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March 6 Nweke, SJ - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus


Monday, First Week of Lent

March 6, 2017.

Lv 19: 1-2. 11-18/ Ps 19: 8. 9. 10. 15/ Mt 25: 31-46

by *Fr. Ugo Nweke, SJ

When the religion we practice fails to have an impact on our relationship with others, it becomes a waste. If our worship of God and relationship with Him cannot make us more ethical persons in our society, then, our religion becomes delusional and a mere drug that opiates, as Karl Marx once argued. However, true religious faith, true Christian worship actually helps us to be socially responsible and more ethical persons in our society and in our relationships.

Chapter 19 of Leviticus, where our first reading for today (Leviticus 19: 1-2, 11-18) was taken from, reminds us that our relationship with God and our devotion and worship of God, must necessarily show itself in the imitation of God’s Holiness. “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am Holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And, how do we imitate God’s holiness? Some of the highlights are as follows: verses 9 to 18 demonstrate that it is by good neighborliness. In verses 9 and 10 (which were not in our reading today), we are invited to be generous in our care of the poor. Verse 11 encourages us to avoid stealing, lying, fraud, and deception. Verse 13 reminds us to ensure that we pay laborers their deserved wages. As a matter of fact, denying a laborer or wage earner his or her wages is one of the sins that cry to heaven (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; James 5:4). Verse 14 invites us to avoid reviling or vilifying those who are physically handicapped. It also urges us never to take advantage of the weakness or vulnerability of others. God cares for the vulnerable and our relationship with Him challenges us to do likewise. Verses 15 and 16 appeal to us to be just in our judgment. The verses challenge us to avoid being partial in favor of the poor (undermining the wealthy). It also asks us to eschew showing deference towards the wealthy.  Verses 17and18 invite us to correct the erring, avoid hate and summarizes this section of chapter 19 by asserting the invitation to love our neighbors as ourselves. From the foregoing, holiness is not an apartness from the world or a sanctimonious glare and halos on the head, but an invitation to join the Lord God who is actively involved in the world to do justice, to love tenderness, and to heal a broken world. Four times, in today’s passage, we hear God saying to us “I am the Lord”. Thus, we are reminded that the reason that we are invited to be holy is that the God we worship, whose children we are, is a holy God.

The gospel reading (Matthew 25:31- 46) goes further by placing acts of mercy (works of mercy) at the heart of the final judgment by the Son of Man. Followers of Jesus Christ are expected to imitate the example of their Lord and Messiah in service to those in need. It is interesting that the emphasis is not on devotions or rituals but on care for the neighbor in need.

As we begin our lenten journey in this first week of lent, we are invited to imitate God’s holiness that invites us to allow our hands to be dirty in the works of justice, social ethics, moral uprightness, and mercy. The gospel reading challenges us to follow the example of our Messiah King in responding to those in need around us. This is so important that it is at the heart of the judgment of the Son of Man at the end of time. These two readings give us a yardstick to measure our worship of the holy God. Thus, there is no room for a Christian faith that does not have impact on daily life. Christianity cannot be an opiate, if practiced the way Jesus desired, taught and lived.


*Fr. Ugo Nweke, SJ, is the Socius to the Provincial of the ANW Province and works in Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria. 



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