The Nigerian situation reveals a very sharp contradiction. We are a people so religious and at the same time so bereft and bankrupt of the spirituality that should ordinarily flow from religiosity. In almost every street today in this country, churches bearing strange names engraved on different shape and sized signboards pock their heads to invite the faithful. Yet, despite this upsurge in religious activities in recent years, in our everyday actions as a people, we have never ceased to deny the very significance of Jesus Christ in history. Daily we make a mockery of the very core of Jesus’ ministry which is love-the supreme form of living energy- for God, for neighbours and life as sacrifice.
The whole idea of religion is supposed to be that of communion with the deities and peace with self. We are supposed to seek God first because of our sheer love for him and then out of the desire to please him. Yet, typical to the Nigerian reality, today we hear prayers to God for Him to kill our enemies. As if that is not enough, a very destructive hate culture has now invaded the very fabrics of our souls, to the extent it has subjugated the very essence of religion and pitched us against ourselves. Politics has failed, the family unit is crumbling, economics has miscarried, our one-time-culture of love and community is eroded, relationships are disappointing, and in fact everything is deteriorating around us in this country. Any charlatan can easily disguise today as some religious leader and then with base intent at heart, use religion to wreck all forms of barbarity and madness on us.
The situation we find ourselves today is not unique in history. There is one story in the gospels that reveals Israel was in almost the same situation in term of our eroded moral values. This story illustrated what I believe Jesus Christ himself thought one of his missions on earth was. With the reality of violence in the north and the south, with recent talks of economic recession and agitation for secession in some quarters, with insecurity here and there staring us in the face, massive tales of corruption now coming to light, and the dangerous slide to distrust among the various ethnic groups that make up our nation, I think no time is better than now to consider this biblical episode and heed the warning that can be glimpsed from it.
The gospel of Mark calls this episode ‘The Loaves’. The gospel of John described events leading to the episode with Jesus’ words ‘…ye seek me, not because ye saw the sign, but because ye ate of the loaves…’ Can there be any better words to describe the hypocrisy of the Nigerian situation today, as we daily seek God because of what miracle we can get rather than what love we can show our neighbours?
The gospels records Jesus’ dismay at the hypocrisy of the Jewish people at the time and that even his closest followers like the Nigerian Christians today did not understand the significance of the episode of The Loaves. The Christian is supposed to be the light and salt of this nation. Now that the salt has lost its saltiness, any wonder why we are still groping in the dark a bid to finding answers to national questions.
Since the incident of the loaves represents a very significant period in the Jewish history, since it is now obvious we can use Jesus’ warning to his people, and since Jesus is recorded to have placed a supreme and symbolic value on that incident, the question is right to ask; is it possible that we can understand the true meaning of the event of The Loaves and learn from it, distanced as we are from the event not merely by time, but by generations of Christian Midrash on the story like many other stories of the bible? I believe we can if we look in-between the lines. I also believe that any teaching about Jesus Christ that shrinks from a proper understanding of the significance of The Loaves is in obvious danger of misrepresenting Jesus and his teaching. And this is where the Nigerian church, and by extension Nigeria, is missing the point.
It is not my intention to bore my readers with verbatim quotation of the biblical text in which this story is contained. The reader will do well to look up Matthew 14: 13-21 and John 6: 26. Reading through the biblical texts, one fact is noticeable. No one expresses the slightest astonishment at the ‘multiplication’. When Jesus cleanses a leper, or heals a blind man for example, the act is usually enough to ‘astound’ or ‘amaze’ everyone who witnessed it. Here in this episode, there was no such amazement. Presumably, if we read the story naturalistically, the absence of surprise as is usual on the part of the crowds is to be explained by the fact that none of them either regarded the multiplication of the loaves of bread and pieces of fishes. They simply assumed they were being fed in a non-miraculous way and this exactly is where the significance of this story lies.
Some modern commentators, trying to unpick ‘what really happened’ from this story, have imagined that the crowd was fed because they learnt from Jesus how to share. He took the lad’s five loaves and two fishes and shared them with someone. In turn, the men, sitting on the grass, looked in their knapsacks and found that they had some food which they shared with the man next to them, hence the multiplication. To me, this ‘explanation’ for the ‘miracle’ of The Loaves only moves a small way from understanding the significance and real meaning of the story.
The clue to the meaning of this incident is in the original story as t is recorded in the bible. ‘Make the people sit down’. This was what Jesus was reported to have ordered before he blessed and broke the bread. A truer translation of the very words spoken by Jesus on that day would be ‘Make the men sit down’.
Make the men sit down! Make the Essenes, the Pharisees, Judas Iscariot with his dagger sit down. Make Simeon the Zealot, with his patriotic band of terrorist guerillas sit down. Sit down! O men of Israel. I believe this was Jesus’ call to his people on this particular day. He gathered together a huge crowd of people in a desert spot, and made them sit down together. He made them break bread together and eat a simple meal and admonished them to work together as one. He made them sink their differences as president Buhari and his APC must do today. He called them to negotiate a way to prosperity and peace for their nation. And this call is apt today considering our situation as a people. Make the Niger Delta Avengers, their pipe blowing campaign and intended autonomy Declaration sit down. Make Nnamdi Kanu and his indecisive potbellied IPOB Agitators with their clamour for secession and a break up of Nigeria sit down. Make Boko Haram with their satanic quest for innocent blood sit down. Make Fulani herdsmen with their senseless and meaningless killings of innocent women and children sit down. Make Lai Mohammad sit down with his penchant for ‘always twisting facts’ before our very eyes. Make the Bishop sit down with his ever increasing urge for more universities and private jets. Make our lawmakers sit down with their insatiable greed for ever increasing emoluments. Make our politicians with their ruinous and destructive kleptomaniac tendencies and thievery sit down. Make president Buhari sit down. Sit down and restructure Nigeria into a true federation that it should be. Enough of lip service and hypocrisy. Sit down O people of Nigeria!
These words should echo through the ages. It is time the Nigerian Church start a campaign for a call to politicians to truly restructure Nigeria. Jesus had done much to make love and not the bully boy mentality stand up. And in this act, he was eccentric for his time and culture if not revolutionary. Jesus said it was time to make evil sit down and goodness and love stand up. The Nigerian Church must now shun her prosperity message and begin to re-echo this message.
We could if we choose read this story, and quite legitimately too, as a profound spiritual incident. But for me, it’s a simple story with great imports. Suppress if you can the yang and exalt the yin! Keep down the urge to dominate, to score, to triumph, to fight and exalt the urge to conciliate, to understand, to value, to love. Kill that urge for greed and to steal every kobo meant for national projects. Nourish the urge for accountability. Suppress the urge to annihilate and vanquish the opposition and every voice of dissent in the polity and encourage freedom of expression and the press. ‘I shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountains’.
This is the real lesson of the story of The Loaves. A message I urge every Nigerian, Muslim, Traditional worshiper and Christian alike to imbibe. The differing groups of Nigeria must sit down. The sectarians must sit down. Jesus believed that Israel should return to God in a spirit of penitence, love and joy as Nigerians must do today. We must revive our long dead culture of love, love of God and our neighbours. Truth and justice must be allowed to stand. Mediocrity, favoritism and tribalism must be made to sit down. The future of our nation as one indivisible prosperous nation depends on this. It was failure of the Jewish people to heed this warning that led to the total annihilation of their nation by Rome in 70 AD. Who knows where our current hates for each other, distrust among the tribes, corruption, dangerous politicking and religious and tribal bickering will lead?
There are Nigerians today already proving that we have the capacity to love, it is up to this government to take a more forceful lead and shine the torch on which direction Nigeria should go. Though not a united and an intelligent crowd, as is almost out case today, Jesus was still able to bring them together as president Buhari must bring all Nigerians together under one roof. Our ruinous addiction to corruption, tribal and religious sentiments will do us no good on the long-run. This point must be made by this government in words and deed.
It is in the reviving of our culture of community, love for one another and probity, Christian, Muslim and traditional worshiper alike, all the tribes, young and old irrespective of class and social strata, that the promise age of blessedness will dawn on our nation and it is only then we will be able to live up to our true destiny as the true giant of Africa, not one with feet of clay…