MAY YOU SLEEP THE SLEEP OF THE JUST: A HOMILY ON THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B, BY FR. IFEANYICHUKWU HENRY NWOKORO CSsR, ST. JOSEPH’S UITENHAGE
In the responsorial psalm we have a very important question “What can bring us happiness?” many say. Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord. We try so many things in hope that they will bring us happiness, and in the end, we wonder what is it that truly gives happiness, peace and joy. The result of our unhappiness are many. One big sign of unhappiness is certainly lack of good sleep. People always say to others at night “Sleep well”, or “Have a good night rest”. But there is an old version which says “May you sleep the sleep of the just”. Thus, the psalmist says In Peace I will lie down and fall asleep, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. This is still our prayer, that every time we go to bed, may we sleep the sleep of the just. If we want this kind of sleep, then we need to understand what it takes to have it. There are several reasons why a person may not sleep well at night. Sometimes it is not our faults, but sometimes we are the cause of our own unhappiness, our own lack of peace and our own insomnia.
In those days: Peter said to the people, “The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out: This is a pure accusation from Peter to the people. He accuses them of setting a criminal free and killing the Son of God. Those who act in this way cannot sleep the sleep of the just. Anytime we sin, we crucify Jesus again. Peter accuses the people not in order to put them down but in order to lead them in the right way. In spite of the earlier accusation, Peter excuses them on the grounds that they do not know what they were doing. This excuse was also given by Jesus when he said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Nonetheless, ignorance will never protect us from the consequences of our actions. For example, a person who takes a cup of acid, thinking it is water, and drinks it. The fact that they did not know it is acid will not prevent them from dying. The same applies to our sins. Even if we are ignorant of what we do, the consequences of our actions will surely be ours. The sleep of the just is the sleep of a clear conscience, a conscience that is not weighed down by the burden of sin; not an ignorant conscience, but an innocent conscience. The only solution is to repent of our sins, by going for confession and asking God for forgiveness and to resolve never to do it again.
Pretending that we have done nothing wrong when we know clearly we have done something wrong or trying to look for excuses will not bring us peace. To acknowledge our sins, be sorry for them and confess them is what will make us sleep the sleep of the just.
JESUS OUR ADVOCATE
1 John 2:1-5
My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected: Sin can be compared to a scattered room. When your room is scattered, the best solution is to arrange it. The way it is arranged is by putting the right things in the right place. A just person is someone, in whose life, the right things are in the right place. But when things are not in proper order, we cannot be at peace, we cannot sleep well. So, the answer to the question “What can bring us happiness?” is “Obedience to God”. Jesus is our peace. Only in him is our souls at rest. This is why we have to constantly examine our conscience to know if there are areas of our lives that need to be set right. It is easy to blame other people, but it is important to examine myself first to know if there is anything I am not doing right. If I find it hard to put things in order, then Jesus the Advocate is there to make expiation for our sins. There is an old tradition in the church of doing an examination of conscience as well as a daily examen at the end of every day. A daily examen is done by reflecting on the day from morning till evening and trying to see how God has been part of the day and where God is directing our lives. Examination of conscience is done by reflecting on the day to see in which areas I have practiced some virtue and giving thanks for them, and also in which areas I have sinned, to ask for forgiveness and resolve to confess it. One reason we dont do it is that we fear to see negative things in our lives, so it is better not to look too deep into ourselves. But the great philosophers tell us, that an unexamined life is not worth living. The irony is that those who acknowledge their sins and confess them sleep better than those who just numb their conscience and pretend that all is well. If you sweep the dirt in your room under the carpet, you will end up breathing them in. But if you sweep them out, then the room is clean and you can breathe fresh air.
PEACE TO YOU
At that time: The two disciples told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread. As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones ass you see that I have.” And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”: Peace here in Hebrew is Shalom. Shalom is not just peace, but a state of life where one feels like everything is right, that everything is the way it should be, that each thing is in its right place. The Law of God in Hebrew is Torah. It does not just mean law but more like instructions. The word is derived from ‘yareh’, which indicated an arrow aimed at hitting a mark. Keeping the law therefore is hitting the arrow to its right mark, which meant putting things exactly where they belong. So, there is a strong relationship between Torah and Shalom, the law and peace. Keeping the commandments is putting everything in their right places. Peace is a state where one feels everyting is right because each thing has been put where it should be. If you enter a room where everything is where it should be, it is so beautiful and peaceful.
Many times we are also troubled because of what other people have done; our husbands, wives, children, friends, the government, etc. People have sleepless nights for different reasons and it is not only because of their own sins. Jesus asks, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts?” Only you can answer that question. If any of it is your fault, repent and keep the commandments, so you can sleep the sleep of the just.
He showed them his wounds. This reminds us of the Eucharist where he says “This is my body, this is my blood.” It is in his wounded body that our own wounds can he healed. It doesnt matter what has caused the wound which prevents us from having a good sleep. By Jesus’ wounds, we are healed. His body and blood will give us peace, and we will sleep the sleep of the just.
He ate in order to show them that he is not just imagined, but real. The presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not imagined but real. It is Jesus. All we need to do is surrender to him and keep his laws (meaning putting everything in the right place) then we will have peace (where everything just feels right).
Many times we think the scriptures is full of burdensome rulles, because our minds are closed. If only our minds are open (and we can ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds), then we will see that the scriptures is all for our good and is the only way we can have happiness.
Everybody want to be happy, but the reason we are unhappy is because we pursue the happiness in the wrong way. We seek happiness at the expense of a good consience, we seek peace away from Christ. Sin is missing the mark and the best thing to do is to keep trying untill we hit the mark. Once the arrow has hit the right mark, everyting falls into place, and we feel the peace of Christ in our hearts. Then we can say with the psalmist “In peace I will lie down and fall asleep, for you alone O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Then we can truly sleep the sleep of the just. When next you go to bed, may you sleep the sleep of the just.