Posted on: 2016-03-18

The thunder before the storm

The fifth week of Lent which just ended will always be an exciting week, considering the New Testament readings which occur at daily Mass during the week. The readings reflect the climax of the conflict between Jesus Christ and the Jews, the Pharisees, the Saducees and their collaborators  as he finally goes towards his passion and death. The clash between him and the Pharisees especially as portrayed by the gospel of John was abrasive and clearly foretold a not-so-happy-ending for Jesus, at least not in human terms. With the ring of conspiracy and hatred all around him, Jesus was surely in big trouble. He, on the other hand, sent out an unequivocal message of defiance and complete trust in God who alone could deliver him.

The unchanging God

The readings from the Old Testament were no less interesting. As much as in any week of the year the readings of the fifth week demonstrate that God is steadfast in taking sides with the righteous, especially when they are harassed by the proud and wicked. One of the top stories of God's intervention in favour of the righteous must surely be the story of Susanna (Dan.13). Brought up to be upright, God fearing and morally sound, Susanna faced all the powers and plotting of two elders of Israel who, not getting their lustful way with the pretty woman, managed to get her convicted by the people. Condemned to death, Susanna cried out to God in these memorable words. "Eternal God, nothing is hidden from you; you know all things before they come to be. You know that these men have testified falsely against me. Would you let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges"? (Dan.13: 42-43). God, of course answered her through the mouth of the young Daniel, who already knew of God's deliverance, himself having been rescued by God from the jaws of Lions (Dan. 6). You could read the proceedings of Daniel's court a hundred times and you would still laugh a hundred times at how he turned the weapons of the wicked on themselves. The two lecherous elders were judged by their own mouths and sentenced by the very people whom they had caused to condemn Susanna to death. God, who delivers, never falls out of character.

Susanna in good company

Susannah actually belongs to a lineage of those who abandon themselves to God as their sole deliverer in the toughest times. We find those same sentiments in the most popular psalm in Christendom. David wrote: "Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are beside me; your rod and your staff comfort me" (Ps 23:4). Many prophets of the Old Testament could never have succeeded in their work if they did not fully trust in God's steadfastness and believe that he always intervenes on behalf of the oppressed. Jeremiah had to contend with his adversaries. He cried out: "All my friends watch me to see if I will slip: 'Perhaps he can be deceived... then we can get the better of him and have our revenge'. But Yahweh a mighty warrior is with me. My persecutors will stumble and will not prevail; that failure will be their shame and their disgrace will never be forgotten". (Jer. 20: 10-11) 

The cross means hope

We know that there is abundant suffering in our world and country today. Many Nigerians, like people all over the world carry heavy crosses and suffer great pains for reasons of injustice, bad government, bad economy or sheer human wickedness. We must spare serious thoughts for them during Holy Week, uniting them and their suffering and ours to the cross of Christ who truly has power to save. Even those who directly suffer from the killings, the kidnappings the destitution, rape, and all forms of violent and demeaning human activities must themselves find solace in the psalms of Good Friday. With all the grime and sorrow which those psalms express they still convey a lot of hope. As Pope Benedict XVI once wrote: "The image of the crucified Christ, which is the focal point of the liturgy of Good Friday, makes us realize the true seriousness of human misery, human aloneness, human sin. Yet throughout all the centuries of church history it has constantly been regarded as an image of consolation and hope"

The Good Friday of the righteous

Those who have the opportunity of praying along with the universal Church in the Liturgy of the hours of Good Friday will find confirmation therein of God's promises. "I will announce the decree of the Lord: The Lord said to me 'You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day. Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession. With a rod of iron you will break them, shatter them like a potters jar'" (Ps. 2: 7-9) Even the psalm of the deep lament of the suffering one does not leave us without hope: "Yet you, o God are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust: they trusted and you set them free. When they cried to you they escaped. In you they trusted and never in vain". (Ps. 22: 3-5) Therefore, let those who suffer for the Lord in  truth today hold on to this message that the tenure of Good Friday ends on Resurrection morning. The present moment and its troubles are surely not the final word of their history.