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Thursday, 7 July 2016

Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp



Deuteronomy 30:10-14, Colossians 1:15-20, Luke 10:25-37

On the Gospel, Neighbours Without Borders
Catherine Booth, co-founder with her husband William Booth of the Salvation Army, was an electrifying preacher. Wherever she went, crowds of people went to hear her message of hope: princes and nobles, beggars and homeless people. One night, after preaching in a certain city, a certain well-placed lady invited Mrs. Booth to dinner. The lady’s words of welcome as she arrived were: “My dear Mrs. Booth, that meeting was dreadful.” “What do you mean, dear?” asked Mrs. Booth. “Oh, when you were speaking, I was looking at those people opposite to me. Their faces were so terrible, many of them. I don’t think I shall sleep tonight!” “Why, dear, don’t you know them?” Mrs. Booth asked. “Certainly not!” the hostess replied. “Well, that is interesting,” Mrs. Booth said. “I did not bring them with me from London; they are your neighbours!”

The Golden Rule, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27) which we hear in today’s gospel is not just a Christian thing. Every conceivable religion and culture in the world has the Golden Rule in one form or another. Here is a sampling:

Judaism “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the law: all the rest is commentary.”

Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”

Buddhism “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Confucianism: “Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.”

If the Golden Rule was so well-known in ancient cultures why then did Jesus spend so much time teaching it as if it was a new thing? It is because Jesus brought a completely new understanding to the commandment. The Golden Rule is understood differently in different religions and cultures. And the key to its understanding lies in the question that the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s gospel, “Who is my neighbour?” (verse 29). Who is my neighbour that I have an obligation to love?

Among the Jews of Jesus’ time there were those who understood “neighbour” in a very limited sense. The Essenes of Qumran, for example, required new members to swear to love the children of light and hate the children of darkness. For them, your neighbour is the one who shares the same religious persuasion as yourself. Other groups, such as the Zealots, would understand neighbour to include only those who shared the same nationality and ethnicity with them. The average Jew would not regard the Samaritan as a neighbour. They are outsiders. The circle of neighbourly love does not include them. Jesus came into a world of “we” and “them,” “we” being the circle of those recognised as neighbours, and “them” being the rest of the world regarded as hostile strangers and enemies of the people.

The new thing in Jesus’ teaching of neighbourly love is his insistence that all humanity is one big neighbourhood. Thus he broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans erected between “us” and “them.” To bring home this point he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as Enemy Number One by the Jewish establishment simply because he is Samaritan, is the one who finally proves himself to be neighbour to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbour” Jesus’ answer is: Anyone and everyone without exception.

The lady who invited Mrs Booth to dinner understood her “neighbour” to be limited only to those on her social and economic level. Mrs Booth reminded her that her “neighbour” should include the nobodies of society. Like this lady, we all need to be reminded that the Christian understanding of “neighbour” admits of no borders. Today is the day to identity and tear down all the borders we have erected between those who belong to us (and are, therefore, deserving of our love and concern) and those who don’t (those others who can go to hell). Sometimes these walls of division are religious in nature, as in the case of religious intolerance, or in the mutual distrust and hatred between those who call themselves “conservatives” and those who call themselves “liberals.” Other times they are ethnic and racial, as in the bad blood between Blacks and Whites in places like South Africa and parts of the United State. They could also be social and economic, as in the divide between suburban neighbourhoods and the inner-city. The gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realise his dream of the world as a neighbourhood without borders.

On the Epistle, Giving the Devil More Than His Due

In the wake of the sex scandals in the church in parts of the world, many Christians have stopped going to church. Convinced that the storms rocking the church is the work of the devil, they conclude that the devil has infiltrated the church and that it is, therefore, safer to abandon ship and go elsewhere. This reminds us of what happened in 1988,when a popular tele-evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart, was implicated in a sex scandal involving a prostitute. The Assemblies of God, to which he belonged, ordered him to stop preaching for one year. But Swaggart defied the order. “The devil made me do it,” he claimed. Then he announced that Oral Roberts, another popular Evangelical preacher, had prayed for him over the phone and cast out those demons in his body that were responsible for his immoral behaviour. Three years later, Swaggart was again implicated in a sex scandal with a prostitute. Swaggart was finally defrocked and removed from the ministry by the Assemblies of God. There comes a time when we have to leave the devil alone and accept our responsibilities.

The growing wave of Pentecostalism in our world today has reawakened the devil. Like Swaggart, many Christians in our world today see the devil where there is none. This is especially true in the young churches of Africa and the developing world, where the devil is blamed for every ill health and economic downturn. Someone has an unexpected ill heath. Their first port of call is not a hospital where the disease could be diagnosed but to a prayer ministry where the demon would be exorcised. Someone has a professional or business setback. They do not review their professional conduct or seek help from a business consultant, rather they resort to the ministrations of a “man of God.” In some prayer meetings, half of the time is spent praying to God and the other half rebuking the devil. The devil is enjoying a very high popularity rating.

The revival of the devil’s popularity is not a new thing in the church. The church has seen it before. It was there in the early days of the church as the church was spreading from Jewish to Gentile lands. It was known as Gnosticism. Christian Gnosticism is a belief system that gave as much importance to God or Christ as to the devil. Gnostics saw life as a combat between the principle of Good, God, and the principle of evil, the devil. As Christians, they understood their duty to be joining God in a daily fight against the devil. The devil was seen as God’s rival and competitor, only that God was somewhat stronger than the devil, especially when God got a helping hand from believers. The church condemned Gnosticism as a heresy, a deviation from sound doctrine.

Today’s second reading from Colossians cannot be clearer on this subject. It says of Christ,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. (Col 1:15-16)
It says that all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, were created in Christ, through Christ and for Christ. This includes the invisible created beings we call demons or rebellious angels. They still owe their existence, powers and activities to God. They do not pose a threat or constitute a rivalry to God.

Christ, not the devil, but Christ, is the head of the body, the church (Col 1:18). Christ is king, and he still reigns as head in his church and in the lives of all who surrender their lives to him. As Christians, we dishonour Christ when we believe that the devil in in control of our church or our lives. Whatever is going well in the church and in our lives today is as a result of God’s grace, and whatever is going wrong in the church and in our lives today is as a result of our failure to cooperate with the grace of God. We must stop glorifying the devil, giving him an honour that is not his due.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for Sharing Fr. Munachi's reflection.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is good somebody is reviving the posts of this great preacher, Late Fr. Munachi Ezeogu. Thanks Uwakwe.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous9:38 pm

    Grateful as always for posting Fr Munachi's homilies. God bless, and thanks.

    ReplyDelete

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