A REFLECTION WRITTEN BY PROF. IFEOMA MAUREEN EZEONU ON THE THEME LORD, TO WHOM DO WE GO? (John 6: 68) As with all scriptural passages, there are various angles from which one could reflect on this short verse. Therefore, my personal reflection may differ from that of any other person reading this. These are my thoughts: The Setting: This short verse was taken from the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, specifically verse 68 of the Chapter. It was the reply of Peter to a question asked by Jesus. The time was after Jesus had performed the miracle of the loaves, feeding as many as five thousand men with only five loaves and two fish; the place was in the synagogue at Capernaum. The crowd after being fed had followed Jesus and his apostles. It was close to the time when he would go to Jerusalem for the last time, on a journey from which he would not return. He must have felt it was time to find out who was really with him and who was following to watch the miracles (miracle seekers). So he decided it was time to lay bare the facts; it was no longer the time for subtlety or diplomacy. So, he began the teaching of himself as the true bread, ‘the bread of life’ (cf John 6: 22- 58). Many of the people would not accept this teaching and walked away. Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked, “What about you, do you want to go away too?” to which Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life and we believe; we have come to know that you are the holy one of God.” This question-answer of Peter’s may, at first glance, appear to be the affirmation of one who really understood Jesus and believed; but was it, did he really understand? I don’t think he fully understood, because it wasn’t too long after this affirmation that Peter tried to advise our Lord Jesus to go easy on the harsh teachings and Jesus Christ had to rebuke him (cf Matthew 16: 21-23). However, whether Peter understood or not, what is clear is that he and the other apostles made a clear choice to stay with our Jesus Christ, instead of walking away. Therefore, it was simply a question of choice and a statement of commitment. Making Choices Looking back at the setting above and the choices made, I am rather moved to think about the people who walked away; disciples who, when the facts were laid out, refused to accept those facts. I am moved to think that these may represent some of us Christians and Catholics of today, who come to mass everyday or every Sunday, as the case may be, but who bring only our bodies; our minds and hearts having already walked away and we don’t even know it. To fully understand the statement above, we must first examine some of the reasons why people reject the truth and walk away. There are several reasons that come to mind: Often the truth means difficulties, suffering and discipline and we reject it because we want things the easy way. Sometimes the truth means giving up things or people we love, habits we have formed or pleasures we indulge in; and we reject the truth because we refuse to give them up. Sometimes we reject the truth because we simply do not like the messenger. Making the Right Choice in the Current Nigerian Dispensation Considering the situation in Nigeria today, we could concentrate on just the first reason, that of walking away to avoid difficulties and suffering. Nigeria today presents a lot of difficulties and challenges to its citizens: is it the economic woes, is it the daily loss of lives following farmers and herdsmen clashes or is it the purported plans to Islamize Nigeria? These are all harsh realities. There are many problems in Nigeria today and for different people, the order of importance differs. For instance, for a young graduate who has been searching for a job for more than five years, forced conversion to Islam is a rather distant problem; for a young widow with five hungry children and little or no income, Fulani herdsman are the last thing on her mind; and for a woman married ten to fifteen years with no child, her own realities are very different. For all these individuals, however, their life situations present serious challenges and difficult choices. Does the young graduate continue to be a faithful Christian or take to a life of crime? Does the widow continue to remember that fornication and adultery are sins or does she take to prostitution, to make ends meet? Does the woman searching for the fruit of the womb continue to visit the chapel and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer or does she visit questionable prayer houses and fake pastors or, worse still, native doctors? These are all choices that individuals may have to make; the same choice that a Christian would have to make if confronted with the ultimate question – convert to Islam or die! It is really all about choice. The disciples in Jesus’ day rejected the truth and chose to walk away. What choices are modern day disciples making? How many graduates have taken to crime? How many people have left the Catholic Church in search of pastors who promise life without problems? How many who say they are still Catholics come to mass daily and leave the church to live very unchristian lives from Monday to Saturday? How many Christians are today preaching hate, vengeance, war etc. in the face of ethnic and religious conflicts, against the teachings of Jesus Christ? It is time for each of us to reflect, review our course and find out if we are still really with Christ or if we have left our bodies in the church and walked away with our hearts and minds. The truth is that whenever we choose to dodge the hardships of Christian living and begin to search for alternative realities, we are really walking away from Christ. We should ask, “To whom are we going?” If we must be Christians, we really do not have any other choice, but to make the same commitment as the apostles. We must stay with Christ and follow his teachings, no matter how difficult. Jesus Christ’s Unchangeable Message Throughout the scriptures, Jesus Christ continually presents his message and the conditions for following him. These messages are clearly spelt out in the following passages: Matthew 5: verse 38 – “You heard how it was said an eye for an eye, I say offer no resistance to the wicked” verse 39 – “If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well” verse 40 – “If someone wishes to go one mile with you to get your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” verse 44 – “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” verse 48 – “You must set no bounds to your love, just as your heavenly father sets none to his” Matthew 7:12 – “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you” Matthew 16:24 – “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” Matthew 18:22 – About how many times to forgive… “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times” There are many more verses of scripture that teach us that as Christians we must love each other and do good to each other. The problem of Nigeria today is that we have lost our values, Christians and non-Christians alike. The erosion of values and lawlessness are manifesting in symptoms such as the herdsmen and farmers clashes, militias, kidnapping, armed robbery and all the other types of insecurity we are suffering today. What we must do is to retrace our steps to find the values which make us recognize the humanity in others and thus stop harming each other. Conclusion Our biggest problem as Christians in Nigeria today is not so much that of persecution, but fear of persecution, trials and pains. It is this fear that leads us to make the wrong choices over and over again. If only we would have faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ and believe in his promises, living according to his dictates, we would have hope and the peace of mind that comes from knowing we are in the right, even in the face of the temporary, though excruciating, difficulties presented by the present day Nigeria. It is faith that gives birth to hope and a man with hope can never be defeated.
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