Friday, September 4, 2020

September 06, 2020. Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

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


Correct One Another in Love

1.    The readings today stress the need to correct one another in love. Our world is so polarized that we are prone to build a wall of separation rather build a bridge of love and unity. Fr. John Pichapilly published a powerful story in his book, ‘Kindle Your Spirit’ that, I believe, will capture the substance of these readings.


2.    “Once upon a time, there were two brothers. Their father had a large farm and when he became too old to work, he called his sons to him and said, “I am too old to work anymore. I will divide my farm in half and give each of you one half. I know that you will always work together and will be good friends.” When the brothers first started farming on their adjoining farms, they were the best of friends and would share everything together. Then, one day there was an argument between the two brothers, and they stopped speaking to one another. For many years, not a word was spoken between them.


3.    One day, one of the brothers was at his house when a carpenter came to his door and said, “I would like to do some work. Do you have any work that I can do?” The brother thought for a moment and then replied, “I would like for you to build a fence on my property. Build it down near the stream there that separates my farm from my brother’s. I don’t want to see my brother anymore and I would like for you to build a high fence there please. I’m going into town and I’ll be back this evening.


4.    When he came back that evening, he was shocked to see that the carpenter had not followed his instructions. Instead of building a high fence there, he had built a bridge over the stream. The man walked down to take a look at the bridge, and as he did, his brother walked towards him from the other side. His brother said, “After all the terrible things I’ve done to you over the years, I cannot believe that you would build a bridge and welcome me back.” He reached out to his brother and gave him a high hug. The brother then walked back up to his farmhouse to talk to the carpenter. “Can you stay?” he asked. “I have more work for you to do.” The carpenter answered, “I’m sorry but I can’t stay. I have to go, for I have many other bridges to build.


5.    Every now and then, we are confronted with conflicts in our families, in places of work, in our church and in our community. Our strength is not in falling, but in getting up each time we fall. When faced with conflicts we often build a fence between ourselves and see others as enemies. We would stop talking to our presumed enemies, avoid them and close in on ourselves. We cannot run away from people who hurt us but do what we can to achieve peace and correct each other in love. This is what Jesus Christ wants us to do. Instead of a wall, he wants us to build a bridge of love between us.


6.    Jesus does not give up on anyone. He wants us to explore every means possible for reconciliation. He did not give up on Peter but prayed for his conversion. Neither did he give up on Judas as this story demonstrates. The saved were partying in heaven. Missing was Jesus. Peter found Him at Heaven’s gate and asked: “Master, why are you standing outside?” He replied, “Peter I’m waiting for Judas.” If Christ won’t give up on Judas, should we give up on people? We should extend our kindness even to those who hurt us. When we forgive people, we do not do them a favor, but we set ourselves free to love. Hence St. Paul tells us in the second reading to “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen was correct when he observed that “While it is possible to win the argument, your anger may lose the war.”


7.    Let us pray at this Mass dear friends, that instead building fences of hatred, we may build bridges of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. May the Holy Spirit guide and direct us so that we may learn to correct each other in love. Let us take these words of Christ to heart and learn to live by them: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:3-5). God bless you!



Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP.

Friday, August 28, 2020

August 30, 2020. Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

Readings: Jer. 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27


Gripped by the Power of Love


1.    In today’s first reading, Jeremiah used the language of a betrayed lover to describe his relationship with God. God seduced, enticed, and manipulated him with promises of fidelity and commitment into a relationship. The Lord said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” (Jer.1:5). And when Jeremiah protested, “Ah, Lord God! I know not how to speak; I am too young.” God told him, “Say not, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you” (Jer. 1:7-8) The Lord then touched his mouth, saying, “See, I place my words in your mouth! This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:9-10). Jeremiah was further assured: But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 1:17-19).


2.    But why was Jeremiah so mad? It was because “Violence and outrage is my message.” Because of that, God’s Word has brought him “Derision and reproach all the day.”  Jeremiah thought that the promises that God made to him at the time of his call would mean that everyone would love him and be receptive to his prophetic messages. But this was not to be the case. Those he preached to hated him instead, they ridiculed him, suspended him in pit of mud, threw him into jail and threatened to kill him. And so, in the first reading, Jeremiah cries out to God, complaining, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.” (Jer. 20:7). Jeremiah’s plight is that of every prophet who preaches the word of God. No wonder why some of today’s preachers preach what people want to hear and not God’s word.


3.    Jeremiah’s burden came from his mission. He was to point out rottenness, corruption in high places, in sacred sanctuaries, among people who were supposed to be shining examples of virtue and champions of justice. He called on the priests to reform their lives and confronted kings and rulers to render justice to the poor. When he prophesied violence and destruction, he was mocked and ridiculed by the powerful and the priests. And so, he resolved not to speak of God’s Words anymore. But he immediately confesses his complete impotence to remain silent. Instead he cried out that the word of God was like fire burning in his heart, imprisoned by his bones, “I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” God would not let him be. Jeremiah is gripped by the power of unrelenting love, and so must keep on preaching.


4.    Jeremiah had to deal with the burden of his mission, just as Jesus Christ had his as well, dealing with his disciples who did not quite know what his mission was all about. Last week he confronted his apostles with the question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter had A+ with his answer that Christ was the anointed one of God. Christ gave him exulted position and called him the Rock on which he would build his church. Peter was given the keys of the kingdom, to bind and to lose. You can say Peter had his five minutes of fame. But in today’s reading Peter is called Satan. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  One wonders how deep Peter’s knowledge of Christ really was. In saying that Christ was the anointed one, Peter’s understanding was that as the anointed one Christ would rescue God’s people from the hands of the Romans; he would establish a kingdom in which there would be on more poor or sick or blind or lame. In that kingdom, as we recall in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 - 7), there will be peace, love and justice. Sinners would be converted, and the world would be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.


5.    The Anointed One was expected to be a high priest or a judge, he was to be a warrior or a great prophet like Elijah. He was to be so great, prosperous and powerful that suffering and pains would have no place in his life. The Apostles on the other hand saw themselves as sharing in the greatness of their master. They were all destined to have a high and influential position in that kingdom. How could Christ be talking about suffering, the cross or even dying! Peter had to prevent Christ from talking like that. But Christ saw in Peter’s reaction another form of temptation that was trying to derail him from his mission. He called him Satan, tempter, a barrier an adversary and a stumbling block. Just like Jeremiah, no one wants to suffer, no one wants the cross, no one wants pains of any kind. We want an easy way out; and so, we cut corners, peddle with the truth, and compromise our principles and follow the crowd. No, Lord, this must not happen to you. So, Jesus rebuked Peter and reminded him that he does not give instructions to Jesus but should learn from the master.


6.    Jesus lived a sacrificial life. His love went above and beyond his call of duty, because his aim was always to bring us to a life of union with God. And so, Christ constantly calls us to take up our cross and follow him daily. He said that we must deny ourselves for his sake. This means saying ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to self and self-inclinations. He calls on us to dethrone ourselves and enthrone God in all spheres of our lives. We must seek to please God in all that we do. Secondly, Christ invites us to take up our crosses as he did his and live a life of sacrificial service. We must abandon our personal ambition to serve Christ and those entrusted to our care. By so doing we learn true happiness which lies in following Jesus, obeying his command and walking in his footsteps. We do this through prayer, through our sacramental life and living a life of service. Let us pray at this Mass that we may offer ourselves, like St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, “As a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Amen.


Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP.

Friday, August 21, 2020

August 23, 2020. Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

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


Who Do You Say I Am?

1.    I was wrestling with the best way to reflect on the above question when I got a call that my 87-year-old dad has passed on. At that time the question took a different dimension for me. Who do I say Jesus is for me at this trying time? When faced with difficult situations in life, who is Jesus for you? Sometimes it feels like we don’t know who Jesus is. This reminds me of a story told by Mark Link in his Sunday Homilies. A little girl went to CCD class for the first time. After class her mother asked her, “Amy, how did you like CCD today?” The little girl said, “I didn’t like it at all.” Her mother said, “It was your first time. Just wait a few weeks. You’ll come to like it.” Three weeks later the little girl came home from CCD with big tears in her eyes. “What’s the matter?” her mother asked. “It’s CCD,” the little girl said. “Must I keep going?” “Why?” asked her mother. “What’s wrong?” “Well,” said the little girl, “everybody talks about somebody named Jesus. And I don’t know who he is. I’ve never even meet him.”


2.    I’m sure Christ will resonate with the feelings of this little girl. Everybody is talking about Christ do they know who Christ is? Was there anyone who understood him? Was there anyone who recognized him for who and what he was? Were there any who, when he was gone from the flesh, would carry on his work, and labor for his kingdom? Do they know what his mission really is? Is Christ only a miracle worker, a healer, a food provider, or the one who raised the dead? This question was crucial to Christ.


3.    So, to the question “who do you people say I am?”, a lot of people have opinions about Jesus and who they thought he was. But Christ was not interested in what others said about him, but rather, on an individual experience of him. And so, when Peter made his profession of faith that he knew clearly who Christ was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Christ knew that there was at least someone who knew and understood his mission. He knew that with Peter at the helm, his work was safe, and his mission will go on even without him. Now Peter could be entrusted with a leadership role over others. He was given the keys of the kingdom. But how did Peter come to this sublime knowledge of who Christ was? Because this type of knowledge can only come from God, as St. Paul opines in the second reading: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgements and how unsearchable his ways! For from him and through him and for him are all things.”


4.    I want to believe that Peter came to this knowledge through his personal encounter with the person of Jesus. Peter encountered Jesus when he was directed to a catch of a great number of fish to the point that his nets were tearing. He had to signal to his partners in the other boat to come to help him. When Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Lk. 5:1-11). How could Peter have forgotten that experience. He saw, firsthand how Jesus healed the sick, beginning with his mother-in-law. (Lk. 4:38-39). He heard many times, the teaching of Jesus. He knew that Jesus taught with authority, unlike the Scribes and Pharisees. (Matt. 7:29). He was rescued from drowning at the sea of Galilee. (Matt. 14:22-33). He saw Jesus doing the kind of work reserved for slaves, like washing of feet. (Jn. 31-17). He saw Jesus feed the multitude with just five loaves and two fish. (Matt. 14:13-21). He, of course, witnessed Jesus spending hours in prayer, sometimes even throughout the night. (Lk 3:21; 11:1-13). Jesus lived with his apostles, and so they saw how simple his life was. No ordinary human being could do all these, except the anointed one of God! Yes, I know who you are, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”


5.    With Peter’s confession, he was given the keys. Christ trusted him with the responsibility of taking charge of his church; because Peter understood what true power meant. It is service above all; it is suffering and at times, it entails sacrifice. It means being responsible over others in love. Jesus knew that Peter would always fall back on him for support. He knew that he would not arrogate power to himself, like Shebna, in the first reading. Shebna used his power and authority to enrich himself. He forgot the one who put him there and the reason he was placed in that exulted position. Corrupt leaders often feel that they have absolute power and forget that he who gave power can also take it back. And Shebna’s power was transferred to Eliakim.


6.    A true leader will always look for the source of his power. And this comes from the knowledge of God. We can know the worth of a person by the power he/she wields. Our knowledge of Christ will assure our humility in the exercise of power. That is why power in the Church is service, and to exercise this power appropriately, one must have a deeper relationship with Christ. So, in your position of authority, who do you say Jesus is? In your family, who do you say he is? When faced with temptation and sickness that defiles all cures, who is Jesus for you? In your free time alone and in your confusion, who is Jesus for you? When entrusted with position of leadership, who do you say Jesus is?


7.    So, we pray at this Mass for a true understanding of power and authority. We pray that we may get to know Jesus personally and intimately and that he may use us for his kingdom. Amen.


Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP


Friday, August 14, 2020

August 16, 2020. Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

 Readings: Isaiah 56:1,6-7; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

We, the Outsiders!

1.    The Gospel reading of today reminds me of the incident that happened many years ago. As a Seminarian studying for the missionary priesthood, I was assigned to my home diocese for pastoral work. After presenting the letter from the seminary to the Vocations director, I waited for my assignment, but none came. I approached him and enquired why I was not assigned. He said to me, “It is not right to take the food of children and throw it the dogs”, the same answer Jesus gave to the Canaanite woman, who came to beg for the health of her daughter. I was an outsider!


2.    Who was this woman and why was she so ill-treated by Jesus, who was naturally was very compassionate and empathic to women, children, the poor and the sick? She was a Canaanite woman, which means she was a Gentile, a non-Jewish. The Gentiles despised the Jews and vice-versa. She was an outsider who did not belong to the family of God’s chosen people. This woman whose daughter was afflicted with sickness must have heard of the wonderful things which Jesus could do; and she followed him and his disciples crying desperately for help. After ignoring her for some time, Jesus told her point-blank, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yes, Jesus was sent to minister to his people, the Jewish people. This passage described the first time that Jesus was outside of Jewish territory. It fore-shadowed the going out of the gospel to the whole world.


3.    How do we treat the outsiders of our world today? How do we relate with people who are different from us, speak different languages, have accent, or do not belong to our class? How do we see the immigrants, Africans, native Indians, women, the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized in our midst? We often compartmentalize people into categories like Democrats, Republicans or Independents. We are not comfortable with people who have different political views from ours. You are either with us or against us. Those who do not belong to our group are the outsiders. Depending on the categories we place them, the outsiders will always depend on us and the generosity of people around them. Their dependence is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness; but within that weakness lies their strength. An African proverb states that he who sees a person in the bush often forgets that he/she came from a home. So, we see this woman, an outsider, going to Jesus for mercy, for love, for healing; not for herself but for her daughter, whom she loved dearly. She would not take ‘no’ for an answer until her daughter was healed. The disciples saw her as an embarrassment and a nuisance; and wanted Jesus to get rid of her. “Give her what she wants, and get rid of her.”, they demanded. Just the way we see and treat the outsiders we meet. They are embarrassments in our streets, they feed on us like fleece and we are tired taking care of them. We do not want them in our country, taking all our jobs; we are spending too much money on their welfare. The reaction of the disciples was not compassion and love, and very far from a Christian response to someone in need. It was shameful, and Jesus knew it. But just like all the outsiders, no insult would prevent her from getting what she wanted for her daughter. Yes, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. But wait a minute! She was a foreigner, an outsider, a non-Jewish; her tribe was not among God’s chosen people, where did she get her faith from?


4.    Her faith came from her love; not for herself, but for her daughter. It was love that made her approach this stranger. It was love that made her to accept rebuff and insult. She saw compassion in the seeming words of insult from Jesus. There is nothing stronger and nothing nearer God than the love we have for others. We live better when we live for others. This woman’s faith grew stronger when confronted by Jesus. She looked into the face of Jesus and discovered in her heart something divine and ended up calling him Lord. “Lord help me.” When faced with sickness and deprivation, the outsiders only have their Lord to fall back on; and that is when their faith grows ever stronger. God is truly close to the brokenhearted. She came crying out for help and ended up on her knees in prayer of adoration. She humbled herself and acknowledged the God of her salvation. She was not discouraged because the prayer of a contrite heart will always win favor from the Lord.


5.    The lesson from these readings is that Jesus never misses a great opportunity to teach. Since his mission was to the Jews first, and this woman was a Gentile crying for mercy, Christ had to awaken true faith in her heart. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the dogs.” Her answer, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters”, demonstrated that her faith was strong enough for her miracle to be granted. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Isn’t it funny that it was Jesus who re-enforced her faith and showed it as an example to others?


6.    Because of her faith, being an outsider was no longer a barrier to approaching the throne of grace. Peter recognized this, after his visit to Cornelius’ house, himself a Gentile, when he said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35). And the apostle John tells us, “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name.” (Jn. 1:12). According John Rose “The Jews were the chosen race. They had the right to receive the blessings of the Messiah. But if they do not have faith, they would forfeit that privilege. On the other hand, the non-Jewish people, the Syro-Phoenician woman, who did not belong to the Chosen race of the Jews, will still receive the same blessing because of their faith. One belongs to the community of Jesus by virtue of faith and not by blood. Faith will supply what we lack by nature.”


7.    Our faith in Jesus and the water of baptism are, indeed, stronger than the racial and tribal bond. In Jesus, it doesn’t matter whether you are an outsider or not, once you believe in God and commit yourself to him, “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” Those who join themselves to God, foreigners, outsiders and all, who minister to God and worship his name, will come to God’s holy mountain where they will pray freely to him, for his house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. May God who accepts us as we are, help us to accept others as they are. Amen.



Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Friday, August 7, 2020

August 09, 2020. Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

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


Take Courage, it is I

1.    The readings of today present us with the faith of two men, Elijah, in the first reading and Peter in the Gospel. In the 17th chapter of the first book of Kings, we read about Elijah’s effort to win Israel back from the precipice of collapse and decadence to the worship of the true God. Zeal for God and righteous indignation made Elijah to kill the 450 prophets of Baal who turned people away from God. This did not sit well with Jezebel who was an impassioned promoter of paganism and of the worship of the Canaanite god, Baal. When threatened with a death sentence by Jezebel, Elijah had no choice but run for dear life, begging God to take his life. God did not take his life, but rather fed him miraculously. Strengthened by this nourishment, Elijah came to the mountain of God called Horeb, where God revealed himself to him in a light breeze. God does not always appear to us in thunder, lightning and earthquake, he is as effective and powerful in a gentle wind as he is in a more provocative and dramatic phenomena. Elijah’s faith was tested, and he almost gave up on life, but God showed up and changed his fortune and destiny. He renewed his faith, because he gazed on God rather than on himself. He listened to God and allowed God to direct his life. It is amazing indeed, what we can hear when we pay attention to God’s words. Meditation and contemplation are forms of prayers that enable us to listen to God in a very special way.


2.    This brings us to the Gospel reading. Last Sunday we witnessed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and two fish and the feeding of five thousand men, women and children, not counted. We are told today that after this heavenly banquet, Christ made his disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side while he dismissed the crowds. After making sure that everyone was taken care of and properly sent home, Christ went up the mountain to seek quiet time with his Father. He came to this scene in the first place to be alone, to rest and to pray. Nothing would prevent him from keeping that appointment with his father. If he couldn’t pray during the day, he could do it at night. This was how Christ charged his battery and be energized to carry out the mission of his father. It is by listening to God that we get to know his will for us. Do we complain that we cannot find time to pray? Are we too busy to pray? Learn from Christ, the Son of God. In order to be effective and productive in his mission, he needed to spend some time with the one who sent him. Prayer is the key to a successful life, to a productive ministry and to a committed Christian life.


3.    While praying on that mountain, Christ sensed that his disciples were in trouble at sea. They were struggling as their boat was buffeted by strong wind and waves, and so he swung into action. “It is I, do not be afraid”, he assured them. Peter asked him, “If it is you bid me come to you on the water.” Christ invited him and he stepped on the water, while keeping his eyes fixed on Christ. As soon as he took his eyes off Jesus he began to go down into the water. Then he cried out for help, “Lord, save me!”


4.    The raging waves of the sea can be compared to the storms of our lives. At times our lives are ravaged by turbulent waves of atrocities and adversities. It seems that no matter how much we fix our gaze on Jesus, he seems to be passing us by. Our faith has been tested over and over again like that of Peter and Elijah. How do we handle the stormy weather of broken relationships and shattered dreams? Unfortunately, some of our storms are self-inflicted, we seem to find it difficult to free ourselves from the shackles of misguided dreams and misplaced priorities. We are drowned by worldly desires that drag us down each time we try to get up. How do we deal with the waves of drugs in our families or the coronavirus pandemic that has defiled all logic? Even our Church is not spared the turbulent waves of sin, deceit, cover-up and unaccountability. We are rocked by innumerable problems and unanswerable questions. This is the time for us to cry out like Peter, Lord, save us, we are drowning. And Christ will say to us men and women of little faith, why did you doubt? It is I, do not be afraid.


5.    These readings made it clear to us that no matter the condition of our faith, Christ will meet us at the hour of our needs. He will come to us as he went to the disciples in the rough and turbulent sea. He knows our needs and he is always willing to assist us. No matter our waves: be it bad marriage, struggle with temptation, dealing with depression or grieving the loss of a love one, we are not alone. Jesus tells us “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn. 16:33). Finally, today’s readings remind us that, just like the wind died down and there was calm when Jesus entered the boat, if we invite Jesus into our boats, he will calm our storm and grant us peace. Therefore, we must worship and acknowledge that, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” May God bless us and assure us of his presence in our lives now and always. Amen.

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Friday, July 31, 2020

August 02, 2020. Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.

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

Give Them Some Food Yourselves.

1.    The readings of today can be explained from many angles. We can see it as the foretaste of the heavenly banquet, demonstrated by the first reading from the book of Isaiah. The banquet is used here as an image to describe God’s care for humanity. This banquet is given freely, and humanity is invited to partake of it. This is salvation offered by God as a free gift. “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” It is an offer of the food that God alone gives, “Eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” God’s nourishing work calls for attentiveness and receptivity. Though this gift is free, it demands discipline. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me.” Paying attention to God’s instruction is what will truly satisfy our hearts. “Listen, so that you may live.”

2.    The gospel on the other hand presents us with the feeding of the five thousand men, women and children, not counted. The multiplication of the loaves itself can be interpreted in many ways. We may see the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves as a sacrament. In that case those present only received the smallest morsel of food, say just a bite, and yet with that they were strengthened for their journey home.  For them, this wouldn’t be just a mere meal to feed their physical appetite, but a spiritual food of Christ. This miracle then is re-enacted daily during the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass. This would be the food that Jesus talks about when he said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51). This living bread, the viaticum, is the food for the journey. It will enable us to walk with firmer feet and greater strength on the way that leads us to God.

3.    Apart from these interpretations, I want to consider another dimension, if you don’t mind. At the beginning of this story, we heard that the death of John the Baptist was reported to Jesus. On hearing this news, he withdrew to a deserted place to be alone. As a human being, Jesus needed rest. He would never recklessly run into trouble therefore, he withdrew, lest the blood-thirsty Herod may seek for his head as well. Of course, he knew that his own death on the cross was imminent, hence he needed peace and quiet to commune with God. He was seeking rest for his body and strength for his soul in the lonely place.  It was in this context that hospitality embraced compassion and one of the greatest miracles of love, kindness, healing and mercy was acted out on the theatre on the shore of the lake of Galilee. We are told, “When he had disembarked, he saw a great crowd, and he was moved with compassion for them to the depths of his being and healed their sick.” He did not see the people as a nuisance and too demanding of his time. He, instead, was moved with compassion for the people. How often do we complain that we are doing too much for our family, for our church or in our places of work? How often do we resent our children or spouses for being too demanding of our time? Jesus tells us today, that we can achieve much more with compassion that with whining and complaining about everyone and everything. May we always demonstrate to everyone that God cares for them and that we are only instruments used by God to achieve his purpose in their lives.

4.     I want to look at the disciples’ reaction to the compassion of Jesus. It is like they were disappointed that the people had robbed them of the wonderful opportunity to spend quiet time with their master. So, having healed them, they felt it was time they left. They told Jesus: “The place is deserted, and the hour of the evening meal has already passed. Send the crowds away in order that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” The disciples seem to have forgotten that they too were instruments of God’s care for the people. Did they come between the love of God and the people? Were they perhaps trying to separate the people from the love of God, when they asked Jesus to dismiss the crowd? Did they think that Christ did not know what to do? So, Christ reminded them that there was no need for the crowd to go away. He told them rather, “Give them some food yourselves.”  

5.    Jesus knew what to do, but he clearly wanted the disciples to be part of his compassionate mission to the crowd. The disciple is helpless without the master, and the master needs the disciple for his mission. We cannot say that there is nothing we can do to help the suffering masses of our world. If we call on the Lord, he will show us the way. Jesus will use what we have, to bring about a change and transformation in people’s lives. The disciples told Jesus that they only had five loaves and two fish and Jesus knew he had enough to feed the people. There was contribution, there was participation, there was cooperation and there was partnership between the disciples and Jesus. With that, a miracle was possible. Christ does not request the impossible from us; he wants us to come to him with what we have, however ill-equipped, he wants us to give to him what we have, no matter how little, and he will use it greatly for his service. Little is always much in his hands. Never say, I have nothing to give, trust that God will use what you give, if you give with your whole heart.

6.    There is another way to consider this parable. Was it really possible that the crowd did not bring food from home as they embarked on the journey to meet Christ? That was most unlikely. Could it be that some indeed had food, but were selfish to share with others? This was possible. It is likely that those who brought food, would have to share with those who did not have, hence they pretended that they had nothing. It could be that when Jesus shared the five loaves and two fishes brought to him with a blessing, invitation and a smile, it prompted others to do the same, and before long, everyone was sharing, until all had enough and more to go around. That will be a true miracle, indeed! This, therefore, was a miracle of changing of selfish people into generous people at the touch of Christ. It was the miracle of the birth of love in grudging hearts. It was the miracle of change men and women with something of Christ in them to banish their selfishness. They were able to give freely because they realized that all they had was a gift from God. Since nothing would separate them from the love of God, they trusted God and gave freely as Jesus gave them of his time, his rest and his love. When we love others as God loves us, love goes around, but when keep what we have to ourselves, we become truly impoverished. May God teach us to give of ourselves to others without counting the cost. Let us pray with St. Francis. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.  
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP.

Friday, July 24, 2020

July 26, 2020. Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

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

Where I fall is where I find Gold

1.    A number of years ago, a geologist named Dr. John T. Williamson was doing some work in the country of Tanzania. One day, he found himself driving in a deserted area, slipping and sliding along a rain-soaked road. Suddenly his four-wheel drive vehicle sank up to its axles in the mud and got stuck. Pulling out his shovel, Dr. Williamson began the unpleasant task of digging out of a mud hole. He had been at it for a while when his shovel uncovered something strange. It was pink-like stone of some sort. Being a geologist and naturally curious about rock formations, he picked it up and wiped away the mud. The more mud he recovered, the more excited he became, and could hardly believe what he saw. When the stone was finally clean, Dr. Williamson was beside himself with joy. He had discovered a diamond. Now, any diamond at all would be a surprise in that situation; but Dr. Williamson found what became known as the famous pink diamond of Tanzania. That stone today sits in the royal scepter of Great Britain, and Dr. Williamson is famous around the world for his find – as accidental as it may have been.

2.    This story illustrates the point Jesus raised in today’s Gospel. He likened the kingdom of heaven to a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. These parables were perfectly natural and easily understood by the people in Palestine in the days of Jesus, and even by many people in the rural areas of the world. In those days there were banks, but not banks for ordinary people. Ordinary people would rather use the ground as the safest place to keep their most cherished belongings. Recall the parable of the talent in Matthew 25:25. The man who received one talent buried it in the ground and later brought it out to the master when asked for it. It was a common practice for people to hide their valuables in the ground, before they took to flight during war, in the hope that the day would come when they could return and regain them. It was, therefore, easy for someone to stumble on a buried treasure in the field or find a pearl of great price buried in the field. A merchant would hide the pearl and sold all he had to buy it.

3.    We live in a world full of wants, needs, desires and undue expectations. We are never satisfied with what we have, and so, we are in search of something better. We want a better house, a better car, a comfortable life and the best for our children. Nothing seems to quench our desire for more. No matter what we own, it is never enough, so, we pray for more – the more the merrier, seems to be our slogan. If we do not get what we need on our own, we take it to the Lord in prayer and ask for divine intervention. In the first reading we see that Solomon also appealed to the Lord for help.  Solomon has just succeeded his father, David, as king of Israel. To begin his reign, Solomon prayed for an understanding heart, so that he could reign well. Of all that Solomon could have asked for, he chose to pray for wisdom. With the wisdom that comes from God, he will lead the people according to God’s heart. God was pleased with his request, “Because you have asked for this – not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right – I do as you requested. In addition, I give you what you have not asked for, such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like.” (1 Kings 3:11-13).

4.    What do we pray for? It is important to pray for the right intention at the right time. Sometimes we pray for too many intentions at the same time.  We seem to forget that God is our father who knows our every need. He will provide for us whether we ask for it or not. Jesus even tells us what to ask for in prayer. “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk. 11:13). He tells us how to pray: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:7-8). After all, “All things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). St. Paul reminds us that “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Our prayer should be well thought out and our intentions, few. We should also think of what to do if our prayers are answered. Can we handle all the things we ask for? Solomon did not ask for himself but for others and for the glory of God. The gift of wisdom bestowed on him was to help him continue with the task of governance, to be an effective and good leader. He was enabled to rule wisely and to establish a kingdom of love, justice and peace. What do we do with our gifts and blessings? Do we use them for the glory of God and for the good of our brothers and sisters?

5.    What we need in life is simple; to be happy, to be at peace with God and others, to do right, to love justice and to walk humbly before God. We should seek the revelation of the truth, the knowledge of what is good and abhor evil in all its ramifications. We must work earnestly towards our life with God in his kingdom, where we hope, one day, to behold his beatific vision. This is the hidden treasure. This is our pearl of great price. Until we find these treasures our hearts will continue to be empty and our needs will never be satisfied. How do we find these treasures? We were given the tools on the day of Baptism. We were clothed with white garment, given lighted candle as our guide and the word of God as our shield. We must be Christians in word and deed. It is by going about our normal business that we find the treasure; it is when we trip and fall while doing our work that we find the gold of eternal life. The treasure is found by sheer luck. The one who finds it sells all that he has to purchase the field where it is buried. Symbolically, this implies that becoming a member of the kingdom of heaven is a sheer gift of the Lord. He decides who will receive the treasure. The treasure is not given for an individual’s benefit. The recipient has to share it with others so that the kingdom can grow. It is the same with the pearl of great price. The one who finds it goes and sells all he has to purchase it. The kingdom of God is not a mere substitute for something else, it is the finest possession that gives life and it is worth spending and selling all that one has to purchase it. It is the real possession that will give us eternal life, joy and peace.

6.    Finally, these parables describe different ways in which people find the kingdom. By chance, by diligent search and by careful discernment. No matter which way one finds it, what is important and necessary is the wisdom to recognize the surpassing worth of the kingdom and be part of it. Let us pray that we may find the one treasure that will assure our eternal happiness. May the Eucharist we celebrate, our daily prayer, our sacrifices and our witnessing to the gospel, direct us to find the hidden treasure in our world. May we know how to use of the things of this world so as to find our way to our eternal Father in heaven. Amen   

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP