We have two preachers for this Sunday
THE HOPE AND JOY OF DIVINE RESTORATION
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA)
Life is full of challenges, some of which are really very daunting and often cause many to lose hope and embrace cynicism. The readings today show us that in the midst of life’s prevailing challenges, there is always a ray of hope we must have the audacity to hold on to if we must survive challenging times; we must embrace the courage to walk towards the bright road of restoration which God always provides, even when it is placed at the extreme end of the dark tunnel.
1ST READING: Jer 31:7-9
The 1st Reading comes from the part of Jeremiah which scholars call “the book of consolation” spanning chapters 30-31. Jeremiah himself was a prophet from a priestly family (cf. 1:1) and the book that bears his name contains predominantly lamentations and oracles of condemnations of dishonest practices and alliances both in everyday, royal, priestly, prophetic and wisdom circles (cf. 1-25; 36-39), and contains also biographical accounts of the bitter experiences of the priest-prophet himself (cf. 26-29), who carried out his activities during a period (seven and six centuries BCE) which saw the destruction of the northern kingdom (Israel) in the hands of the Neo-Assyrian empire and the reduction of Judah (the southern kingdom) into a vassal state of the rising Neo-Babylonian empire.
The book of consolation (30-31) opens up a ray of hope that gives the book a happy layer. Hence, scholars of Jeremiah have come to characterize the dynamics of the book in terms of “deconstruction and reconstruction” or “destruction and restoration”.
The book consists of a series of consolation oracles expressing the divine promise to change the fate of his people, who have been afflicted by the tragedy of exile on account of their wrong-headed choices and alliances; they will now be restored to their lost glory of being God’s chosen first-born.
Our first reading (31:7-9) invites the people to the joy of divine restoration. As we read: “Cry out in joy for Jacob, shout at the head of the nations! Sing aloud in praise and say: ‘save O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel” (31:7). The Lord was going to orchestrate the return of the Israelites (northern kingdom) from the Assyrian captivity, and rejoin them to their brothers in Judah, especially those of them whose situation was considered more precarious, described metaphorically as the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labour (31:8).
The Lord promises, “They shall come with weeping and with consolations I will lead them back; I will lead them to streams of water; by a level road where they will not stumble; for I am a father to Israel and Ephraim is my first-born” (31:9). Israel and Ephraim are ancient patronymic names of the northern kingdom with its capital in Samaria. The explicit reference to God as a father is not common. Implicit references, however, abound where God addresses Israel as “son” or “child” (cf. Hos 11:1).
This explicit reference to God as father shows how God, though firm in allowing his children to experience the consequences of their wrong-headed choices and alliances, as the oracles of condemnation had forewarned, at the same time he does not allow the children to remain perpetually in punishment but intervenes to restore them to their place of dignity.
2ND READING: Heb 5:1-6
In the 2nd Reading, the ministry of the high priest which Christ also exercised in an exceptional way as to be regarded “the great high priest” (4:14) assures us of God’s awareness of our weak nature and tendency for wrong choices and decisions, for which he established this ministry to serve the purpose of reconciling us with him. By being chosen to offer sacrifices of atonement for sins (Heb 5:1; cf. Exod 29:1-35; Lev 8-9; Num 35; 2 Kgs 12:9; Jdt 4:14; 2 Macc 3:32 etc), the high priest exercises a ministry of reconciliation and restoration, bringing men back to a healthy relationship with God their father from whom sin alienates and leads to wandering far away.
Thus, the readings shine a ray of hope to those of us who have made mistakes or wrong-headed choices in life, inviting us not to lose hope because, although God may allow us to taste and see our mistakes and wrong choices, he never abandons us forever. He will always devise a way to restore us to the dignity of being his children, which we may have taken for granted and traded on the altar of quick pleasures and accomplishments.
GOSPEL: Mk 10:46-52
The Gospel Reading recounts the healing of the blind man at Jericho which in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ last miracle before he entered Jerusalem where he would be persecuted and executed. This miracle is told in all the synoptic gospels, with minor differences which show the adaptation of a common storyline for different purposes and circumstances of the different evangelists.
While both Mark and Luke speak of a blind man (cf. Mk 10:46-52; Lk 18:35-43), Matthew speaks of two blind men (cf. Mt 20:29-34). In all the accounts, however, Jericho remains the place of the miracle and seems to be of major interest. So, what about Jericho?
The story begins with the following phrase: “kai èrchontai eis Ierichô (i.e., “And they were arriving Jericho). Without anything in-between, the second phrase follows, “kai ekporeuoménou autoȗ apò Ierichô” (i.e., “and as he was going out of Jericho). Thus, we see Jericho at once as a place of arrival and of departure. Jericho was the last station of pilgrims who went to Jerusalem from Galilee, avoiding Samaria because of the difficult relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews.
In the New Testament, Jericho is mentioned 7x in four different contexts: 4x in the parallel synoptic stories of the healing of the blind man or men (Mt 20:19; Mk 10:46*2; Lk 18:35), 1x in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30); 1x as the place of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus a chief tax collector (Lk 19:1), and 1x outside the synoptic gospels, in Heb 11:30.
The latter refers to the Old Testament story of the fall of the walls of Jericho when the Israelites marched around them seven times in obedience to the commands of the Lord. The letter to the Hebrews commemorates as a great accomplishment of faith. As we read in Heb 11:30, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days”.
Among the four different contexts in which Jericho is evoked in the New Testament, Jericho appears 3x in Luke as a place where Jesus is passing and encounters the great faith of individuals who earnestly sought to see or meet him. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jericho is evoked and associated with the greatest manifestation of faith, which is the love of God in the love of a stranger neighbour which the Good Samaritan showed).
At Jericho, both the short Zacchaeus and the blind Bartimaeus display uncommon faith by making their way to Jesus against all the odds of both the crowd around Jesus and their physical challenges, Zacchaeus for his lack of height and Bartimaeus, for his lack of sight. Zacchaeus climbs on top of the tree; Bartimaeus on top of his voice, “Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mk 10:48), he kept on shouting.
In the case of Bartimaeus, Jesus declares: “Go, your faith has made you well” (10:52), a declaration which restores the sight of the blind man and sets him on the way to follow Jesus. Similarly, Jesus concludes the discussion with Zacchaeus declaring: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham” (Lk 19:9).
In the stories set at Jericho, we learn to not allow anything to scare us away from Jesus, because he carries with him our deliverance and restoration. We learn that with faith, what the world considers our disadvantage can be our point of encounter with God’s abundant grace which restores our losses and supplements our lacks.
May our families, like Jericho, be settings where Jesus can be welcomed against all odds even as he brings to us the joy of divine restoration.
WORLD MISSION SUNDAY
Isaiah 56:1-6; Ps.96; Rom.10:9-18; Mark 16:15-20
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
“We cannot remain silent about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20)
Today, the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. The theme of the Pope’s message for mission Sunday is “We cannot remain silent about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). In truth, beloved brethren, we cannot remain silent about the Good News. We live in a world where bad news spreads faster than good news. Others may report the bad news; but for us, we are mandated to spread the Good News.
God is in a mission of bringing man back to himself and in fulfilling this mission we all have our own share in it. Precisely because of this, God called the Patriarchs, Kings, Prophets and Priests. When he came to Isaiah, Isaiah says “Here am I, send me” (Is.6:8). Amid the current suffering and challenges faced by us, God is looking for those to send. God is still asking “Whom shall I send? Who will go for Us?” Jesus delivered his message, the disciples did the same. The Church is doing the same. What are you waiting for? Never take missionary activities for granted. Mission is very important. In fact, it can be said that mission keeps the church alive. If the church does not send, it will end. Therefore, once you are baptized you are obliged to witness.
Again, today’s theme (We cannot remain silent about what we have seen and heard) is a call to witness. For one who has seen and heard is a witness with evidence. Similarly, Jesus says in the gospel (Mark16:15) “Go into all the world, and preach the Good News to the whole creation”. In other words, the things we have heard and seen, go into the world and make them known. This instruction is for all of us. Every baptized Christian is to preach. After baptisim we are expected to be productive. Redemption is not reduction. We have not been redeemed to reduce; we have been redeemed to produce. As Christians, witness is our primary business; if we cannot witness then we have failed.
Still on the same note, the second reading of today asked “how are they to believe without a preacher?” This means that preachers guarantee believers. If there are no preachers there will be no believer. Therefore, we must preach for people to believe. This preaching implies living a holy life and doing the will of God. This preaching goes beyond the pulpit to live in the streets; in the remote and dirty villages, in the homes of the aged, sick, destitute and lonely.
Today, we are reminded to go beyond the pulpit. Many pastors delight in building seating capacity when the missionary capacity of the church is poor. They delight in preaching the gospel in the city but with little or no regard for souls in the villages. An author once said that the greatness of a church is not in its seating capacity but sending capacity. Therefore, we must send so that the mission will not end. We may build capacity but if we dont go out for souls our capacity Church building will be a mesum. Let us wake up to this divine mandate.
Finally, the Gospel says “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned”. Therefore, Baptism is necessary for salvation. Baptism is a sacrament which cleanse us of original sin, makes us Christians, Children of God and members of the Church. Baptism is the gateway to the graces for salvation. It marked the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. Baptism therefore is the beginning of Christianity. If you are in the Church and you are not yet baptized; you are not a Christian. If you believe, accept baptism and be saved.
May our Mother Mary, Help of Christians and Star of Evangelization continue to intercede for all Missionaries. Amen!
LET US PRAY
O God, whose will is it that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, look upon your abundant harvest; send numerous labourers who will proclaim the gospel to every creature, so that your people gathered by the word of life and sustained by the power of the sacraments, may advance in the path of salvation and love. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.