Homily during my 50th Birthday Anniversary, Monday, 24.10.2016 at St Bernard Seminary Hostel Nchatancha LK 13: 10-17
THEME: GOD´S IMAGE OF THE HUMAN PERSON
My dear sisters and brothers,
In today´s gospel periscope, Jesus observed the difficulties of a woman who was a member of his congregation and who, for 18 years had been possessed by a spirit that left her enfeebled. She was bent double and quite unable to stand upright. It was Jesus who noticed her and called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are rid of your infirmity. He laid his hands on her and at once she straightened up” (Lk 13:13). The action of Jesus elicited a mixed reaction of indignation and rejoicing from his audience. The Synagogue official was indignant because Jesus healed on a Sabbath day. The crowd praised God for freeing a woman once bound by Satan for 18 years. However, the Synagogue official had no courage to speak directly to Jesus, nor to rebuke him. He turned and began rebuking the people. “There are six days when work is to be done. Come and be healed on one of those days and not on the Sabbath”. He was afraid of losing his job. He did not want the Church Council to fire him. However, the sick woman was restored to health.
Sisters and brothers, when we encounter Jesus, he restores our human dignity. In the eyes of Jesus, all human beings have great value and dignity. In the Israelite tradition of Jesus time, oxen, sheep and cattle were more respected than such a woman with bad fate; stripped of her human dignity. Is it not the same situation here in Nigeria where some Fulani Herdsmen and some security officials value cattle more than human beings? This accounts to why they could slaughter every human being in a community just because some of their cows were killed and the Nigerian security officials would look the other way. It is a great worry that in Nigeria, the human being seems to have no value and dignity. One is valued only when one has great wealth or a high office. The sick, the lonely and poor people like this woman seem to have no human dignity. But in this woman, Jesus saw a daughter of Abraham. St Peter rightly described the dignity of a Christian when he wrote: “But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were a non-people and now you are the People of God; Once you were outside his pity, now you have received pity (1 Peter 2:9).
On the other hand, we see in the Synagogue official the image of people who live by the letters of the law instead of by the spirit of the law. Pope Francis reminds us that behind every code of the Canon Law, stands a human person in need of God´s mercy and love. We must not restrict God within the artificial boundaries which we often create for him. In as much as laws and legislations are very important for order in the Church and society, God is not bound within these laws. We must always apply what moral theology describes as epikie – which is the Principle of Catholic Moral Theology for the Interpretation of Human Laws, which means that a human or Church law is not necessarily obligatory in every case (EG).
The Synagogue official and his likes are people who love systems rather than persons. This is the problem of civilized nations. They often place premium on laws rather than on persons. In times of war, people and persons often become statistical calculations in the hands of businessmen and war experts. What matters is how much weapons are sold and how much money is made. It does not matter for them how many human beings died. In the eyes of God, every human person has a great dignity.
After the healing of this woman, her human dignity was restored. She could now stand up as a woman of dignity; no longer burdened by sin or infirmity. Our society, just like the society AT THE TIME OF Jesus lay great importance on externals: on materialism, on legalism. Often, only the rich and famous have human dignity and respect in our society. This is often the reason why almost everybody is struggling to ´make it´. This often leads us to the life of hypocrisy. People are just trying to please those in authority in order to ascend to a greater height. The Synagogue official was blinded by his Hypocrisy. Hypocrisy occurred 13 times in the Old Testament and 20 Times in the New Testament and refers to people who are profane or godless. It refers to mocking God with malicious intent. It equally refers to the practice of dissimulation. A certain doctor told me how he went to a remote village in Enugu State to administer free medical services to the poor people there and discovered that many people were suffering from a particular disease, for which free drugs were distributed by the state Government. He had to visit the State Ministry of Health to request for this drug for that community only to discover that the Chief of that town had earlier collected that drug worth millions of naira and sold them. He has one of the best houses in that town. He was also the chief promoter of the bazaar in his local Church. Jesus would call such a Chief, a Hypocrite. He also used this word to condemn the action of the Pharisees who loved the letters of the law more than the spirit of the law.
The neglect of human dignity leads to war among brothers and sisters. Civil war means the taking up of arms by citizens against fellow citizens. This is what is going on now in Syria where about half a million people have lost their lives in four and half year, with about eleven million people forced to flee their homes. The war began with an anti government protest before escalating into full scale civil war with the ISIS dominating the story. Every war starts with pride and lack of dialogue. At present, wars are going on in Central African Republic between Muslims and Christians; in Democratic Republic of Congo against rebels; in Egypt against Islamic militants; in Somalia, Government against Islamic militants, al-Shabaab; in South Sudan between Government and rebel group; in Nigeria between Government and Islamic militants, Boko Haram. The Nigerian-Biafran civil war was as a result of pride, arrogance and lack of dialogue among those in authority. After 30 months, about three million people perished in the war.
The Chief celebrant was born 50 years ago, on 24 October, 1966, only 3 months after the counter-coup in Nigeria which occurred in July 1966. I was just 7 months old when the Nigerian-Biafran civil war broke out. I spent the first 30 Months of my life in the different refugee camps and in flight with my parents. During that period, I was like the proverbial servant described by the prophet Isaiah in Is 53:3- A man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. I was the sixth among seven children of our parents. The dust of the civil war took a long time to settle down in our environment. That gave me a slow start in life. However, God had never abandoned me. As a child, I nursed the desire to be a priest and whenever I played with my fellow children, I played the role of a priest. (Further story of my journey to the priesthood…)
God trained me with suffering and gave me a strong weapon – peace of mind and soul. My Philosophy of life: To always abandon myself in the hands of God and be ready to be surprised or even disappointed by Him.
Dear sisters and brothers, in spite of our difficulties in life, God loves us as his image and likeness. In God´s own eyes, man, made up of body and soul is his creation. He created us in his own image and likeness. He created us in LOVE, as an extension of his image. Scripture says that “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them (Gen1:28). For God, all things on earth should, therefore, be ordained to man as to their centre and summit. (See: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes no 12). In the Divine-Human relationship, it is often God, like the good shepherd, who seeks man to bring him back to his fold, to heal him, to restore his battered image, visible in the human person. For St Augustine, God chose to create because of the abundance of his goodness (See the confessions of St Augustine, chapter 38). When Augustine saw a mad man or a prostitute, he would often say, “God, this is Augustine, but for your grace”. In him, the individual comes before systems. According to William Barclay, whenever the individual is lost in the system and exists, not for his own sake but for the sake of the system, the man is de-humanized. For Jesus, no one should suffer one moment more than necessary. Suffering must not be delayed till tomorrow if it can be alleviated today. Jesus called the Synagogue official hypocrite because the law is for him more important than the human being. Sabbath, for Jesus, should be a day of salvation; a day of fullness, of joy; not of slavery, nor fear. Praised be to our Lord Jesus Christ both now and forever. Amen.