Monday Philips Ekpe recommends sacrificial living, like Christ’s, as antidote for the ongoing difficult times

Mahatma Gandhi was right: “A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” An incomparable, unfathomable and eternally-compelling package, I dare add. Gandhi’s is one of the most insightful, penetrating and concise commentaries on Jesus of Nazareth. In Christian Calendar, we’re in the Passion Week, one that attempts to re-enact the climax of the life of the “Man of Galilea” while on earth over 2000 years ago. This period is a ready reminder of his immolation, arguably the strongest force behind his emergence, words and deeds. Converting different platforms into pulpits from where various aspects of this most eventful and impacting of lives can be espoused is, therefore, too tempting to miss.

The pertinence of the reminders about the significance of the life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ is accentuated by the hardship that has enveloped the country. So, bringing up his story now is neither for cosmetic, ritualistic purposes, nor for escapism. It’s really meant to stimulate practical results in the form of deep reflections that can elicit proper repositioning to face our ever-increasing challenges. Christians, particularly those whose lives are being shaped by the teachings and saving grace of their saviour, hold dear his very unique personality. For someone who lived here for only 33 years and whose public ministry lasted for just about three years, who never wrote any book, virtually all of whose disciples paid the ultimate price for their faith in him, and who has over time become a reference point in history, being a headline news usually comes effortlessly.

The symbolism of Jesus the Christ is unending; both his biblical and historical accounts are truly intriguing. Mary conceived him as a virgin, meaning his real origin wasn’t earthly. Interestingly, however, his novel paternity never exempted him from the vagaries of everyday living. He was fully human and, also by theological exegesis, divine. That sounds every bit ambiguous and illogical. But then, come to think of it, how many things make normal, natural sense about the one who has commanded the love, adoration and following of billions of people for centuries? “He speaks as someone with authority” was one favourite way his detractors described him. “My father (God) sent me and I do his works” was one of his own reminders to those who doubted the source of his confidence and ‘dunamis’.

The people of Jesus’ day, especially those who simply couldn’t understand the nature of his intervention and the dimensions of his works, often dismissed his proclamations as claims and even the miracles he performed as being powered by the devil. Talk of claims. In my meditative moments, I’ve wondered why no other leader, from the knowledge available to me, has ever made the kinds of declarations attributed to Christ, principally that he was sent to bear the sins of the entire human race and provide the only acceptable way to God. That’s huge and unprecedented.

Equally remarkable is that all the oppositions against him couldn’t halt his progress and the fulfilment of his purpose because of his unwavering commitment to his assignment. Christ arrived with a clear-cut goal, according to the Bible. The almighty, maker and possessor of heaven and earth, loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son to shed his blood and provide eternal salvation for whoever believes.

Whosoever! Too good to be true, it seems. Why would someone in the enviable, exalted position that Christ occupies descend to the level of humanity which had lost its bearing and place of honour? Like this puzzle, the celestial equation on display here is also sublime. God the father sent his son. And God the son went, willingly. He accepted to be the sacrificial lamb, in Gandhi’s word which has its root in the Bible, the ransom. Jesus wasn’t forced to go through all that indescribable torture. He deliberately laid down his own life for the world, he once reassured his listeners. This shouldn’t be too hard to believe since all the times his accusers tried to lay their hands on him, before the horrible encounters being commemorated this week, had failed.

Giving up one’s privileges and entitlements for the betterment of others doesn’t come cheaply. Down the ages, the people who have demonstrated that have been inspired by profound convictions that stem from the ability to look beyond apparent and immediate gratifications. Something tells them that there’s more to existence than simply living for their own bellies. They prioritise the needs of others far above theirs. There’s no doubt that truly living sacrificially is to break free from the more alluring powers of self-preservation which, by the way, is a valid human need.

Some have argued that Jesus was able to reach all that length because of his roots in divinity. While that line of thought shouldn’t be disregarded, the human elements of his phenomenal life suggest that even if humans do not have the capacities to attain his own heights, they do have what it takes to achieve wonderful objectives, including long-lasting ones. Happily, history is replete with examples of outstanding or superlative acts of selflessness and heroism. Nigeria has a good share of such, hence, the clause, “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain”, in the nation’s anthem.

This Easter presents yet another chance for both leaders and the led to come to terms with the indispensability of sacrificial, selfless living in the scheme of things. The loneliest time during Jesus’ stay here was when he was on the Cross of Calvary, when his father who had always been his dependable guardian reportedly turned his face away from him as the burdens of iniquities and sins were dumped on his beloved son. True, Christ came for that task. True, he had always reminded his followers about that preordained responsibility and had appeared prepared for that zero hour. But a holy God was simply never meant to look on the chunk of iniquity on Jesus. The mystique of the “lamb of God” derives its strength largely from his readiness to brave even the momentary eclipse between him and his dear dad. That lonely propitiation shouldn’t ever be overlooked.

Appeals and criticisms about moderate or optimum governance in Nigeria are usually directed at occupants of government offices, rightly so. But we must now be more introspective and dragnetting. No finger-pointing. No self-righteousness. George H. W. Bush made this point eloquently: “Service is never a simple act; it’s about sacrificing for others and about accomplishment for ourselves, about reaching out, one person to another, about all our choices gathered together as a country to reach across all our divides.”

Those who lead should roll up their sleeves in serving Nigerian citizens; not the present blatant acts of greed and thievery. The people too, most notably the poor, should rise above the intra-class exploitations that exist today. The speed with which inflation deflates people’s purchasing power and self-esteem isn’t only a function of government’s jaundiced fiscal policies and monetary management alone. It’s also significantly enabled by the warped survivalist instincts of the players at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. A little thought for and deference to neighbours – a consequential bit of Christ’s mission – would yield substantial outcomes as Nigerians navigate these treacherous times.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board     

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