By: Fr. Gerald M. Musa


Homily for Sunday.

In many African cultures, a boy is initiated into adulthood only after he’s able to stay in a forest all-night and alone. In the forest, he has many forces and dangers to battle with, among these are darkness, the threat of wild animals. Fr. Peter Tanko tells the story of a boy who was sent to the forest for this test and was very scared all through the night, even as he climbed the tree for safety. At dawn he was pleasantly surprised to see his father hiding nearby fully armed with bow and arrows. He was watching after his son all night. The boy said, “If I had known that my father was standing on guard, I would have slept soundly.” Very often we are crippled by fear because we are not aware that God watches over us with tender loving care.

The people who lived in the days of prophet Jeremiah suffered from Alethephobia, which is the fear of truth. They wanted to get rid of truth by eliminating Jeremiah the messenger of truth. They made every effort to intimidate him and so he exclaimed, “Terror on every side” (Jeremiah 20:10). In their lack of wisdom, the people forgot that one can kill the messenger of truth, but cannot kill the truth.

Jeremiah loved to live a peaceful and unperturbed life before God entrusted him with a difficult mission, which brought him into conflict with the authorities – the kings, priests and false prophets. He was given the task of challenging the people to keep the covenant they made with God or face the wrath of God. He emphasized the need for a deep personal relationship with God instead of the superficial religion, which the people practiced. His message was too hard for the people and they saw him as a prophet of doom. They shouted, “Let us denounce him” (Jeremiah 20:10).


Obviously, Jeremiah was persecuted, threatened and opposed for speaking truth to power and to the people. He watched how his friends turned into being his enemies. He cried out in pains: “All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall” (Jeremiah 20:10). Despite this grim situation, Jeremiah refused to be intimidated by the opposing forces. He was deeply convinced that since God was on his side, no enemy could defeat him. Jeremiah was confident in God’s protective care and so he said, “But the Lord is with me like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not prevail. In their failure they would be put to shame, to lasting unforgettable confusion” (Jeremiah 20:11).

Jesus warned his disciples ahead of time to know that the world will oppose, mistreat, persecute, suspect, reject and intimidate them. But he told them to be courageous, bold and fear no one (Matthew 10:26). He told them, “…In the world you will face persecution, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). So many good people face all kinds of persecution today. Today, there is a wave of religious persecution. Many people face persecution in their homes, workplaces, and schools because of their religious beliefs and for doing what is right. In principle, the Nigerian constitution upholds religious liberty, but in practice, wherever one religion is dominant, it seeks to persecute and exterminate the other.

Religious persecution comes in different ways through structural injustice and violent attacks. Structural injustice consists of policies of government that covertly or overtly favour one religion over the other. This form of injustice is displayed through discrimination in the method of job employment, promotion in work places, admission into schools and departments, denial of places of worship, political marginalization and formulation of lopsided policies. On the other hand, persecution by violent attacks comes also in different forms such as destruction of places of worship, vandalisation and confiscation of religious institutions, sacking of villages, false accusations for blasphemy leading to stoning and death of victims, abduction of children, kidnapping and herdsmen campaign of terror. In recent years we have witnessed a sad turn of events in Nigeria as innocent children are indoctrinated to go for suicide bombing.

In the midst of all the persecution, we must hold on to our conviction of the Gospel message. Jesus emboldened his disciples to be fearless: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Those who seek to kill the body, destroy the externals, such as buildings and property, but they cannot destroy the soul that gave rise to these external structures which is the faith deep within. They also cannot destroy the soul, which is the intrinsic value (s), that people of faith hold tenaciously.

We live in constant fear of people who threaten us with sorrow and death. We live in a dangerous world, where we are harassed and intimidated. Jesus encourages his followers to respect and love everyone irrespective or his race, tribe or religion. At the same time, He encourages his disciples to fear no one. He knows we are often frozen in fear, believing that our enemies, detractors and those who wish us harm would eliminate us. The story of fearless Jeremiah is a reminder of the story of Emperor Caesar. When the famous Emperor Caesar was warned to be conscious of his personal security and to always carry his weapon of self-defence, he answered, “He who lives in the fear of death, every moment feels its tortures, I will die but once.” More importantly, these words of assurance from the scriptures are a booster to our courage, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).


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