THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNFORGIVING (HOMILY FOR 24TH SUNDAY, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

The opening words of today’s second reading (Rom 14:7), that “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself…” are very powerful words indeed. Though used in the context of our relationship with the Lord, they are also very instructive and useful in our relationship with one another, for indeed, we are entangled in the common web of humanity, that what we do have implications, not only for ourselves, but also for others. Ultimately also, most of what we do have implications for us in the sight of God. The readings of today’s Mass, more precisely the first and gospel readings, present us with one of such things: forgiveness.

The first reading tells us in very plain terms that those who take vengeance will suffer vengeance at the hands of God, and those who refuse to forgive have no moral right to ask God for forgiveness. It enjoins us to forgive the wrong others have done to us that we may receive forgiveness from God at the place of prayer. One obvious implication of this admonition is that an unforgiving mind is an obstacle to our prayers. It ended on the note of directing our minds to the end of our life, that time when we shall be utterly helpless without the mercy of God.

In the gospel text, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive an erring brother. Going beyond the conventional three times, as deduced from the Book of Prophet Amos to be the number of times God forgives sins, after which he punishes the fourth time (cf. Amos 1 & 2), Peter magnanimously multiplies this by two, and then adds one. To his surprise and that of everybody, Jesus says it is not seven times, but seventy times seven times. Of course nobody wants to be counting offences up to 490 times, so by implication, Jesus says there should be no limit to forgiveness. That was when he told the parable of the unforgiving servant to explain his point.

A deep reflection, and an understanding of the measures Jesus used in the parable to compare our debt to God and other people’s debt to us will overwhelm us. The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents while his colleague owed him 100 denarii. One denarius is a small silver coin, which is the pay for a day’s job; one talent on the other hand, is a bar of gold, which is what a labourer will earn in 15 years. So, 100 denarii will be the wage for 100 days of labour while 10, 000 talents will be 10,000 x 15 years, amounting to 150,000 years’ worth of labour. Now, that’s mind blowing! So, while the second servant can pay his debt with 15 weeks of labour, the first, unforgiving servant, will never be able to pay his debt if he worked all his lifetime, since he will most certainly not live for 150,000 years. That’s how it is between what we owe God by our sins and what people owe us by how they wrong us, for we are the first servant in Jesus’ parable, and our brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours, colleagues, parents, husbands, wives, children, etc, are the second servant.

Now, we all know that we stand in need of God’s mercy, for Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” If all of us have sinned, then we are all owing God. And in Romans 6:23, the Bible says “the wages of sin is death…” By implication therefore, we all owe God the debt of our lives, and the only reason we are alive is because God has shown us mercy. This is why Jesus tells us that we must forgive those who have offended us, so that God will also gladly forgive us (Mat 6:14-15), and th book of Sirach 28:3 asks, “Can a man harbour resentment against another and yet seek healing from the Lord?” The condition upon which God shall show us mercy is that we have ourselves been merciful first.

Today therefore, God invites us to show mercy to those who have wronged us that we may qualify to receive mercy from him. Without the mercy of God, no one shall enter heaven, and God is saying to us today that he will not grant us that mercy unless we are ourselves merciful. So, it will be a tragedy if after running this race on earth, you stand before God on judgment day and you are denied heaven because you refused to forgive someone some people. Today, God is saying to us that the tragedy of the unforgiving is that they may do well to live good lives, but their unforgiving heart will still land them in hell. Do not let that be your portion; forgive those who offend you, that God may forgive your own sins.

THE WATCHMAN’S DUTY (HOMILY FOR 23RD SUNDAY, YEAR A)

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Scripture says in Genesis 1:31 that God saw everything he had created, and they were all very good. This means that while God created everything in a state of goodness, he did not make them to be perfect in the strict sense of the word, not even man. Perfection is thus, reserved for God alone; hence, no one is perfect, except God. It is thus, as a result of this imperfection that people sometimes make mistakes. However, some people sometimes do not even realize they have made a mistake. To their mind, they are doing well. This is what the Latin adage expresses which says Bonum currere, sed extra viam (A good race, but out of track).

In 1955, two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham propounded a simple but very useful theory for self-awareness which they called the “JoHari Window” and which psychologists still use today. In brief, the JoHari Window simply says that there are four sides to every human being by which they can be understood, which they called windows. These windows are the Open (known to the individual and to others), Blind (known to others but unknown to the individual), Hidden (known to the individual but unknown to others) and Closed (unknown to the individual and to others).

From this analysis of the human person and from the reality of human experiences, it is clear that as a result of our blind windows, there are times when people may be on the path of error without even realizing it, but this error is open and known to others. At such times, when we are the ones who are seeing the faults of others, we are bound by the obligation of good conscience, to show them the error of their ways. This is where today’s readings come to play, and the summary of each reading leaves us with at least one lesson.

The first reading leaves us with the lesson that we are our brothers’ keepers and must help each other live rightly. This is the call God puts to us when he said to the prophet Ezekiel that he is making him a watchman for the house of Israel with the task of pointing out the error of a sinner to him or her. And by extension, this applies to us too. This does not mean that we should become fault-finders, but that when we notice a fault, we should do well to point it out with the intention of helping the erring brother or sister retrace his or her steps to the right path. It was Edmund Burke who said that “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good men to keep silent.” So, if you see someone doing wrong and you keep quiet about it, then you, by your silence, affirm and encourage that evil to go on. We can draw from the first reading too, the caution that God will judge us, not only for our own deeds and/or misdeeds, but also for that of others which we failed to correct, if they die in that error. We are therefore watchmen for each other and must strive to keep one another in check.

In the gospel reading, Jesus admonishes us to spare no effort in helping someone in error to return to the right path. This is why he says if you have a misunderstanding with someone, go alone to him or her first; if that does not work, take two or three people with you; if that too fails, report it to the church. The reason for this emphasis is because every soul is precious to God and all that can be done to save a soul from damnation must be done. And if all that does not work either, treat the person like a pagan or a taxman, meaning, love such a person all the more. Jesus himself gives us a clear example on how to treat someone like a pagan or a taxman from the way he treated them. The pagans and tax collectors were regarded as sinners by the Jews, and when these same Jews murmured about how Jesus was relating with the tax collectors, he told them he came not to call the righteous but to call sinners (Mat 9:9). However, if all our human effort fails, we must not forget to commend them to the grace and mercy of God.

Finally, Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that even while making the effort to win back a brother or sister to the right path, we must do it in love. Hence, when correcting someone in error or reconciling with an offender, do it in love. Christian charity will most likely win an errant brother or sister over while any other thing may be met with resistance. Therefore, in correcting someone, do it the way you will yourself want to be corrected.

As a last word, to do the watchman’s duty, we must ourselves do well to live above board. You will not have any moral voice to correct anyone when you yourself are living in error. A typical watchman’s duty post is either on a high tower, a high city wall or a raised platform. Watchmen never stay on the same ground level with the people they are watching out for. Thus, if we must watch out for our brothers and sisters, like the typical watchman, we must stay on the high tower, the high city wall or the raised platform of moral rectitude. Anything short of this is a calamity waiting to happen. This is why when Jesus said we are the light of the world, he likened us to a city set on a hill (Mat 5:14). Thus, let us individually make efforts to live good lives so that when God puts the burden of correcting a brother or sister in error and win him or her back to God on us, we will not be held back by the voice of a guilty conscience. Amen

BE A NONCONFORMIST TO THIS WORLD (HOMILY FOR 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Matthew 25:1-13 (Gospel reading for Friday of 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II) contains the parable of the ten maidens – five wise, five foolish. In that parable, only one reason was given for this categorization, namely, that the wise maidens took lamps with extra oil while the foolish ones took lamps without extra oil. The ready questions that then come to mind are: What does the extra oil signify? And why were the maidens denied entry to the wedding hall even though they had been previously selected to meet the bridegroom? The answers too are not far-fetched. First, the oil signifies extra effort to rise above mediocrity. Since the parable is likened to the kingdom of heaven, it implies that only those who make extra effort will be worthy of being admitted into it. Secondly, though the foolish maidens had been invited, they were denied entry in the last instance because it is one thing to be invited, but it is another thing entirely to put oneself in readiness for what the invitation demands. This is also what Jesus means when he says “not all who say to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Mat 7:21) and also, “many are called but few are chosen” (Mat 22:14). We may ask a further question: how did this happen? How did these maidens fail to prepare adequately? The answer is what we find in the readings of today’s Mass, and more precisely in the second reading.

Writing to the Romans who were gentile coverts to Christianity, Saint Paul admonished them, and now us, in these words, “Do not be conformed to the standards of this world, but let your lives be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” Powerful admonition we can say. In this, lies the weakness of many Christians of our age, which silently put them in the condition of the foolish virgins who took no extra oil. As we see from the first and gospel reading, the call of God to us will demand a lot from us, and this demand will require that we always take the extra oil of greater efforts to live the good life. We will not however, be able to do this unless we live a life of nonconformity. And I dare to say that this is the biggest tragedy of Christianity today, that we are very content with being mediocre, nominal Christians who see no need to make extra effort to live the good life God expects of us. But the words of Jesus are still very much valid, that if we are neither hot nor cold, he shall spit us out of his mouth (Rev 3:15).

Dear child of God, we must always bear in mind that it is one thing to answer the name of Christian, it is another thing to live the life of Christian; it is one thing to be in the church of God, it is another thing to be on the path to heaven. Living a life of conformity with the standards of the world which makes us think certain sins are okay, which makes us imagine that God will understand because “everybody is doing it”, which makes us live by the principle of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” which makes us see sin as a normal part of life, and which makes us detest the idea of the cross in our lives, will bring us nothing at the end of this life but the reward of pain, damnation and eternal sorrow. For as Jesus says in today’s gospel reading, “When the Son of man comes with his angels, he will repay every man for what he has done” (Mat 16:27).

The basic call of God to us therefore is not to be conformed to the standards of this world, not to be deterred when we are mocked like the prophet Jeremiah for doing what is right, and not to shy away from carrying our crosses as Jesus admonishes in the gospel reading. We should rather let our lights shine and transform the world, for we are the light of the world (Mat 5:14). The church is to reflect the light of God to the world to illumine it, and we are that church. Sadly however, the church is gradually resembling the world; and worse is the domestic church, the family. There are too many Christian families today that have patterned their family life according to the tenets of the world: they do not pray together, they do not study scripture together, the children are not raised to know, love and serve God, the children are not exposed to Christian literature but are fed novels that are in some cases ungodly, they are not taught Christian songs, but the parents applaud them when they can mime every kind of secular songs, and many other such things as we see in families today. Instead of light conquering darkness, it appears as though darkness is infiltrating and wanting to overpower the light.

Dear friends, the word of God to us today is clear: the Christian call may be tough, but do not bend to the easy way of the world, for it leads to death (Mat 7:13). May we do well therefore, to live our lives according to the call of God for us. Amen

SPIRITUALITY IS PERSONAL (21ST SUNDAY, YEAR A)

Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

Life generally is full of questions, and so is scripture. The word “question” is a derivative of the Latin quaerere which means to ‘search’ or ‘seek’. Thus, to ask a question is to search or seek (for answers) and he who searches will almost always find (Mat 7:7). The gospel reading of today’s Mass contains two very important questions, which shall be the focus of our reflection. First, Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” then secondly, he asked, “But who do you say I am?” From these questions, we shall take two lessons.

Lesson 1: Spirituality is a private matter

Knowing Jesus is and must be a very personal matter to each and every Christian. While on a general, common level, we can all know about Jesus, to know Jesus is a different matter and must happen on a personal level. This implies that there is a huge difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. As we see in the gospel reading, when Jesus asked “Who do people say I am”, it was easy for his disciples to relate the people’s opinions of Jesus. Their answers were easy and shallow because they only knew about Jesus. But when Jesus asked the deeper question, “But who do you say I am”, his disciples fell silent. At this point, Jesus was no longer asking of the common, general opinion about him; Jesus made the question personal, and then they must have realized they may not even have truly known this man they have been following everywhere. What this reveals to us is that simply knowing about Jesus breeds superficiality in spirituality but knowing Jesus on a personal level leads to ruggedity in spirituality. We can know about Jesus by simply reading about him, hearing what our parents, teachers and the church are all saying about him and following the superficial crowd spirituality as it relates to him. However, to personally know Jesus, we need to consciously make the effort to move away from that crowd knowledge to a personal, deeper knowledge of him which is built on a personal encounter with him. It is in this personal encounter that we develop a true spirituality. Thus, knowledge about Jesus should necessarily lead to knowledge of Jesus. Sadly however, many Christians are comfortable with this mediocre level of knowledge and relationship with Jesus; they show no interest in having a personal relationship with Jesus, which answers the question, “Who do you say I am”, but prefer rather to remain at the shallow level of “Who do people say I am.” Every Christian knows about God, but only very few Christians know God. The word of God invites us today to seek to establish a personal, deeper relationship with Him, and we can do this by giving him space in our lives and by seeking to walk by his precepts daily.

Lesson 2: Knowledge of God leads to true knowledge of self

If we seek to know God on a personal level, He will help us to discover our true value. As we see in the gospel reading, Peter did not know that he carried in himself, the potential of being the rock and the head of the church and the keeper of the keys of the gates of heaven till he met Jesus. In other scriptural instances, Moses did not know that he could lead a great nation as Israel until he encountered God; Gideon was hiding from the Midianites, not knowing that God made him to be a man of valour, until he met God; Jeremiah did not know he carried the fire of a great prophet until God called him; Isaiah did not know that despite his unclean lips, he was to be one of the greatest prophets in Israel until he encountered God. They were content with where they were until they met God and he showed them it was not their true place. Many of us will never get to know our true value in life until we enter into a relationship with God. If you know and confess God, he will reveal to you, your true value. However, so that this does not happen, the devil will try to deceive you into remaining a mediocre Christian who is okay with just coming to church and going without building a strong personal relationship with Jesus. My challenge to you today is to seek to rise above being a nominal Christian; make every effort to move into a level of deeper union with God. Until you truly know God, you may never truly know who you are and what you carry inside you.

FEAR NOT, FOR GOD IS NEAR(HOMILY FOR 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

FEAR NOT, FOR GOD IS NEAR(HOMILY FOR 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

The feeling of fright (fear) is a universal feeling that all human beings can relate with. Irrespective of age, status, gender, religious or political affiliation or any other differentiations we may have, we all experience the feeling of fear at one time or the other and in varying degrees. While for some, it is something that comes and goes, depending on a situation that triggers the feeling, for others, it is a perpetual state in which they live their lives. These second group of people are controlled by fear in their thoughts, words and actions.

The first and gospel readings of today’s Mass present us with this reality of fear. The first reading is a narration of how God assured the prophet Elijah of his presence while he was running away from Jezebel out of fear because she threatened to kill him for killing the prophets of Baal, while the gospel reading recounts to us the deathly fear that came upon the disciples of Jesus when he came to them walking on the water and they thought they were seeing a ghost. Of a truth, both situations are capable of making even the stout-hearted to be afraid. To know that someone who has power and authority and an entire army at his/her disposal is out to kill you will make you afraid, no matter how brave you are. Also, it was unheard of that a human being can walk on water, let alone in the dead of the night (between 3am and 6am) and in the middle of the sea, towards a boat struggling with waves. This was the experience of the disciples of Jesus and any sane human being will be shaken by such a sight! Though we all react differently to fear, fear makes some people do very nasty things and say some crazy stuffs without thinking. From the readings therefore, we shall take two lessons for our reflection.

  • God is never far

While the prophet Elijah was running away from Jezebel, he got tired of his whole ministry at a point and asked God to take his life. At one point, he even thought he was the only remaining true prophet (1 Kgs 19:10). He felt God had abandoned him, which was why he was going through so much trouble. But the word of God holds true that “his salvation is near for those who fear him” (Psa 85:9). So what Elijah did not realize was that God was with him every step of the way. This was why God had to show him his presence as we heard in the first reading. The disciples of Jesus also thought they were left to their fate as they battled against the raging storm that was threatening to sink their boat. What they also did not know was that Jesus was in the territory of the storm, and his presence made it impossible for them to be overwhelmed. He however had to come to them physically, to completely still the storm. These two encounters narrated to us today assures us that when we face a storm in our lives, when heavy trials come upon us, we should not look too far, for God is always near. And God has given us the free pass to call upon him in the day of distress and he will save us (cf. Psa 50:15). At all times therefore, and in all situations, let us keep in mind that God is never far away.

  • Have faith, not fear

It is true that God is always near, and that he desires to help us, but God demands a faith commitment from us. In certain instances in scriptures, such as the healing of the paralytic (Mk 2:5) and the woman with hemorrhage (Lk 8:48), we see that God’s help comes as a reward for our faith in him. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says “I will bless the person who puts his trust in me” (Jer 17:7). It is necessary therefore, that when the storms of life rise up against us, that we keep faith in God and not be afraid. In fact, it is in times as these that we need to ask God to increase our faith. Notice that when Peter asked Jesus if he could come meet him on the water and Jesus answered in the affirmative, Peter was able to walk on the water until he allowed fear to set in. Of greater importance is Jesus’ question to Peter: “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” See that Jesus did not question Peter’s fear; instead, he questioned Peter’s faith. Why so? It is because faith is the antidote to fear! As long as we keep our faith in God alive, we will not fear; and as long as we do not fear, we will not sink. So, child of God, when next fear threatens you, knowing that God is near you, send your faith to fight it. Fear not, for God is near!

LET LOVE PRODUCE LOVE (18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm145; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Matthew 14:13-21

Imagine going to the supermarket to shop and instead of paying for the items you picked, you are paid by the owner. Or just imagine that everything in the market, irrespective of the monetary value, is free for all. Such things are difficult to imagine, humanly speaking, but this is the kind of picture painted for us in today’s readings, especially in the first reading. Summarily, all three readings of today’s Mass speak to us about the love of God for us. The first reading, the psalm and the gospel paints a picture of God who, in his love for us, provides for us and takes care of our needs; the second reading on the other hand, admonishes us not to separate ourselves from this loving God. In all, these readings send out three invitations to us, and these shall be the crux of our reflection.

  1. An invitation to enjoy God’s blessings

The first reading is basically an invitation to enjoy the blessings and goodness of God. All of God’s gifts to us are invaluable, priceless, yet free. God gives us his gifts freely because we cannot pay for them. So he invites us to come and “eat” and “drink” for free! The Psalmist says we should “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa 33:9). It is out of this his goodness that God provides for us as we journey through life. A question we must answer however is, despite this invitation, do we go to God or we prefer to be elsewhere? Scriptures says one day in God’s presence is better than a thousand elsewhere (Psa 84:10). As God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, anything that we may be seeking outside of him is a waste and cannot satisfy. Let us therefore take advantage of this enormous love of God for us and savor the sweetness of his blessings.

  • An invitation to care for the needy

The gospel reading tells us that Jesus noticed the plight of those who followed him; he noticed that some were sick among them and that some were hungry. He was not oblivious of their plight. And when he took note of this, he proceeded to do something about it: to the sick, he brought healing; for the hungry, he provided food. Jesus will not provide bread again in this manner except through us. But the question is: do we notice the plight of those around us? Do we even care enough to notice that something is going on with them? And when we do notice anything, do we help? We must remind ourselves that every act of charity done for a needy brother or sister is done for Jesus, “for I was hungry, you gave me food…I was naked, you gave me clothes” (Mat 25:34-36).

  • An invitation to cooperate with God

It is true that we may not be able to do much in the face of so much trouble in the world, but with God’s touch, our little efforts will count for something. God does not expect us to solve the problems of the world, but God expects us to make little efforts in solving those problems we can, using the resources at our disposal. As we heard in the gospel reading, in the face of five thousand men – not counting women and children – the little boy’s five loaves and two fish counted for nothing actually. But placed in the hands of Jesus, it was more than enough to feed that multitude. That is what happens when we cooperate with God to help people in the little ways we can with the little things we have.

Today, dear friends, the word of God enjoins us to appreciate the love of God which takes care of our needs and to run to this God at all times. And in a special way, we are challenged today to love our neighbors and help those in need when we can, just as God comes to our help in our own moments of need. So basically, God’s love for us should necessarily produce in us, love for our neighbours. When Jesus finished washing the feet of his disciples on the night of the Last Supper, he said to them, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15). So, as God shows us love, we too ought to show others love. That is the message at the heart of our reflection today. We pray therefore, for the grace to always acknowledge and appreciate God’s love for us and also to extend the fruits of that love to those around us. Amen

ALL ABOUT CHOICES (17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52

Imagine you get a blank cheque from the world’s richest man and he tells you that you can fill in any amount you so desire; how much will you fill in? Or imagine you are taken to Shoprite and told to pick anything you want, quantity not being an issue; what will you pick? I am very certain your mind is doing a marathon now, and you may be feeling lost at the thought of such possibilities. It is going to be a tough choice to make really, as a million thoughts will flash through your mind in seconds. These scenarios I have painted are meant to help us understand fully, what Solomon was faced with as we heard in our first reading when God told him, “Ask what I shall give you.” Imagine the owner of the whole universe telling you to ask anything and it shall be yours! It was a tough decision, a tough choice for Solomon to make; it was not as simple as it is when we read about it today.

Indeed, life is full of choices. Some are simple choices, some are tough, yet, we must choose. And indeed, at every step of the way through life, we are making choices, either actively or passively. The parables of Jesus in today’s gospel reading also present us with the reality of making choices. Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a field of treasure and a pearl of great value that people found. They had to choose between taking the risk of selling all they owned to lay hands on those treasures or keeping their resources and forfeiting the treasures. According to Jesus’ parable, they chose to let go of all in order to possess the rich treasure of the kingdom of God. In the third parable of the dragnet in the gospel reading, Jesus says at the end of time, just as fishermen choose the good fishes and throw away the bad ones, so will God separate the righteous from the unrighteous. From today’s liturgy of the Word, we shall draw two lessons for our reflection.

  • Whether we spend eternity in heaven or hell is our choice

In the parables of Jesus, he said the kingdom of heaven is like a field of great treasure and like a pearl of great value. Those who found it had to choose whether to pay the price and possess it or not. Here therefore, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is a choice that we have to make, but a choice that comes at a price, and only those who choose to pay the price can have possession of it.

The price we have to pay are the things we have to give up that, clinging to them will prevent us from gaining entrance to that kingdom. Due to the eternal value of that kingdom, no price is too great to pay for it, so it will be foolish to choose against paying the price. And Jesus warns, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (Mk 8:36).

If we can make sacrifices for earthly, temporal things and comfort, we should be more willing and ready to make sacrifices for our eternity. Ultimately however, the choice is ours! Those who choose to pay the price shall inherit the treasure of eternal life in heaven; those who choose otherwise shall have to bear the pain of eternal damnation in hell. But as for God, he has placed before us life and death, blessings and curses, and he has cautioned and advised us to choose life (cf. Deut 30:19). What then will your choice be?

  • At the end of time, God will choose who enters heaven or not

In the third parable in our gospel reading (the parable of the dragnet), Jesus says as fishermen separate the good fish from the bad, so shall God separate the righteous people from evil people at the end of time. He repeats a similar point in the parable of the last judgment when he said God shall separate people as shepherds separate goats from sheep (cf. Mat 25:31-46). In last week’s gospel reading about the weeds and wheat, we also read that the reapers shall separate the wheat from the weeds. All these are about choices – choosing the good from the bad.

There is however, an interesting side to this choice that God will make: we are the ones who will make the choice for God; he shall only give us the reward of the choices that we have made during our lifetime. As God clearly states through the prophet Ezekiel, he “has no pleasure in the death of a sinner but would rather see him turn from his evil ways and live” (cf. Ezk 33:11). So if we choose to do good while we live here on earth, God shall choose us like the good fish, the sheep and the wheat. If however, our choices here on earth are evil, sinful choices, then we shall be cast out as the bad fish, the goats and the weeds. And Jesus says “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” at that time, meaning that there will be painful regrets. But then, it will be too late to make amends.

We must always keep in mind therefore, that day by day, we are making choices for heaven or for hell, and at the end of time, God shall crown us with the reward of the choices we have made. In the final analysis, whether we spend eternity in heaven or in hell shall be all about the choices we make, hence, let us choose wisely. We pray for the grace to always make the right choices; and may God also grant us the courage to make the necessary sacrifices needed to win us eternal life in heaven. Amen

WHILE MEN WERE SLEEPING…(16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43

The creation story in the book of Genesis tells us that when God created the universe and all that is in it, including man, he saw that they were all very good. The third chapter of the same book narrates how sin came into the world through the trickery of Satan. On account of that sin, God placed punishment on man, the devil, and the soil. From that time on, sin has become a constant factor in the lives of all human beings who have to struggle to always rise above it. It is important to state that the devil succeeded to trick Adam and Eve into sin because they let their guards down, taking their eyes off of the instructions of God and placing them on the distractive attractions placed before them by Satan.

In the gospel reading, Jesus tells three parables that are very instructive. The first parable is of particular relevance for this homily. In it, Jesus narrates something similar to the creation story. The farmer sowed good seeds (just as God created the world to be good); the good seeds are the sons of God (as Adam and Eve were good children of God before they sinned); the enemy (Satan) sowed weeds in the farm (same as he planted sin in the world according to the creation story); the harvest time is the day of reckoning (the same way God came calling for Adam in the garden of Eden); and there was the reward of casting the weeds into the furnace of fire (just as God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden). Of great importance in that parable is what Jesus said, that the weeds were planted “while men were sleeping.” What does this mean?

According to a theory of epistemology and psychology, the human mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) at birth, and we learn by sense impressions made on our minds. The implication of this theory is that the things we get to know, whether good or bad are picked up as we grow. As we see in the parable of Jesus and the creation story above, God created us good, but evil comes in along the way. Again, as Jesus said, this happens while men are sleeping. Therefore, “while men were sleeping” simply means when people are not alert; when people drop their guard; when people become too lax; when people no longer pay attention. In spirituality, “while men were sleeping” also means when people become lukewarm. Thus, “sleeping”, in the context Jesus used it, is not an act but a state, especially a state of negligence and carelessness.

While this message of caution from Jesus is of great importance for all of us, I would like in this homily, to address it more to parents as it concerns the upbringing of their children. Without fear of error, I can confidently say that a lot has and is still going wrong with parenting in our generation. It is said that a society is a reflection of the families that make it up. Looking at the nature of our society today, what conclusions then do we draw about our families? Of a fact, many parents have slept and are still sleeping when it comes to the proper and godly raising of their children. Many have abdicated their parental responsibilities to their relatives, maids, friends, neighbours and their children’s school teachers. Some have become absentee parents their children get to see only once in a while. Some have themselves become bad examples for their children. Worse still, some are present in the life of the children, but they either consciously or negligently teach their children erroneous things or indulge them when they err. When any of these happens, room is created for the “enemy” to sow weeds where there should be good seed.

It has become a common but disheartening sight today to see children from Christian homes who know little to nothing about their faith other than they are Christians and they go to church on Sundays. It is very worrisome to see children of Catholic families who cannot properly make the sign of the cross, let alone correctly say basic Catholic prayers. Many Christian, Catholic parents today consider is a burden to send their kids for catechism of two hours in a week, but have no problem engaging them in several hours of academic and other forms of lessons, forgetting that as they seek to give their children a firm foundation for this life, so should they give them a firm foundation for eternal life, “for what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul (Mk 8:36). Many Christian children today, due to the “sleep” of their parents, neither know nor can recite simple scriptural verses or correctly sing simple Christian songs but can mime the complete lyrics of some ungodly songs without error. Parents, wake up! While you are busy sleeping on your Christian parental responsibilities, the devil is sowing weeds into the lives of your children, and when the day of reckoning comes, the consequences will be disastrous.

While parents are in deep spiritual slumber, the devil is sowing weeds in the lives of their children…

To all of you parents, the word of God speaks to you to stay awake, to stay vigilant, to not sleep, to not neglect your responsibilities as parents, to raise your children in the way they should go (Prov 22:6), to jealously guard and nurture the good seed that God put in them from the beginning, and to ensure that they are ready to be harvested into the kingdom of God when the time comes. You need to constantly stay awake and be on guard because you do not know when or how the devil will sneak into your children’s lives to sow the weed of ungodliness. Jesus already gives us a forewarning when he said “if the house owner knew when the thief would come, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into (Mat 24:43). The sad truth however is that many parents today are even the ones opening the door for the thief with their own hands, and they give him a spare key. As we can learn from the other two parables of Jesus about the mustard seed and the leaven, all that is needed could be just a small amount of negativity planted in the heart as seed, and that tiny little seed can produce massive results. This means therefore, that you must take nothing for granted. The same is also applicable to us all. Sin is usually like a snowball that starts small and rolls into a massive ball.

Today therefore, Jesus challenges us to not let our guards down, as our enemy, the devil, is prowling round, looking for good hearts to plant evil seeds (1 Pet 5:8), so we pray for the grace to be wise enough not to give him a chance. Amen.

PONDER OR BE PLUNDERED (15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 64; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23

With very forceful imageries, the first and gospel readings of today’s Mass speak to us about the Word of God. Through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, God compares his Word to the rain that does not leave the sky and return midway. Once it is sent, it must fulfill its mission. Jesus, using the familiar imagery of a sower, likens the Word of God to seeds scattered for sowing and falling on different soil. The seed (word) is the same, the source of it is the same, but the nature of the soil on which each seed (word) falls determines the fruitfulness or otherwise of it. However, if we put God’s declaration in the first reading side by side Jesus’ parable in the gospel reading, one thing that stands clear is that once the seed (Word) leaves the source, it must hit the soil and produce effect(s). So, as Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is (always) alive and active.”

In Jesus’ parable in the gospel, he gives reasons why the word does not bear fruit in some of those who receive it. For one group (along the path), they hear the word, do not understand it and do not seek for deeper knowledge, so one small devil confuses them and takes the word away from them. For another (on rocky soil), they accept the word led by their emotions, not their reason, so they do not think of the implications of their decision. Some even cry and promise repentance, but alas, that is a surface repentance which has no root; some make pledges upon hearing a word until time for fulfilling the promise comes, then they falter. For this reason, the word has no root in them and it evaporates once that emotion has passed and a thing challenges them. There are also those who know the implications of accepting the word, but the word has rivals in them (the thorns). They are neither here nor there; they are unwilling to let go of the things the word demands of them to sacrifice. They are unwilling to let go of the lies, the cheating, the unfaithfulness, the drunkenness, the fornication, the adultery, the pornography and masturbation; they are undecided whether or not to fully accept the word and let go of the anger, the envy, the jealousy, the backbiting and the selfishness. So this rivalry, prolonged for some time, kills the word and it yields no fruit in them. Besides all of these issues, Jesus also squarely puts the blame at their doorstep when he said “this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes have closed.” The immediate implication of this statement of Jesus is that we are responsible for the effectiveness or otherwise of the word of God in our lives. This is not however, to rule out completely, the help of the Holy Spirit in the whole process, but we must note that the Holy Spirit will only help us if we open ourselves to his help. And then finally, there are those (the good soil) who hear the word of God, ponder on it, understand it and bear fruit in different measures.

It is interesting to note that for all the other three unproductive soils (hearts/lives), the solution is one and the same: pondering on the word of God. If you do not ponder on the word of God, you will be plundered of the word of God. This is why Psalm 1:3 makes it clear that those who ponder on the word of God day and night are like trees planted beside flowing waters, yielding their fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade. Interestingly also, there is a word of God that addresses each of the different hearts described by Jesus in the gospel reading. To those who hear the word but do not understand, 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show yourselves approved unto God.” No one gets to fully understand anything without committing to studying it; in the same vein, no one gets to understand the word of God and its demands without committing to studying it. For those who are led by emotion, Luke 14:28-30 admonishes, using the analogy of a man who wants to build, to first count the cost. To the third group who are choked by the cares of this world, 1 John 2:17 says “the world and all that is in it passing away”, therefore, “what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his life?” (Mk 8:36) 

Today, dear friends, let us ask ourselves some fundamental questions:

  • What is my relationship with the word of God?
  • Is the word of God a priority in my life?
  • What is my reaction when I hear the word of God?
  • How much of the word do I have in me?
  • How much of God’s written word do I know?
  • How much time do I give to it, especially to studying it?

We will also need to ask ourselves how fruitful we are on account of God’s word. Spiritual growth and fruitfulness is close to impossible without a relationship with the word of God. We see this clearly demonstrated in the parable Jesus told in our gospel text. It is important we also note that apart from spiritual fruitfulness, the word of God also gives us all-round fruitfulness: medical, social, financial, emotional, etc. With the word of God, we can speak fruitfulness into any and every area of our lives, for there is power in the word of God. Unfortunately however, many do not know this because they do not read and ponder on the word of God. Little wonder God said through the prophet Hosea that his people are perishing for lack of knowledge, knowledge that is available for their taking (Hos 4:6). Hear me, child of God, and hear me again: If you do not ponder on the word of God, you will be plundered of the word of God and lose the benefits of all its power in/to your life. The devil knows that the day you give room to the word of God to truly bear seed in your life, that day, he loses his grip on you, so he will do everything to keep you away from it. Jesus says with a little faith, you can move mountains and Romans 10:17 says “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Do you now see the connection why the devil will fight to prevent you from getting rooted in the word? Be wise!

 The challenge before us today therefore, is to devote more time to studying God’s word and bearing the fruit of it thereof. It is my prayer that we do not take this matter lightly, but that by our commitment to God’s word, He may water our lives and make us fruitful. Amen

THE SPIRIT vs THE FLESH (HOMILY FOR 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

“…for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

One consciousness that scripture puts in our minds as believers is the fact that there is a constant struggle between the forces of good and evil, each trying to control the human person. These are also depicted as the spirit and the flesh. The force of good (Spirit) is of God, while the force of evil (flesh) is of the devil. The writings of Saint Paul, more than any other book of the bible, teach this truth severally. One example is the second reading of today’s Mass. In it, Saint Paul reminds us that by virtue of our union with Christ, especially through baptism, we are no longer people of the flesh but have become people of the Spirit. This does not mean that we no longer live in the flesh, but rather, that we are not controlled by the desires of the flesh. This is somewhat another rendition of what Jesus says of his disciples, that though they are in the world, they do not belong to the world (Jn 17:16) or as Saint Paul says elsewhere, that we must not be conformed to the standards of this world (Rom 12:2).

Specifically, today’s second reading says “if you live according to the works of the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” To understand what this means, we must first know what the works of the flesh are. The bible gives us an answer in Galatian 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness (sexual impurity such as pornography and masturbation), lewdness (vulgarity, profanity), idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, anger, selfishness, dissensions, heresies (factions), envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries (merry making), and the like; … those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Opposed to these works of the flesh are the works of the Spirit, which we popularly refer to as the fruits of the Holy Spirit. That same book of Galatians again gives us answers as to what the works of the Spirit are.

Galatians 5:22-23 says But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (generosity), faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 

Note: Words in parenthesis are mine

Something striking that stands out from these opposing lists of the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit is that both of them have implications for this life and the afterlife. As the second reading says, the works of the flesh produces death, and the works of the Spirit produces life. And a close look at the listed works will show that it is true. The word of God cannot lie!

In the gospel reading, Jesus says “come to me, you who are overburdened and I will give you rest…Take my yoke, and you will find rest for your souls.” When we understand this statement of Jesus in the light of this second reading, then we shall see how powerful and comforting this invitation is. Hear me and hear me well, child of God, if you are living by the works of the flesh, whether you realize it or not, there is a heavy burden on you. The good news however, is that Jesus has promised to give you rest if you come to him. The yoke of Jesus is what we have listed as the fruits of the Spirit. Anyone who lives by them shall indeed find rest for his/her soul. This is something that only the simple of heart can understand, and when we humble ourselves under the power of the Holy Spirit, then we shall understand and appreciate this truth. And as Jesus also says in the gospel reading, God has hidden this simple truth from the learned (arrogant) and revealed them to infants (humble). What this means therefore is that for repentance to happen, humility is required.

Today therefore, let us check ourselves, brethren. Take your Bible and list out these opposing works (of the flesh and of the Spirit). Truthfully look at the list and see how many of each you can identify in your life. For each of the works of the flesh you identify, ask God to give you the grace and courage to eliminate if from your life. If you are able to sincerely do this, then, as Jesus says in the gospel reading, you will find rest, not only for your souls but also for your physical, mental, social and emotional life.

We pray that God may grant us the grace of true repentance as we strive to replace the works of the flesh with the works/fruits of the Spirit. Amen