By Innocent Nwafor
The season of Christmas 2019 into 2020 has just ended. Its extra cold dry Harmattan northeasterly trade wind, with its bustling and hustling has gone with it too. Marked as usual with its “exaggerations”, “specials” and “extras”; increased cost of transportation, extra end-of-year Get-togethers, choicest season for weddings, for “traditional wine carrying” (Igba Nkwu and Ogo bia malu uno), special time of Town-Hall, Age-Grade, School-Alumni meetings.
It is also a time of celebrating special days: “Umunna Day”, “Klan Day”, “Village Day”; a time of Mass returns of various communities, a time of Christmas Carols, Outing of new Dances, a time for Ofala celebrations by various traditional Monarchs (Igwes), a time for inter-town and inter-village sports activities and competitions; a time for various Church Harvest and Bazaars; a time of special fund-raising and “Sowing of Seeds”; a time of Gunshots and Knockouts; a time of extra Air-pollutions and mass-death of economic live-stocks; a time of hectic driving and seasonal sales, a time of new resolutions and exchange of gifts, name it.
In the midst of all these, we stand in danger of missing the message of a servant who doubles as a Son of God, born in a manger. A prophecy in respect to his coming described him thus: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street, o bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench, he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice on the earth…” (Isaiah 42:1-4).
Into the green ordinary time
Lest we lose sight of this message as a result of the above-referred Christmas haze, its round-up today with the Feast of Baptism of the Lord, a Feast that marks the beginning of an ordinary liturgical time of 2020, draws out attention once again to that servant: “You are my servant, Israel”(Isaiah 49:3). What does this ordinary time got to do with the motif of “Servanthood”? What does it have in stock for us? Is it mere changing of liturgical hymns and prayers?; a mere return to Liturgical green evident in the new green Altar cloth, the Tabernacle veil, the priest’s external cloak for Eucharistic celebration with its cincture? Or is there something more?
The greenness of these vestments draws our attention too to the green vegetation of our natural environment. Green is beautiful and it is life. One observes that the mango trees have begun to shoot out their flowers in readiness for fruition. The sycamore trees have pumped out their robust fruits in bundles. And farmers have dug deep hollow in their farm lands and sown yam tubers in hope for special yam-harvest in preparation for best farmer’s contest. The Lord appears to be inviting us in this ordinary time in the words of Song of songs: “The fig tree forms its early fruits, the vines in blossom are fragrant. Arise, my beautiful one, come with me, my love, come”(Song of Songs 2:13). Arise my servant I want to be glorified in you.
The question is: how best do we have to respond to the Lord who is not only reaching out to us through greenness and fruit of nature but more so in and through Christ, the word who took flesh and dwelt with us: and who is reaches to us in the form of a servant and who has also adopted us through baptism to share in his Servanthood and sonship? As nature begins to ripen and bear fruit, how do we grow and ripen in Christ in order to attain Christian maturity and to bear fruits so the Lord will be glorified in and through us?
The Model of a perfect Servant
The image of a suffering servant ( Isaiah 42:1-9) already introduced at the Feast of Baptism of the Lord is set before us today again in the second reading. This time with the second song of the servant (Isaiah 49:1-7). “…you are my servant, in whom I will be glorified.”
Originally, the word “servant” was spoken in reference to Job: “Have you noticed my servant Job? No one on earth is as blameless and upright as he, a man who fears God and avoids evil”. (Job 1:8).
In Hebrew language, the three pictorial letters translated in English language as “servant” are Ayin meaning “to know, to see, to experience”; Beyt meaning “House” or “Tent”; and Dalet meaning “Door” or “Pathway”. In the light of these three letters and their meanings, a messianic translation of the word servant based on Job 19:25-27 evolved, namely that “We can only know and experience the hospitality and the love of God when we open and enter through the pathway that leads to eternal life.
John in accordance with this messianic prophecy testifies that it had been revealed to him that “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit”. In the light of this experience John now makes the definitive statement: “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the mediator of our salvation.
Called too to be “servants” and mediators of goodness and love of God.
John has pointed to us the perfect servant of God who doubles as the Son of God. He is the perfect servant because he fulfilled the redemptive suffering that made us children of God. “For the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Through his baptism which we have all received, we have all been anointed with the oil of gladness (Psalm 45:7) to be true servants to one another and mediators of better or greener life. May be the following practical pathways could be considered in trying to be co-mediators of God’s goodness and love to all people:
a.) Let the oil of gladness remain fresh in our hearts. I used to check the oil in my car daily in order to avoid the possibility of my engine getting knocked. When we do not check the spiritual oil in our hearts, then our hearts become infested with bitterness, unhappiness and “civil war” ensures in them. And when we are disturbed inside, we go about disturbing others. We become always red and hurting inside. We are called to be green and fresh inside through our intimacy with God. We need to take care of our hearts to make it always grow in intimacy with Jesus who is ever green and gives life, life in its abundance. “I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10).
b.) To serve and to give life. We are called to be green, to promote life and not to diminish it: to enhance life not to strangle it. Is there any need be loud-mouthed or “make our voice be heard on the street”. Can we not settle the various quarrels, accusations and counter accusations against one another. Can we not seek better ways of promote the greenness of our life and that of others. Can we not strive to be happy when others make progress in their endeavors?
c.) Be fruitful in your service. Why wouldn’t we strive to be more duty conscious in our chosen profession? Are we hand workers or artisans, why couldn’t we work in such a way that our good works will advertise themselves? Why can’t we give our work a perfect finishing touch? Why can’t we change our work habit and aim at nothing but excellence? The money will come after we have built trust. The men and women of today are looking for people whom they can trust. Are you a trader, why can’t we reveal Christ who is the truth in our dealing with our customers? Why can’t we demonstrate that the interest of our customers first counts before the immediate gain? For we all called too to be servants in whom the Lord wants to be glorified. Our integrity as Christians is worth more today than the monetary gain.
d.) Bring justice to the people. Injustice brings darkness. Watch people who play lawn tennis. When a referee counts a point that should go to the rightful owner to the opponent, the atmosphere is polluted. Grumbling ensures. Progress is halted. A slow-motioned replay is called for to determine the truth. When justice is given to whom it is due, peace returns. Hearts are soothed. Life returns. Peace is ensured. Everybody is ready to play on. Progress is made. Justice and peace engenders growth.
e.) Support and heal the weak. Be a good news to the poor. If we look around poverty is everywhere. The roads are poor. Our gutter and water ways are poor. The air we breathe is terribly poor. Our environment has been terribly impoverished. Our market places are saddled dirt, littering of broken and plastic bottles and of cellophane materials. No care. Our driving style is terribly poor. Travelling at Christmas was one of the worst experiences of the recent times. Aggressivity everywhere and untimely death. Nobody cares for anybody. Our eating habit is very poor, giving rise to unwarranted ill-healths. Our health and medical arrangement is terribly lopsided. If we become seriously sick and cannot afford to make a medical trip to London, America or to India we simply prepare for death.
Today the Lord has put a new song in our mouth, to praise him in all we do. I like to end this reflection with these quotes”
“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” “Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.” “Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.” “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Wishing you grace-fill second Sunday in the Ordinary Time of the year, 2020.