Saturday, October 21, 2017

Homily Twenty-Ninth Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Twenty-Ninth Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isa 45:1.4-6;
·         Ps 96:1,3,4-5.7-11;
·         1 Thes 1:1-5b
·         Matt 22:15-21
  In Evangelization We Are God’s Instruments
  In Evangelization we are called to be God’s instruments. This is true in today’s liturgy and bible lessons. Today we celebrate Mission Sunday,  where all are involved, especially the laity, the faithful, whose roles and duties are well spelt out in the various documents of the Vatican II.  Scriptures embolden us and shed light on the significance of this celebration. In our various capacities we have a role to play in building the society making it a joyful and a peaceful place for all.   We have a share in this mission of evangelization, since the Church and her mission belongs to all of us. It is a Church that “goes forth” according to Pope Francis. It is a “field hospital” as well. God is never tired of reminding us of these responsibilities, whether you are in the government, in the factory, in the cathedral, in the seminary, in the family, in the hospital or in the sick bed. We are all called to bear witness’ to be part of mission
 In the first reading of today Cyrus of Persia, a pagan king, a civil ruler, who had not received “baptism” nor “Holy Communion,” if I may say so, is part of this mission. He was not a priest or deacon. But God surprisingly used him as his instrument to free Israel, to save his people. Through Cyrus, the exiled, the chosen people of God were allowed in company of Ezra and Nehemiah to return to the holy land, to rebuild their home, their economy, their city and the temple once destroyed.
 This is who God is. He can use any of us for spiritual, cultural and civil duties, for the common good. Our dispositions are also needed! Before Cyrus, God used Abraham, Moses, the Judges, Saul, David and many of Israel’ prophets, and Paul who were not initially perfect. Think of the various roles of these people in in our faith history! Some of them were used as leaders, warriors, preachers, intercessors, community organizers and consciences of their communities!
 What about Saint Paul of today’s second reading (1 Thes 1:1-5b).  Initially he was initially a persecutor of the faith. He later experienced rejection and persecution himself, in his missionary journeys. That same Paul is the one preaching faith, hope and love in Thessalonica today. Today, Paul is grateful to God for the growth of the mission that came to be as a result of the labor of love and endurance of the hope of every member of the Church.  He addresses everyone, as “Brothers and sisters.” Paul says “all of you” not “some of you.” He sees everyone as agents of evangelization and instruments of the Holy Spirit to bring order, truth, justice, peace, solidarity, freedom, good health and stability to the world.
 This is the vision of Christ in today’ Gospel (Matt 22:15-21). Confronted and tested in Jerusalem by the usual enemies, the Pharisees and the Sadducees on civil duties and responsibilities. Christ passed the test! He gave a good and responsible answer, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” and “give to God what belongs to God.” Could this also be referring to the separation of the Church and secular politics?  What about orderliness in nature? Putting things in place? What about an attempt to secularize the sacred? What about our civil responsibilities?
  If God could use Cyrus, to save Israel, there is nothing wrong with paying our taxes. There is nothing wrong with carrying out our civil duties, stopping at the red lights, on the street, so as not to harm others or ourselves. There is nothing wrong with praying for peace in our society, for praying for our presidents, our senators and our representatives in the government- to make good choices and decisions for the common good.  Division of labor, for the common good! Just as we need good priests, religious, and preachers of the words, parents, children, grandpa, grandma, grandchildren, we need good men and women, good lay people, in the government. We need God fearing leaders who lead and serve the citizens and the nation, not their pockets, in the temporal world.
 Wherever God choses to place us, in his “field hospital,” it is our calling and place for mission, an opportunity to honor God, to be God’s instrument, and to show solidarity  with humanity  and families of nations, in faith, hope, love, peace and justice!
 Reflection Questions
1.    Do we give God what belongs to God: honor, praise, and glory?
2.    How do we participate in the mission of the Church a “field hospital,”?
3.    How do we help our faith community participate in this mission?
4.    How do we help our respective civil government realize their role in the mission of serving God and humanity?

Homily Twenty-Eight Sunday Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Twenty-Eight Sunday Year A: Michael Ufok  Udoekpo
·         Isa 25: 6-10a;
·         Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5-6;
·          Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
·         Matt 22:1-14

My Shepherd is the Lord,

Today we gather to celebrate and renew our trust, our power of positive thinking and our readiness in the Divine King and Shepherd, whose protecting, caring and feeding imageries run through the readings of today.  As the Lord protects, cares and feeds us, he invites us to imitate him by doing likewise to our neighbors.

In the first reading, the Good Shepherd addresses words of hope to the frightened community of Israel through the mouth of his Prophet, Isaiah. Even though the enemies will momentarily overrun and humiliate Israel, and perhaps destroy the temple, the Lord will surely be at the mercy of the remnant, who put their covenantal trust in Him. The "will" here points to the future hope. God’s time is the best. At his appointed time, the Lord will destroy the veil that veils all peoples. The veils of sadness and hopelessness. The veils of frustrations and rivalries.  He will wipe away the tears of sorrow, humiliation and illnesses from the faces of those who put their trust in Him. He will rebuild the mountain once destroyed, restore and provide food for those once starved. He will invite to a banquet those once ignored.

It is this hope, this trust, this call for endurance that Paul re-emphasis to the Church Philippians in the Second Reading. Paul knows how to manage in all circumstances, in his missionary travels, in his trials, in his rejections, in his poverty and needs. In bad times and in good times. He knows the secret of being well fed as well as how to endure hunger. For him, “he can do all things in Christ who strengthen him.” 

It is this spirit of trust and garment of readiness that the Good Shepherd expects  in those invited to the wedding feast, the banquet of today’s Gospel's parable (Matt 22:1-14). In this parable some of the invitees ignored the king. Some refuse to come, while some invented all kinds of excuses to justify their absence. Even some who were not interested in responding killed the servant messengers- of the king; while among those who responded, one had no wedding garments. Perhaps, he took the banquet for granted. Of course, with the directives of the king, the shepherd, he was bound hands and feet and thrown into the darkness for wailing and gridding of teeth. 

 Be it in this Gospel parable, provider of the banquets or in the shepherd metaphors of these other readings, God treats us as a traditional near eastern good shepherds would treat their sheep. They provide food, and water for them. Sometimes they have to search for their foods. They protect them from wolves. Put a fence around them. These flocks trust their shepherds and listen to them, though instinctually. 

 Today we are faced with all types of challenges such as poverty, Ebola and HIV threats, war and terrorism, especially from Boko Haram and ISIS. We have also issues of climate change, economic disparities, political and racial tensions in sections of our societies. 

 Thank God we are blessed not only with instinct, but with higher reason and faith. We have every reason to make necessary good choices in our lives. Even though the road or path to good choices may be rough, with the lessons and experiences of the biblical exodus, the covenant relationship, the land, and the process of settlement, God is constantly watching over us. He is constantly cooking for us. All he wants from us is that spirit of a positive and imitative response. He wants us to be ready with the right garments of love, faith and trust in his eternal banquet of Love, and in his everlasting feasts of Peace, Mercy and Care. He wants us to be convinced that we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:12-14), and that the Lord is our Shepherd there is nothing we shall want (Ps, 23, Jer 23, Eze 34; John 10).










Saturday, October 7, 2017

Homily Twenty-Seven Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Twenty-Seven Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 5:1–7;
·         Ps 80:9,12–16,19–20;
·          Phil 4:6–9
·         Matt 21:33–43
We are tenants in God’s Vineyard
In the Gospel reading of today (Matt 21:33-43), Jesus, obviously is in Jerusalem. He is on his way to the cross. He teaches everyone on the way, especially the elites, the scribes and the Pharisees. His subject is that each of us, alt all times, and in every age and race, have been planted as a vineyard by God our maker, to bear good and lasting fruits of justice, peace, love, respect for life and the human dignity. So were the generation of the Israelites and Paul in the first and second readings (Isa 5:1–7; Phil 4:4–6).
First of in the Gospel account Jesus teachers allegorically, with reference to Jerusalem, the tenants, religious authorities, the prophets, and about himself, using the imagery or the parable of the vineyard. Each of us, the church as a whole and as individual members, as well as civil authorities and citizens of all nations can relate to this parable. We are tenants in God’s vineyard.
Allegorically, a man planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. When harvest time came he sent successive contingents of his servants to collect the produce. On each occasion they were maltreated, insulted, rejected, beaten and stoned. The landowner finally sent his beloved son for the same mission, at least with the hope that they would respect his son. He was not respected, either. The tenants failed the test for respect. They stoned the landowner’s son, threw him outside the vineyard to die.  Of course, the scribes and the Pharisees naturally would expect the landowner to judge, punish or kill off these wicked tenants and replace them with fruits bearing tenants.
Jesus’ listeners would also have understood today’s psalmist that “the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel,” as well as the first reading, “the Song of the Vineyard, in Isaiah 5:1-7.”
 In the first reading, Isaiah of Jerusalem likens some ungrateful, unfaithful and unresponsive Israelites to a carefully tended but inexplicable unfruitful vineyard of wild grapes. Many of Israel prophets, before Jesus( Hos 10:1; Jer 2:21; 5:10) have also expressed disappointment on the failure of Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, the tenants, the authorities, civil and religious to bear the fruits expected of them or at least to imitate the true vine, namely Jesus ( John 15:1–10).
Every blessed day nations, parishes, families, and institutions of the earth, are faced with choices and decisions to make. The Catholic Church, other churches and religious groups are faced with responsibilities, so also her leaders and members. Today these choices may touch issues of war and peace, terrorism, sexuality, marriage, family value, health, diseases, poverty and wealth, climate change, deforestation and preservation of forest, social justice, life, the dignity of the human person and their fundamental human rights. What would Jesus have done in the face these circumstances?
Today, we are God’s people. We are the tenants in the Lord’s vineyard. God expects us to produce fruit, fruit that will endure. The obvious question for us to ask ourselves today is: How are we doing? What type of fruit are you producing? How much better are we than the chief priests, the elders, the Scribes and the Pharisees? We are specially privileged, by baptism, to be called to work in the Lord’s vineyard. Each, day, week, month, year, we are expected to bear fruit, make the Gospel, today’s readings part of our lives. We are all called to be not just members, or numbers, but active members of the Body of Christ, the Christian community, the Church, the society we belong. We are tenants in God’ vineyard!
Reflection Questions
1.    Where do you find yourself in today's biblical allegory of the Lord’s vineyard?
2.    How would you describe your time in the Lord’s vineyard as a tenant? What kind of tenants do you think you are?
3.    What type or kind of fruit do you bear? And how beneficial is  your fruit to the Church, society and your faith community, in particular?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Homily Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Eze 18:25–28;
·          Ps 25:4–9;
·         Phil 2:1–11
·         Matt 21:28–32

Our Faith Journey is Not Over Until It is Over!

In our society today, it is very common to blame others for our failures and past mistakes. Just as it is common to attribute our successes to others. This is why we have formed the concepts of individual and collective responsibilities. With collective responsibility we easily tend to see ourselves as victims, and blame the present on the past. Of course, such tendency is not new. When we look closely at the history of Israel, God's chosen people, it was there. Sin and suffering were blamed on the mistakes of their ancestors.  In the time of Christ, you would recall the incidence of the healing of the blind man, in John 9, when the Disciples of Christ asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”(John 9:1–41). It is very easy for any of us to hold onto the past, to constantly blame the past on the present! Or to think that all hope is lost! All hope is not lost. Stop holding onto your past sins and mistakes and know that there is hope, there newness of life, there is a way out in Christ for those who repent! Your faith journey is not over until it is over!!
Today’s Scripture readings, beginning with the Prophet Ezekiel lay emphasis on this, on hope, which is never lost in Christ! Our faith journey is not yet over. Every present moment of a Christian is important. Individual attitude, disposition, willingness, volition and humility to come back to God, in obedience, prayer and thankfulness are all important.

Ezekiel’s prophecy of individual responsibility becomes clear at a time when the chosen people had lost not only the monarchy, but the land and the temple. They found themselves in exile. Ezekiel’s contemporaries saw their loss and sufferings as a consequence, not of their sinfulness, but of their ancestors. They believed they were not responsible, but rather were victims. And in fact, they also thought that God was unfair to them. How many times do we not blame others for our failures and mistakes?
 In today’s Lesson, Ezekiel challenges this erroneous mindset and argues that each person bears personal responsibility for his or her own conduct. As a fellow exiled, Ezekiel stresses that, “when someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness, he has committed and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life. Since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die,” (Eze 18:25–28), the land shall be regained.

 For Ezekiel, in as much as hope is central God’s focus is on the present, and not mainly or solely, on the past.  Therefore, nations and individual can be free from the guilt of the past, the lost glory could be restored, by turning to God with humility, in the present. The past sins must not prevent today’s repentance or change of heart.
This fits into Jesus parable about the two sons in today’s Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 21:28–32), as our Lord journeys to Jerusalem. In this parable, the first son says (aperchomai) to his father, I will not work in the vineyard. But, later changes (metamelomai) his mind to work in the vineyard; while the second son who promises to work in the vineyard, never did at all.

Any of us can be any of these two sons, and behave likewise, especially the first son, changing our minds to do the will of God our father. Conversion, regret, repentance (metamelomai) modelled by the first son is ongoing, even by looking at the forces and theological implications of the language of Greek aorist participles, deponent verbs, used in this very passage (aperchomai, metamelomai etc ). Metanoia (spiritual, social, political, economic transformation) is onward not backward. It is a process. It is never too late, even for tax collectors, prostitutes or for those who might find themselves in any bad past habit of sins.
 Pope Francis continues to stress this point in his homilies and teachings. Saint Augustine, and many other saints, who were once sinners but later became saints, are good models for (change, repentance, and transformation) us. Saint Paul, who’s Letter to the Philippians we read today, in the second reading, was once a persecutor of the faith, before he became a promoter of the Good news of Christ to the Gentiles.

In that second reading, Paul reminds the Philippians, of course, all of us today, the deeds and the attitude of Christ that we are called to imitate, irrespective of our past mistakes. Love, mercy, selflessness, compassion, hospitality, and humility, according to Paul, should be our catchwords.  Paul reminds us that, Christ, though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God. Rather, he humbled himself. He freely became obedient onto the cross, through his faith, and hope preaching on the street of Jerusalem.
Our nations, our continents, our families, each of us, individually can always step back, and look at our past mistakes and even accomplishments.  We can also serve as agents, messengers and viceroys  of transformation (spiritually, pastorally, socially, economically, and politically) in our faith communities). Our Christian journey is like a two side coin.  On one side, is our baptismal certificate and our calling to live out our baptismal promises and responsibilities. And on the other side, Christ frees us from the sins of the past if we are willing to say yes, and turn to him, today in humility. Or be able to personally pray with the psalmist, “your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths” (Ps 25).  Every present moment is a moment of decision, and our faith journey is not yet over!

 Reflection Questions:

1.    Do you have the same attitude in you, that is in Christ, Paul or Ezekiel of today’s Scripture passages?

2.    How often do you tend to blame others for your sins and failures?

3.    How often do you tend to take personal responsibility for your actions?

4.    How often are you open for change or willing to act as agent of hope, change, repentance and transformation (spiritual, social, political, economic etc) in your faith  or religious communities?



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Homily Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

 Homily Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year A:  Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isa 55:6–9;
·          Ps 145:2–3, 8–9, 17–18
·         Phil 1: 20c–24,27a
·         Matt 20:1–16a.
In the Lord’s Vineyard God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways!
Today’s scripture readings remind all of us in the Lord’s Vineyard that God’s ways are not our ways. His standards are not our standards. His sense of justice, love, compassion (rehem) mercy (rahum), generosity and measurement of forgiveness, right and wrong, are not ours. Though we are all in need of God’s love and mercy, there is a clear contrast between the “heavens and the earth,” “mortal and immortality,” and “divine and humans.”  Often our human standards are corroded not just with jealousy, but with anger, and  judgmental feelings as if others “do not deserve,” or, “we deserve more than our next door neighbors.” God’s standards and ways are the opposite. Everyone deserves same needs of divine love and mercy. It is this divine ways that we are invited to imitate, reflect on, follow, in the Lord’s vineyard.
We heard of this invitation extended first of all to the exiled and to the post-exilic communities of Israel, in today’s first reading, Isaiah 55:6–9. Same is  rendered in music  in Psalm 145.  For the exiled and for us today- what difference does it make if by imitating the Lord “who is compassionate and good to all his creatures”, we let go of our bad habits, earthly images and habits, renew our relationship with God, aims at the image of heavenly heights, chart our way to salvation, accepting what God wants of us, or forgive those who may have offended us, and join hands in rebuilding the community once destroyed by sins, poor leadership, corruption, greed, hatred, discrimination, lack of faith, or by the enemy fire?
In the second reading(Phil 1:20c–27a) , Paul is a perfect example of what God wants of us. In spite of all his missionary endeavors, imprisonment, waiting to be executed because of his faith, Paul  finds time to write a letter to the Christian community at Philippi, in northern Greece.  In this letter,  life or death,  in Christ, does not make any difference for Paul (Phil 1:20c–27a). Paul is totally for Christ. Whatever he wants. His ways are his, as illustrated in today's parable of the workers in the vineyard.
In this Parable (Matthew 20:1–16a), many who are first could be last and the last could become first (Matt 20:16). This standard could be very challenging to us because of our human ways of thinking and judging. But it becomes easier, when we come to terms that God is the landowner. He employs and his pays us, distributes his wages generously, to whom he wishes, for he knows our needs, Jews, Gentiles and Christians in the Lord’s Vineyard.
As long standing Christians, converts, neophytes, young and old, male and female, who yearns for God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and generosity may we be opened to God’s ways, his wavelength, his standards by sharing his blessings, his love and mercy, with others, wherever we are.
Reflection Question.
1.    Could you think of God’s love and acts of mercy and generosity in your life?
2.    How can you relate to the readings of today, especially the gospel parable of the workers in the vineyard? Or Pauline indifference of life and death in Christ?
3.    Have you ever thought that you are more deserving of God’s love and mercy than your neighbor? And what makes you think so?
4.    Where and how have you assisted disgruntled  members of your faith community to be  contented and realize that God distributes his love, mercy and wages to all as he divine deems fit?
5.    Going back to the book of Genesis what does the images of “heaven and earth,” “divine and human” “first and last” “life and death” “mortal and immortal” of today’s readings remind you of?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Homily Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Sir 27:30–28:7
·         Ps103:1-2,3-4,9-10,11-12
·         Rom 14:7-9
·         Matt 18:21-35

Our God is Slow to Anger, Rich in Love, Mercy and Compassion!

In the Book of Psalms, according Saint Ambrose:
“There is a profit for all, with healing power for salvation. There is instruction from history, teaching from the law, prediction from prophecy, chastisement from denunciation, persuasion for moral preaching. All who read it may find the cure for their own individual failings. All with eyes to see can discover in it a complete gymnasium for the soul, a stadium for all the virtues, equipped for every kind of exercise; it is for each to choose the kind he judges best to help him gain the prize.”

Today’s psalm 103 “the Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion” is available for us. It captures the essence of today’s worship and scriptural reflection on the nature of God, sin and sinner, forgiveness and reconciliation, divine virtues, especially of charity, love and care.
If God’s nature, going back to the Book of Exodus 34:6-7(cf. Jonah, Ps 85, Micah), is mercy, kindness, forgiveness,  infinite love, boundless charity, unlimited care, throughout the history of human salvation, every generation, including today’s generation, is expected to imitate God whose image they are made of.

The generation of Ben Sira of today’s first reading, Book of Sirach, a wisdom book, is aware of the usual human problems, such as appetite for vengeance, injustices, debts, loans, anger against one’s neighbor,  and the difficulty in forgiving those who may have offended us. Or those, that God may have forgiven, in a big way!  But, the good news is that, Ben Sira is wise and is aware of the very nature of God, who is mercy, love, joy , care and  compassionate throughout the history of God's  dealings with the humans. Ben Sira rightly admonish his audience saying: “forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”  He rhetorically ask, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his on sins... He went on to say, ‘remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlooks faults.”
Similarly, the generation of Christ  and his disciples is aware of these human problems, as well (appetite for vengeance, injustices, hatreds, violence, debts, loans, anger against one’s neighbor, and the difficulty in forgiving those who may have offended us, slightly, or those that God may even have forgiven, in a big way), as reflected in today’s Gospel parable, prompted by Peter’s question, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?  Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Meaning, infinite numbers of time of forgiveness ! (Matt 18:21-35).

 Having proposed unlimited forgiveness, Jesus, God’s incarnate, follows up with a parable, understandable to us. Here is a servant whose huge debt have been forgiven by the king. He is happy and seems to leave with a sense relief. But, the bad news is that he who had been forgiven a huge debt, is unable to forgive his friend, whom he threw into prison, the tiniest fraction of what he had been forgiven of, attracting upon himself, the king’s punishment, that he pays back his huge debt as well!
In our daily lives, forgiveness must not have any boundary. It must go beyond seven times, to the divine seventy-seven times.  In forgiving, seventy-seven times, it is good to look at the face of God, the face of Jesus, the King of Mercy, whom Pope Francis also sees mercy, love, and compassion in his pontificate! God chose him because he was merciful to him, as expressed in his motto: Miserando atque elegendo. How different would the modern world be if we imitate half of the pastoral approach or the theology of mercy, proposed by Francis, the Pope.

How different would our world be if we take "forgiveness" seriously as well as "reconciliation"? For “where there is no reconciliation or at least hope for reconciliation there cannot be forgiveness in real sense.” As in the case of the wicked servant of today’s gospel parable; he refuses the king’s forgiveness by refusing to reconcile with his friend who owed him a tiny debt.
How different would our world be if we all realize that God and the Church can forgive sinners, but they cannot condone evil behavior that causes suffering and injustices to others, offensive to truth, love and charity, or a sinner who chooses to stay in sin!

How different would our planet be if we imitate the forgiving instances Christ, in the Bible, be it in the case of the woman caught in adultery, the case of Matthew the tax collector, the case of Zacchaeus, the case Thomas the doubter, or in instance of the denying Peter!
At this Mass and worship, may we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness! May we also go out to the whole world, a changing world, and serve where ever we can, as agent of God’s love, boundless charity, mercy, compassion and forgiveness to our neighbors!

Reflection Questions:

1.      Have you ever owed or feel indebted and how do you go about it?

2.      What lessons have you drawn from today’s parable and scripture passages?

3.      How do you help to foster healing and reconciliation in your faith community?

4.      Are there moment that you feel unforgiving? And and how often do you reflect on the nature of God and his merciful face? Or Consider yourself forgiven?





Saturday, September 9, 2017

Homily Twenty- Third Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Twenty- Third Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Ezekiel 33:7-9;
·         Ps 95:1-2, 6-9’
·         Rom 13:8-10
·         Matthew 18:15-20

 Regaining our Personal and Communal Hope

Today’s Psalm 95 “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” invites us to worship the Lord, the King of kings, and the Shepherd of shepherds of Israel. It invites us to open our ears, our hearts, minds and soul and continuously be loyal to God. It reminds us what we learned in the past, and what we continue to learn today: the precepts of the Lord, the Ten Commandants, the love of God and love of one’ neighbor, as well as the teachings of the Church. The entire Bible readings of today, allow us to rise to our responsibilities, to regain our personal and communal hope. It urges us to re-embrace fraternal correction, the common good, and the desire to meet God in a special way, especially through love, mercy and charitable acts towards our neighbors, the poor and even towards the planets and our environments, as stressed by Pope Francis, in his Laudato si’(“On Care for our Common Home”). This we must do, regardless of our experiences!
Israel’s experience in the Babylonian exile of 587 BC was not a good one. It led to despair. Ezekiel addresses such despair or hopelessness in the 1st reading: a sermon of restoration, hope and reestablishment of the covenant, once broken by sin.

As a prophet of exile, Ezekiel is reappointed as God’s instrument, with a divine appellations “son of man” and as a “watchman” of Israel. These appellations point to Ezekiel’s humanity, and prophetic responsibilities. His duty is to courageously serve as an antidote to discouragement and despair.  He is an agent of hope and love. He is to bring fraternal correction to bear in the community.  As a watchman, Ezekiel is commissioned to remind Israel that the sins of one’s past count for nothing when we repent and do what is right. Are we not also called to be prophetic in our own ways, where ever we are? We are called to be our brothers and sisters keeper. Keeping the common good!

In Romans 13: 8-10, Saint Paul, like Ezekiel, plays the same prophetic role of preaching remedies to despair and discouragement. Paul re-emphasized the Ten Commandments we learned in our catechisms classes, and Sunday schools. Those in the Book of Exodus and of course in Deuteronomy “Shama Israel”, (Listen, Hear O Israel!). These laws are wonderful. Yet, for Saint Paul, love, mercy, forgiveness, or charity to our neighbors, especially the poor, fulfills these laws.
The same message reechoes in the Gospel (Matt 18:15-20) where Jesus says, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault. If he refuses invites two other people to come with you. But if he still refuses to listen bring the matter to the church, the community of believers. For where two or three gathered in God’s name, God is surely in their midst.

In all these, when we put the messages of Ezekiel, Paul and that of Jesus together, one single theme stands out, namely’ “being our brothers/sisters keeper,” watching out for neighbors. In the case of Ezekiel, bringing them hope and support when everybody seems to be hopeless and despair. In the case of Paul, truly no one who loves his neighbor would think of stealing his neighbor’s property, abusing his children or wife, since “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” What stands out in the Gospel also is that, we be a watchman or a watchwoman to our neighbors in our prayers and counseling. We are called to be prophetic. Those pieces of advice we gently and compassionately give to our grandchildren, children, friends, partners, colleagues, spouses count. They go a long way to help. You never know! We are call to love and to watch our neighbors back, speak well about our neighbors, whether they are there or not.
Today, we live in a very troubling time. A time of immeasurable uncertainties, of poverty, widening gap between the poor and the rich. A time that we are confronted with climate change and natural tragedies, earthquakes and hurricanes. Nobody knows what the terrorists might do next. Nobody knows how far that earthquake, or hurricane might go. Nobody knows hundred percent, how far the wars going on in different parts of the world might extend. Or what those with nuclear weapons might do next. We are yet to control, 100 percent, recent outbreak of epidemics and diseases including AIDs and EBOLA. We still have gun violent, police brutalities, cultural and racial crises in our world.

In all these, we have every reason to listen to God’s voice and pray for our nations and world at large, our civil leaders and ecclesiastical leader.  Like Ezekiel, Paul and Christ, we have every reason to be our brothers and sister keepers, to constantly pray, advice, and watch out for one another; Regaining our personal and communal hope!

Reflection Questions:

1.    In what way are you prophetic Like Ezekiel, Paul or Christ-like in your homes, or areas of work and services?

2.    How often do you forgive or act charitable towards your neighbor or your environment and mother planet?

3.    How does your personal hope and trust in the Lord strengthen the despaired members of your faith community?

4.    How much good have you contributed towards the common good? Or help to spread the Gospel?