Another Lenten Pilgrimage in Lekki has passed. Each year all Catholics in Lagos assemble at Ave Maria Grotto in Lekki for an intensive day during lent when we turn inwards and prepare ourselves to worthily celebrate Easter. The theme this year centered on Matthew 4:4 that “One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In line with the them of LIVING THE WORD, the priest in his sermon distinguished between 3 categories of the Word – the Spoken Word, the Living Word and the Written Word.
The first aspect is the spoken word which he described as the promise of God the Father. This Word was the Word which was heard in the beginning in Genesis 1:3 wherein it states “God said ‘ Let there be light’; and there was light.” This creative power in the spoken Word is seen throughout Genesis and it is this Word that speaks throughout the Old Testament to Abraham, to Moses and through the Prophets assuring God’s people and promising His people salvation. Genesis 3:15 foreshadows the Messiah who is to triumph when it says that “he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”
This spoken word is seen in Psalm 29 which stresses that the voice of the Lord is powerful. He pointed out that it can also be a whisper as seen in 1Kings 19:12-13 when Elijah encountered God. It is this same voice that we hear as the voice crying out in the wilderness through John the Baptist as foretold in Isaiah 40:3. It is this same word in Isaiah 55:11 that speaks with purpose and does not return empty until it has achieved the purpose for which it has been sent.
He spoke of the second aspect of the Word which is the Living Word as the fulfillment of the Father’s promise – the fulfillment of the spoken Word in the incarnation of Jesus. This is explained in John 1:14 where it states that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” It is this Living Word to which we are accustomed, but we should ask ourselves whether we truly encounter the Living Word; whether we truly know the person of Jesus – not know of Him but actually KNOW HIM.
This living Word is present in whole of scripture as seen in Genesis, in John 1:1-4 and as confirmed by Jesus when he said in John 8:58 that “before Abraham was, I am” and in his prayer to the Father in John 17:5.
The priest stressed that there is a need for a radically enlightened Catholicism which is brought about by a shift from the sacristy to the streets. Without this shift, those that profess to be Catholics although sacramentalized may actually reveal their paganism when the surface is scratched.
ENCOUNTER WITH THE LIVING WORD
The priest referred to Saint Benedict who emphasized that Christianity is an encounter with the Living Word which is Jesus. It is not a membership of a club or badge of honor but a WAY of life. It is no wonder that the first disciples and apostles were persecuted as “followers of the Way” in Acts 22:4. This encounter and following of the Way causes a dramatic change in lifestyle as seen in Saul of Tarsus who turned from a religious Jew to a believing Apostle Paul. Peter is seen to do the impossible by walking on water when his eyes are fixed on Jesus as seen in Matthew 14:29 and converts over three thousand people after denying Jesus three times.
The priest also pointed out that Jesus was born in a manger which is a place animals go to get food. Jesus as the Living Word in effect, turned himself into an altar in the manger, where he gave himself as the bread of life. It is this Living Word upon which we must thirst and feed upon and personally encounter in order to live the Word each day. It is this Living Word which lies at the heart of our Faith in the reception of the Eucharist as the true body and true blood of Christ.
I recently got a revelation on the Living Word. We know that Jesus says that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life in John 14:6. I used to ponder upon how he can be THE WAY, not A WAY but the singular way to God, when we have those who perform all the works of mercy and show love but are not Christians. I used to wonder about their fate in light of John 3:18 and 1 John 5:10-12. The answer came to me through 1John 4:8. Both scripture were written by the same disciple and I realized that there was no inconsistency since Jesus as God the Son, is love and whoever does not believe in love will not have eternal life. Instead of condemning those who don’t believe in Jesus, let us remove our blinkers and ask ourselves whether they believe in love and bear the fruit of this love. If they do, who are we to say that they will not gain eternal life? Do you believe in the Living Word? Do you believe in love? Isn’t it the same thing?
The third aspect of the Word is the Written Word. There have been so much controversy about the compilation of the bible which is the written Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit and so much division on whether some books were actually inspired by the Holy Spirit. Suffice to say, however, that all Christians agree that the written Word of God is the sword of the Spirit as seen in Ephesians 6:17 and that it was used by Jesus in the wilderness to triumph over satan.
The priest pointed out that the devil attacks us when we are close to God and so we should not sheath our sword after every battle. We must always be ready to combat or speak the written word to settle the matter as Jesus did in his replies in Matthew 4:4-10 with the words “It is written...” or “Scripture says.”
He also mentioned that it is the spirit which raised Jesus from the dead that animates the bible and gives the words life as seen in John 6:63 where Jesus says that “it is the spirit that gives life.” This animated nature of the Word is shown also in Psalm 119:105 in the key role of the written word to guide us in our daily journey, for “it is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path.“
The priest ended by stressing that we must enter into a relationship with the Written Word by knowing the bible to a level where the Words are imprinted on our hearts. It is not to be a mere academic exercise of memorizing verses but an imbibing of a lifestyle, as we use scripture as our armory against evil and as a resource to speak life into all we do.
HOW TO LIVE THE WORD
- Believe What You Read:
The priest reminded us that without faith we cannot please God and encouraged us to have faith by hearing the Word of God as said in Romans 10:17. He also said that belief was vital since we walk by faith and not sight as said in 2 Corinthians 5:7. Indeed there are numerous references to the need to believe in the Word of God for it to manifest and take root in your life. This is seen starkly in the inability of Jesus to work miracles in his hometown due their lack of faith as seen in Matthew 13:58.
2. Teach What You Believe
He stressed the need to spread the Good News since it is the nature of the church to evangelize. He pointed out that it is not something that the church or a Christian does – it is its very nature and what we were formed to do. We are to teach what we believe by sharing the Word of God and this truth is one that has come to stay within me. I came to realize that if we are not gathering for God by sharing His Word, then we are scattering as seen in Luke 11:23. The lukewarmness condemned in Revelations 3:16 that characterizes many Christians assuming that we need only be good to each other is a grave deception as we have been called and chosen to teach what we believe.
3. Practice What You Teach
The priest shared a story about a donkey who fell through a hole and was stuck in a dry well unable to rise to the surface. A passerby could not rescue the donkey so he decided to cover up the well so that no other person or donkey would end up in the same fate. He would turn over a shovel of dirt and with each pile thrown in, the donkey would shake the dirt off its back and place it under its hoof to step on it. With each stomp of its hoof, it rose to a higher level until it was on the surface.
He urged us to be like the donkey and shake off all our inhibitions and go one step further than Mother Theresa who advised us to love until it hurts. Instead we are to love as if not been hurt. We need to shake off and step up and in so doing, we practice what we preach which is love, for 1 Corinthians 2:16 says that “we have the mind of Christ.”
This call to live the word actively in our lives is a strong one that must not go unheeded. As Catholics we believe in the Triune God in its divine unity who has given us His Word in the Spoken Word, Living Word and Written Word.
May we always be reminded of our baptism in Christ as we are born anew to do His Will. May we seek to emulate the experience of Jesus at the River Jordan when he heard the Spoken Word of His Father showing pleasure in Him. May we never do things to deny the manifestation of Jesus as the Living Word in our lives, in Jesus name we pray. Amen.