Acts 9:26-31; 1 Jn 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
Tuesday, April 24, 2018, started out just like any other day. Many woke up from sleep, and to give thanks to the author of life, God himself, they went for morning Mass. At Mass, in the house of God, the day turned out to be a blood-bath-day; the house of God was turned into an execution arena; AK 47 rang out, and dead bodies tell the tale of what happened. A double tragedy – the temples of God, human beings, were destroyed, and the house of God was desecrated. Many died, not only physically, but culturally because they have become nameless as social media went into reporting frenzy; the victims of a barbaric act, who moments before that dastardly act were members of families, parents, children and spouses, they were silenced in cold blood, and no efforts made to get their names out, worthy of human beings, which they were and recognized as up until that inglorious morning! Shall fear overcome us?
Are we slaves, because we are Christians, to be so killed even today? A slave is a nobody, not because he is not human, like the rest of humanity, but human beings intentionally decided to strip some of its own of the dignity that was theirs; a divinely conferred dignity is taken away, when a human being is turned into a slave. Human beings pass laws, human laws, and divine laws are overwritten, denuded of importance and a crime takes its place, the right to take human lives with impunity is enthroned. A slave is rendered nameless and faceless, easy target for a marauder, and a helpless victim for a human-hunter. From degradation to dehumanization, a slave sleeps and wakes at the behest of his human lords, he has become expendable, dispensable and reduced to an object less in dignity than a commercialized merchandise, because articles and commodities at least have pecuniary values, all of which are denied a slave. Shall we remain slaves to fear?
The story of human slavery is not limited to the Nigerian context; those who pay attention to global happenings will add scores of similar scenarios to the one we’ve painted, perhaps more gory. Maybe the end of Christianity has come because Christianity has been criminalized, and Christians have become willing criminals with a sealed destiny – death-sentence in the most dehumanizing way possible! Possibly, the saying, “from frying pan to fire,” explains it better: it is not what the world thinks about Christians that matters (our frying pan), but our acceptance of another person’s definition of us (our fire). The worst kind of slavery is a self-inflicted slavery; it is when one renders oneself useless, powerless and irredeemable on account of fear. Self-inflicted-slaves are walking corpses waiting to be shown their graves because they refused to decide for themselves, where they chose to be buried and how. With Christ, there is no fear!
“Fear” reigns supreme, when human beings attempt to create a new world instead of accepting the one created by God! 21st century migrants have shown us this reality in an eloquent way. Self-inflicted slaves abandon their homeland in search of an El dorado instead of defending their homeland. On the contrary, conquerors turn every place into a home, because their dignity is non-negotiable; wherever they go, their dignity travels with them, and wherever they are, they protect it. A Christian’s responsibility includes the defense of life and homeland!
After his conversion, the fear stricken Christians couldn’t accept Paul into their company, according to our first reading, because they were afraid for their lives. Curiously, the Paul they were afraid of, was not afraid of them! Paul, the persecutor, had no qualms of being persecuted because he had conquered fear. He was ready to face his destiny, but the so-called Christians were those fear stricken by his presence. It needed a second wave of fear, the determination of the Hellenists to kill Paul, for the Jerusalem Church-community to dispense with Paul, not for Paul’s own good, but to ward off their own fear. Unbelievably, it was only after the community had mastered its fear and put it under control, that the “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers” (Acts 9:31). Freedom from fear is the first step to peace!
“Peace” is the aftermath of the mastery of fear. “Fear” not only makes slaves of us, it also makes peace alien to us. The Church “grew in numbers” because there was peace, and fear was dissipated. The “fear of the Lord” replaced the fear of death, for the church “was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, with the consolation of the Holy Spirit”. If the early Church grew and multiplied, it is imperative for us too to increase and multiply. Our gospel today tells us to be fruitful – “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing”. How did Christ bear fruit and how are we to bear fruit, if we remained slaves of fear?
Today’s gospel is part of Jesus’ farewell message to his disciples. Jesus realized that marauders and blood-sucking human beings will arise to attempt to scatter his flock. But “Truly, truly, I say to you,” says Jesus, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). “The only thing to fear is fear itself”; for authentic Christians, “by dying Jesus destroyed our death and by rising he restored our lives”. The fear of death only has a place in those attached to this world, and have no hope of being with Christ. The fruitfulness of a Christian comes from a fearless life, and a life that confronts death courageously and with a smile. It is a life that challenges the architects of death, and fights on the path of the restoration and defense of life. An attack on your neighbor is an attack on you, because you are your neighbor’s keeper!
Our gospel today makes a categorical statement, “without me, you can do nothing”. The “nothingness” of a Christian stems from his neglect of his inalienable dignity given to him/her by God. To be with Jesus as a branch grafted unto him is to be immortal. To be immortal is to be like God; to be like God is to live like God – immortally confident, even before the threats of death because there is no more death. If “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” then the world is worth fighting for. If “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is part of what Jesus taught as prayer, then Christians must crusade to defend the earth. If “cut off from me you die,” Christianity is worth dying for: the will of your father is for you to bear fruit, says today’s gospel!
“With Christ, there is no Fear!“
What is the meaning of life without a progeny, after all Christianity was handed over to us by past generations? How would we bear fruit, if we accepted slavery to fear which leads to sterility and physical death? According to our second reading, it is the love we show to our neighbors that proves our love of God. If we failed to offer Christianity to the world, through our neighbors, what good is our believing and Christianity? If our Christian heritage is not defended, of what use are we to contemporary and future generations? For, the love Jesus showed us was through his death and resurrection. Love conquered death in Jesus Christ, and so will it be for every Christian. “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us,” according to our second reading.
The “spirit” that thinks more of immortality, the spirit that prioritizes the importance of one’s neighbor and the defense of his/her life over one’s own life, that is the Christian spirit; that is what was received by every Christian who is ready and willing to die for the other. How apropos the opening sentence of our second reading: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth”. It is of this same spirit of neighborly love that our second reading speaks in this words: “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us”. This Sunday, “the only thing to fear is fear itself,” the need to break away from our enslavement to the world and the fear of death. The best Christian fruit is peace, and peace is impossible without the overthrow of fear!
Assignment for the Week:
How many times have you chickened out on occasions to witness to Christ, even in discussions?