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.

STAY WITHIN NETWORK (5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B)

By: Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22; I John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

Let us do some little thinking. Think about the mobile phones which we use. The primary functions of the mobile phone are to make and receive calls, to send and receive messages. Besides these however, there are other things that the phone can do such as taking pictures, showing time and date, provide calculator functions and do voice recording. But those are non-essentials because nobody sets out to buy a phone for those functions. There are other devices which are meant specifically for those purposes. For the phone to have full functionality, that is, perform its primary functions as enumerated above, it must be connected to a network and must also stay within areas of network coverage. Outside of network, it still remains a phone, but more or less, we can say it is sort of dead and becomes just like any other device. But apart from staying within network, the phone must be constantly recharged with airtime and also with data (for internet enabled phones). When these are present, then we can say the phone lives its life to full capacity.

This illustration is meant to help us understand the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading when he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). As far as our spiritual life is concerned, Jesus is the network that gives us full spiritual capacity to function. To live our lives apart from Jesus therefore, is like a mobile phone moving out of network area. To fully live out the purpose of our creation, which the petty catechism teaches as knowing, loving and serving God in this life so that we will be happy with him in the next, we need the spiritual vitality, the spiritual network which only Jesus can give. We are like the phones, Jesus is like the network. To fully and truly live, we need Jesus. If we live apart from Jesus, we become like the phone that cannot make or receive calls, send or receive messages; we become like the phone that is used only as calculator, or torchlight, or calendar, or voice recorder or camera.

Just as with the phone also, we need to constantly be recharged with the airtime and data of love. This is what the second reading tells us: “He who lives in love lives in God and God lives in him” (1 Jn 4:16). Love of God and love of neighbor therefore, is what renews our subscription to continue to stay within the divine network of Jesus Christ. And Saint John says that this love is not mere talk; it is concrete, tangible and actively real. So he says, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18). Every true love involves action. In most cases, this action is expressed in giving. A true lover gives of his/her time, energy, emotions, care, compassion, ideas, and material resources. God showed us an example when, out of his love for humanity, he gave us his son to die for us (cf. Jn 3:16). So, every true lover gives of something, and any love that does not involve giving is fake! Thus, the spiritual airtime and data of love is what we need to stay within God’s network. For Saint Paul to fully function as an apostle, the First Reading tells us that he had to be brought into the network of believers whose lives were filled with divine love, for they all loved one another.

As we also know, when a phone line stays for too long without recharging, after some time, the network providers block the line. That SIM card becomes useless. However, the line can still be reactivated by the network providers. But a line that is always actively in use, sometimes, the network providers even give them bonuses. In the same vein, Jesus tells us that if we stay away from his network connection, we will be disconnected and become useless like the deactivated SIM card, but if we stay within his network and actively recharge our souls with true love, we shall grow in garce. Jesus says, “Every branch that bear no fruit, my Father cuts away, but every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (Jn 15:2). So, the more we stay connected to God and the more we love God and love our neighbours, the more God’s grace and mercy and favours increase upon us. On the other hand, the more we stay away from God and the more we lack true love in our hearts, the more we become spiritually stale, putrid and eventually, spiritually dead for all eternity.

Dear friends, the word of God for us today is very clear and simple. If we must live our lives to full spiritual capacity and spend eternity with God in heaven, then we must stay connected to the network of Jesus Christ. Also, to avoid disconnection, we must always recharge our souls with the airtime and data of love of God and love of neighbor. We pray in this Mass that the grace of God will always keep us close to himself. Amen

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.

WHY ARE YOU HERE? (5TH SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

The entire 11th chapter of John’s account of the gospel is on the death and raising of Lazarus back to life; it also talks about the plot to kill Jesus as a result of this. This happened only about a week before the Passover Feast, so Jerusalem was teeming with people from all corners of the Ancient Near East, Jews and Gentiles alike. From 12:12-19 of the same John’s gospel account, we read of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and of the very many people who followed him, comprising mostly of those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus from the dead or who had heard about the event. The Pharisees felt helpless about all these that they remarked to themselves, “there is nothing you can do about it; the whole world is running after him” (John 12:19).

The gospel text of today’s Mass picks up from vs. 20, and it tells us of some Greeks who had also come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, coming to seek audience with Jesus. What they discussed with Jesus – that is, if they did discuss with him – we do not know, for John does not tell us, and he is the only one of the four evangelists who records this event. However, considering all that had recently happened, and taking cognizance of the fact that the Greeks were seekers of wisdom/knowledge (I Cor 1:22 says “Jews ask for signs and Greeks seek wisdom”), we may infer that they had come to question Jesus about himself and all they had seen or heard of him in the past few days. This, therefore, was most likely, not a faith encounter; it is very probable that they did not come into the presence of Jesus because they had found a new faith, but because they wanted to satisfy their curiosities. And this raises a question for us to ponder on today: Why are you here in the presence of God? Why are you seeking God?

For the purpose of this reflection, I like to make five categorizations of why people seek God, why people go to church, and by extension, five categories of Christians.

  • Social Christians: These are people who come to church, who present themselves before God, not truly because they seek God, but because they have come to fraternize and to socialize. They are in church because others are in church; they are in church because they will get to meet that friend or that business prospect in church. What happens during Mass or church service as the case may be, is of little interest to them; many of them pay little or no attention during the homily but distract themselves and others by talking or punching on their phones. After Mass, they take the most pictures and selfies with other people.
  • Occasional Christians: This group appears before God in church only when there is an occasion in church like a birthday thanksgiving, a wedding, child dedication, harvest and bazaar, and even funerals. Some only come to church twice a year – on Ash Wednesday and New Year Eve.
  • Convenience Christians: These ones come to church only when it is convenient for them; they do good only when it is convenient for them; they do charity only when it is convenient; they also pray only when they find it convenient to do so. The day it rains or the heat of the sun is much, you won’t see them in church; on special occasions like when the bishop is coming to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Mass may take longer than usual, you won’t see them; if there’s anything that will give them the slightest discomfort, they tell God to wait till when it is more convenient. They are fair weather Christians.
  • Crisis Christians: We have very many of these ones everywhere and in every church. They are the ones who only remember God when there is a crisis in their life. They see God only as a problem solver; they are the miracle seekers. When they need God’s intervention in their lives and situations, they make the church and chapel an annex of their homes, praying long and with head tilted at an angle 45º. Once they find a solution to their problems, they “divorce” God, only to seek for a “remarriage” when another problem arises.
  • True Christians: These ones are true to God at all times, in season and out of season. They seek God and come into his presence because they want a faith encounter with him; they strive to be close to God because they want to grow spiritually; they pray because they desire to converse with God their father; they do what is right and just whether it is convenient or not; just like Jesus, as reported in our second reading, they rely completely on God to save them in moments of crisis. The true Christians seek God for God and nothing else.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that with the first four groups, there is something fundamentally wrong, and it is the simple fact that their relationship with God is on a wrong foundation. We are therefore challenged to reappraise the underlying reason why we seek God, why we go to church, why we enter into God presence. In John 6:26, Jesus chided the Jews for seeking him, not on account of the power of God expressed in the multiplication of bread, but because they ate their fill. Today and always, let the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33 – Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness – be our guiding principle in our relationship with God. So, you that is here in this church today, why are you here?

MERCY AND JUSTICE HAVE MET (4TH SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

In a number of ways, the readings of today’s Mass speak to us about the love and mercy of God towards us, his children. St. John, in our gospel text, unequivocally states that it is the love of God that made him to send his son into the world so that those who have faith in him might be saved. St. Paul re-echoes this in Reading 2 when he stated that God’s rich mercy and great love for us gives us new life in Christ Jesus after we have died to sin. Reading 1 recounts God’s response to the cry of the people of Israel which we sang in the Psalm, by delivering them from the Babylonian captivity through Cyrus, the Persian king. In all of these, we see God displaying his immense love and mercy towards us in a manner which we really cannot comprehend, despite our very many sins.

The pages of sacred scriptures are so full of proofs of God’s love and mercy towards us; these are great boosters in our relationship with him, and his love should compel us to strive to live righteously. Ironically however, the love and mercy of God has become a reason for spiritual mediocrity in the lives of very many Christians today. Many Christians have chosen to see only the merciful side of God that they fail to see the justice side of him. In their minds, believing the lie of Satan from the pit of hell, they think that God is too merciful and too loving that he cannot but pass their “little” waywardness, so they go on living in sin. To such people, Saint Paul says that because grace abounds does not mean that sin should increase the more (cf. Rom 6:1). Some are even bold enough to say that the death of Jesus has taken care of all sins for all times, nailing them to the cross, so it really doesn’t matter. There are yet others who imagine that the God who punishes sin is “the God of the Old Testament” but we are in New Testament times, forgetting that God does not change (cf. Malachi 3:6). To make matters worse, there are more and more preachers in our world today who only preach and emphasize God’s mercy and love while completely ignoring any message about God’s justice, thereby emboldening Christians to live without the dread of repercussions for sin.

But hear me, child of God, and hear me well. As much as God’s love for us is boundless, it does not negate his justice, so do not be misled to think that God does not care about your sins: he does! The love of God made Him keep company with Adam and Eve, visiting them “in the evening breeze” (Gen 3:8), but when they sinned, his justice expelled them from Eden (Gen 3:23); the love of God made him forgive David when he sinned (2 Sam 12:13), but the justice of God punished him for that sin; the love of God grants pardon for our many sins, especially by the death of Jesus (Eph 2:4-5), but this same Jesus will come again as a just judge to judge us and reward us according to our deeds (Mat 25:31-46); as Catholics, the love of God forgives us our sins when we go for confession, but the justice of God requires that we do penance for the confessed sins. It is true that God does not treat us according to what our sins deserve but would rather see us repent and live (Ezek 33:11; Psa 103:10-12; 130:3), but God will still deal justly with us if we fail to turn away from our sins (Col 3:5-6). My dear people of God, bear it in mind today that God has immense love for us, yes, but his mercy does not overrule his justice! Our God is merciful, but he is also just. So in God, mercy and justice have met!

As we have mentioned above, God is not quick to condemn us, so he repeatedly gives us many chances to repent. Our first reading today tells us that God persistently sent messengers to his unfaithful people, because he had compassion on his people. But if we abuse his mercy like they did by failing to repent of our evil ways, we may have to experience his justice, just as we also see in the same reading. The bible says “they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against his people…” (2 Chron 36:16). I therefore appeal to you to never take God’s mercy for granted. It is important to point out that even when God gets angry at our sins, it is also borne out of his love for us. When parents get angry at a wayward child, it is not out of hatred for the child but out of love, seeing that the child is gradually being destroyed; so also is it with God. Let us therefore, live our lives in such a manner that the justice of God will not overtake us. Amen

“TAKE THESE THINGS AWAY…!” (3RD SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Generally, we often only want to think about Jesus as very soft and tender, gentle and never taking faults against no one, so, whenever this episode of Jesus cleansing the temple is read by some, just as we have read today, they tend to be in shock and disbelief. Some people cannot just come to terms with the imagery of Jesus being so angry that he would scatter people’s business wares. But this is what the gospel narrative tells us today. And interestingly, this event is reported by all four gospel accounts, thus, highlighting its great significance. To fully grasp what happened here, let us do a background check of the facts surrounding the circumstances of this event, and so, come to a better understanding.

This event took place during the Passover Feast. This is one of the three compulsory feasts for all male Jews to attend, the others being the Feast of Pentecost (or Weeks) and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Shelters). By divine law, nobody coming for the festival must come empty handed; they must all come before God with something to sacrifice to God (cf. Deut 16:16). God also commanded that the burnt offerings, the tithes, sacrifices and heave offerings must be offered only at the one place which he shall choose to dwell and nowhere else (and that place, is Jerusalem) (cf Deut 12:5-6); but God also acknowledged that it may be difficult carrying the items for the sacrifices and the tithes, etc, from distant places to the one place of sacrifice, so He made allowance for the items to be sold, the money taken to the place of sacrifice, where the animals for the sacrifices can be bought (Deut 14:24-26). God also categorically and repeatedly warned that every animal to be used for sacrifice must be unblemished, else they won’t be accepted. Leviticus 22:19-21 reads, “You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. WHATEVER HAS A DEFECT, YOU SHALL NOT OFFER, FOR IT SHALL NOT BE ACCEPTABLE ON YOUR BEHALF. And whoever offers a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, to fulfill his vow, or a freewill offering from the cattle or the sheep, IT MUST BE PERFECT TO BE ACCEPTED; there shall be no defect in it.”

From the foregoing, it is obvious then, that there was a genuine need for the presence of an animal market in the temple premises. It was also necessary for the money changers to be there because only the temple shekel was the acceptable legal tender; no Roman coin or any money from any gentile territory could be used, to avoid defilement. Hence, the whole set up that Jesus came and scattered was actually necessary and legitimate! Why then did He chase them all out? Why did he overturn the money changers’ table? Why did he whip them all out? The reason is simple: what was legal was turned into an opportunity for sin to thrive. How was this so?

With the laws given by God to use only unblemished animals for sacrifices, and the fact that only the temple shekel could be used as an acceptable currency, over time, a cabal was formed between the priests, the traders and the money changers to exploit the people and make wealth for themselves. It was the prerogative of the priests to determine which animal was unblemished, and, if your animal is rejected as being blemished after dragging it for several miles to Jerusalem, you are forced to buy another one. You will then have to either drag your animal back to your home or sell it at a low cost. To avoid the stress of bringing an animal to Jerusalem only to have it rejected, most people resorted to simply come with money, change it to the temple shekel and buy their animals right there at the temple. The traders then colluded with the priests to not accept any animal that was not bought from them. This gave them the monopoly of selling all the sacrificial animals, and the result was an inflation of prices that were mostly not affordable to most devout pilgrim Jews.

The money changers also formed a ring of extortionists, increasing the exchange rate to fleece pilgrims of their hard earned money. The result was that people paid in excess to have the temple currency, and they also paid in excess to buy the sacrificial animals. Thus, into this arrangement God made to make people’s lives easier, greed, selfishness, extortion, robbery and other social sins were introduced and committed, all in God’s name. These were the things that Jesus was actually chasing out of the temple; so when Jesus said “Take these things away from here”, he meant take the greed, the stealing, the selfishness, the extortion and all the sins out of the temple of God.

For us as Christians, we no longer have any business to do with the old temple sacrifices, so we may not worry about its pollution. However, what Jesus kicked against as we heard in today’s gospel reading is still very much with us. In fact, in some cases, the practices are worse off than in the days of Jesus. Not only is the social sin of extortion, bribery and corruption rife in civil society, it has very much entered the church. Today, very brazenly, some so-called ministers of the gospel are doing very terrible things in the house of God: robbing people and extorting from people, wrecking homes and destinies, turning the house of God into business empires and all other such evils, all in God’s name! False prophets everywhere, trading false gospels and stealing from people in a place that is supposed to be the house of God. As my friend and brother, Fr. Sebastian Sanni will say, “The bible of a false prophet robs faster than the gun of an armed robber.” And as this is happening in churches, more in having in civil society: offices, banks, schools, business places, and worse of all, in government offices where systemic corruption has been established.

Dear friends, as Christians, we must also worry about and be careful not to pollute the new covenant temple of God, which we are. The bible says that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and we must not desecrate it (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). So, the same words of Jesus which he used that day in Jerusalem are echoed to us today: “Take these things away from here!” Today, Jesus is also asking us to take away from the temple of God in us, every kind of sin capable of polluting it. We must take away from our lives, the evil of greed, of selfishness, of deceit, of extortion, of sexual immorality, of gossip and slander, of disobedience, of malice and every kind of vice.

To guide us in purifying our inner temples, God has given us instructions/laws, which we read in the first reading today, and which we know as “The Ten Commandments.” If we follow these laws of God, they shall guide us aright and lead us in the path of life eternal; they shall purify our lives of every iniquity and revive our souls; they shall also give us the wisdom to know and avoid those things and circumstances which can defile us. That is why the Psalm todays says “The law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul. The decrees of the Lord are steadfast; they give wisdom to the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

Today’s gospel is also an invitation to all of us to rise up against the sin of social injustice and indeed, all social sins. Jesus saw the evil going on in his days and he rose against it; like Jesus, we too should rise against the evils being perpetrated around us, beginning with ourselves. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Unfortunately, many of us are doing nothing; many of us have accepted the status quo to be normal; many of us are even actively participating in, and promoting this evil. Today, Jesus says to us, “Take these things away from here!”

As we continue in our journey of the season of Lent, let the words of Jesus always ring in our ears and our hearts: “Take these things away!” Let us take away, day by day, every sinful habit, and let us always be guided by the laws of God, that we may gain salvation for our souls.