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4TH SUNDAY IN LENT: CONSTRUCTION, DECONSTRUCTION, RECONSTRUCTION: THE CYLCE OF GRACE


I want to dedicate this homily to the memory of my professor and formator in the major seminary, Msgr. Innocent Maduakolam Osuagwu, who passed recently (yet to be buried). Fr. Osuagwu was one of the original thinkers I encountered during my formation years in the seminary. He had come up with the theory of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction which he used to explain the epistemological process and the trajectory of the African philosophy. His argument was that the ancient African philosophers had constructed the African identity based on treasures, values, and belief systems. These experienced deconstruction (destruction) during the colonial periods, devaluing, denying, and destroying (and continuing) the intrinsic goodness within the African culture. But there came a period of renaissance or reawakening characterized by reconstruction. At the time, Osuagwu was speaking about hope for a continent battered in both a psychological and intellectual conflict, similar to Pope John Paul 11's intention in convoking the African synod: “Faithful to the tradition of the first centuries of Christianity in Africa, the Pastors of this Continent, in communion with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and members of the Episcopal College from other parts of the world, held a Synod which was intended to be an occasion of hope and resurrection, at the very moment when human events seemed to be tempting Africa to discouragement and despair” (Ecclesia in Africa no.1). May the soul of this great philosopher and theologian of our time rest in peace.

 

In the three readings of this weekend, we can apply these concepts of construction (reign of God’s love), deconstruction (reign of sin), and reconstruction (reign of grace). The book of Chronicles began with announcing the blatant infidelity which was prominent at the time of ancient Israel. God’s people practiced abomination. Crime was at its peak. These acts did not take God unawares as he already warned them through the prophets (Jer. 7 and 27; Micah 3:12). Only that the warnings were neglected while the people continued in their wickedness. Saint Paul laments “when we were dead in our transgressions” (Eph. 2:4), while St. John reckons in the gospel, “people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” This is the deconstruction phase, God’s love is taken for granted.

 

To show that God’s love preceded the era of sin, the book of Chronicle elucidates, “Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.” Construction started right from creation when God put humanity above other creatures and imbued in mankind his love and goodness. God’s love was visible in both his covenant and by his apparent dwelling in Jerusalem temple seen to be unassailable, and which was a manifestation of God’s glory among his people. The temple of Jerusalem revealed God’s omnipotence, which led to questions regarding its destruction. The people had turned away from God. They had deviated from the covenant. They had deconstructed the foundation upon which their relationship with God was established. The consequence was the Babylonian exile, “Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects” (2 Chr. 36:19).

 

As could be seen from this passage, Jerusalem’s destruction and the Babylonian captivity revealed both the deconstruction and the emergence of their reconstruction experience. The bitter journey into Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar was the result of their sins. They were humbled into slavery. Yet, the emergence of Cyrus, the king of Persia, was an unlikely phenomenon for the Israelites to kickstart the process of reconstruction of God’s love. A foreign king is to redeem them, just as the redeemer is to come from Nazareth. God always responds in a strange way, showing not just his justice but his abiding and unrelenting faithfulness. His love endures forever.

 

Reconstruction happens through the reign of grace. As my deceased Professor Osuagwu would say, it is never completed, rather an ongoing process. Saint Paul makes this clear in his letter by tagging God as “rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us.” This is what Nicodemus encountered in his meeting with Christ in the gospel, that although people preferred darkness to light, that light still shone for all to see. John 3:16 is a famous passage of God’s profound love, an announcement of the message of reconstruction. The mission of salvation in Christ Jesus flows necessarily from God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, Christ Jesus, to bring God’s light and love. The cycle of grace is ongoing for believers in Christ.

 

So what?

1.     We are God’s temple, constructed out of love. Recognizing how much God cares for you as his own is a good place to start. To be God’s project is a huge privilege.

2.     The struggle with sin is real, though overwhelming. Does it feel like you have deconstructed God’s love through any habitual sin that you struggle with? Do you feel like you have been exiled from your relationship with God, creating a sense of loss, isolation, and guilt? Does this alienate you from being intimate with God?

3.     Lent invites you to the project of reconstruction. There's always hope in Christ Jesus. Perhaps the problem is not with your efforts but with your sense of dependence on self rather than on God’s grace. The cycle of grace puts before you the superabundance mercy of God which Saint Paul puts this way, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2:8).

4.     Go to confession and reclaim this grace. Continue the work of reconstruction. The Blessed Eucharist nourishes God's gift of grace in you. Yes, do it during this Lent. It feels great!


Again, I thank Father Innocent Osuagwu for exposing us to those concepts which make sense not just in the African context, but which formed the bedrock of our ministry as priests and in our relationship with Christ. As this priest-teacher helped me to flush my mind through deep thinking, I pray God to flush his sins away and to reconstruct him through mercy into eternal life in heaven. Amen.


READINGS: 1st- 2 Chr. 36:14-16, 19-23; 2nd- Eph. 2:4-10; Gospel- Jn. 3:14-24

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