In the early hours of the 5th of October 2012 something gruesome happened in a small community in Rivers State, Nigeria. Four young boys went to ask for a refund of the money one of them paid to a housing agent who failed to secure a housing accommodation for him in the neighbourhood of their school. The agent in question could not make the refund that morning and instead of asking for clemency or another chance to make the repayment he did the unexpected. He raised an alarm alerting the people around him that he is being besieged by hoodlums. There was a spontaneous reaction from the aggrieved community and what followed was better imagined than witnessed.
The four young boys were nabbed, beaten and burnt by the people who believed that they were actually criminals. No gun was found in their possession, no questions were asked, and nobody cared to gauge their own side of the story. That was how the Aluu community in Rivers State killed four University of Port Harcourt undergraduates in broad daylight on the premise that they erred and in their judgement they have to pay with their lives.
In the book of Psalms (130:3-4), we read: “If you O Lord should mark our iniquities, Lord who would survive, but with you is forgiveness and for this we revere you”. When a woman that was caught in the very act of adultery was brought to our Lord Jesus Christ for him to supposedly condemn her, our Lord challenged those who brought her thus: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. (John 8:7) .We are aware of what happened thereafter; they all walked away starting from the eldest. St. Paul provides a summary which says: “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God”. (Rom.3:23). In the First Book of Samuel (1 Sam.2:2) we are told that there none holy as the Lord. So before God we are unworthy and unholy.
From the three readings today we notice a common denominator running through all and that is our inadequacy and sinfulness before God. In the presence of God we are duely, truly and thoroughly inadequate and sinful. Our sinful state becomes very obvious when we come in contact with God’s impeccable presence; it is like discovering how short you are by standing beside a huge giant. In the experience of Isaiah in the First Reading he decried:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa.6:5).
In the second reading St. Paul reflecting on his days of antagonism against the early Church (Acts 9:1-5) confessed:
“I am least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9).
In the Gospel Reading, Simon Peter after witnessing the miracle of the great catch of fish went down on his kneels before Jesus Christ and said:
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke. 5:8).
These men encountering the exceptional presence of God recognized their fallen state. From these we can understand what exactly happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit. The word of God said:
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.”(Gen.3:8).
It is often a belief among some people that those who go to hell are those who are not able to withstand the astounding glory of heaven because they would become discordant notes in the melody of heaven. Heaven will turn out to be for them a place of torture; hence the idea of hiding and getting away from the resplendent glory of God.
Our reflection today is all about the possible transition from our sinful past into a saintly future; if you like from “sinhood” to sainthood. It is not unforeseen for some of us to identify and condemn some people as sinners just like in the experience of the four boys that were killed in Aluu. Some of us may even have a record book with columns for sinners and saints based on our defective judgments. The hard fact is that every saint had a past (which could have been sinful) and every sinner has a future (which could as well be sinless). Evidently, those who lynched and killed the young boys in the epoch making Aluu killing acted from a defective stance because even God who created us allows U-turns on the routes of our lives. That is why in the oracle of Isaiah God said:
“Come now let us reason together says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are like red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa.1:18).
A deeper reflection on the circumstances that led to Peter’s confession in the gospel reading today will be very helpful to us. We are told from the Gospel that Simon as his brother Andrew and perhaps their companions, James and John who were fishermen too, toiled all night but could not make a simple catch. From experts in the art of fishing, night times are the best times to go for fishing. But that very night was tough and frustrating. In the morning they gave up and started packing up their fishing tools ready to go. It so happened that Jesus was out in the morning preaching with a large crowd surging upon him and he requested for Simon’s boat as a platform or if you like a pulpit.
Simon was willing to lend out his boat in spite of the frustration of the previous night. After the preaching Jesus asked them to cast their net for a catch but Simon told him frankly that they could not make it in the night (the best time) so the daytime may be a useless attempt. But they went ahead anyway and the catch was so much that Simon saw beyond a mere preacher by the seaside. He saw the glory of God which contrasted so much with his sinful state, hence he demanded an immediate exclusion from the presence of the Lord. However, Jesus Christ invited him and gave him another chance and another vocation; the catching of souls.
A reflective look into the above scenario shows God’s purpose and direction. It could thus be said that God allowed their frustration the previous night in view of the testimony of the following day. It often happens in our lives that our hard moments are serving as platforms for the glorious future we are anticipating. Furthermore we see clearly the contrast between darkness and light, between night and day, between sin and righteousness. Simon and the others went to catch fish in the night (the supposed best time to fish) and caught nothing. But in the day time with Jesus Christ, they made a great catch. When we are in darkness; in sin and without Jesus Christ we experience frustration and lack. But when we transit into light and make an encounter with Jesus Christ our lives will be touched, changed and blessed.
The encounters of Isaiah, Paul and Peter (IPP) are befitting platforms that should assist us at this time. We are called like these men to transit from a state of sin-full-ness to a state of sin-less-ness. We are called like them to drop the attractions of our past and embrace the new things God is doing for us now and in the future (Isaiah 43:18-19). Like Isaiah, our lips need divine touch, like Paul our eyes need to be reopened to a new reality and we need a new name, like Peter we need to follow Jesus Christ unto a new way of life; the life of the day not that of the night.
Remember that today, you still have a chance for a better future! Nobody has the right to condemn you when God has not said the last word in your life. There is hope for a better future for you. The sinner can become a saint!
Have a wonderful Sunday and remain blessed throughout the week.