On the 20th of December 2010, a very lovely and awesomely blessed family landed in Murtala Muhammad International Airport Lagos, Nigeria from Texas, United States of America. It was their first trip to Nigeria as a family. The father of the family had spent a good number of years in the USA where he was trained as a physician and consequently became a consultant cardiologist. He married a pharmacist and they were blessed with four lovely children the last was just six months old when they came on that trip.
The family had arranged for a vehicle to pick them from the airport and from there they lodged in a hotel and left for their home town the next morning which is about six hours from Lagos. The journey was swift and smooth all the way until they got to the city before the Niger River and there they had the misfortune of running into armed robbers that were operating on that route. The driver conveying them tried to manoeuvre through a path way to evade the daredevils but it was too late as they got trapped somewhere at a dead end and the heartless robbers caught up with them.
After dispossessing them of all they had in a most gruesome manner, they decided to rape the mother of the family. At first when they asked the woman to undress, it sounded like a joke but when they started releasing bullets in the air, it became clear that it was not a joke. The woman in question had made up her mind that she wouldn’t concede to such putrid act with her husband and children watching; hence she was unmoved by their demand. They threatened to shoot her if she remained adamant, but she still stood her ground. Even her husband begged her to accept the misconduct in order to be unharmed, but she said that she would not do such a thing even at the point of losing her life. Consequently one of the armed robbers who appeared to be so much in a hurry shot her on the chest and she failed down and died instantly!
The story about the death of this woman who decided to give up her life instead of her body was narrated by one of the robbers one year later. In his public confession, the ex-robber in question maintained that the way and manner the woman made up her mind to die made that particular day the last time he partook in a robbery operation. He made a turnaround in his life, reported himself to the police and gave away all the members of his gang.
Death is one facility we all dread. It is however highly obligatory, recommended and open to all of us much as everyone is expected to have an encounter with it at some point. Some of the names given to children in most communities in West Africa show the dreadful nature of death. For instance among the Igbos of southeast Nigeria there are names like “Onwubiko” (death please), “Onwuamaeze” (death does not know nor respect the king), “Onwuegbucha” (death do not kill all at once), “Onwuchekwa” (death should wait). One of the worst curses in this context is to wish anyone death. More so death is one of the three things people fear so much in life; other being sickness and poverty.
Life on the other hand is sought after by all as the most beautiful and needful thing ever. The Igbos of southeast Nigeria like other tribes have lots of names that extol and celebrate life. For instance there are names like “Ndubuisi” (life is first or primary) “Ndukaku” (life is more precious than wealth), “Ndunagu” (Hunger for life). Still in this context, it is most befitting to wish someone long life. In fact, Kings are wished life everlasting and they accept it even as everyone knows that it is impossible to live forever on earth.
Today the First Reading (2ND Mac.7:1-2.9-14) and the Gospel Reading (Luke 20:27-38) tell us about the essentials of life beyond death or if you like the gospel of living after dying. The drama is more intriguing in the first reading; the story of the steadfast and faithful Maccabean family. Seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were compelled by a heathen king and his subjects under the threat of death to partake in the unlawful meal of swine. Rather than obey the king, they preferred to die. It is instructive that their willingness to face death was based on their conviction about living after dying aside not intending to break the ordinance of God. Let us look at the responses of four of them who spoke before dying:
- First: “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”
- Second: “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life but the king of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”
- Third:(putting out his tongue and stretching out is hands)
“I got these from Heaven, and because of His laws I disdain them, and from Him I hope to get them back again.”
- Fourth: “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by Him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.”
In the gospel reading on the other hand, one of the Sadducees came to Jesus Christ to ask a question bothering on resurrection after death. Sadducees at the time of Jesus were members of a Jewish religious sect of mostly aristocrats. They believed only in the written Mosaic Law. Hence they did not accept anything that was not contained in the Law of Moses. One of such doctrines is that of resurrection which of course cannot be found anywhere in the Mosaic corpus. In a bid to justify their position, the man who came to ask after our Lord’s opinion about resurrection presented an incredible story concerning seven brothers who married a particular woman in rapid succession as they each died one after the other. The question was whose wife she would be at the time of resurrection since she was married to all seven.
Looking at the instance and the question of the Sadducee one can see a very clear demonstration of ignorance. We may however not blame the Sadducees so much because their sect never cared to know what shape the resurrection would take; in fact as they never believed in it, for them it never existed. Looking at the two readings together we discover that in each we have seven brothers. Seven in biblical reckoning stands for completion. It could thus be said that resurrection to life can only be attained when we die fully in God; fully doing His will; completely consumed by Him!
From our opening story through the story of the seven brother in both the first reading and the gospel, the issue is not really about dying but dying well. Dying well on the other hand does not mean dying in one’s room or in some cosy environment. It rather means dying in God or being aright with God at one’s death irrespective of the location or manner of death. Furthermore, dying in God or being aright with God at one’s death assures one of living after dying because there is life after death as well as death after death; the second death (Rev. 2:11).
In our day and age most people spend so much time and money to make this present life beautiful and comfortable. All around us we see beautiful mansion, cars, and other things that secure earthly life in attractive ways. As individuals, we take care of our bodies with strict compliance with prescriptions from our doctors, dieticians, physical trainers, cosmetologists and others. But when it comes to prescriptions concerning the well-being of our souls we get so busy, take it as a tea party or forget entirely. We want to be seen as religious men and women but we are on the other hand not ready for the sacrifice that goes along with it. For this reason Mahatma Gandhi would include religion without sacrifice as one of the seven capital sins of the modern world.
One question that we must ask ourselves (and answer) today is: “What is it in this life that is worth dying for?” Evidently many people have died for useless and baseless things in life. Many have died for the sake of alcohol, some for the sake of unholy friendship, others for the love of money, and others still in an effort to be socially or politically relevant. It is not about dying; it is all about dying well.
Life is worthless without God (John 15:5). For us to find meaning in life we must first of all find God. In some deep introspection, I have come to see clearly that we really have nothing at the end of the day. When we die this body remains here and decays, our souls go back to God. On earth our material possessions will be taken over by family, friends or even people we never imagined. The goal of our presence in this life is to be finally united with God and that should form our focus as the seven brothers had. We should be ready to die for the sake of that eternal bliss. Like the second brother said, the King of the universe will raise us up to everlasting renewal of life much as the fourth brother made us to understand that some people will not rise to life.
There are still many of us living as if there is no hereafter in the same manner as the heathen Kings, his subjects and the Sadducees. There is need for us to understand that we have little time here on earth. This time is also an opportunity for us to prepare ourselves for befitting eternity; that is resurrection to life. There are some of us who still have the erroneous notion that the senseless pleasures of this world will continue after our lives here; unfortunately it will not be the same after here as our Lord made the Sadducee to understand. In the words of St. Paul in the second reading (2 Thess.2:16) we rely on God’s grace for comfort and strength to enable us make the right choices in this life so that we die to live and not to die.
Do have a wonderful and uplifting week ahead. You are nobly blessed!