_The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)
Last Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Eucharist – the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. For God so love the world that He gave us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink that we may not only be nourished with life on earth but also be assured of eternal life. Why did Jesus have to go all the way to give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink? In John 6:53, Jesus declares: “Unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us.”
Today’s readings proclaim loudly the superabundant love of God, the love that led the Israelites, our ancestors in the faith, on eagle’s wings out of the land of bondage. (First Reading) This is the same love that moved Jesus to die for our sake even though, as sinners, we didn’t deserve it (Second Reading). The love made Jesus look at the crowd compassionately and appoint labourers for Divine harvest. (Gospel Passage).
Considering the height of this love, we cannot but sing with the Psalmist as it proclaims: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” And if indeed we are God’s people, the sheep of His flock, we have certain rights (to enjoy) and responsibilities (to fulfil). It is a covenant relationship. This is why in our first reading today, God says to us: “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession.” (Exodus 19:5). Are we obeying the voice of God today? Are we still keeping our part of the covenant? These questions bring us to our lessons for today:
*1. Look at the Brighter Side.*
Very often, we think of God’s commandments as burdensome. Recently, someone asked me: “Father, is it possible to obey all these commandments of God? Can we do what God says, especially with how things are today?” I said: “Yes, it is possible, by the grace of God.” The person asked: “What if the grace of God is not available? Sometimes, you try so hard, only to still fall.” This is a dilemma that every Christian face, even the greatest saints were not spared.
St. Paul confessed: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:18-19). Could it be that there is something wrong with our human nature? Why do we always desire evil and consider good as brutal? Why are we always looking for the most accessible paths, even when we know such is against God? There is a way out of this dilemma: look on the brighter side.
We assume God’s commandments are burdensome because we hardly take our time to reflect on what we stand to gain from the discipline of obedience to God’s instruction. In today’s first reading, God lists the benefits of keeping His commandments: “You shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” Two, “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom.” Three “and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6). Have you sat down to consider the full import of these words?
Do you know what it means to be considered a treasured possession? When you have something that you adore so much, wouldn’t you protect it even with your life? To be God’s treasured possession is to be favoured among all humans on earth. Again, God says that we shall become a priestly kingdom. The meaning of this is that we would become a means of sanctifying others; we become to the world what a priest on the altar is to the congregation – we lead the rest of the world to God. And finally, God says we shall be a holy nation. When we consider what we stand to gain from our obedience, sin loses its appeal to us.
*2. Jesus Looked at the Brighter Side*
Whatever troubles us, there are always two ways of looking at it. It is either we look at it as a problem (a mountain), or we look at it as an opportunity (a blessing in disguise). It is either we see our problems as insurmountable challenges or as projects worth accomplishing.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus looked at the crowds with compassion. He felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd, but instead of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowd, Jesus looked at the brighter side. Jesus declared: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” Jesus looked beyond their dejected and harassed faces and saw so many hearts genuinely longing for God.
Coincidentally, we live in an age and time similar in various respects to that time of Jesus. So many churches have closed down in the Western world, the level of moral decadence in our society is beyond comprehension, many of our young people have stopped going to Church, and people are publicly tearing up the Bible and abandoning the faith. We can go on and on. The fact is that beyond the darkness that pervades our society today, there is a rich harvest of souls waiting, hoping, longing and searching for the Gospel.
*3. Don’t Stop at Looking at the Brighter Side: Take Action*
Seeing the opportunities ahead of you is one thing, but if you don’t take action, your seeing is useless. This is the problem of many Christians today; we have faith strong enough to move mountains, but we still hope they will move on their own. We pray and fast for days and nights unending but refuse to do what is right or take action. We behave like students who fail to attend lectures for an entire semester only to engage in three-days-fasting-and-prayer a day to the exam or a farmer who says to himself: “If I sell my crops, I will be rich”, but he fails to go into the farm to harvest the crops.
What needs to be improved among Christians today is faith but action. We ask God to bless us, but we do not give Him anything to bless. We want Jesus to feed the multitude, but we must provide the five loaves and two fish. Jesus did not just pray for the crowds that were harassed and dejected, but he also appointed the twelve. Jesus blessed them and commissioned them to go out and attend to the spiritual needs of the people.
God’s blessings do not come to us in a vacuum. When you pray, go out and work so that your work becomes the instrument through which you receive God’s blessing. When you are inspired, don’t let your ideas waste in your head, write them down and start working on them. When you see the brighter side, pray about it and do something. If you only listen (or read) today’s homily and do nothing about it, then this homily will not work. Consider the thousands of churches in our society today compared to the level of decadence, and you cannot but see that our problem is action.
*4. Start little: Take One Step at a Time*
Jesus looked at the multitudes but decided to choose only twelve men. If we could advise Jesus, I am sure many of us would say to Jesus, “What impact can just twelve men make?” We might even say, “How come there are no women?” Some would raise issues of gender equality, while others, especially in today’s Nigeria, would ask for ethnic balancing.
We would have to screen the twelve and ensure they are most suited for the job. Simon Peter would be considered talkative and therefore disqualified. James and John would be seen as too ambitious. Judas Iscariot would not pass the honesty test. Andrew would be regarded as a “follow-follow.” Matthew would be kicked out based on his CV alone. Thomas would be seen as too doubtful. We can go on and on.
By the way, what business do fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots (fighters) have to do with preaching the Gospel? Why did Jesus not go to the temple to select the holiest among the scribes and Pharisees? Do you get the point now? Jesus was not so concerned about getting it right at first. Jesus’ aim was not perfection but a beginning. Jesus was willing to work with those available, no matter how few in number they were. Please do not worry about getting it right on your first attempt or once and for all.
Jesus did not only select a small number of persons, but He also looked at the brighter side of each person – Jesus saw their potential and somehow ignored their shortcomings (and their past). Jesus teaches us that He is not looking for perfection but availability.
*5. Life is not all about Money*
The last line of our Gospel passage today contains a warning: “You receive without charge (payment); give without cost (fee). Money is the biggest challenge facing the spread of God’s kingdom on earth today. Many of our secular artists today began their music careers in the church, but as time passed, they could no longer give freely that they received freely. Many ministers of the Gospel started well but, along the line, decided to face business squarely. Many Christian politicians ventured into politics to help the people, but later they turned money into a god.
Let us ask ourselves, to what extent is money acting as an obstacle to my call? As a doctor, do I only help patients who can afford to pay me? As a teacher, do I only attend to children whose parents give me kickbacks? As a workman, do I only work for money? As a skilled professional/businessman, am I only lovely when money is involved?
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, since without you mortal frailty can do nothing, grant us always the help of your grace, that in following your commands we may please you by our resolve and deeds. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Bible Study: Exodus 19:2-6, Ps. 100:2-3,5, Romans 5:6-11, Matthew 9:36-10:8)*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu