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Saturday, 20 August 2016

Homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

 Isaiah 66:18-21, Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13, Luke 13:22-30
On the Gospel, Where is the Soul of Princess Diana?

On August 31, 1998, the first anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, many papers came out with the headline "Where is the Soul of Princess Diana." They were reporting the story that some women in England had withdrawn their children from an Evangelical Sunday school because the Sunday school teachers were teaching the kids that the soul of Princess Diana was in hell, whereas the women had already told their children that the soul of the Princess was in heaven. As a result, the question, "Where is the soul of Princess Diana?" became an issue. A popular radio station in Toronto went as far as to interview the Archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese to find out exactly the whereabouts of Princess Diana's soul.

How would Jesus have answered such a question? Suppose Jesus was on earth today and a reporter went to him and asked him, "Where is Princess Diana's soul?" what would be his answer? I think Jesus would look the reporter in the eye and tell him or her, "Try and save your own soul now that you still have the chance."

This is exactly what is happening in today's gospel. Jesus is going through the towns and villages teaching and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone interrupts him and asks, "Lord, will only a few be saved?"(Luke 13:33). What does Jesus answer? "My friend, strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able" (verse 24). We see that Jesus is not really answering the man's question: "Will only a few be saved?" In fact he is answering a more important question, "How can I be saved?"

As far as the important question of our salvation is concerned, there are two kinds of questions we could ask. We could ask curiosity questions aimed at obtaining information, facts and figures that do not affect our salvation one way or the other. Or we could ask a relevant question, which is a sincere quest for the truth that leads to salvation. Go through the gospels and you will find that Jesus has no time for questions of curiosity. In fact whenever someone asks a question of mere curiosity he does not answer it but uses the occasion to answer the relevant question that such a person should be asking. "Lord, will only a few be saved?" is a typical question of curiosity. If you know the answer, how will it affect your salvation one way or the other? So Jesus switches the question around, to one that is relevant for salvation and responds to the inquirer, "Strive to enter through the narrow door..."
Curiosity questions have a special appeal to the mass media and to popular imagination. When will the world come to an end? When is Armageddon coming? Who is the Anti-Christ? What is 666, the mark of the Anti-Christ? What will be the rapture? I want you to see that these are all questions of curiosity. Jesus does not answer such questions. Just before his Ascension his disciples asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" How did he reply? "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:6-8).

On a lighter mood, an open-air evangelist, preaching on today's gospel text was warning his congregation about the eternal damnation. "On the day of Judgment," he said, "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." An old woman in the crowd had a problem, "Look preacher, but I got no teeth!" "Never mind, Madam" says the preacher, "teeth will be provided." A curious question indeed!
So you see, it is a waste of breath to ask, "Where is the soul of Princess Diana?" It is a good example of a question of curiosity. Rather we should be asking questions of personal importance like, "What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve G od better in my present situation in life? How can I make use of the opportunities God gives me here and now for my eternal salvation?" Let us take a moment and ask ourselves some of these relevant questions today.

On the Epistle, Prepaid for Glory

The credit card is a great invention. With just a plastic card one can go into a shop and buy whatever one wants - a dress, a pair of shoes, grocery, a television set, and even a car - take it home and begin to enjoy it, all with just a promise to pay later, as money becomes available. It is a wonderful system that could be a lifesaver to someone in temporary financial crisis. But the credit card system can create in people the mentality of "have it now and pay later," which does not work in life generally. In the real life, most of the goods that come to us are prepaid. To pass your exams, you have to study beforehand. You cannot pass your exams now with a promise to complete the required courses later. To win a football match, the team must practice hard before the match, not after. Most goods and blessings that come to us in life are prepaid.

Discipline is the name we give to the necessary hard work and self-denial that people endure in order to prepay for a future reward. Discipline, as everyone knows, can be a very painful experience, but those who succeed after going through the rigour of discipline usually look back and agree that it was worth it. As today's second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews says, "discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).

Wise parents raise their children with discipline. With discipline children are helped to cultivate good habits, such as, early to bed and early to rise, brushing their teeth and taking a shower, cleaning their rooms and helping out in the kitchen. With discipline children learn how to join the in the family meal rather than watch television all the time, how to make time to do their homework rather than browsing the internet all night long. At the time, they may object and think that their parents are harsh, but later in life, when they begin to reap the rewards of a disciplined life, they will thank their parents for inculcating some discipline into them,

Our second reading today compares God to good parents who discipline their children out of the love they have for them.

My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts. 7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:5-7)

What discipline are we talking about here? For the early Christians it was the discipline of enduring the persecution, in which they were expected to remain steadfast in confessing their faith in Christ in the face of false accusations, torture and a painful death. This is seen as a discipline because it is a temporary pain and suffering that leads to eternal life, peace and happiness with God forever. For us today, our discipline could be the courage to speak the truth, to do what is right, and to keep the commandments of God, even when it is no longer fashionable to do so. Such a discipline will be inconvenient momentarily. It may cost us our friends, our jobs and some financial gain, in the short run. In the long run, however, it brings us the rewards of joy, peace and the contentment of a good conscience both in this life and in the world to come.

The passage ends by strongly urging believers to brace themselves up and overcome the disease of spiritual laziness that affects us all: "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:12-13). Why are many of us nominal and lukewarm Christians? Because we are hesitant to submit ourselves to God's discipline. Let us today resolve to take upon ourselves the yoke of God's discipline, knowing that God has given it to us out of love and that this is the only way to make ourselves worthy of the future glory that our heavenly and loving Father has graciously reserved for His faithful children.

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