Passion (Palm) Sunday
Gospel for Procession (Mk 11: 1-10). Jesus enters Jerusalem as a humble king and he is greeted joyfully by his disciples.
First Reading (Is 50: 4-7). As we listen to this reading, we think of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah suffers as he carries out his mission.
Second Reading (Phil 2: 6-11). By taking our human condition and accepting to die on the cross, God the father raised Jesus up and made him Lord of heaven and earth.
Gospel (Mk 14: 1-15:47). Jesus experiences a crude trial and suffers immensely before being crucified.
Today and this week that has just begun, the whole world will be celebrating the great mystery of Christ’s love for us. A greater love indeed as he himself will say: “the great love is to lay down his life for his friends”. Christ has taken upon himself our sins and the sins of the whole world.
What did the passion mean for Jesus? And for us today. For three year, Jesus went from village to village to preach the good news, doing good, healing and raising up the dead. Everywhere He went He never hid as He was surrounded by crowds of people who listened to Him and went back fulfilled. Jesus’ three years of active ministry were incredibly full, rewarding but also disappointing as His own did not recognize the divinity in Him.
The turning point in Jesus’ ministry was when he was handed over to his enemies in the garden of Gethsemane by Judas, one of his disciples. From this moment, Jesus began to undergo suffering. It is here that his passion began. He lost control of things. People were now doing things to him rather than by him. Thus he was arrested, led before the authorities of the law of that time such as Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate, questioned and interrogated, scourged and beaten, crowned with thorns, given a cross to carry, stripped of his clothes, mocked and nailed to the cross and He finally died.
When we ourselves are healthy, working, earning good salaries, everybody is and becomes our friend. Life is smooth and everyone smiles at us and we smile back. Such is life. But when suffering, illness or misfortune strikes, friends become few and we suffer alone in our own corner. Friends of yesterday become our enemies, they spread curse upon us. We need to befriend first of all the God of life through Jesus his son whom he sent for our salvation. Friends in Christ, I mean true friends in Christ will never abandon us in our time of suffering. When we feel abandon, we must not lose hope. The moment of suffering is our passion. Jesus never lost hope during his passion. As we move through life, there will be moments of illness, bad-luck, betrayal, loss of friendships and broken relationships, disappointments, death of loved ones, etc. there will be also moments of joys too. All these are part of our life being humans. We do however have a choice in how we respond to all these sorrowful and joyful moments. Jesus survived the passion and he came out of it strong because he responded with an open mind and heart to all the violence. He did not return violence with violence, rather he returned with love and forgiveness. This is the victory of love over destruction.
Let the passion of Christ, the love and the forgiveness he made into it help us to think about it when we find ourselves going through hard times.
Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year B
First Reading (Jer 31: 31-34). The prophet Jeremiah reassures people that God has not abandon them, but that God will soon make a new covenant with them with laws written in their hearts.
Second Reading (Heb 5: 7-9). Christ became the source of eternal life for us through his suffering.
Gospel (Jn 12: 20-33). To those who follow Jesus, his death brings them life.
Unless a grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit. This is the key sentence in today’s Gospel. I would like to paraphrase it this way: unless we swallow our pride and ego, we cannot bear fruits for God. We are called to die to ourselves if we want to produce good results in all areas of our lives. If Jesus did not die to himself, we would not have life eternal. We must be willing to trust God and put ourselves in his fatherly hands. This means, we must admit our guilt and seek God’s divine help.
We believe in a God of life, love and peace. God promises a new covenant through prophet Jeremiah after the old covenant was broken by the people. This time God says, “Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts”. This reminds us of the use of heart as the engine of the body. Once the heart stops to function, the whole body stops too. This helps us to realize that God’s covenant is for the whole person, body, mind, heart and soul.
The second reading taken from the book of Hebrews presents us with the relationship of suffering and love. Christ is about to give his life up for us to be saved-sacrifice driven by the love of humankind. He (Jesus) learnt to obey through suffering. So we too must learn to obey through suffering.
In the Gospel, Christ tells us that a grain of wheat must fall and die in order to bear fruits. Jesus himself did practice what he preached and so we too are to follow in his footsteps to produce fruits. We all have the mandate through baptism to evangelise and win souls for Christ. Unless we proclaim high that Jesus is the Lord, our faith in Him is dead.
Third Sunday of Lent
First Reading (Ex 20: 1-17). The Ten Commandments are a map of life for us as children of God.
Second Reading (1 Cor. 1: 22-25). The preaching of Paul on a crucified Christ made no sense to some, to others it was a sign of wisdom and power of God.
Gospel (Jn 2: 13-25). To those who turned God’s house to a market place, Jesus reminded them their system of worship which honours materials than God.
Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us to go back to basics if we want to remain faithful to our creator, God. We all know that roots are basics to trees. If cut from the roots, trees dry and collapse. Foundations are also basics to houses. We humans have basic human rights if not lived and protected, life become unbearable. Basic conditions of life: right to food, water, shelter, health and education…
A religion also takes its eternal motivation from its basic principles. Christianity has its basic principles. Today, on this third Sunday of lent, the readings call us back to three important basic principles of Christian life.
The first is Relationship: Christianity is not just a religion. It is a relationship. Christ in his preaching did not emphasized more on the law but rather on the relationship of person to God. We would be fooling ourselves if we think that the evil of our time can be cured by laws and legislations. Only the goodness in us can achieve that. But for us to be good, we need to be in relationship with God, for God alone is good. If we Catholics come to church because it is an obligation, then we are still slaves of the law. A Catholic who loves God will come to mass anyway, law or no law. It is our loving relationship with God that matters not the law.
The second principle is Reliance: to whom to we rely on in times of joy and sadness of our lives? Reliance on God is more basic to our lives than reliance on material things or on human beings. Many people rely on their money for everything but today, the picture of Jesus chasing out money changers from the temple reminds us that we cannot be so preoccupied with money. We tend to reverence money more than human beings hence we dehumanize one another for the sake of money.
The third principle is Renewal: the best religion is found in the human heart not in the knees. The change of heart is a true renewal than any prayers one can say and remains the same. Dear brothers and sisters, a person who can’t change his own heart cannot change anything. It is impossible to carpet the whole village, that’s why we are requested to wear slippers to protect ourselves. Hence, during this lent, let us aim at the renewal of our hearts.
Fourth Sunday of Lent Year-B
First Reading (2 Chron 36: 14-16.19-23). The sins of God’s people led them to be exiled in Babylon. Being a God of mercy, He welcomed them back home.
Second Reading (Eph 2: 4-10). We are saved through God’s love and mercy not by our own efforts.
Gospel (Jn 3: 14-21). In his love for us, God sent Jesus his son not to condemn us but to save us.
A man called Nicodemus is at the centre of Today’s Gospel. Who is this man called Nicodemus? The name of Nicodemus appears three times only in the Gospel story and all three times, he appears in the Gospel according to John. He is a very interesting character. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the supreme court of the Jews called Sanhedrin.
Nicodemus appears in the first time in the Gospel passage we just read today. He was impressed by the teachings of Jesus and believed that the hand of God was with Jesus. So he came to see Jesus but undercover, in the dark at night. Why did he go to see Jesus at night? It is clear that he did not want to be seen. But let us not be hard on him given the fact that he was a Pharisee and a member of the Supreme Court. It was a wonder he came at all.
The second appearance of Nicodemus in the Gospel is when opposition to Jesus hardened and Pharisees wanted to kill him at all cost. Nicodemus was the one who intervened and declared that Jesus should at least be given a fair hearing as the Jewish law demanded (Jn 7: 51). At least this time, Nicodemus showed publicly his leniency with Jesus and this shows that he was a fair-minded man.
The third and last appearance of Nicodemus was at the burial of Jesus. He appears to donate an expensive perfume (Jn 19: 39). This shows how generous and compassionate he was.
All these qualities we admire in him and we can copy for ourselves: his fair-mindedness, generosity and compassion. But there is one thing Nicodemus seems to have been unable to do: That’s to come out straight and make a full and public act of faith in Jesus. He did not have the courage to come out of darkness and choose the light, Jesus. We are only left with a picture of a decent man, who could have been a great man if he only professed openly his faith in Jesus. He is therefore a mediocre, he is neither a great saint nor a great sinner.
We see so many Nicodemus in our society today. Let me take one example from the political sphere. Africa has the highest record in numbers of authoritarian (dictators) leaders. These dictators do not lead their countries alone, they have governments. Some if not many of these government ministers are not happy with the style of leadership provided by these tyrants. But they lack the courage to come out openly to confess their allegiance with the people. Hence they snick in the dark and they go leaking information to the opposition of decisions taken by governments to oppress the people. These are Nicodemus of our time. They side with the people at night but they lack the courage to openly show it daylight for fear of being imprisoned. We live with so many Nicodemus(es) in our communities besides those in politics. Examples are countless. Take courage and choose the light, choose life.
Reflecting on Nicodemus should challenge us to come out from the shadows, and not to be afraid or ashamed to profess the truth openly, profess our faith in Jesus, and of course to be ready to pay any price for standing for the truth. We are called to believe in the truth but not only believing also living the truth.
Second Sunday of Lent – Year B
First Reading (Gen 22: 1-2.9-13.15-18). The obedience of Abraham to God was complete.
Second Reading (Rom 8: 31-34). We can face anything in this world since God is on our side.
Gospel (Mk 9: 2-10). As the son of God, Jesus showed his glory at mount Tabor and three of his disciples saw it.
I would like to focus my homily (reflection) on the first reading taken from the book of Genesis. The story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac is a very strange story. It is a shocking story. The disturbing part of this reading is the image or the kind of God that we see here, who allows a man to kill his only son as sacrifice to Him. However, let us try to understand what the story wanted to convey as message.
The story starts by saying, God approves and allows of human sacrifice, and in some occasions even demands it. However, the object of the story is completely the opposite. The reading tries to show us that human sacrifice is in fact abhorrent to God. And it does this very well.
Abraham lived among the tribes of the Canaanites who used to sacrifice human lives to their gods. He (Abraham) might thought as well that God is demanding this human sacrifice from him. But God showed him otherwise. And this story was meant to put an end to human sacrifice to God.
Why did God test Abraham, our father in faith? God did test him so that the whole world would know that committing murder in the name of God is evil. Whoever kills his/her fellow human being in the name of God is a liar. Sadly, killing human beings in the name of God is a wide spread practice even in our time, there are people who kill for religious beliefs. Muslim fundamentalists today kill innocent peoples around the world in the name of God. The list of killings in the name of God is endless.
There is however, a literal killing in the name of God but some of us do also kill one another every day in the name of the very same God. We kill one another by spraying poisonous doom on people’s faces in the name of God, we ask people to eat grasses and snakes in the name of God yet killing them on one way or the other. We kill one another on a daily basis by gossip and badmouthing other people’s lives in the name of God when we gather in our sodalities, groups and mutuality. These groups supposed to be places to encounter God’s love, unity and togetherness. Yet people congregate in order to pray God and find peace of heart but they go back home sometimes with heart full of sorrows and pain.
God doesn’t not want us to mete out hurt for hurt, pain for pain. Human history is tainted with the blood spilled by people who see themselves as the avengers of God. Kings and presidents of states have killed, claiming they have the authority given to them by God as they always misquote the Bible by saying, “every authority comes from God”.
One thing we need to understand in this story dear brothers and sisters, is the depth of Abraham’s faith. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son. His extraordinary faith was rewarded in an extraordinary way. That’s why we call him our father in faith. The story condemns the notion of honouring God by taking people’s lives. Jesus in the New Testament introduces the idea of honouring God by giving our lives in the service of God and others. He set the example himself. God did not demand Jesus’ life from him. He gave it up freely in the service of his brothers and sisters. Remember dear brethren, giving our lives doesn’t necessarily mean dying. It means spending our lives in the service of others.