Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father for the gift and grace of the new month of March. The month of March is the third month of the year in our modern-day Gregorian calendar but it was originally the first month of the year in the Roman calendar.
In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Mars was the god of war, the most prominent of the military god in the Roman army. The ancient Roman kingdom had fought many wars and battles so much so that it carved a niche for itself in these spheres. Wars and battles were a source of prestige since the Roman legion were ruthless conquerors and efficient warriors, enjoying territorial conquest. Wars of conquest brought a lot of benefits to the Roman State – they increased in wealth, power and prestige. The month of March was named Martius, after the Roman god of war, a name that reverberates the entire warfare of the Roman Empire.
The Book of Exodus has a number of events and texts that display a persistent emphasis on God as a warrior fighting on Israel’s behalf and subduing God’s and Israel’s enemy. Yahweh’s encounter with Pharaoh is coated with battle scenarios and language (See Exodus chapters 12–14). In fact, a defining phrase in this historic book is found in Chapter 14 verse 14 when Moses says to the People “The Lord will fight for you and you have only to be still”. Indeed, having experienced the military might of Yahweh, the Israelite sang a song of exaltation to God which had, as part of the lyrics, “The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name” (Ex. 15:3. See also 1 Sam 17:47; Ps. 24:8).
However, in the Bible when we encounter God as a warrior we need to remember that war/warrior language used, is a metaphorical expression from the realm of human experience that points to an aspect of God. For example, when we call God our Shepherd, it points to his direction and care. God’s designation as a warrior points to his unsurpassed might and power. A point of serious concern is the fact that the warrior metaphor used for God does not automatically sanction human warfare.
Does this have anything to do with us? I am convinced in a number of ways that there is more to glean from this brief history. We do not have our faith in a god but God. Viewing this from the clear lens of Christian identity and values, there is a certain kind of war that we have to wage at all times. However, there is another kind that is abhorrent and should not be brewed. I would like to emphasize an earlier point made, and that is the fact that the warrior metaphor used for God does not automatically sanction human warfare. This is a crystal clear distinction between the Christian God and the Roman god of war.
The current socio-political clime of our dear country Nigeria, is indeed volatile as we witness almost intermittently the unbridled spate of killings, shameful insecurity techniques at all levels and a sheer lack of respect for our common humanity. It seems to be that nothing really sears us away from each other more dangerously than religion; religious ideals and practices that trample upon the very core of our existence. What else can be responsible for this if not the egregious discrepancy between faith and reason? On the occasion that one of the other tilts to the extreme of the scale, the result cannot but be devastating. Faith without reason and reason without faith is never good for the survival of societies.
In the midst of these threatening and highly inflammable times, Christians must stand to ‘wage war’ against these menaces that give us a horrific stare, with all the weapons of Christian moral values and a surprising attitude of non-violence to a violent society. Our war isn’t that of bloodshed, vengeance, anger, hatred but the conquering of evil and its perpetrators with the light of truth and the balance between faith and reason that exalts humanity as the centre of every endeavor.
What kind of strategy is this? How long shall we continue to take this nonsense and be spat upon, insulted and murdered? This is a point where Christianity stands alone, and it is undoubtedly a challenging approach. Nonetheless, the one person who guarantees this balance is our master and Saviour JESUS who by his example separates us from the schemes of the world and the ius talionis mode of operation – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Is this to mask the feelings of sadness, or the anger that we genuinely feel? Definitely no. Are we going to lie about how tempted we are to revenge and send a message that we aren’t fools? No, we cannot. Yet the very question that strikes us at heart is, what would Jesus do and what would he have us do?
My dear brethren, nothing should stop our witnessing in the face of what seems to be the fate of the Nigerian Christian. Like Cain in the Bible whom the Lord put a mark on, we seem to have been marked out, since we are Christians, by these bloodthirsty human beings. The Prophet Ezekiel speaks about those who received a mark on their heads because of their righteousness and faithfulness, in order to separate them from the corrupt and immoral people of the time and also to save them from an impending punishment (See Ezekiel 9). As we read in the Revelation of John, the faithful as they stand with the Lamb, shall see him face to face and his name will be written on their foreheads (Rev. 14: 1). At our Baptism, we were marked with the sign of the cross, as we were claimed for Christ, a subtle death to the world. At the beginning of our prayer or Liturgy, we place the sign of the cross over ourselves and the name – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – a delicate reminder that Christ himself has marked us out to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.
At this point, I am moved strongly to reiterate the message of the Catholics Bishops Conference of Nigeria to all the faithful; “We make a passionate appeal: The present situation in Nigeria challenges all of us to a life of coherent witnessing to the Gospel. The impact of our Christian faith must be felt in public life. This is not a time for compromises for the sake of personal convenience, but rather for heroism in Christian virtues. Remember the words of our Lord: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10: 28) Furthermore, foreseeing a period like this in the life of his disciples, our Lord said: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but no hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21: 19).
May we kindly offer our prayers for all the victims of the ruthless acts of these terror groups, for their families and friends that the Lord may console and comfort them. In all of these, our consolation is that evil and death never have the final say, this is the meaning of the Resurrection of JESUS: he has triumphed over evil, darkness and death.
† Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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