“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)
Last Sunday, Jesus told us a parable. The master continued to recruit workers into his vineyard even though it was the last hour of work, and he agreed to pay them a full day’s wage. Trouble started when those recruited first compared themselves with those who came later. They grumbled: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” In response, the master said: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go.” (Matthew 20:12-14)
As we celebrate our 63rd independence, the time has come for us to be honest. We compare our country to other developed countries, yet we are not ready to do the work needed to make our nation great. We are like people who plant corn and yet go to the farm and weep because there is no rice to harvest. We expect God, like the master, to “pity” us and increase our pay, forgetting that we reached an agreement with God through our collective actions and inactions.
We claim to be a “religious” nation, considering the abundance of churches, mosques, shrines and other prayer houses, but I dare say that we do not know God. We are not religious; we are superstitious. For instance, you would find in Nigeria a student who skips classes, fails to read or prepares for an exam but believes that with an anointed “miracle pen”, they would succeed in an examination.
We call on God for everything – even those that do not require prayer, yet we do not move an inch to obey the voice of God. The businessman who sells fake drugs capable of killing people is praying to God to bless his labour. The political office holder who siphons billions comes to church to shout, “Amen. I receive it”. The armed robber, bandit, kidnapper, etc., also calls on God to bless their business.
In today’s Nigeria, even a child of primary school age has mastered the game of corruption, dishonesty and deception. If we don’t watch it, the evils of the next generation will make the evils of the present time seem like “the good old times.” We must start telling ourselves: “I am the problem of Nigeria; if I don’t change, Nigeria cannot be better.”
I know that being the first day of the month, many expect today’s sermon to be filled with blessings and other prophetic declarations. I am sorry to disappoint you. It is time for us as a nation to repent. Let us now consider the various dimensions of the repentance required to make our nation great again, as contained in our readings today:
*1. Take Action to Protect Your Children from Evil*
In today’s Gospel passage, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and ordered him to take the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt. Jesus is God, yet he needed Joseph and Mary to take him away from danger as a baby. Nigerian parents, consider today’s sermon as the voice of the angel of God telling you to rise, take your children and flee from immorality, insincerity, indecency, drug abuse, and a host of other vices sending them to their early graves.
How do you do this? Firstly, be a light to them. Lead by example. Stop teaching your children how to tell lies, how to cheat in exams or prostitute themselves. Secondly, give them the necessary time and attention they require. You go to work early in the morning and return late at night, leaving your child at the mercy of help, domestic staff or others who may harm their spiritual and moral development.
Thirdly, make prayers and the reading of the Bible compulsory. Teach your children that prayer is not simply something you do when there is a problem but a lifestyle of constant listening to God. Fourthly, be concerned about their entertainment. How do you leave a child with a smartphone all day without checking what they are doing with it? Select the books they read, the music or movies they watch. Be a mentor to them.
To assume that by merely paying their school fees, everything will be fine is like saying Joseph and Mary would have stayed behind in Israel, hoping that when Herod’s soldiers come, Jesus would overcome them “in Jesus’ name.” Imagine Joseph waking up from the dream to rebuke it by saying: “It is not my portion. No devil can kill my child. No way.” Then he starts speaking in tongues. Take action. Joseph fled from danger not once but twice. Don’t leave the morality of your children to chance. Herod was searching to kill the child physically. Today, the devil is searching to take hold of the souls of our children.
*2. Destroy Tribalism from the Roots*
We do not need any soothsayer to tell us how tribalism has contributed to the present woes we face as a country. Many Christians are either perpetrators or victims of this evil. To love or hate a person based on where they come from is evil. To condemn any section of the country just because of the evils of some of its members is unchristian. In the last election, many were brutally reminded of their ethnic origin, not minding that some have lived their entire lives in a different location.
We celebrate our cultures, but culture should not make you hostile to a person. In our second reading today, St. Paul tells us: “Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.” (Ephesians 2:14-16). No culture is superior or inferior to another. We are different, yet each person has something to contribute.
*3. Train Yourself for Leadership*
Our first reading today contains Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus Christ, the shoot of the stock of Jesse. However, every leader must possess some vital qualities within this prophesy. Remember that we are all leaders; we influence one another continuously daily. Whether we occupy any position or not, every one of us is contributing either positively or negatively to the development of our nation. The leadership qualities highlighted by Isaiah are:
a. Spirit of Wisdom and Insight. Leaders are readers who seek the right knowledge and apply it wherever necessary. We often joke that if you want to hide something from a Nigerian, write it in a book. How many books have you read? What kind of books do you read? Have you read the Nigerian constitution? Have you read the biographies of leaders who made great changes in their nation’s history?
b. Spirit of Counsel and Power. Leaders must seek advice from and consult widely. What kind of conversations do we hold with those in positions of authority? Nigerians (Africans generally) fear those in power or anyone with money. We fail to hold them accountable because we worship money. Once a few coins are tossed at us, we maintain sealed lips and quarrel with those seeking to speak truth to power.
c. Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God. A leader who does not fear God is a disaster waiting to happen. Many Christian leaders today have no fear of God. Some got into power by joining secret societies. Some have performed rituals and offered sacrifices to various idols. They have sold their souls to the devil, so they can never deliver on good governance.
d. Impartiality. Isaiah says that a leader does not judge by appearances. He gives no verdict on hearsay but judges the wretched with integrity and, with equity, gives a verdict for the poor of the land. Train yourself to be that leader who cannot be bought over by money but will deliver justice even to the poorest poor.
e. Integrity. Isaiah says: “Integrity is the loincloth round his waist, faithfulness the belt about his hips.” Integrity begins by being a truthful person. If telling lies is normal for you, then you are a bad leader; there is no difference between you and the one who presented a fake certificate from a university as evidence of having attended school. If you love Nigeria the way it is today and want things to worsen, continue telling lies. There is nothing like a small lie. All lies are the same. When we lie, we behave like the devil, the father of lies. (Cf. John 8:44)
Nigeria is under the patronage of our Mother Mary. Hence, as we celebrate our independence, we remember to seek the intercession of Mary, Queen and Patroness of Nigeria. Mary understands hardship. It wasn’t easy for her as the mother of Jesus. I believe she feels our plight as she felt for that couple who ran out of wine. Mary continues to beg Jesus to do something for us. It is now left for us to listen to what Mary said to the servants just before the miracle occurred. Mary said to them: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:6)
Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, be merciful to us as a nation and make us better citizens. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 11:1-10, Ps. 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17, Ephesians 2:13-18, Matthew 2:13-15,19-23).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu