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Monday, 22 February 2016

Homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent Year C By Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, CSSp

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18,     Philippians 3:17-4:1,          Luke 9:28-36

On the Gospel – Lord, that we May See

In 2 Kings 6 we are told the story of how the Syrian army moved in by night and surrounded a city in which Elisha the prophet of God was staying. Their aim was to capture Elisha because he was using his prophetic powers to render intelligence services to the king of Israel. Elisha's servant Gehazi woke up in the morning to discover that they had been caged in by enemy forces and was naturally overtaken by fear and doubt. How would the man of God pull through this? When Elisha saw how Gehazi was panicking he tried to calm him down by saying to him “Fear not, for those who are on our side are more than those on their side” (2 Kings 6:16). But who would believe that? So Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please, open his eyes that he may see” (verse 17). And God opened the eyes of Gehazi and he saw that all the surrounding mountainside was full of horses and chariots of fire forming a protective wall around Elisha. His fears were allayed. That day Elisha had an easy victory over his enemies.

Our Gospel today comes after the passage where Jesus had told his disciples that “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). This was no good news to the disciples who expected Jesus, as the Messiah, to confront and topple the Roman army of occupation and restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Many of them would have begun to have second thoughts: Is Jesus really the expected Messiah? Is he really the Anointed of God who is to come? Should we go along with him to the showdown in Jerusalem or should we back off before it is too late? At this point Jesus must have felt very much like Elisha in front of his perplexed servant Gehazi. So Jesus decides to do pretty much what Elisha did.

So one fine morning, a few days after, Jesus invites the three leaders of the group of apostles, Peter, James and John, to go with him for a prayer session on the mountains. The mountain is a place of encounter with God. Moses encountered God on the mountain, and so did Elijah. On the mountain Jesus goes into prayer. And the eyes of the apostles, their spiritual eyes, were opened and they caught a glimpse of the true reality of Jesus that their physical eyes never saw. Then they saw that the whole heavenly court was on the side of Jesus. And they heard the voice of the invisible God, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him” (Luke 9:35). This was all the confirmation they needed. Jesus was indeed the expected one. Heaven itself has borne witness. Now they would listen to him and follow him all the way to the shameful suffering and death in Jerusalem. But no matter what happens they are now sure of one thing: God is on the side of Jesus; final victory will definitely be his.

How often do we experience the absurdities of life such that our minds are filled with doubt and we ask, “Where is God?” Think of people who have experienced the scandalous lives, the deep-rooted individualism and insensitivity of church people, and they ask, "How can God be in this place." Many of these end up giving up the faith. Think of people who are traumatized by their experience of social injustice and discrimination. They apply for a job and people who are less qualified than they get the job because they have the right connections or the right accent. They see people advancing in society through unfair means and they ask, “Where is God?” Or you may know someone undergoing personal and family crisis such as terminal illness, breakdown of relationship between husband and wife, between parent and child, between friends.
Don't we sometimes feel like the whole world is collapsing on our heads? At times like these we need to go up the mountain of prayer and ask God to open our eyes that we may see. When God grants us a glimpse of eternity then we shall realize that all our troubles in this life are short-lived. Then shall we have the courage to accept the apparently meaningless suffering of this life, knowing that through it all God is on our side. All it takes is a little glimpse of heaven to empower us to take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus, knowing that the cross of Lent is followed by the crown of Easter.

On the Epistle – Citizens of Heaven

The ancient Roman Empire established colonies in territories it had conquered as a way of maintaining its influence among them. At first these were simple garrisons where war veterans were settled. Later, entire cities of importance were declared Roman cities with its inhabitants enjoying full Roman citizenship. Such Roman citizens, although they never set foot in Rome, enjoyed equal rights and privileges with the citizens of Rome itself. In return they were expected to be subject to Rome and its laws. This way, the Roman way of life spread and permeated the provinces. The city of Philippi was one such Roman city. In fact, more than other Roman cities, the city of Philippi was designed to be a model Roman city, the city that would be an example to other cities of what it means to be Roman.

In today’s second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Paul uses this fact of living as Roman citizens in foreign lands, which was familiar to the Philippians, to teach them what it means to be a Christian in the world. Paul tells them that “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). By this Paul means that just as the Philippians were expected to live as Roman citizens in their native land of Macedonia, so are Christians expected to live as citizens of heaven in the various countries to which they belong. James Moffatt translates this statement in a very strikingly manner: “We are a colony of heaven.

It is not very easy to live as a colony. There is always the danger to succumb to the pressure of the dominant culture surrounding the colony and forget the standards of the kingdom whose standards the colony is supposed to uphold. It is easier to go with the current than to swim against it. One needs to remind oneself constantly that one is a citizen another kingdom and try to conduct oneself accordingly. Paul’s letter to the Philippians tries to do just that: to remind them of who they really are as Christians and encourage them to “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1). The season of Lent is for us an annual reminder of who we are as Christians and an encouragement to stand firm.

What do we mean when we say that we are citizens of heaven? It means a lot. First it means that we see ourselves as citizens of heaven, subject to the laws of heaven before we see ourselves as citizens of a particular country and subjects of its laws. It means we do not allow the laws of our countries to override the laws of God. It means that we appreciate the unity of all Christians without borders. Just as the Roman citizens in Philippi were regarded as one with those in Rome, so should we all citizens of heaven live in unity and communion with one another. In the Middle Ages, the Christian church split virtually along national lines. As a result, some Christians began to see themselves more as citizens of certain national churches than as common citizens of heaven. When we begin again to see ourselves and other Christians as equal citizens of heaven, then we shall begin to overcome the scandal of the disunity of Christians.

To live as citizens of heaven means to reject the standards of success of the world around us. The worldly standard of success can be summarized in four words: fortune, fame, power and pleasure. This is very different from the standard of success in the kingdom of heaven, which can be summarized as “no cross, no crown.” The two standards are so opposed to each other that Paul describes those who live by the world’s standards as “enemies of the cross of Christ ... whose minds are set on earthly things, whose god is the belly, whose glory is in their shame; and. whose end is destruction” (verses 18-19). This is not the way you and I want to go. So let us pray for a complete change of heart this Lenten season, so that we may turn our backs to the ways of the world and walk in the way that leads to heaven, our eternal home.

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