Reformation and Pardon:
In my native African village, there are ancient landmarks which are meant to benefit all members of the community without discrimination. As such, any unnecessary desecration or exploitation of any of those objects or utilities by any single member or group of persons to the exclusion of others usually attracts open disapproval by the rest of the society. I need to mention that we used to run a well organized Police state with unwritten code of conduct and prescribed penalties attached to the breaking of any of those laws. That was before the emergence of the colonial masters. Environmental sanitation exercises were monitored by the youths. If they would have cause to help any family clean their compound or their surroundings, the offending occupants were required to pay penalties ranging from some measure of meal or palm kernel or maize to tubers of yam as the case may be. Any man who failed to join in bush clearing campaign for the communal farm ran the risk of not getting a portion of farmland for that season. These stringent measures compelled a life of strict obedience and civility on my people at that time. Moral rectitude remained the norm rather than the exception.
We had just returned home from the city for a Christmas holiday. A century-old fruit-bearing tree stood at the centre of my village square. Adults consisting mainly of nursing mothers and children would sit in clusters under the shade of its extended branches. Birds and squirrels that had made their nests within the branches and hollows would occasionally lose grip of ripen fruits that will come tumbling down to the ground to incite a scramble among the women and children within the precincts of the fallen fruit, to the delight of the men who sat at the nearby thatched hut playing games and telling or listening to tales.
I could not afford the indefinite dependence on mere birds or squirrels to help me with a share of the fruits which hung generously and invitingly on the distant branches of the old tree. Up went my catapult. I aimed and brought down no less than five ripe fruits clustered together at one shot. I intended to excite the traditional scramble among the shade-dwelling fellows, but to my surprise, not one of them moved to grab my fruits. I thought they were being modest with me, so I quietly gathered my harvest and offered to share with some of my peers, but none would accept my kindness. It then dawned on me that something was amiss. My excitement suddenly waned as one old man approached and inquired after my identity. After gathering all the information as to my name and who my father was, he promptly returned to the hut and I could see him conferring with the other elders who were waiting in anticipation. There was deafening silence around me as the women and children discussed in whispers. I never felt such loneliness in all my life in the midst of a crowd. I managed to scurry home. Before I could settle down to share my experience with my mother there was an approaching long line of old men backed by half a dozen of drumming youths following my trail. They ended up in my father’s compound. They outnumbered the chairs in our house and it would be an offence to keep some of them standing. So my mother and my elder sisters expressly skipped off to borrow any seats that could be reached within the neighbourhood. After some preliminary introductory rituals it became clear to me that those men had come to penalize my father for the fruits I forced down from the community tree. As I hid behind a window blind to observe the proceedings, I could guess that the penalty far outweighed my offence. I could hear one of the elders jokingly say to my father that since he doesn’t live in the village, it was a pleasure to share of his wealth this one time. I had thought to protest but had been restrained by my mother who warned that any interruption of the proceedings would amount to contempt of court and would attract further penalties.
When I look back to that embarrassment, extortion, humiliation and disappointment suffered by my father for my sake and for a mess of porridge, so to say, I feel terribly humbled to think of the arraignment, trial and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the hands of His own people. He, who had no sin, was made to die a sinner’s death, which the Westminster’s dictionary of the Bible says “was literally a judicial murder.” (ibid. 308). After abducting Him to the house of Annas the father-in-law of Caiaphas for preliminary examination, he was hastened before Pontius Pilate to seek to obtain the governor’s approval as the lower court lacked jurisdiction to handle such a case. Seeing no basis for granting the leave of court, Governor Pilate had to order for the Messiah to be transported to President Herod Antipas who also was reluctant to exercise jurisdiction but for the pressure mounted on him by the fraudulent crowd. (Luke 22: 66-71; 23:7-11). The Holy Scriptures say that Jesus died for no crime and without any real legal process. His execution was carried out by 4 soldiers under the supervision of a centurion. With him also 2 common robbers were led to death. (John 19:23). Eye-witness account of St. John, who was not very far from the scene of crucifixion, saw blood and water issue from the wound that had been inflicted upon Jesus Christ. That goes to prove that there was apparent external bleeding. But it does appear that his eventual death was occasioned not by the outward injuries but by the broken heart exhibited by the utterances he had voiced as he hung on the accursed tree, such as “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
In the present dispensation, a lawyer would have offered to plead my case and cause the judge to enter a verdict of ‘first offender’ and acquit me as a minor. But ignorance, they say, is no excuse. The contemplation of my inability to denounce or challenge what I considered to be undue exploitation of my father and the lack of defence on my trial left a sour taste on my tongue. I had resolved not to return home ever again for another Christmas holidays if that was how to treat an innocent fruit-loving boy. I had also resolved never again to taste that genre of fruit for all I care. But my father could not be deterred by that unfriendly attitude of his kindred.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder and Discoverer of Christian Science movement, in her book Science and Health with key to the Scriptures, writes that “the atonement of Christ reconciled man to God, not God to man, for the divine Principle of Christ is God……” (ibid 18:17). God had not at any point in time separated Himself from His creation. The Bible says that we are his image and likeness (reflection) (Genesis 1:26-27). But man sought to hide from the presence of his Creator by consequence of the sin we commit. Jesus was aware of this disposition of his false accusers hence he presently begged the Father to “forgive then, for they know not what they do.” Thus he paved the way for reconciliation between man and God. Mary Baker Eddy writes further that ‘The design of Love is to reform the sinner. If the sinner’s punishment here has been insufficient to reform him, the good man’s heaven would be a hell to the sinner. (Science & Health page 33:30-1). But if the sinner would rely on the plea made on his behalf by Jesus Christ and continue to sin and expect to be pardoned by the all-merciful Father, should this not be a mockery of the suffering that Christ bore on the cross? The purpose of that manner of death was not to erase man’s sin and license him to commit sin with reckless abandon, but to show that sin occasions punishment and that only by the destruction of sin and by true reformation can man hope of attaining eternal forgiveness. For this cause are we being admonished to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). A pastor friend of mine once argued that the Scriptures say, “…. For we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God….” As far as I am concerned, he sounded defeatist. I had said to him, “so what?” Many people seem to share the same view that having once fallen; we should just lay there and pray for our salvation to come from the cross. I am inclined to refer once again to Mary Baker Eddy’s argument that though the principle of mathematics has already been established, but we cannot stand before the blackboard and invoke the problem of maths to solve itself. It has to be worked out by the student in accordance with the established principle; else we get the wrong answer. So is the principle of individual salvation. Jesus has mapped out the way for us to follow, and only those who tread that path can expect to get to the destination point. He had said in substance, “I am the Life, the Truth and the Way.” Therefore, if we are seeking to live our life to the fullest, we must truthfully follow along the right Way. This is the only guarantee for life eternal.
If I fail to return to my village on account of what I had considered an unjust customary practice, that would not change my status as a bona-fide citizen, neither would my dislike for apple stop the tree from bearing fruits. Man is not annihilated, nor does he lose his identity, by passing through the belief called death. We cannot continue in sin because someone has paid the penalty. Our only guarantee for peace is the abolition of any occasion of sin in our individual lives. God has given us the ability to overcome all evil and nothing can deprive us of that authority.