You can’t write your obituary you can only live it – Saturday, the third week in Easter – Acts 9:31-42/ John 6:60-69

What will your obituary read? Understandably obituaries are an expensive affair and words have to be measured. Even so, would your obituary read as powerfully as the obituary of Tabitha’s in today’s text? She is described as a disciple and the only person in the New Testament mentioned by name as a disciple.

But she is also described as a woman ‘devoted to good works.’ This tells us that she did not flirt with some form of Lenten acts of kindness or a Christmas-time charity outreach; she is devoted to good works and for her it is a way of life. Even more, she is described as a woman who is devoted to her charity, one that is seen not only in the words of our text but by the mourning of the people in Joppa who wash her body and weep unabashedly at her demise.

This text is brief but effusive in describing this disciple. But the text also leaves some more clues and we need to examine it like a forensic examiner. For example, we are told that when Tabitha dies, her body is washed and laid in ‘the upper room.’ The upper room could well read as a modest modern-day mansion of our times. Archaeology has shown us that ‘upper rooms’ were few and far between and indicative of wealth. What is also interesting is that she is not mentioned as the wife of some man or that she is a widow. This means we have a rather rich spinster who is devoted to charity and good works.

Losing a loved one is hard, losing a breadwinner or a benefactor is harder because it’s not one life lost, it could well be the death of several more. Tabitha was a provider; not just from the copper coins in her pocket but surely the shekels from her savings. The fact that the town of Joppa mourns her enough to send two disciples to fetch the prince of the Apostles indicates the great affection they have for her. The widows who were beneficiaries of her great love and charity weep to show Peter the tunics she had made. They were not displaying her skills as a seamstress as much as they were displaying the charity that shared.

Charity and good works are seen by many Christians as merely Lenten disciplines or Christmastide activities. Rather, it should be a way of life. The sufferings of others should not just ‘upset us’ but disturb us to the point of acting in favour of those in need. Sadly, some are only receivers while I have seen many in the Christian community for whom charity and good works are a way of life.

I have often heard obituaries of the dead at mass. Sometimes I am inclined to get up from my seat and check if the person who is being eulogized is the one in the coffin. But then there are those precious moments at a funeral when grief is not just limited to the relatives but to the whole congregation. People show up because the person who has passed away has touched the lives of many. There are stories of kindness and love that are told amidst tears of sadness.

As an end note, I want to make a comment. Take it for what it is, a comment and not a personal judgment. What you leave for your children is an inheritance that hopefully will not erupt in a battle amongst relatives on earth. What you give to the poor is charity which is rewarded in heaven.

So, to end where I began. What will your obituary be like?

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Grace + Repentance = Salvation – Friday, the third week in Easter – Acts 9:1-20/ John 6:52-59

Chapters eight, nine and ten of the Acts of the Apostles cover three conversion stories. Yesterday we heard of the conversion of the Eunuch of Candace at the hands of Philip the deacon and today we will hear of the conversion of Saul.

It must be said emphatically that every saint has a past and every sinner a future. If you find yourself believing that your soul is lost, then think again. St Paul may be romanticised today as one who was sent from heaven with angel wings but the fact is that he consented to murder and was responsible for the violent persecution of Christians sparing no one; woman or man.

This text deserves a repetitive reading to understand that God’s ways are not ours. Think of the one person you have spiritually ruled out of heaven. The one person you have damned in your heart to the fires of hell. For all you know, that is a Saul whom Jesus chooses to make a saint. Ananias was reluctant to go and heal Paul for he had condemned him in his heart, yet he is told to, “Get up and go” to a street called ‘straight’ for here the Lord has straightened out a crooked soul.

But sin requires a response. Sinners are called to repentance by Jesus. When that happens the grace of God flows through. God has no favourites; he may have a preferential option for sinners but his grace is available for all, provided grace is met with repentance. Grace + Repentance = Salvation. This is the formula for Christian life.

Saul would go to the ends of the world to defend his Jewish beliefs. Saul was a Pharisee but his misguided zealotry for the defense of the Jewish faith turned him into a murderer. Faith must be tempered with love. Zealotry and bigotry do not make us poster boys for the Christian faith, rather they leave an unpleasant taste of the faith in those who are even remotely attracted to Christ.  

But the Saul heading to Damascus could well be us heading to persecute a fellow Christian. We tend to think of persecution as merely an attack on the faith, an external attack. What we fail to realise is that often the persecution is also from amongst the flock. Satan supplies every evil thought and action to perpetuate such persecution within the Church leading to the greatest scandal of division within the sheepfold. It is better for those who have been led astray by satan to tie a millstone around their neck, for this persecution that they wage is against the very Body of Christ.

When Jesus confronted Saul on the way to Damascus, Our Lord said to him, “Saul why do you persecute me?” He did not say, ‘Why do you persecute my Church?’ The persecution of any Christian especially by another in the sheepfold is an attack on Christ. This truth must be said strongly and emphatically from every pulpit and even more to some in the pulpit who have let their earthly position blindfold their actions.

Saul of Tarsus is St. Paul of Heaven.  Our earthly address changes when we give our lives to God on earth. What is your address?

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Directs, Decides and Dismisses – Thursday, the third week in Easter – Acts 8:26-40/ John 6:44-51

The focus of the text is often and with good intention set on Philip or the Ethiopian eunuch who was the finance minister of the Queen of Candace. I, on the other hand, am drawn to focus on the Holy Spirit as the champion of the text. It is the Holy Spirit who directs, decides and dismisses.

The Holy Spirit Directs

For many in the Church today, ministry has become a matter of ‘my baby.’ That is the prime ingredient for a recipe headed for the waste bin. The ministry of Philip was a runaway success in Samaria. (Acts 8:5-8) Yet the Spirit of the Lord does not confine him to Samaria and confirm him as Bishop for life but tells him to ‘get up and go.’ (Acts 8:26) He is sent on the road that goes ‘down.’ Down does not seem like an upward promotion on the face of it and even worse, he is sent on the ‘road of the wilderness,’ a road few would tread today for it went from Jerusalem to Gaza.

The Holy Spirit Decides

Perhaps ministry for us today has not only become my baby but who I choose to minister to. Often parish groups are marginalized by the very shepherds called to lead them because they have their ‘pet peeves’ against them. As pastors, we are called to minister to all. But there are times when the Holy Spirit decide who we need to specifically minister to.

 In this case, it was an affluent and influential man of political standing. We may find it loathsome to minister to someone in politics or even scorn those who minister to those who are financially well-off. Do politicians and the rich deserve the wrath of God and only the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom of God? Let God’s spirit decide the path of ministry and service for you. In this case, it was a wealthy man who became the FIRST AFRICAN CONVERT to the faith. Imagine what would have happened if Philip had his pet peeves against some in the Church.

The Holy Spirit Dismisses.

We like to sit on thrones of power, in chairs of position and the seats of prestige. We anoint ourselves prophets, priests and eternal kings in the ministry we are given charge of temporarily. What a shame it is when we cling to our posts way beyond our calling. Philip had successfully converted Samaria and now he had converted a wealthy political big wig. Yet the Spirit of God ‘snatched Philip away’ and sent him to Azotus (present-day Ashdod) before sending him further north, along the coast in the direction of Casearia, the heart of the Roman administration of that day.

How silly we are when we tell God our plans; he must be laughing in heaven. But woe be upon us when we insist that ‘our’ kingdom come and ‘our’ will be done on earth. For such, there cannot be a place in heaven! The Holy Spirit is in the business of appointments. I say this tongue in cheek for this is the time in the year when priests are ‘appointed’ to a parish by their Bishops. I recall with sadness when disappointment first set in my heart when appointed to Malad East. It almost seemed like a ‘punishment.’ Yet the stone that the builders may reject is the cornerstone in God’s plan.

When the Holy Spirit dismisses you to a new role, no matter what position you hold and what capacity you are sent in, GO! There are too many among the clergy, religious and the laity who hold on to their seats as if their post defines them.  Maybe Philip hesitated and that is why he was ‘snatched’ and sent on.

Bishops, priests, religious and laity need to read this text often so that their hearts may be in tune with His Holy Spirit and pray that they too are ‘snatched’ by God’s Holy Spirit even if they are sent to Gaza, Ashdod or Caesarea and not give in to the evil spirit of power and position.

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The hate for the faith – Wednesday, the third week in Easter – Acts 8:1-8/ John 6:35-40

Passion is what must truly drive you. Educational qualifications or motivational speeches do not drive passion. When you are passionate you don’t need convincing or cajoling. Everything you do is driven by a strength that comes from a desire to see your passion actualised and even memorialised.

Much of our faith is not driven by passion. It is for this reason that we need to be motivated or even worse, monitored. Obligations weigh heavy and hellfire is thrown in for good measure to get us to fall in line. Catholics who are passionate about the faith are a slim minority and that accounts for the unenthusiastic response to evangelization. You are more likely to forward a sensational post on social media than a sensible one that nourishes life and faith.

The Early Church did not need to be cajoled; they were captivated by the Holy Spirit and Christ who had conquered death. To that end, they were willing to die for a cause and not just meet a tick box at Sunday service.

The text of today seems to be an attempt to capture many events that occurred in a single day. It seems like St Luke, the author, had his mind racing to capture it all when he penned the text. That is what happens when you want to record three notable events and do not want to miss a single detail.  

We are told that (1) A SEVERE persecution breaks out against the Church in Jerusalem and all except the apostles are SCATTERED throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Saul is RAVAGING the Church DRAGGING both men and women to prison. (2) Stephen is BURIED amidst loud LAMENTATION by some men. (3) Philip is making waves in Samaria with crowds listening EAGERLY leading to GREAT JOY in the city.

In one single text, we read of the fear of bodily persecution, yet unabashed and courageous mourning and even more, joyful evangelization. To many this is madness but those who are driven by a passion for the faith, understand these events with clarity.  

The thought of persecution would send most of us scampering for cover. Here a full-blown persecution has begun with the martyrdom of St Stephen. The words used by St Luke and highlighted by me in the text above are an attempt to make the reader not just glance at what we take for granted as an event but rather a reality that could face us today. This was a ‘severe’ persecution that ‘ravaged’ the Church leading to people being ‘dragged’ to prison.

Yet passion for the faith and not the threat of persecution is what drives the response of the Early Church. Stephen is mourned publicly and unabashedly. And while all but the apostles flee Jerusalem the focus is not on the fleeing but rather the fanning of the flame of faith which has not been extinguished but rather the torch is carried by Philip to Samaria. God’s chosen people in Jerusalem may have rejected the Messiah but the Gentiles of Samaria recognize the truth. Passion burns brightly even amid persecution.

The Church in India has always been persecuted both tacitly and openly. While the present dispensation has most evidently gaslighted the hate for the faith, previous dispensations played the anti-conversion card to their convenience. While we in the cities have rarely and randomly been subjected to public attacks, those in rural India have testified with more than just scars on their backs.

Leadership in the Church today does not reflect the stance of the apostles who stood their ground in Jerusalem nor does it reflect the great lamentation for the martyred. Even more, there are no Philips who choose to evangelize in the Samaria’s of India and as a consequence there is no joy in any town. Passion for the faith is frail, if nonexistent and ‘WATERed’ down Church leadership and not the ‘BLOOD’ of the martyrs seems to be the nourishment for the seed of Christianity. The results are obvious on earth, imagine the judgment in heaven.

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Maundy Thursday – Finding a place for women at the last supper.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus was in the house of Martha, Lazarus and Mary in Bethany. If you walked down the Golden Gate that was attached to the temple (now sealed) and walked into and out of the Kidron valley you would arrive at the Mount of Olives on which is situated the garden of Gethsemane. Just over the mountain was Bethany. It is here that Jesus often found rest among friends.

John 12:2 tells us that on this occasion, Lazarus was present and so was Martha who was serving (that seems to always be her preoccupation). Also in the house was Mary and once again we find her at the feet of Jesus. I am not going to disparage work over worship but perhaps we see too little of ‘sitting at his feet’ over ‘serving at his table.’

Mary pours a pound of pure nard on his feet and wipes it with her hair. It was not uncommon for someone’s feet to be washed. This Roman culture had been well incorporated out of sheer necessity into Judean living. But on this occasion, the actions of Mary have to be seen as an act of supreme love that must have surely made a deep impact on the life of Jesus. This was something that he must have remembered fondly.

Six days later at the Passover, Jesus was down on his knees doing the unimaginable. Jesus took the role of a slave when he washed the feet of one who would betray, the other who would deny and nine who would desert him. Only John stood by the foot of the cross. It is no wonder that he richly deserves the title, ‘the one whom Jesus loved.’

I want to throw in a wild card here; a thought that may be pure conjecture but worth a pastoral implication. What if Jesus was so deeply struck by the act of love that Mary performed six days ago, that he felt prompted to do the same? Jesus did not use pure nard, just a towel and water but the extravagance of love cannot be lost on us considering whose feet he washed.

Like Mary, whose actions were seen as scandalous, the act of washing his disciple’s feet was seen as scandalous. Yet he did it for love’s sake, the same love that prompted Mary’s actions. It was meant to be a ripple effect; Mary, Jesus, you and me. Jesus said it in no uncertain terms, “If I then, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet.” Women create beautiful ripples that we need to acknowledge and commemorate.

The action of Mary of Bethany was not just driven by love but her actions inadvertently said much more when she ‘anointed’ his feet. The word Messiah means ‘the anointed one.’ Here was the anointed one being anointed by a woman. Mary did not anoint him with a title but anointed him for his burial. (John 12:7)

Permit yourself this pastoral luxury for once, without letting your theology scream blue murder at you. Think about it, It was a woman who had the privilege of ‘anointing’ the lord before his death. She administered the ‘anointing’ (I am not calling it a sacrament). Guess what, the role of women did not end there. To the one man who stood at the foot of the cross there were several women, to the many men who abandoned the lord there were the women of Jerusalem mourning unabashedly on the via dolorosa and it was to a woman that the Lord will first appear at his resurrection.

Yes, there was no seat assigned for a woman at the last supper but that does not mean there was no place in the heart of Jesus for them.

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