Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Zechariah’s Sentence, By Anthony Chuka

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“As we celebrate Christmas, what lesson should we draw from Zechariah’s sentence concerning God’s impending judgment on us when we die?”

It is Christmas. It is that season of the year when we Christians celebrate and commemorate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but the period between Xmas and the New Year is also the time when I step back a bit and take stock of my activities during the year. I recall my successes and failures during the out-going year and map out plausible activity road maps for the coming year.

Now I have a confession to make. I am a music addict. Let me correct this. I am a very selective bipolar music addict. I am addicted to classical white and classical black music. On the white side, my addiction tends to select symphonies, concertos and operatic works of the great masters Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Puccini etc. On the black side, my addiction tends to select classical roots reggae. I even consider myself as an amateur sub-authority on roots reggae.

For me, music with profound artistic merit is both a stimulant and an inspiration. The type of music I listen to at any given time is often a fair reflection of my mood and circumstances. And so, I have observed quite paradoxically that I tend to listen to classical music when I am sated, relaxed, contented with myself, at peace with my environment and want to ‘step it up’. On the other hand I generally listen to roots reggae when I am agitated, stressed up and want to ‘simmer it down’. During the outgoing year, I mentally note that I have mostly listened to roots reggae music. Yes this year was that sort of year!!!

Even as I write this I am listening to a very rare and excellent 1978(?) piece by a relatively obscure reggae group going by the name Cultural Roots. The track is titled ‘Jah No Partial’ immediately followed by its excellent dub version both of which I am playing together with a few other very rare tracks – namely ‘Babylon’ by Johnny Clarke + its Dub Version, ‘Rastaman’ by Earl Sixteen + its Dub Version, ‘Jah Jah Send Dem Come’ by Linval Thompson + its Dub Version, ‘Red Eyes’ by Vivian Jones + its Dub Version, ‘Fly Me Away’ by Junior Brown + its Dub Version – in an endless loop.

Now during the course of the last three weeks or so, the Catholic Church, that venerable two millenniums old institution, in her traditional manner has been preparing her faithful, for Xmas by presenting to them at Daily Mass, Gospel readings which anticipate the birth of Christ. Two of such readings struck me profoundly. Both are taken from the first Chapter of the Gospel According to Luke.

First let us consider the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist. The following excerpts are taken from the New American Bible (St Joseph Edition). ‘In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah…..his wife was from the daughters of Aaron and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.

But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. Once when he was serving as priest in his division’s turn before God……..he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him……….Zechariah was troubled by what he saw and fear came upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall name him John”……………….Then Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”’

Next let us consider the announcement of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ from the latter part of the same Chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel. ‘In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.

But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be since I have no relations with a man? And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…………Mary said “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.’

Now what is going on here? At first glance, both Zechariah and Mary expressed fear, astonishment and surprise at the angel Gabriel’s extraordinary news. Both demanded to know how what was humanly impossible could be achieved through them given their respective prevailing circumstances. But while Zechariah’s doubt was severely punished, Mary’s questioning was met with complete re-assurance. Who am I to question God, but was God showing double standards here, favoring Mary while sentencing Zechariah?

I am not a theologian, far from it. I do not claim to speak in whatever form or manner with the authority of or for the Catholic Church, however some Catholic priests and theologians have pointed to the fact of the circumstantial backgrounds of Zechariah and Mary to explain their differing fates. Zechariah was a priest. As such by his calling and training he should have been well versed with God’s Laws, God’s power and God’s majesty.

As a priest Zechariah would no doubt have preached to the people in the past about the necessity of having faith in God. Here he was, a leading priest expressing doubt. Mary on the other hand was a rustic virgin, who most likely would have been ill exposed to formal training and erudition. Immediately the angel explained the extraordinary divine mechanism by which she a virgin was to give birth without knowing a man, she questioned no more but said “let it be done unto me according to your word.”

The next point to be noted of course is the venue of visitation. Zechariah was visited in the holy of holies, the most sacred spot in the temple. That fact alone should have mitigated his doubt. Mary was visited presumably at her home. Finally we should note that Zechariah in his unbelief actually demanded a proof. In other words he actually put God to the test. What he got from God was a harsh sentence.

As we celebrate Christmas, what lesson should we draw from Zechariah’s sentence concerning God’s impending judgment on us when we die?

Well it is clear to me that God judges each one according to his peculiar circumstance. In other words, to whom much is given, much is expected. We can necessarily draw the conclusion that for the same sin committed, parents or guardians, leaders in all walks of life, the talented and the wealthy should expect to receive a much harsher judgment from God than children, followers, the simple and the poor.

Now, although this writer is very fond of classical roots reggae music, I make haste to publicly declare here, lest God accuses me on judgment day of leading many astray, that I consider the entire ideology upon which the Rastafarian culture is built particularly the divinity of Emperor Haile Selassie and the celebration of marijuana or weeds or roots or sensimelea or lambsbread or “Igbo,” call it what you may, as utter balderdash. I have never smoked weed and will never encourage anyone to smoke weeds no matter the circumstance.

Indeed on this point it should be noted that reggae masters have perhaps the lowest longevity compared to artists in other musical genres. Indeed these masters of roots reggae have one thing in common. Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Prince Far I, I-Roy, Jacob Miller, King Tubby, Sugar Minott, Culture, Mikey Dread, Hugh Mundell, Augustus Pablo, Lacksley Castell, Vivian Jackson (Yabby You), Peter Tosh, Bim Sherman etc. These men are all dead. They died mostly in their prime from illnesses, violence and accidents.

But as the Igbos of Nigeria as aptly quoted by Chinua Achebe would say, if an udala (cherry) fruit falls near a mound of excrement, you close your eyes, pick up the fruit, and wash it thoroughly before eating it.

So as I continue to savor my endless loop of roots reggae music – my stress step down transformer – it just occurred to me that perhaps in this particular instance as in quite a few others, the Rastafarians were right after all. For certainly ‘Jah no partial and it a go dread over yonder when we face Jah seated in judgment’.

Merry Xmas and a happy new year to all and

May God bless Nigeria – in – distress.

Engr. A. C. Konwea, P.E. ackonwea@gmail.com

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