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Thursday, 10 November 2016

Homily for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Malachi 4:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12, Luke 21:5-19
On the Gospel, Where Does God Live?

Josh is the resident humanist in the neighbourhood. He does not go to church anymore. He goes about telling his friends that since God lives in everyone’s soul, it is not necessary for anyone to go to church to find God. His parish priest learns of this and decides to pay Josh a visit. The priest shows up in Josh’s house one cold winter evening and finds Josh warning himself by the fireside. Josh invites the priest to join him at the fireside, which he does. The priest does not talk about church attendance, although Josh suspects that is why he came. They talk about the weather. Meanwhile, the priest uses the fire-tongs to remove a burning piece of wood from the fire and places it all by itself beside the fireplace. Both men watch as the flames flicker and go out and in a short time white ash covers the once blazing piece of wood. Josh gets the message. He turns to the priest and says, “Father, I will be in church next Sunday.” Like that piece of wood we need fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the faith in order to maintain the fire of our own faith. We need the church.

Josh is an example of people who go to one extreme. There are people also who go the other extreme, people who see the presence of God only in churches and church services. We read about people like that in today’s gospel. We are not told exactly who they but some of them were probably disciples of Jesus. They were fascinated with the splendour of the Jerusalem Temple built by Herod the Great in over 46 years and lavishly adorned with gold and silver offerings of the people. For these people the Temple is God’s dwelling place on earth and the adornment of the Temple means that the people’s faith in God is strong. Can you imagine the shock on their faces when Jesus tells them that this Temple standing in all its glory and majesty is destined to be utterly destroyed leaving not one stone upon another? As a prophetic statement the destruction of the Temple was accomplished in AD 70 by the Roman army under the command of Titus.

Jesus’ saying on the Temple is significant not only for the people of his time but for Christians of all times. We must remember that the people of Jerusalem who were building up and decorating the House of God were the same people who were at the same time planning to destroy the son of God. If they saw God in the adornments of stone and gold, why couldn’t they recognize Him in flesh and blood? When a temple becomes so superimposing that people are no longer able to see God except in it, the time for its destruction has come. How does one explain the fact that the flourishing of Christendom in the Middle Ages was associating with a culture in which human life and human rights were cheap? Think of the religious wars, the torturing and killing of freethinkers, the burning of suspected witches and the inhuman traffic in slaves. Could it be that the more people exalted the temple as the house of God the less they esteemed the human person made in the image of God?

And yet, that should not be the case. Our faith demands that we recognise the presence of God in the human person as well as in the temple. St Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are as sacred as the temple; that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1Cor 3:16). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” 1Cor 6:19). The Christian who, like the disciples in today’s gospel, sees God in the grandeur of the temple but not in other people is only telling half of the story. The Christian who, like Josh in our story, sees God in the human person but not in the temple also tells only half of the story. Today’s gospel, therefore, challenges us to endeavour to see and serve God both in the temple when we gather for worship and in one another after the worship. Remember, we treat the other person with respect and dignity not because they deserve it by their own conduct but because God in them deserves it. This way, our lives both in church and out of church, become one continuous act of service to the same God who dwells in the human soul as well as in the temple.

On the Epistle, Did Paul Take Tithes?

Robert Schuller is one of the pioneers of tele-evangelism and the "nondenominational" family-owned mega-church tradition. In 1955 Schuller founded the Garden Grove Community Church and built the magnificent all-glass Crystal Cathedral in Southern California that is familiar to people all over the world who watch the television programme "Hour of Power." Schuller's ministry and his prosperity gospel of positive thinking ran into serious trouble when, in October 2010, the church laid off workers, sold part of its property and filed for bankruptcy, leading many observers to say, "Physician, heal thyself." The story of Robert Schuller is important because, following his teachings and example, many well-meaning young men and women have left the mainline churches to join and even found their own churches chasing the dream of material success. Where does gospel end and greed begin?

In these new-style ministries and churches, there is only one general commandment that everyone must observe, and that is the law of tithing. Irrespective of one's financial situation or disposition, their gospel is that a tenth of the monthly earnings of every member must be given over to the church as a necessary condition for receiving God's blessings. To support this teaching, they quote Old Testament Bible passages. In today's second reading from 2 Thessalonians, Paul presents himself as an example to Christians, particularly in his policy of working for his own upkeep and not depending on support from others. This is a big challenge to all who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ today. Before we fall into the self-deception of the gospel of greed, we must ask ourselves, "Did St. Paul take tithes?" What about Jesus himself, did he insist that his hearers pay tithes? The answer to these questions is no. Let us listen again to what Paul says in the reading:

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. (2 Thess 3:7-9)

From this we can isolate three principles on the question of people supporting their preachers.

(1) Preachers are entitled to their people's support. As Paul explains, the reason he did not let the people support him was, "not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate" (verse 9). In another passage, Paul tells us that "the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14). Yes, people should support their preachers.

(2) Preachers are free not to exercise their right to the people's support. This is especially so when insisting on the right to the people's support would constitute a burden to the people and an obstacle to their acceptance of the gospel. This is the reason why Paul relinquished his right to the people's support, "so that we might not burden any of you" (verse 8). When paying of tithes and other virtually obligatory contributions become a burden on the people, then the time has come to discontinue them.

(3) Giving should be encouraged but not demanded. Virtue stands in the middle. The people of God have a moral obligation to support the work of God when they are in the position to do so. At the same time we must beware of religious extortion. Jesus condemned the scribes "who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers" (Mark 12:40). There are many such preachers going around today. People flock to them because they preach what people love to hear and avoid the bitter truth. May God deliver us from such preachers, through Christ, our Lord.

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