E O EkeThursday, July 5, 2012



ne of the most intriguing stories in the Bible is Jesus healing of the paralytic on a Sabbath day (Saturday). The man had waited for thirty-eight years beside the pool of Bethsaida to be the first person to jump into the pool when an Angel stirs the water. After the merciful act, the Pharisees (religious Authority) confronted Jesus and questioned him why he did good on a Sabbath day. It provided another opportunity for Jesus to teach them more truths about God in the hope that they would see the light and abandon the traditions of men.

This gentle man had spent thirty-eight years waiting to be the first person to jump into the pool after an angel stirs the water. However, every time he hears sound of the water being turned, before he could drag himself to the pool, other people, less unwell than him or who had people to help them would jump in. He was waiting to win in a race he knew he will never win and he refused to quit. This is either adamancy or faith depending on how you are looking at it and the purpose you want to use the story for. Now and then, such unwavering stance is rewarded. The religious leaders had created the myth of the pool having a healing power and the place was marketed as a miracle centre where people could get miraculous healing. However, the reality was it was a place of pain suffering and exploitation. It was a place where people scrambled to be the first in an event where they believed God would heal only the fittest, the first to jump in. I do not think it sounds like something God would be involved with. Why would God play lottery with the lives of people and still claim to be a kind God? No one asked if a loving God would like to see very ill people struggling to be first to jump into a pool, and many of them being crushed to death in the process. No one questioned this claim of miraculous power in the pool. There was no evidence that those who jumped into the pool lived to tell the tale. But like all religious dogmas, myths, false beliefs and doctrines, the people believed it and were committing suicide at intervals until the day Jesus saved a man who had waited thirty-eight years to jump to his death, while hoping to get healed. How often is our life like that of the paralytic? Waiting many years to buy the car in which we will die because we were not boarded to learn to drive properly and take a driving test. How many times do people work hard to get that which they do not really need for their life? The paralytic was lucky that Jesus happened to be passing by. Many people like him were not that lucky.

You would think that since the religious leaders were concerned about the plight of the sick, that they would have been excited about the only case of healing that had taken place in thirty eight years. Unfortunately, their very religious mind, consumed by what they think is right and their self- righteousness, could not allow them to see things the way they really were. Instead they were only concerned that the good act was not done in the right manner. This is a perspective which religion impact into thinking that has persisted until today in almost all religious minds. Come to think of it, it is this way and manner of thinking that is at the heart of all religious conflicts. A belief that there is only one right way of doing good.

The argument of the Pharisees was that Jesus did the right thing at the wrong time. They did not object to the healing, but that the healing took place on the wrong day. How many times have we heard similar argument about goodness? How many times have we heard Christians and Muslims arguing that a particular good act was not done in the right manner? That people do not pray the right number of times a day? However, Jesus had a different view. His position was that it is good to do good any time. In fact, he was saying that goodness has no law. That the fulfilment of the law is well doing. Love is the fulfilment of the law he said. Jesus said it is ok to do good no matter the circumstance. The Pharisees felt that he was wrong and saw him as person who had no respect for their religious traditions. They rated their religious traditions over and above the love and laws of God. There are many religious groups and sects, Islamic and Christian, who still persist in this manner of thinking. They believe there is a right way of marrying instead of respecting and celebrating the love people feel for each other. Some believe that there is a right way of helping people instead of allowing people to help in any way and manner they can. Many believe that there is a right way of praying instead of accepting that God can hear all prayers from every sincere hearts. Many believe that theirs is the true religion, instead of accepting that in every nation, God accept all who seek him with a sincere hearts. All religions seem to lay emphasis on the way and manner an act is performed instead of focusing on the outcome and motive of the performer. No wonder Jesus was infuriated with them and called them sons of vipers and hypocrites who lay heavy burden on the people and would not even lift it with one of their fingers. Religion can blind one to what is really important and allow one to focus on a set of rules that has no bearing to reality. It can provide a mask for selfishness and enable the religious to deceive themselves about the unknown or mysterious.

How often do we focus on traditions instead of what is really important. To many religious people, what is eaten and how it should be prepared are more important than the fact that the hungry are provided with food. They often disagree on methods instead of agreeing on the aim. They fight because they disagree on the best way of serving God, instead of celebrating the fact that they agree that God is love. They focus on minor theological differences in interpretation and forget that the call is for people to love others as themselves. In the process the religious ends up washing the outside of the cup while the inside remains dirty with hatred, intolerance, envy, deceit, jealousy, pride, high minded and vengeful spirit. It is to open the eyes of people to the truth of God that Jesus came. Unfortunately, it would appear that his teaching has fallen victim to the traditions of men.

Todayís Nigeria is full of Millionaire pastors who make merchandise of the word of God and speak to the people things they want to hear. They tell the people that God will provide all their needs while they use the offering the people give for the work of God to live as if there is no heaven. They promise the people miracles, while they depend on their wallets to solve the problems they encourage the people to fast and pray for. They are blind men leading the blind and they have all ended up in the ditch of ignorance, intolerance and delusional beliefs in the traditions of men. They misuse religion and deceive the people who perish for lack of knowledge. They claim God has sent them when they are driven by the desire to be rich. They pressure the people to give to God while the misuse the money to acquire the deceptive riches of this world.

Nigerians are religious people but the country is known as very corrupt. Nigerian government is made up Christians and Muslims but the government is one of the most corrupt in world. The country has had leaders who are religious, Christians and Muslims who all stole and impoverished it. Many of the contracts of the roads that were awarded and not executed were awarded to Christians and Muslims. Many of those who kill their opponents are Christians and Muslims. Those involved in oil bunkering, armed robbery, collection of bribes at check points, embezzlement of the funds of associations like NURTW, Taxi drivers association and many ethnic associations etc. are Christians and Muslim. The crimes that are holding Nigeria back are committed by Muslims and Christians. Those who amended the constitution to protect corrupt politicians were Christians and Muslims. Those who have made the prosecution of corrupt politicians impossible attend churches and Mosques. Corruption in Nigeria is perpetrated by people who attend churches and mosques and take Holy Communion and engage in Ramadan fasting. Religion is not the answer to our problem although it has an important role to play. The challenge is to find the right role for religion.

I suppose it is time for Nigeria to move into the age of enlightenment.

To understand that God is the author of all knowledge that religion is only the beginning of knowledge that the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Perhaps, that is why Solomon pleaded for people to get knowledge and that with it, they should get understanding. God help them so that they would know that they themselves are like animals Solomon said. We blossom and flourish and wither and perish but the truth of God stands for ever. The truth is that a man at all times and in all things should do unto others as he would like others to do unto him. This is what God is all about. Anything more than this is religion and it can have a very sinister, ugly and selfish face. Let him who reads, understand.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.