As I watched it on the news, I could hear whistles and shouts of “shame on you” as tents were thrown in to rubbish trucks. This happened when Occupy London Stock Exchange activists were evicted from outside St Paul’s Church in London after many months of occupation by people protesting the excesses of capitalism. This was not the first eviction and obviously not the first time that a government had crushed the voice of the oppressed – of course we heard stories of the Occupy Wall Street, the Occupy Oakland and Occupy Nigeria at the beginning of the year and many more sweeping across the globe, which have mainly dwindled into oblivion. What made this stand out in my mind was a question one of the protesters held high at the beginning of the camping at St. Paul’s – “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?”
In my view, which I am sure, may be nuanced or even crass, all these people had not simply been after the downfall of capitalism and neoliberalism, rather, I saw their actions as acts of prayer – calling on those whom God had put in authority to do some introspection and change their attitude towards the less privileged. I therefore did not see these protests as simply one against capitalism or neoliberalism, but one that was aimed at eliciting a response from all people of God worldwide.
At this stage, I am sure you will be wondering exactly what I mean by prayer. My view is not much different from yours.
PRAYER: MY UNDERSTANDING
I understand prayer to be the practice of invoking the presence of God. It is that place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is that place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is that needful practice of the Christian or the Moslem. Prayer is that exercise of faith and hope. Specifically, in Christendom, prayer is that privilege bequeathed to man, of touching the heart of the Father through the Son, Jesus.
Prayer is therefore, not a one-way traffic. It is an action that should elicit a response. Prayer is an action that is expected to provoke a soothing reaction that should equal or overwhelm the expectations of the interlocutor.
Another question that just crossed my mind, and I guess yours, is, who should do the reacting?
WHO ANSWERS PRAYERS AND HOW?
The answer to the WHO is obvious but I think the HOW is one that calls for closer analysis. From Old Testament times, God has answered prayers but I rarely can recall any time he did so without making use of an intermediary. Joseph was used to save his family from famine. Moses was used to liberate the Israelites from bondage and all the miracles that occurred throughout the process came as a direct result of an action by Moses on God’s directives. Different prophets played similar roles, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ who is the Messiah! He is the liberator! His manifesto can be summed up in the words – “’The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised”. How then did Jesus fulfil this mandate in his time? He did this by practically healing the sick and preaching to the people.
And oh! He did not only end there… he was always acting as an advocate for those who could not speak for themselves, the apogee and decisive moment being the driving from the Temple (which coincidentally happens to be the Gospel reading for this third Sunday of Lent). I will not want us to conclude that the people who did the different forms of businesses in the Temple were capitalists. What we can all agree on, however, is that they both represent a class or an ideology that is oppressive and exploitative. But has Christianity been living up to its expectation of being a voice for the oppressed? Can God still use us as instruments for answering prayers? Marx did not think so, and many secularists may agree… but I would not be too quick to concur because we can still use Jesus’ as the Way to direct our actions.
SO! WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
It is my opinion that had Jesus simply preached and healed the sick, he would still have been a thorn in the flesh of the Pharisees and Sadducees but he may not have been killed. The cleansing of the Temple, an episode described in all four Gospels: St. Matthew (21:12-13), St. Mark (11:15-18), St. Luke (19:45-46), St. John (2:14-17) was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. The Chief Priest and his family were making a fortune from the sale of animals for sacrifices and for all the money-changing, which was the only means to obtain the currency to buy animals and birds for sacrifices. Outraged, Jesus made a whip of cords and drove them out of the Temple.”… and he went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold there. He upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dealers in pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry goods through the temple court. Then he began to teach them, and said, ‘Does not scripture say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it a hideout for thieves.’ (Mark 11:15-17). This singular action was pivotal in Caiaphas’ doggedness that Christ should die, to save the source of the illegal wealth being amassed by his family.
I am sure at this stage it is already obvious what Christ would do in the wake of all the protests against oppression going on in the world. He will make a whip, go in and drive out the exploiters. That is to say, he will show solidarity towards those suffering, not just by speaking from a pulpit but actually confronting the suffering ad radice. This is the surest means of bringing liberation and prosperity to any people. Failure to be Christ-like in our attitude towards the poor and marginalised is to invite criticisms.
Little wonder Nkrumah accused Christianity of being an instrument of transferring the attention of the people from “inside” the universe to “outside” the universe. This is a contradiction to the liberating power of Christianity, which takes effects with the gaze of people fixed on things outside the world, and the things inside the world which conditions the existence of every human being suffering neglect. If Christianity is failing to have an impact in Africa, the problem rather than being too much religion, as secularists would want us to believe, lies with our failure to make credible use of its liberating power.
In conclusion, it is my belief that if our prayers are to be meaningful in bringing about solace in a scourged world, they should be matched by an equal measure of action. God will only answer prayers by relying on you and me to take the right action and condemn the wrong one without fear of retribution. To borrow from Wole Soyinka, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny” and so Christ dies in all who do not proactively show solidarity with the oppressed.