HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
THEME: WELCOME TO THE CHURCH OF PRISONS AND CROSSES!
BY: Fr Livinus C. Igbodekwe
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY SEPTEMBER4 2022
A ‘Prison-Church’? How much weird does that sound? “No! The Church is a home of saints and not a place for criminals”, one may argue. But the fact is that any Church afraid of offending the world for the fear of imprisonment can never be the Church of Christ. The rulers and authorities of this world can judge us for preaching Christ’s name, but yet they themselves are judged by the Gospel of Christ which we carry, for the Spirit of our Gospel will convict the world of sin, of righteous and of judgment.
When sentence is passed by world’s court, the convict is put in prison. It depends on how one stands in the face of the law, whether just or unjust. Any person can go into prison because judgment can be perverted. Even a Law can be unjust. Therefore, a prison can become a home for a criminal as well as for a just Christian. Joseph entered into prison for maintaining integrity. Paul became synonymous with imprisonments because of preaching Christ. The Gospel can become offensive to the wicked people of the world. Paul is in prison in our 2nd Reading for offending some men with Gospel of Christ, which is a Rock of Offence to the wicked, and foolishness to the Gentiles. Apostle Paul embraces his lot and even boasts about it. He calls himself a prisoner of Christ. In another place, he boasts of being a fool for Christ. The wisdom of the world is demonstrated in arguments and pride, but the wisdom of God counts the wisdom of the world as nothingness. For the wisdom of God is demonstrated in the cross of Christ – ability to endure afflictions, pains and even death for the sake of Love.
A prison can turn into a Church: for a disciple of Christ, the Gospel is not in chains. The inmates can be made believers by the a ‘Prison Church’. Joseph still interpreted dreams in prison. Paul and Silas still prayed and sang in prison that even the inmates joined in fellowship and the warden converted. In the 2nd reading today, the runaway slave, Onesimus is converted to become a fine disciple and a spiritual son of Paul. Formerly, Onesimus was unprofitable and useless to Philemon but now has become profitable to Paul, maybe by assisting the old man, Paul while in prison. The prison ministry turns the worst into the best. Paul appeals to Philemon to take back Onesimus and to accept him not just as a slave but as a brother in Christ. The Roman Law was severe against runaway slaves. In Rome, there were about 6 million slaves, and in order to keep them in check, the Law was tightened against them. When captured, a runaway slave might be crucified, or branded with a red-hot iron on the forehead with the letter “F” for fugitive. However, Paul convinces Philemon on how the Gospel has impacted Onesimus. He now lives up to his name – “Onesimus” which means “profitable.” He requests him to accept him back without punishments, and if he would want him no more should send him back to him, Paul. For Onesimus has become as his very own soul.
The Family can Turn into Cross: ‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple’: Jesus boldly said that the true disciple comes to Him without reservation, setting Jesus first. Other relationships are definitely of lower priority than faithfulness and obedience to Jesus.
This is an audacious demand. None of the prophets or apostles asked for such personal commitment and devotion. If Jesus was not and is not God, this would be idolatry and probably madness.
Napoleon understood this principle when he said, “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander [the Great], Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and this hour millions of men would die for him.”
Our love for Christ must be clearly unmatched as against that of ourselves, our family and friends. Only then can we be His disciples. It is this unreserved, singular devotion that will spark up the fire of our afflictions. Hatred will become our lot from all quarters that even our family and friends will fall out with us. This is how our own “Cross” is crafted. And we are to carry it and follow after our Lover, Jesus Christ. Christianity’s way is full of hatred, afflictions and battles. We must do the estimation of cost even before setting out in the first place, so that when all these evil things start to happen to us we should rest on the fact that we got ready enough before starting out.
Let’s carry our Cross. It is our identity as disciples!
Happy Sunday to you!