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Friday Sermon: Who is the Messiah?

By Babatunde Jose

Everywhere in the world people were expecting the latter coming of one or another kickshaw messiah who would remove the discomforts which they themselves were either too lazy or too incompetent to deal with; and nobody had anything whatever to gain with electing for peculiarity among one’s fellow creatures and a gloomier outlook.

James Branch Cabell (1926)

Most religious conflicts have often been fuelled by the issue of who is a true messiah” and who is not. It is equally true in most political systems where the people have experienced oppression and they look forward to a redeemer. The Messiah is the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Hebrew Bible or a leader regarded as the saviour of a particular country, group, or cause. Passions can run strong on this topic; the messiah is seen from different perspectives just as Jesus was perceived differently by the Jews.

Since the men with the gun truncated our democracy and plunged this country into political turmoil, we have always looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, a Mahdi or a Redeemer. In 1993 we thought he had arrived, but it was not to be: 1999 came and he did not arrive; 2015, only charlatans and false prophets were our lot. Come 2019 we were left with a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

Promises of a “messiah” have been put forth by a great many religions, both maverick and Custodial. Messiah has had several meanings, from simply “teacher” to “liberator.”  Throughout history, there have been thousands of people claiming to be a “messiah,” or they have been given the label by others even if they did not claim it themselves. Such messianic claims are usually based upon prophecies recorded earlier in history, such as the Buddhist Mettaya legend, the “Second Coming” prophecy of the Book of Revelation, the apocalyptic teachings of Zoroaster, or the Hebrew prophecies. Many people look at all messianic claims with outright skepticism; others become avid followers of a leader whom they believe to be the fulfilment of a religious prophecy. This raises the question: has there ever been, or will there ever be, a genuine messiah? How would one identify such a person?

Anyone who successfully develops a functional science of the spirit would obviously have a legitimate claim to the title of “messiah” in the “teacher” sense. How do we identify such a liberator when there are so many different prophecies with so many ways to interpret them?

The answer is simple: The would-be liberator must succeed. That person must earn the title; it is not God-given. This is a terribly cold and uncompromising way of looking at it. It strips away the magic and mysticism normally associated with messianic prophecy. It forces any person who would claim the title of messiah to actually bring about peace and spiritual salvation, because such a prophecy is not going to be fulfilled unless someone causes it to happen. This compels the would-be liberator to fully overcome the overwhelming obstacles which act against these universal goals. This is one of the most unenviable tasks that any person could ever hope to undertake.

We need only look at past “liberators” to appreciate the long hard road that such a person must travel.

To date, no one has succeeded, but it is certainly a challenge worthy of the best talent.

By the year 1 A.D., the Hebrew religion had become well-settled in the Middle East. It was, however, undergoing many changes, some of which were caused by the extension of the Roman Empire into Palestine. The Romans often made life difficult for the Jews. Some Hebrew sects, such as the Sadducees, proclaimed the coming of a Messiah from “God”— a Messiah who would prevail in the eternal struggle of good against evil and bring freedom to the oppressed Jews. This idea became quite popular among the Hebrews of Palestine, even though its strong political slant made it dangerous.

Old Testament messianic prophecies began as early as 750 B.C. with the prophet Isaiah. Jewish apocalypses appeared sporadically after that. Examples include Prophet Joel circa 400 B.C. and Daniel circa 165 B.C. To give the flavour of these predictions, See MALACHI 4:1-6 in the Old Testament, written shortly before 445 B.C.

Today, the Jews are still waiting for Elijah to appear, while Christians believe that Elijah was John the Baptist, the man who baptized Jesus Christ and who incidentally was his cousin.

A controversial religious leader was born in Bethlehem who tried to prevent himself from being declared an apocalyptic Messiah. He was unsuccessful and would be nailed to a wooden cross as a result. We know him today as Jesus Christ.

Which Messiah are we waiting for? When will our redeemer cometh? When will we start the journey to the Promised Land? Will we ever get there? Where is our Moses?

Judging from the nature of our country today, it will be absolutely impossible an impossibility, for our ‘empty sack to stand erect’. We will never get a Messiah. No people who are as polarized as we are; religiously, ethnically, linguistically and perhaps spiritually can ever get a messiah: More so when they are apathetic and irresponsible. With a voter register of 84 million, only 30% were accredited. As if that is not enough, Lagos, Kano and Katsina with the highest number of voters 15 million could only deliver 4.8 million accredited voters. Indeed! We are really looking for a Messiah. All told, it is either a sad commentary on the organization and mobilization competence of the political parties or the apathy of the voters; or the decision of the people that they have had enough of the unkept promises of the political leaders.

If the Jews are still waiting for Elijah after more than 3,000 years and Jesus has refused to come down after 2019 years and the Promised Messiah prophesized by Prophet Mohammed is yet to come and our people are not ready to use their votes to  elect their redeemer; who are we to be expecting a Messiah, Redeemer or Mahdi? It’s however possible they see no promise in the leaders.

The problems facing us as a people are so insurmountable that our Swan song should really be ‘Oto Ge’; ‘e don do’, enough is enough! As far as our political travails are concerned, the election does not mark the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but the end of a beginning. We need a paradigm shift.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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