“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.” Genesis 9:9-10.
Why are we Christians? Why we do strive each day to avoid sin? Why do we make efforts each day to keep God’s commandments and walk in his light despite the pressure of our flesh with its mundane desires? Why do we have to resist temptations? Today’s first reading answers all these questions; we are in a convenant relationship with God.
Whenever the name “Noah” is mentioned, what readily comes to our mind is the flood – how God destroyed the whole earth with water because of the sins and iniquities of the earth’s inhabitants. No wonder, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus speaks about the need for us to repent; to change from our sinful ways and serve God. Sin is an offence against God in that when we sin, we go against our covenant agreement with God.
Being the first Sunday of Lent, let us reflect on Pope Francis’ message for Lent this year which he titled: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12).
According to Pope Francis, the rise of iniquity in our world today can be traced to the increase of false prophets in our world today; prophets who act as “snake charmers” in that they are capable of manipulating human emotions serving to God’s people a gospel of prosperity; a message of momentary pleasure and unending individual wealth.
These prophets appeal to our vanity and trust in appearances and like the devil they present evil as good. Pope Francis says we should examine our hearts to find out how we too have been carried away by the teachings of these false prophets. In a similar vien, Archbishop Akubeze in his Lenten message says: “When religion has become the ticket out of poverty, we cannot avoid the manipulations and sundry evils associated with a get-rich-quick mentality.”
It is not surprising that a country with is considered to be the most religious nation on earth could at the same time be ranked as the most corrupt. As our religiousity increases, evil also increases in our society. This is the direct effect of false prophets; prosperity preachers. As my Archbishop puts it: “Recent experience of religion in Nigeria has shown us that we have shifted from the worship of God to the worship of mammon and the crass pursuit of fame and personal glory…
“There was a time when religion was about the worship of God rather than the cult of pastors and ministers. … There was a time when preachers of the gospel lived simply and without ostentation. Today, it is about opulence and crass display of ill-gotten wealth. We are witnessing today the scourge of untamed prosperity gospel. For many, religion has become the way out of economic insolvency and hardship. And because our people are so impoverished by the absence of insightful government, religion has metamorphosed into a very lucrative business.”
The question is: What are we to do? How do we get ourselves back on track with God? How do we return to pure religion? According to the Archbishop: “The proof of the practice of religion must be a corresponding transformation of our heart and actions. We cannot claim to belong to God when our hearts are intent on doing evil and committing wickedness against our brothers and sisters… Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27)”
Coming back to Pope Francis’ message, the church offers us through this season of Lent the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. According to him, “By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception…
“Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone … I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself…
“Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure… Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
Let us return to true religion, let us bear in mind our covenant status with God. if God has so played his part by not destroying the world with world as he promised, what stops us from playing our part by living righteously? Let us not be carried away by prosperity preachers but adopt the beautiful keys of prayer, fasting and almsgiving this season of Lent for our spiritual revival.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, draw me closer to you, may I love you above everything else and my neighbour as myself especially the poor, the needy and the sick. Amen.
*Happy Sunday. Be happy, Live positive, it is well with you. First Sunday of Lent, Year B. Bible Study: Genesis 9:8-15, 1st Peter 3:18-22 and Mark 9:2-13.*