Religious shepherds and grass-chomping sheep, By Onyinye Muomah
Time to follow Jesus with our brain
When one hears the atrocious sins committed by so-called religious leaders against the people they have supposedly been ordained to guide, one wonders how it is that organised religion still thrives in the twenty-first century.
This week, the story of a South African pastor who made his congregation literally eat grass, circulated around the internet along with graphic pictures. Some of the congregants, after consuming this unfamiliar (to the human digestive system) roughage, predictably took ill and threw up into buckets provided at the church. The pictures of these people lying in the grass and trustingly consuming this unfamiliar food – I mean, grabbing clumps of lawn grass and stuffing them into their mouth – makes “sane” observers wonder, “What did this man say to these people to get them to behave in this way?” Or if you are superstitious Nigerian, “What juju is this pastor using?”
But, apparently, these days considering the desperate length people go to avoid the inevitable problems that even Jesus Christ himself said would dog those who decide to follow him, it is no wonder that seemingly baffling events like these occur.
The pastor might as well have been trying to buttress the fact that the members of his congregation were sheep and he, their shepherd. Be that as it may, they listened to his voice and they readily obeyed.
The wrong promises
When I first came to Abuja, I noticed and took a picture of a giant church poster that had, bolder than even the pastor’s name, the beckoning words “suya night and tea service.”
This past festive period, in order to entice a mass crowd to their churches for “crossover night” (New Year’s Eve), pastors were promising “suya night” and “cake night.”
I mean, seriously, it has come to a stage where food is used to entice people to church? What happened to going to church to learn how to serve God by living a good life?
Paradise on earth
There are some who have blamed the sheep like attitude of today’s Christians, especially in Africa, on poverty and the poor state of the economy in African countries. That is until your hear the stories of people in the so called developed world who sell their properties and give the proceeds to faith/cult leaders, all in a bid to obtain some sort of nirvana (either right now or later). They are hoping that their expectations of this future perfect world would somehow cushion the harsh reality of this one.
The Church of Scientology, which is one of the richest “churches” in the world, actually sells its ideologies to its faithful. And in their quest for earthly perfection, people reportedly steal, beg, borrow, mortgage their homes just to move up different levels towards this end.
In university, I used to be baffled by students who gave tithes on their pocket monies to student pastors. And these were people who claimed to have read the bible from front to back.
Seek ye first the kingdom
When it comes to following God with your stomach or based on the assumption that all your problems would suddenly disappear or you would suddenly become rich, Jesus Christ himself dissuades us from thinking in that direction. This was the same Christ who rejected the devil three times because of Satan’s promises of immediate respite. The first time, the devil wanted to take advantage of Jesus’ obvious hunger after forty days of fast and asked Christ to turn stone to bread. Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” – this is for those of us who seek Jesus or go to church just for the promise of food.
The second time, the devil asked Christ to throw himself off a high point promising that God’s angel would catch him but Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” – this for those of us who follow pastors just to obtain miracles.
The third temptation, the devil offered Christ the world if he would bow down and worship him, to which Jesus replied, “Be gone from me, Satan. You shall worship the Lord thy God and only him shall you serve.” That last message is for those of us who seek God for prosperity/riches.
Better a wicked child than a foolish one
Many times, Jesus told the disciples that those who choose to follow him will suffer. Every time he spoke of respite, reward, peace, it was with reference to the afterlife; that is when you die. Some bible thumpers disagree with this. They would tell you that Jesus has suffered for everybody and that the promise of sure prosecution was only directed at the disciples of that time. Now, we are in the age of prosperity. I believe you.
I will still remind you that Jesus led by example. That pastor that asked his congregation to eat the grass, alas, there were no pictures of him actually chomping grass along with his sheep.
A priest once told me, it is better to have a wicked child than a foolish one. And when you read some of Jesus’ parables – like the one of the smart servant who, knowing that he would soon be fired, made friends by forgiving his master’s customers some of their debts – you would realise that following Jesus is not about meekness alone; smartness is required.