27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Hab 1:2-3;2:2-4/Ps 94/2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14/Lk 17: 5-10
My Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the fallouts of the Big Man theory, and its attendant cult of the individual, is that persons in positions of authority at any levels (especially in Nigeria) ordinarily expect the adulation of others, including those that they serve. This is tolerable to the extent that we understand it as an inescapable aspect of human nature. However, the problem with human nature is that the constant reinforcement that comes from such adulation, coupled with a dose of sycophancy that can happen in closed systems, can make the recipient begin to feel that his/her role is to lord it over the persons placed in his/her charge.
A mature Christian is not permitted this mindset, or to succumb to the temptation to act according to such mindset. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel; “so with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty”.
Every position of leadership or authority as the case may be, is a call to service, and an opportunity to put that which we have received (our abilities, gifts, talents, know-how, resources) at the service of persons whose lot will be transformed by the guidance they get from those in said positions of authority. This is true of positions in society, and positions in the Church. The typical leader is to marshal and effectively utilize all that is placed at his/her disposal, either on his part or on the part of his followership towards the attainment of set goals.
Society tends to celebrate individuals who are able to meet these goals, and to a greater extent, those who have been able to demonstrate over time, an ability to habitually meet set goals when placed in leadership. In the real sense, we should celebrate the group, as without the cooperation and input and contribution of the group, it is impossible for an individual to achieve anything. The leader on the other hand, has only done his duty. Are we to celebrate the leader any more than we are to (in the words of Jesus) tell the servant in today’s gospel who after a hard day spent in the farm, we now reverse the roles and cook for and serve food to that servant?
Jesus is inviting us today to review our conception of leadership and authority. It is not an avenue for self aggrandizement, but a God given moment to serve people who need this service. It is a lesson for all of us, and one that the sooner we start putting into practice, the better we will all be for it. Perhaps we can start from our use of personal possessive pronouns when we are talking about our positions of authority.
28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) 2Kg 5:14-17/Ps 97/2 Tim 2:8-13/Lk 17: 11-19
My Dear Friends in Christ,
The story of the Ten lepers is very popular in reflections bordering on thanksgiving. We also see similar elements of thanksgiving in Naaman’s response to his miraculous healing in the first reading. Nevertheless, if we use the response the today’s psalm as a hermeneutical key, then we see that today gives us an opportunity to reflect on the fact that the Lord has shown His salvation to the Nations.
As has been observed by many commentators, it was quite intriguing to see Jewish and Samaritan lepers forming a community of sorts. Their predicament had helped break down the barriers between them, because ordinarily, there was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans. The reasons for this goes beyond the scope of this reflection, but suffice it to say, borrowing from one of the pejorative connotations in Nigeria, that if a Samaritan sees a snake and a Jew, he will prefer to kill the Jew first before the snake. So, it was indeed surprising to see this community of former enemies brought together by misfortune.
It is true that misfortune has a wonderful capacity to eliminate barriers among between persons. You see this in the alacrity with which persons respond in the face of disasters to save their fellow men. But there is a greater reason for solidarity among persons, and this is our common origin in God. As the psalmist says, The Lord has shown His salvation to the nations. God is the creator of the world and all in it. This means that in a real sense, regardless of our differences, we are brothers and sisters of this one creator God.
There have always been a tendency for some groups to see themselves as more special than others. For instance, due to God’s covenant with Abraham, the Jews believed that their salvation was assured and they were God’s beloved. Now and again therefore, God used his prophets to teach them otherwise, like the healing of Naaman in today’s first reading, and the gratitude of a Samaritan of all people, in the gospel.
Naturally, it was not easy for Jesus to teach this to his audience, but over time they began to understand and appreciate the lesson, and live according to what it demanded. God has made salvation available to everybody, all nations. Why? Because in the real sense, we are all God’s children. Are you able to look at the person next to you, who is not your family member or friend or associate or from your tribe, and see in him or her that he or she is your brother or your sister?
29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Ex17: 8-13/Ps 120/2 Tim 3:14-4:2/Lk 18: 1-8
My Dear Friends in Christ,
Contrary though it may seem, one of the greatest lessons Joshua learnt as far as his task of leading the Israelites after Moses was concerned, was in the defeat to Ai. (Joshua 7). The context is as follows: Joshua had just returned from bringing down the walls of Jericho, and a decision was taken to attack Ai after reconnoitering the land. The challenge was such that there was no need to use the entire army for this battle (Joshua 7: 3), only two or three thousand men. Surprisingly, Israel went
into battle and were completely routed. Why? Because owing to Achan’s transgression, the Lord was not on their side.
Today’s liturgy underlines for us the importance of the Lord being with us in our endeavours. We see it in the first reading were the Israelites were able to prevail over Amalek as long as Moses’ hands were elevated, that is, as long as the Lord was with them. In the gospel, we are taught the importance of perseverance in prayer. But taking the story at face value, we learn that there is simply no way the widow in question would have got justice from the Judge in the story, if the Lord had not been with her.
People of faith understand this point, and have put in succinctly in the song derived from Psalm 20; Some may trust in horses, some may trust in chariots, but we will trust in the name of our God. We see this in some of the more captivating stories of the book of Judges and Kings, like Gideon and King Jehoshaphat, who recorded great victories in spite of massive odds, because God was with them. The Apostles were able to carry out the gargantuan assignment Jesus gave to them because God the Holy Spirit was with them. Saints and Holy men and women down the centuries have done same.
In truth, it is really quite simple. It is not a function of how hard we work that makes us successful. Many truck pushers work much harder than we do, and are not as blessed as we are. It is not a function of our qualifications. Many Masters holders are trekking the streets daily in search for jobs, and are still searching. It is not a function of what we have, who will know. God choose to give us what we have and record the successes we record. So, in addition to all that we feel qualifies us to achieve what we want to achieve, we must add faith, that ability to be assured of things unseen because we are confident that we have God on our side. This is what tips the scales in our favour, despite the odds.
30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Eccl 35:12-14, 16-19/Ps 33/2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18/Lk18: 9-14
My Dear Friends in Christ,
Benchmarking is a common human phenomenon, and one that when it is well utilized, can be a wonderful tool for growth. We see its fruitfulness for instance in the family when a wife encourages her husband to aspire and go further in his career, by gently (or otherwise) reminding him of the achievements of his friends; a mother pushes her son to improve his marks in school, by setting a standard beyond that in his school where he is what we call in our parlance, a local champion; a country compares itself with other countries similar in size/age/economy, and uses that to check if there is advancement or not. In all these instances, benchmarking is good, as it produces two types of results; either we are not as good as they are, and we are challenged to do more, or we are better than they are, whereby we celebrate our success, and take steps to ensure that we remain forever in ahead of them.
The Pharisee in today’s gospel was a man that was trying his best to live a good life according to the spiritual rules he was brought up with. But there was no need to benchmark his progress with the tax collector that he was together with in the temple. This is because, where God is concerned, the rules are different from human standards.
The first reading makes us realize that “The man who with his whole heart serves God will be accepted, his petitions will carry to the clouds. The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds…” The
publican in the gospel reading, prayed in a manner that pierced the clouds and arrived at God’s presence, and he was able to return home justified. It did not matter to God that maybe before he stepped into the Temple he had just cheated someone, or that he had not fasted for ages or even that he might not have been faithful in saying his prayers. It is not that such matters are not important, because they are. But their importance is always in relation to how much closer they bring us to God.
Indeed it was his sense of sin and unworthiness that ended up justifying this man before God. These are intangibles, and being intangibles, we cannot readily perceive them. Consequently, if we want to judge the righteousness and otherwise of other persons, like our brother Pharisee did today, we will be clearly mistaken. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:37, ‘judge not so that you will not be judged’.
So, if you want to benchmark with someone, as a means of improving your spiritual life, you are better off reading about your patron saint or other saints, and imitating their lives. These are those who have seen it all, and have been able to heroically live out their Christian values. notwithstanding the assorted difficulties that they faced. These are the persons that Hebrews 13: 7 is referring to.
31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Wis 11:22-12:2/Ps 144/2 Thess 1:11-2: 2/Lk19: 1-10
My Dear Friends in Christ,
There are two main reasons why the Israelites did not like tax collectors, to which group Zaccheus was a key member. The first was the fact that the tax collectors were close collaborators with the Roman imperialists that were occupying the Kingdom of Israel, and paying taxes to them further drove home their humiliation. So, the tax collectors were the surrogates of the Roman empire in a sense. The second reason was that owing to the methodology adopted by the Romans as far as taxes were concerned, the typical tax collector had a lot of latitude to enrich himself. The idea was that the Roman government detailed their expectation in terms of returns to the tax collector, gave him the military force to attain this objective, and then wait for the pennies to roll in. It was not out of place then for a tax collector to ‘over collect’ taxes, deduct the returns for the government, and bank the rest for himself. This was the way the average Jew saw them, hence they were sinners.
Luckily for Zaccheus, Jesus was not interested in such matters. His interest rather was in Zaccheus salvation, as he so wisely put it; “today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost”.
In gaining the conversion of Zaccheus, Jesus lost nothing more than a diminution of public opinion about him. And this really is not too important, because public opinion can be fickle, and it is difficult to live one’s life and fashion one’s modus operandi according to public opinion. This is something we need to keep in mind as individual Christians and as a Church. When the salvation of souls is in question, we cannot allow our efforts be vitiated by considerations of how public opinion will regard our efforts.
On the contrary, we need to always place before us our identity, and the implications of this identity. We are Christians, that is disciples of Jesus, followers of Jesus, persons who are trying to put their feet in the footprints of Jesus. We cannot but do as Jesus did, and Jesus was notable for being a friend of sinners. His friendship with sinners was the agency through which he was able to get them to know more about the gospel he brought, to the point that these sinners, in the face of a deep
knowledge of the Love of God for them, could not but accept Jesus’ invitation and become his followers.
This is the template for us. We cannot be far from those at the margins of society, those regarded as sinners, the unclean, cheats, the corrupt persons, liars, adulterers and fornicators, thieves, the whole bunch of such persons. (Indeed, how many of us do not fall under one or more of these categories?). We cannot get these persons to embrace conversion, if we are far from them because of public opinion. Through our friendship with them, we will be the purveyors of salvation to these persons, just as Jesus did for Zacchaeus.