepherd to listen to them and act when, where and how necessary. Again, there is everywhere a failure of leadership in this regard. Political leaders are not listening to the cries and groaning of their people, with President Buhari and his cohorts as a perfect example. Parents are not listening to what their children are communicating to them, maybe because they are too busy with other things that they do not have time for proper parenting. Church leaders are also not listening to the silent communications of the congregation because some have other interests different from the gospel mandate. Whenever and wherever this happens, there is bound to be all kinds of trouble looming in the corners. God challenges us today to be leaders who not only listen to our followers but who also will act positively as we see necessary.

Finally, child of God, the word of God for us today is simple: we are leaders in different capacities and we must do our best to be good ones. When people fail at leadership, many bad things happen in the community they lead. We should do our best therefore, aided by the grace of God, to make sure we carry out whatever leadership role God entrusts to us very well.

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.

ONE GOD, THREE PERSONS (HOLY TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B)

By: Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

The doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity is the central teaching of Christianity, because it is the mystery of God himself, even though it is incomprehensible to us. It says summarily that God is One, but in the One God are three persons: Father, Son and Spirit. These three persons are not three gods:

  • The Father is not the Son or Spirit
  • The Son is not the Father or Spirit
  • The Spirit is not the Father or Son
  • Yet all are one in the Trinitarian Godhead

There is no mention of the Holy Trinity anywhere in the Bible. Mention is only made of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. It is from these mentions that we deduce that in one God, there are three persons. Let us look at some of these texts.

  • In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” The “us” in this statement is an obvious indicator that a community of persons had a dialogue concerning the creation of man. However, the idea of the three persons in one God became clearer in d New Testament.
  • In Luke 1:35, Jesus says “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of God will rest on you, and the child you shall bear will be called the son of God.”
  • We read in John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God… through him, all things were made, and there was nothing that was made which was not made through him.” Note here that the “Word” is clearly addressed as a distinct being, and that this “Word” is also God. It is this “Word” that became flesh and dwelt among us (vs.14).
  • In John 14:16, Jesus said “I will ask the Father, and he will send you an advocate, who will stay with you forever.” Here too, the Father, Son and Spirit are mentioned as distinct persons.
  • When Jesus gave the great commission in Matthew 28:19, he said “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice how he says “in the name, not in the nameS, yet mentioning three persons, thus indicating a unity of persons.
  • The picture of the three persons in the one Godhead is clearer after the baptism of Jesus. Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended and the Father spoke (Mt 3:16-17).
  • Later on, Jesus will begin to talk about the oneness of himself and the Father. In John 10:30, he said “The Father and I are one,” and in John 12:45, he says “Whoever sees me has seen the Father.”
  • In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul mentions the three persons of the Trinity when he said “We have peace with God through Jesus Christ and the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:1, 5).
  • Also, in the conclusion of his second letter to the Corinthians, he prayed that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with them” (2 Cor 13:13).
  • All these texts and more show clearly that there are three divine persons, but only one God. Scripture also says clearly that there is only one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us that “The Lord and the Lord alone is one God” and God also says “I am the Lord, there is no other God” (Isa 45:5), meaning that there cannot be three gods.

Lessons

Live in love and harmony

The three persons of the Trinity are undivided and bound in complete unity. Though each person is distinct, there is no division in the Trinity, rather, there is complete harmony. This teaches us that we too, made in God’s image and likeness, can and should live in completely peace & harmony. We may be different, but our differences should not divide us. Just as God is one, we too must be one, living in unity. This is a message that we need to remind ourselves of, more so at a time like this when the things that polarize us seem to be numerous.

Shun pride, embrace humility

Though God is so great, so majestic, so incomprehensible, he still came down to us in the person of Jesus and lived like us. There is nothing stopping God from completely alienating himself from us, but no, he came down to our level. Philippians 2:7 tells us that he humbled himself, took the form of a slave and was born in human likeness. We should learn too, to remove pride from our lives and come down from our high castles. We must not feel that we are too good or too big for some other people, such that we cannot relate with them. Sometimes we allow pride to control us and destroy our relationship with other people, but we seem to forget that before God, we are all the same, we are all equal. In our eyes, we may be bigger than some people, but in the eyes of God, we are all dust. If Jesus Christ, who is God can relate with us, then who are we to feel too big to relate with each other? Let us therefore, put away our pride and embrace humility.

We must remind ourselves again that the Holy Trinity is a mystery beyond our comprehension. We accept it, not because we can truly comprehend it, but we accept it in faith because God has revealed it to us in his divine Word. The day anyone fully understands the Trinity, that day, God ceases to be God, for no one can fully comprehend God. That is why scripture says God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9)

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

LESSONS FROM JUDAS’ TRAGEDY (7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; Psalm 103; I John 4:11-16; John 17:11-19

“None of those you gave me has been lost, except the son of perdition…his place, let another take”

The above quotation is taken from the prayer of Jesus before his arrest and the speech of Peter before the election of Mathias to fill in the space of Judas Iscariot. It is interesting how the first reading and gospel of today’s Mass make mention of Judas; our reflection therefore, shall focus on lessons to be learnt from the tragedy of Judas. Judas was a tragic example of lost opportunity and an embodiment of wasted privilege. His biggest tragedy was that he could have been Saint Judas, but for his greed. We shall look at about three lessons.

  • Right after the ascension of Jesus, as the disciples returned to the room where they hid, the first thing they did a few days later was to find a replacement for Judas who betrayed Jesus. This is primarily because nature abhors a vacuum, and nothing must be left to be in void. So Peter, in his speech, quotes Psalm 109:8, “His place, let another take.” Judas lost his position, first by his betrayal of Jesus, and secondly and eternally, by committing suicide. In this “act” of the apostles, we ought to take a lesson for our lives too, that even concerning us, nature will not tolerate a vacuum. So, if there is any position we occupy in life, a space we fill, we must not create a vacuum in it, else, someone else will replace us, after all, no human being is indispensable.

And there is even another angle to this, which is more frightening, and it is the fact of being physically present, especially in the lives of people, yet, in their hearts, our place, another has taken. For instance, some husbands/wives are physically present in the lives of their spouse, but emotionally, another has taken their place. This may not necessarily mean that the other is adulterous, but simply that the space meant for their spouse has been occupied by someone or something else. A wife can replace her husband in her heart with her children; a husband can replace his wife in his heart with his work, etc. Some parents have also been replaced in the hearts of their children by their nannies or school teachers or even neighbors, yet the parents are still physically there. To be replaced while we are still there should frighten us much more than to be replaced when we are gone. Never live your life in such a manner that you no longer exist in the heart of those to whom you should matter a lot.

  • Right from the start (Mat 10:4; Lk 6:10) where the names of the apostles were mentioned, Judas was mentioned with a negative adjective to describe him. Through the rest of the gospels, his name was always associated with something negative such as “traitor”, “thief”, “betrayer”. Several times, Jesus gave him subtle warning signs, but he either did not notice or he simply chose to ignore them. Eventually, fired up by his greed, he betrayed his master and lost his exalted position. Sometimes, we too behave like Judas. God gives us a privileged position and we abuse it because of greed. Even when we have allowed greed to take root in our hearts, God often sends us warning signs, but oftentimes, we choose to ignore the signs. Many people have met a shameful end because they were blinded by their greed. In 1 Timothy 6:10, the Bible says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Many families too have been destroyed and marriages wrecked because of the ‘lustful greed’ of one of the spouses which drives them into adulterous relationships. The greatest undoing of Judas was his greed and today, we remember him with a negative feeling. Given the opportunities and privileges that we have from God, how shall we be remembered when we are no more? Kill your greed before it kills you!
  • When Judas lost his position, there was the need to fill it; hence, Peter addressed this need with the other disciples as we heard in the first reading. To find a suitable candidate for this exalted position, only one criterion was put forth by Peter: the person must have faithfully followed Jesus right from the time of his baptism up to the time of his ascension. Mathias and Joseph met the qualifications. This implies that even when Jesus chose the 12 Apostles from among his many disciples in Luke 6:12-16, Mathias and Joseph were there, but Jesus did not choose them. Yet, they were faithful to Jesus and still followed him everywhere! So he who was not chosen at the start was elevated because of his faithfulness. Indeed, God is a faithful God and he rewards faithfulness; that is why the Bible says in Proverbs 28:20 that “A faithful man will abound with blessings” and in Proverbs 3:3-4, scripture says “Do not let steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you…for that is how you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”

Sometimes, we may just be the cause of our own misfortunes; we may just be the very reasons why the blessings of God keep passing us by because we are not always faithful. Some people are not persevering enough to wait on God for their elevation; they move from church to church, job to job, business to business, relationship to relationship, never stable, never patient, never faithful. Before God will finish packaging his blessings for them, they have changed base, they have moved, so they start all over again. The nature of God is stable, unchanging. God is faithful to his nature (cf. Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8) and he expects us too to be faithful, consistent, persevering, unwavering. The faithfulness of Mathias to Jesus, even when he was not chosen to be among the 12 Apostles, finally merited him a place in the ranks of the apostles. We too must learn and practice faithfulness. Remember, faithfulness will find you favor and good success in the sight of God and man.