HOMILY FOR TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (23RD SUNDAY) – YEAR A
HOMILY Theme: SENTINELS OF LOVE.
By: REV. FR. GERALD MUOKA
Homily for Sunday.
R1 – EZ. 33: 7-9
RESP. PS. – PS. 95:1-2, 6-9
R2 – ROM. 13:8-10
GOSPEL – MATT. 18:15-20
There is an existential fact about the crows (okwukwa), a family of birds known for preying and destroying crops. Whenever they are descending on a farm to eat corn or whatever is available, there is always one crow that stands guard high up from a tree. That crow’s job is to warn the others with a mobbing sound, if it sees a fox(nkita ohia or ufu), their major predator, or any animal that could attack them. Now, if the crow does not warn the other crows, and they are attacked, the surviving crows will kill the unobservant sentinel. Even, their nest is always placed under the watch of a watchman-crow against danger, once eggs and chicks (baby crow) are on board.
Beloved in Christ, in today’s readings, God reminds us of the command concerning our spiritual responsibility and individual accountability for others in our families, parishes and communities and to disabuse the Modern mind which tends to think that “I have no right to intervene or interfere in the private lives of my neighbour or fellow believers”; while insisting we remain our brothers keepers.
In the First reading, the prophet Ezekiel is commissioned as the moral compass and keeper of the house of Israel as a sentinel or watchman of love. Just as the watchman-crow keeps watch in order to save others from dangerous predators, so was Ezekiel charged to save Israel from the ferocious disaster of the devil that prowls like a roaring lion (predator), looking for someone to eat.
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If he does not warn them when he sees evil, then he is participating in the evil. But he is not at fault if he warns them but they refuse to listen.
This reminds us of the Igbo proverb which says, *”ihe mere okenye bu ahu ekwughi, ihe mere nwata bu anu emeghi or egeghi”* (indifference over evil kills the aged, whereas, recalcitrance kills the young); because, *okenye anaghi ano n’ulo ewu amuo na ogbu”* (it is abominable for the she-goat to deliver with rope tied to her neck whereas elders are at home).
In the Second Reading, St Paul reminds us that the “Missio Custodiam”, is not optional, rather, mandatory for every Christian. Infact, he indicated that it is a debt to be redeemed; rendered as ὀφείλετε (opheilete)= “to owe” in Greek– which literarily means, “indebtedness” or a “responsibility to take up.”
The fundamental question is: How am I going to be a watchman of love or sentinel of love to my brother/sister?”
*BIBLICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF A SENTINEL OR WATCHMAN*
The Bible uses the role of a watchman to describe the work of a prophet among God’s people.
Watchman” is derived from the Hebrew: צָפָה tsō-p̄eh or tsa-phah, meaning, “sentinel”: derived from the verb meaning to “look out or about, spy, keep watch”; properly “to lean forward”, i.e. “to peer into the distance”; by implication, “to observe, await:—behold, espy, look up (well), wait for, (keep the) watch(-man).
(1) Watchmen Keep an eye out for physical threats and attacks of the enemy. (2 Kings 9:17).
*So it is our responsibility to speak out against impending danger whenever we envisage one, especially, for the religious and political leaders to rise up and speak against the seemingly ongoing Islamization agenda by an Ethnic group in Nigeria and Africa.*
(2) Watchmen safeguarded fields and vineyards during harvest time (Isaiah 5:1–2; Matthew 21:33; Mark 12:1).
*It is our duty to watch against the decay of good moral standards and prevent the ignorant against infiltration.* *(Iwepu aka enwe n’oku ka o hapu igho aka mmadu).*
(3) Watchmen acted as sentinels who announced the start of a new day (Psalm 130:6; Isaiah 21:11–12).
*It is our responsibility to announce the dawn of joy which the new day brings and equally brighten the day for one another by putting smiles on their faces.*
(4) God appointed prophets as spiritual watchmen over the souls of His people (Ezekiel 33:7; Hosea 9:8).
*Without compromising standards, we are called to save souls from damnation. Always preaching and reaching out in the Spirit of fraternal love and corrections.*
*WAYS OF WATCHING OVER AN ERRING BROTHER/SISTER*
Our natural reaction when someone hurts us or breaks the rules of the community is to retaliate, punish, banish, ostracize and excommunicate. Reconciliation and forgiveness saves the soul of the offender.
Jesus, in the Gospel reading, propels us today, to find ways of bringing back an erring brother/sister into the community of love as sentinels and watchmen of love in the following ways of mutual love and fraternal corrections:
(Seek to reconcile, not revile but go private, not public).
I personally refer to this one as normal “ara ime ulo” (in-house madness that is normal).
This is the first step of being watchful over ones neighbour. The scripture directs:
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one”.
Let’s make this plain and simple. Whatever you do, DON’T GOSSIP, just iron it out on one-on-one capacity.
*Just adapt the Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s one-on-one-mad-room-formula* : Jackie Joyner-Kersee, one of the world’s best female athletes, and her husband, Bobby, have a unique solution for discussing problems. Off the side of their house is an office which they have designated the “Mad Room.” Whenever they have a serious disagreement, Bobby and Jackie go to the “Mad Room” to discuss it. Neither is allowed to leave that room until the matter is settled. And by so doing, they are committed to ensuring the conflicts do not smolder and get out of hand.
What a great idea!
Though, at this level, some husbands, wives and friends frustrate this first and ideal step, by making odious and herculean demands as: She must beg me with a 5 year giant native hen or my people must be involved in this matter. He must come before my people to beg me and sometimes, families are invited with almost 70% sentimental tendency of judging in favour of their own son or daughter, etc. Some who first run to their marriage male or female sponsors would have them tutor them to adopt his boss-man strategies which your wife might not accept or her boss-woman strategies, which the man might not tolerate.
Jesus calls on us today to be a sentinel of love by first, adopting a nonviolent and peaceful confrontational approach.
(Here is the family or inner circle capacity). This one is “ara puru ezi” (madness that has left the house)
The scripture recommends:
“But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
This is the settlement of disputes and quarrels at the family and inner circle of initiates level.
The essence of going this far is to give longer rope for the erring brother to come back to senses.
Sometimes, on the bid to “deal” with the so called offender or wrong doer, we jump protocol and take a case that should be settled within the family circle outside to the community or worst still involving police and other civil process like, Welfare, Courts, Civil Rights, etc.
These processes may guarantee victory or justice based on logic for either the plaintiff or the respondent, but may not guarantee and sustain peace at the day, leaving lesser room for fraternal corrections.
Be a negotiator today and help to save relationships, by cautioning and bringing back your erring brother or sister as a true sentinels of love.
(Stay in community, for community):
This is “ara puru ahia” (market madness).
If the negotiation step does not resolve the situation either, the third step is to have the whole Church or community of believers confront the wrongdoer.
The Church provides an atmosphere of Christian prayer, Christian love and Christian fellowship in which personal relationships may be righted in the light of love and of the Gospel.
Finally, in matters of honor and shame, the community is the final arbiter, for the community suffers from the wrong.
However, some local churches, fellowship communities and mostly, some autonomous communities, at times, tend to make reconciliation quite odious for the offender.
Sometimes, impossible conditions and tasks are meted out as: give us one goat, one cow, one bag of flies, small chicks, one ebule, other pagan items for appeasing the gods, even Christian communities, or worst still ostracizing or excommunicating the offender for years and months etc. Churches and communities should always act as sentinels of not allowing a brother perish in his/her sins. Sometimes, we met out heavy and irreconcilable punishments.
Imagine the ardent desire and longing of Omenuko, in Peter Nwanna’s First Igbo Novel, to appease and reconcile with the spirits and his people after years of being excommunicated and ostracized by his people for overstepping his hubris and transgressing morality by selling his apprentices and load bearers into slavery, in order to cut down his business losses.
The ordeal of staying away from the community made life difficult for him, with lots of travails. He later became penitent, contrite, repentant and remorseful and sought reconciliation with the spirits of his land and his people for a possible return to his people. Although these efforts were almost foisted and frustrated by huge demands, including that of getting four feathers of an eagle (a task quite difficult to achieve in his time), because of the scarcity of eagles. He sealed this desire and enthusiasm by bringing a live eagle and additional scarce eggs of the duck.
Be a sentinel of love today. There are still many banished Omenukos that are longing for reconciliation… Be a watchman.
(Don’t compromise standards)
This is “ara na enweghi mmekwatarism” (incurable madness).
The scripture admonishes:
And if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Sometimes there is a danger when we emphasize love and community so much. Many times it may seem like we are supposed to just gloss over blatant sin and call it love. That is dangerous.
Let’s use an extreme example to illustrate this:
There are some full time agents of discord and trouble in the families, communities and churches, who can never heed to mutual coexistence and fraternal love and corrections. For such people, make sure you are in good terms with them without bearing grudges and ensure you greet them while stretching out your long spoon, not in perpetual enmity but distant relationships. *(maka na onye ya na ekwensu na eriko nri na eji ogolo spoon-he who dines with the devil uses long devil’s spoon).*
Finally, a story was narrated about a dying man of mid-60s who was persuaded by a priest at the course of the Visitation of the sick to reconcile with his blind younger brother, who had been his arch enemy for 15 years.
The priest invited the blind younger brother over and at the course of the reconciliation, the dying man started crying profusely and after some uncountable minutes of crying, asked the brother to forgive him that he is responsible for his blindness.
The younger brother took over and wailed for almost 1 hour, only to finally tell his dying elder brother that he too, was responsible for the dying elder brother’s incurable elephantities of the stomach (nju afo). The elder brother immediately started ranting and fuming with rage, while at the same time foisted every effort to reconcile with the brother in the following words:
You’re very very wicked.
Ataram buo gi na obi, gi
tachaa bukpom anya.
I only used blindness to
make you loyal and humble,
but you decided to hit me
harder by taking away my
I rather go to hell fire than
Infact, how I wish I could
recover now, so that we
start this diabolical enmity
Imagine such an unforgiving and unrepentant soul.. May God help us
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